Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Feminism Isn't

Ugly, boring and angry?
Posted by Courtney E. Martin

As I travel across the country speaking about feminist issues I like to take a quick survey of the audiences. I ask them “What are the stereotypes you’ve heard about feminists?”After a few timid moments, folks start shouting a flood of unsavory characteristics: ugly, bitchy, man-hating, boring, angry, bra-burning.

The wild thing is that whether I am in a lecture hall in Jacksonville, Illinois, or a woman’s club in suburban New Jersey, or an immigration center in Queens, New York, whether I am among 15 year-olds, or 25 year-olds, or 60 year-olds, whether the crowd of faces that I see are mostly white, or mostly of color, or a welcome mix of all—this list tends to be almost identical.

I tell those in the audiences as much, and then I ask, “So how did all of you—from such vastly different backgrounds—get the exactly same stereotypes about feminism? Why would feminism be so vilified?”And to this they usually shrug their shoulders.

I believe that feminism has attracted so many unsavory stereotypes because of its profound power and potential. It has gained such a reputation, been so inaccurately demonized, because it promises to upset one of the foundations on which this world, its corporations, its families, and its religions are based—gender roles.

If you asked diverse audiences to give you stereotypes about Protestantism, for example, you would have some groups that starred at you blank-faced and some that might have a jab or two.

If you asked about the history of civil rights, even, you would get a fairly innocuous, probably even partly accurate sense of the progress afforded by sit-ins, freedom rides, and protests. But you ask about feminism and the whole room erupts with media-manufactured myths, passed down from generation to generation. Some of these stereotypes can be traced to events or controversial figures in the women’s movement, though they are still perversions. That whole bra-burning thing came out of the 1968 Miss America protests in which feminists paraded one another around like cattle to show the dehumanizing effects of beauty pageants, but they didn’t actually burn any bras.

There have surely been some feminists who despised men and advocated for female-only spaces; others have undoubtedly resorted to an angry m.o.; there were probably even a few shabby dressers (though, I have to tell you, us third-wave gals tend to be pretty snappy).
More recently one of the most pervasive misperceptions about what feminism purports to do is actually perpetuated by strong, intelligent women; I refer to the mistaken belief that feminism is solely about achievement, competition, and death-defying acrobatics (sometimes called multitasking). I like to think of this as “shoulder-pad feminism”—the do it all, all at once circus act that so many of my friends and I witnessed growing up in households headed by superwomen.

The ugly truth about superwomen, my generation has come to realize, is that they tend to be exhausted, self-sacrificing, unsatisfied, and sometimes even self-loathing and sick. Feminism—and the progress it envisions—was never supposed to compromise women’s health. It was supposed to lead to richer, more enlightened, authentic lives characterized by a deep sense of wellness.

Feminism in its most glorious, transformative, inclusive sense, is not about man-hating, nor is it about superwomen. For what it is, come back tomorrow…

7 comments:

Wolfgang Amadeus said...

This article speaks about many of the common stereotypes associated with feminism and feminist thought. The author Courtney Martin sets a tone that is trying to appeal to the readers better nature and in a sense demoralize any thoughts that would say anything bad about feminism.

Feminism is supposed to be a way to empower women. This the author clearly states but what the author doesn't mention is that to empower one group of people wouldn't another group have to be handicapped? Most feminists want equal treatment in the workplace but does that mean a woman that values her family is worth any less?

If women were treated exactly how they said equally the world would be instantly thrown into a sort of chaos. Why? The answer is simple if women were not treated better than men in the workplace would they feel as comfortable? If women weren't given jobs that were for their body type would they be able to function in the harsh environment? If men no longer asked women to marry them would woman begin asking men? Turning the roles could cause drastic change and the need to be treated equal is present and I agree most women do deserve better treatment. However do feminists really want equality? Feminists may say they want equality but do they want equal treatment or a leg up in the society. Equality would men none of the special treatment they have now and with the already degredation that most women are put through on a daily bases, with no help wouldn't it make it worse for women?

In Simone De Beauvior's "The Second Sex" she writes "The most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend woman's concrete situation." This I must agree because I am not a woman I could never grasp the situation completely or offer a response that would be accepted by both sexes. In conclusion only one thing remains certain, feminists search for change but will change come to those who wait?

Malcolm B said...

Before I took this class and was enlightened a little bit towards the feminist cause, I had some of those misconceptions as well. I regarded feminism as a sort of extremist way of progressing women’s rights, to the point of downright militancy. This was something I didn’t hold in high regards, of course. They were men-haters and I am a man, so that isn’t good. Looking back I can’t see why I thought this of feminism myself, but that is the way prejudice goes eh? I however, do not think that it was because disruption of ancient gender roles in my blood or anything. This was a learned perception, from society. Ancient gender roles do exist in society, not as much in my blood. I don’t think the gender roles have formed without reason though, how could they? Things that happen in society always have a reason, like a science. There has to be a purpose for them, however, it might not be a good purpose, or might just not fit the modern scene. Discrimination developed because of ignorance, but it was rejected from modern times. Maybe it is time to dampen gender roles?

Mr. Amadeus brings up a good point when he quotes Simone De Beauvior "The most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend woman's concrete situation." It is totally true, because as a guy, I just can’t, and I am glad a woman intellectual has realized that. Our duty as fellow humans though, I think, is to trust our fellow (wo)man when the clamor for rights, and treat them as we would treat ourselves.

GueveraGurl_But_Soldier'sSweetie said...

I liked the article, but I believe that prehaps it is not merely the fear of changing gender roles that makes people so afraid of the term "feminism."

In fact, I do not believe the author explained at all WHY we are afraid of changing gender roles, other than the fact that most institutions (the family, the church) are based upon it.

The reason people fear the term feminism is because of the intent behind it. Most men are unaware of the undue privilege they have as males. Therefore, how can a man fear losing a position he was only ever vaguely aware he had to begin with?

People fear the term feminism because they know it means work.

Feminists are typically stereotyped as Lesbians, Man-haters, etc. Females themselves fear the term because it might mean the loss of their femininity to other people. Or they might have to associate with the victims of anti-feminism, like rape victims. They might lose their popularity. They might lose the ablity to find dating partners.

All of these things, are fears women and men have concerning the term feminism and what it means to be a feminist or a pro-feminist supporter.

However, if these things could be changed, and the fears erased, its likely that most men and women would do it in a heartbeat.

Therefore, it is not the change that is feared.

It is the work behind the change, the unknown toil that might have to take place, that keeps both men and women from embracing the term "feminism". Its easy to say you want change, and even MEAN it! It's more difficult however to get up off your butt and do it.

Peace and Love said...

“I have to tell you”
“I refer to the mistaken belief”
“I like to think”
All these phrases are blazes to my eyes. She writes as if she’s writing in a journal, like dear diary, I am offended because I’m a feminist. Once again, this Courtney E. Martin jabbers on and on about feminism, but fails to provide evidence. She tells of personal experiences as if the reader cares. It does not inform, but bleeds. Martin discusses the stereotypes of women as if it is the major concern of the imploration. It’s almost displayed in a stream of consciousness manner because the article as a whole flows very poorly together.
The article is rambling and once again, like Martin’s other article “Is Feminism Dead?” she fails to provide a definition for what feminism is. Feminism has a foul name simply because people do not understand its connotation. It simply means equality, not some aristocratically, sexist blasphemy that she tends to allude to. If this woman really goes to the places she says she does like New Jersey, Queens, and Jacksonville, Illinois and gives speeches about pure bland ramblings, then how does she inquire listeners? The only reason why I would even spar this woman a second chance to read another of her articles is because I knew it would be a prime piece to bash.

John said...

What Feminism Isn't
I feel Martin is trying to send a message about feminism that most of society have found ugly and boring an issue that made them angry.
To send a message of feminism is to let people really know your position and were you stand for women rights. Women rights and equality can easily be presented in a context that is easily absorbed by the people. The word feminism today triggers hate and unnecessary insults from an audience and those uneducated in women rights. Must feminist insist that hey are not seeking a gender role change, just equality and respect by the opposite sex.
I feel Martin knows what she is talking about; her speech deliveries I feel need a little bit of improvement. Women rights and their quest for gender equality must be delivered elegantly and with essence. The public when attending speeches are seeking for tangible evidence well delivered and backed off by good statistics. Stereotypes once out are very difficult to change. It takes great work and stamina to reverse the public’s opinion about feminism, and what its message.
Martin by trying to justify her stance in feminism challenged the public by asking questions about other definitions and the history of civil rights. She failed to get their attention as they felt challenged and acted inappropriately towards her. Martin asked about feminism and the audience gave her their opinion. An answer and delivery she was not expecting.
If we want to educate the public on sensitive matters, we must first prepare them, present, share information and statistics and then ask questions about the subject. Martin’s feminist issues are valid, I feel her efforts towards women rights, and gender equality is right on line and commendable. In addition, one must separate the feminist who hate man from those who just seek equality and healthier relationships.

Bryant said...

Oh Martin... you have to love her and her "third wave" gals... (cough... BS... cough)

Does she honestly believe that feminism would survive in today's society without any stereotypes attached to it? Most importantly, does she honestly believe that these stereotypes are a bad thing?

Often when a new idea is set in place of old traditions, it tends to be viewed as a blasphemous idea or something that is not of the norms... simply because it isn't. When feminism was first introduced to the American public, of course it was going to receive negative attention, even if the idea is of a positive view. Just ask Socrates, who was executed, or Karl Marx, who was exiled from his country. These famous theorists dealt with many stereotypes of their times and were viewed as negative people... yet their ideas can still be found today, stronger than ever.

Martin and her "third wave" friends pretty much stands for everything that Feminists have fought to prevent. Feminist fight for a sense that people know what it means to be feminist, and obviously, Martin doesn't even know that since she states that at the end of her post. Feminists don't necessarily have to be as educated as Martin and her friends... they would just need to know the meaning of feminism and that feminists fight for equality among gender regardless of the stereotypes that are thrown at them. This is a society which thrives off of stereotypes. They're not going to disappear, and they'll obviously attack new innovated ideas that are not of the societal norm.

When reading Martin's posts, the only thing I get out of it is a sense that she's trying to tell me, "My friends and I are educated feminists, but we're not quite sure what feminism means." Men and women will have differences and inequalities throughout time... but feminism is a means to allow equal opportunities for both genders... And yes, stereotypes will be there when that happens.

Anonymous said...

I think that the author Courtney Martin hits the stereotyping of feminists right on the head. Almost every person in the world has the same stereotypes for feminist. For whatever reason we all have the same names to give them. Butch, man-haters, ugly, and mean are all things that first came to my head, and also to the heads of so many others. The reason being because the media tries to twist things like the bra burning incident into something it wasn’t. And honestly I even agree with her about it being about keeping the gender down. What other reasons would a male run media make up things or only show the bad of feminism? It wasn’t by accident, I really believe that it was for the simple reason to keep women down and in the place that they have been in for so long. I think the author makes it clear that sure there are some feminist that equal up to most of the stereotypes given to feminism, but much more than a majority of all feminist aren’t like that. They just want to be equal to men, and is that really asking too much?