Ask a Feminist is your guide to becoming a better human being. In chapter 2, Priyanka Sutaria gives you a feminism 101 class, and disproves some myths about the movement.
For too long, the word ‘feminism’ has been subverted to stand for man-hating, and its principles hijacked by those who don’t understand its context and power. Here’s what feminism means, and why you need to be one if you want to call yourself a good person.
Feminism is the advocacy of rights of genders other than male on the ground of the equality of the sexes. In short—and really, there’s no other way to say this—you cannot be a good human being, conscious of gender disparity without being a feminist. But if you still have doubts about the movement and why genders other than male should have the right to basic autonomy and human dignity (duh!), we answer the most common criticisms about feminism.
Feminism is only for women
Actually, feminism is all about equality and freedom for all genders. So when men are told not to cry or wear pink (!) because it’s not ‘manly’, feminism tells them that it’s okay to be their real, authentic selves. Bound by gender constructs, when men are discouraged from pursuing ‘girly’ interests and activities such as sewing, they remain unable to fulfil their full potential. Feminism tells them (and the world) that men needn’t be boxed in by gender roles. Forced into the role of breadwinners, men often lack the chance to explore their interests or do what they might really make them happy. All of this contributes to a lack of life skills; an inability to cultivate empathy, and the crushing reality of a life lived unfulfilled—all of which feminism fights against. It is, therefore, instrumental in making men better, happier humans.
Feminism should benefit males
So we have established that feminism benefits men, but here’s the thing—it doesn’t need to do that in order to be considered a social movement worth its while. Anybody who isn’t a cis male is at the receiving end of patriarchy. Males already have benefits, and it is they who have historically retained these benefits by disallowing others access to them. So it isn’t really out of place if feminism doesn’t focus on them.
Feminism is about men versus women
No, feminism not about men versus women and neither is it about male-bashing (that’s misandry). Feminism is the battle for human rights over patriarchy. Men can be feminists, just as women can be indoctrinated into patriarchal ideologies. Feminism is about correcting the wrongs of patriarchy, and the historical oppression of non-male genders.
Feminism wants women to be more powerful than men
No, not at all. In fact, one of the core values of feminism is the belief that all genders deserve equal civil and social rights, while their differences are respected and celebrated. If you admit that men have been accorded given a higher status socially, historically and culturally, then don’t other genders deserve a chance to achieve the same status? Striving to occupy the same spaces of power which males have occupied for centuries—from corporate boardrooms to sporting arenas—is not ‘becoming more powerful than men’. It is about claiming bastions hitherto disallowed to people just because they weren’t males.
Feminists need to take a chill pill
Would you take a chill pill if you were denied admission to school on the basis of the colour of your skin? So why must non cis males ‘relax’ when they are treated as less by virtue of their gender? Be ‘logical’, not ‘emotional’, we’re told. Except that notions of logic and rationality thus far have been defined by men. News flash: logic can be feminist, and feminist logic can accommodate emotions. Imagine being upset about the fact that you are oppressed by a system only to be told that you need to adhere to rules made by that system in order to fight it. Does that sound ‘logical’ to you?
Feminists need to make males ‘feel welcome’ in the movement
Actually, males need to stop expecting feminists to make the movement ‘hospitable’ for them. Our lives on this planet have been pretty bad so far and we have no time to soothe fragile egos; we’re too busy fighting for our rights. Feminists don’t need be less aggressive and more accommodating—we’ve been forced to do that for centuries already. This does not mean males cannot be feminist, or that men are not welcome to the movement. It means they need to be good allies, and use the benefits of their male privilege to empower those without it. “Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist,” said Kelley Temple, and we’d encourage you to reflect on that.
Feminism is only about equality
Yes, and also about equity. It is about correcting the historical wrongdoings committed at the behest of the patriarchy against all genders which are not male. It is about rectifying the imbalance to allow non-males into spaces where they were previously disallowed or offered restricted access on the basis of their gender. Feminism is about intersectionality, which means recognising that existing power structures (race, caste, class, etc) are interconnected. Equality of the genders is not really possible without accounting for all systems of oppression.
To quote Tara* Kaushal, the founder of Why Indian Men Rape: "Truth is, not being a feminist today is an unconscionable stand. You either don’t see the historic privileges accorded to the male gender, or you don’t think other genders deserve those privileges. Which makes you either ignorant or arrogant… or both."
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