The Millennial Man’s Field Guide to Feminist Mythbusting

Afraid you can’t hold the door or offer to pay for dinner for fear of insulting a feminist? Fear not, they’re not as scary as they seem. Learn what’s true and what’s a myth in our deconstruction of the modern American Feminist.

Today, we’re going to talk about the F word. No, not the fun F word (really, who doesn’t crack up when they see fecundity in print?), the one with the sketchy rep – feminism. More specifically, I’m going to take a crack at providing a crash course in feminist mythbusting for Primer’s mostly male audience in an effort to soothe your furrowed brows and smooth your interactions with the opposite sex.

Feminism as an ideology is, of course, much more complicated than a single pithy article can cover (I’m good, but I’m not that good) and is subject to constant internal debate about its true nature and its political, cultural, academic and socioeconomic applications. If that sounds overwhelming, it is. The word itself is often used pejoratively (by both sexes, alas) to condemn any negative behavior on the part of and/or unpleasant interactions with womenfolk. And really, that’s just plain uncreative and mostly inaccurate. There are just as many female jerks as male ones and their motivation for jerkiness is just as varied. There’s a lot more to the story than possessing ovaries and a passing familiarity with Gloria Steinem. The more you know and all that jazz.

Here are a few of the most common fallacies about feminism and why they miss the mark:

All feminists believe/support X

Unless x = equality of the sexes, this one is a no-go. That’s like saying all football fans root for the same team or all Christians share an identical faith. Feminism has more flavors than Baskin-Robbins and a hundred and one areas of focus, covering everything from reproductive rights to international development to political reform or popular culture. Beyonce is a feminist and so is Hillary Clinton. And men can be feminists, too! It’s a big tent party, y’all. Heck, some women live their entire lives according to feminist principles, but never use the term.

In fact, the heterogeneity of modern feminism makes mythbusting a mite tricky, as for every assumption I debunk, you could beat the bushes (yes, that’s a cringe-worthy pun and no, I won’t reword it) and dig up a singular example to contract it. But, on the whole, you can toss these stereotypes about feminism by the wayside.

Feminists are angry/predominantly lesbian/man-haters/all of the above

Some women are angry, yes. Some are lesbians. And some probably hate or fear men. Some women also identify as feminists. These characteristics exist independently of each other. If there’s overlap, it’s coincidental and not correlated or causal, despite what popular culture would have you believe. To think otherwise would be on par with assuming every man who belonged to a college fraternity was a keg-loving, flipflop-sporting, Ed Hardy-worshipping dudebro and we know that isn’t the case.

Feminism isn’t about settling the score between the sexes or making good on grudges; it’s about equality and empowerment for everyone, regardless of sex or gender identity. The myth of the zero-sum power game (and the fears of emasculation that it promotes) needs to die ASAP.

Feminists are anti-sex

Dude, tell that to Betty Dodson (I interviewed her; she is one rocking octogenarian!) or Susie Bright. Sex (of whatever variety tickles one’s particular fancy) isn’t the issue – double standards around sexual behavior (the slut vs. stud conundrum), a society that is reluctant to let go of the deplorable “she was asking for it” rape defense, women who are never taught to seek out or value their own sexual pleasure and pop cultural portrayals of sex that either disregard it or exploit it to sell everything from shampoo to socks (lookin’ at you, American Apparel) are what gets under feminists’ skin.

You can’t offer a feminist a compliment on her appearance/hold the door for her/pay for dinner

This is where a lot of men get anxious and are unsure of the correct approach to avoid offending.  Alas, aside from avoiding hooting at women on the sidewalk from your car or catcalling them on the street (and I’ll give you full credit for knowing how utterly inexcusable that is), there are no hard and fast protocols to cover social fraternizing between the sexes. It’s simply a matter of trusting your gut, taking note of the context and acting from a place of respect.

Be generous with chivalrous gestures because you genuinely want to and not as a means of scoring points or hewing to tradition. And hold the expectation that the object of these gestures should absolutely respond respectfully (even if she disagrees), too. Grab the door for anyone who needs a hand and accept it when someone (male or female) does it for you. And when it comes to compliments? Vanity is part of human nature. I know very few folks who will turn down a few sincere words of well-phrased (hint: the term “rack” doesn’t fall into this category) praise or appreciation for their charms.

To end things on a positive and inclusive note, I want leave you with my hands-down favorite definition of feminism and the one I reference whenever someone asks me how I define feminism or expresses doubt as to whether the term applies to them. Like feminism itself, it has a little something for everyone.

J. Maureen Henderson is a writer, Gen Y expert and general know-it-all. She blogs pithily on personal and professional development at Generation Meh and can be wooed/stalked on Twitter or Facebook. If you’re nice, she might even tell you what the J. stands for.

  • Buddy Shepherd

    It’s funny/sad that the writer perpetuates the myth that feminists want to promote “rquality”. She like the others don’t want to be treated equally–they want to be treated the “same as men”.

    I will never see a woman as “no different than a man”.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/field-manual/fantasy-football-formula-for-nailing-your-picks Andrew

    Hey Buddy, thanks for the comment. I’m not sure if I follow the difference. They want to be treated the same way men get treated, not treated as men. ?
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..The Millennial Man’s Field Guide to Feminist Mythbusting =-.

  • http://www.englishmajorfitness.wordpress.com Joshua_M1001

    “I will never see a woman as “no different than a man.”” Well said Buddy.
    .-= Joshua_M1001´s last blog ..Epicself Skype Workout =-.

    • Chris

      And what exactly is the difference

  • http://www.englishmajorfitness.wordpress.com Joshua_M1001

    I look at is a division of abilities/skills/talents/whatever. Let alone the fact that there are obvious biological differences that can’t be ignored, which I am not getting into. Some women are better at certain things then I am while I may be better at other things. It doesn’t mean one or the other are superior because of it. I respect women for what they do and would ask the same in return. Because it should be a partnership whether in business or personal relations where your weaknesses are alleviated by their strength and your strengths alleviate their weak-points in return.
    .-= Joshua_M1001´s last blog ..Epicself Skype Workout =-.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Hey Joshua,

    I think I would agree with you, as does the article. It’s not about men and women being the same down to the subatomic scale, it’s about being treated equally, and I don’t think that goes against your points about inherent differences. The idea is the same as race, neither gender is better than the other, they are different sure, but one isn’t better than the other and they should be treated equally. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  • http://www.jmaureenhenderson.com JMH

    Hey Joshua,

    I’m the author and I’m advocating for equality of access/opportunity/enfranchisement (and this extends to class and race as well) and not a blanket homogeneity where we try to ignore any and all differences between the sexes. That’s definitely not what feminism intends.

    To speak to your point about differences in aptitudes and abilities (you say that some women might be better at certain things than you and vice versa), I’d encourage you to examine whether these differences are really qualities that can be attributed to sex or if they’re tied to the individual and/or their socialization. If a man is able to bench press more than I am, that’s definitely a sex-based advantage; men just naturally have greater upper body strength than woman. But, for example, if a female coworker of yours is a great networker, that’s not necessarily a result of women being more empathetic/better listeners/more caring, but just a skill that this particular woman possesses.

  • xy:zt

    Feminism isn’t about settling the score between the sexes or making good on grudges; it’s about equality and empowerment for everyone, regardless of sex or gender identity. The myth of the zero-sum power game (and the fears of emasculation that it promotes) needs to die ASAP.

    So then, a movement started by men, called ‘masculinism,’ would then necessarily be about oppression and disenfranchisement?

    As long as we want that zero-sum power game to die, let’s look at something else that’s going to need to die with it. For a movement promoting equality, empowerment for everyone, and such, feminism, a term etymologically loaded in favor of women, is just an unfortunate choice for a name, I’m afraid.

    One may argue that this was an innocent error, given the duress under which feminism was born. Times and circumstances have changed since then, though, and I propose that, as a beginning of a resolution to the whole gender tribalist grudge-bearing score-settling mess, ‘feminism’ (or, that part of it that remains legitimate), needs a more fitting name. There just has to be some non-gender-biased term that can be found that will neither A: alienate males, nor B: encourage and promote amongst the movement’s own adherents the very ideas and attitudes for which ‘feminism’ is infamous in the first place.

  • Valerie M

    Actually loads of us do hate men as a class. Look at what men do to women every day all over the world. Why wouldn’t we hate them? If men don’t want to be hated, they can stop beating, raping, and killing women anytime. I guarantee you there is a man beating, raping, and killing a woman somewhere just as I type this sentence.

    Men: try leaving women alone, and our problems will be solved. I am so sick of women sugar-coating feminism in order to suck up to men. The truth is, if men want to live on equal terms with women, they will have to give up a lot, and THAT is why they tend not to be pro-feminist, nothing to do with us. They don’t want to give up their unearned privilege. It really is that simple.

    • Thomas Allen

      Look at what loads of women do to men and to their children every day why woudl men hate women? Ha, Ha, take your logic to the toilet where it belongs. Suck up to men? Ha ha, sugar coating? You are very mistaken, Feminism couldn’t be any more oviouse, the problem is that Feminism is doomed to die. By choosing the victim card you chose unstable ground, the last thing you want is for people to see you as weak if you ever wish to be respected. Feminism might have set a very negative example of women in control that could potentially destroy how the future will perceive women. By saying thing like what you say, making egregious anti-male laws, feminists have painted a picture of ethical and logical incompetence for contemporary women. If you cared at all for either gender you would fix your tune.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    XY, I definitely hear your point, but the movement/term was started in a time when men and women were clearly not treated the same or had the same rights. Perhaps a new term is appropriate, but isn’t that just surrendering to being politically correct?

    Valerie, certainly there are men around the world that do the horrible things to women that you describe, but to hold that against all men is no better than holding an entire race accountable for the crimes committed by a marginal few.

  • Valerie M

    I will hold you all responsible, Andrew. All men benefit from male supremacy and rape culture whether or not they choose to personally terrorise women.

    XY, I definitely hear your point, but the movement/term was started in a time when men and women were clearly not treated the same or had the same rights

    So you think men and women are treated the same, do you? What a surprise (not). Thanks for proving my point though. The fact that you have the luxury of remaining so blissfully ignorant is exactly what I’m talking about.

  • Valerie M

    A marginal few, hey? What a disgusting erasure of the institutionalised violence women suffer from and fear every day of our lives. In the UK alone, a man rapes or attempts to rape a woman every 12 minutes. Every 12 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 2 women are killed by their male partners every week. Over 100 dead female bodies every year. Year after year after year. In the USA, three women a day are murdered by their male partners. Every day, 365 days a year. 600 women are raped by men every day. 365 days a year,year after year after year. Almost all these rapes go unpunished.

    And those are two western countries. Heard much about the Congo lately?

    How very dare you sit there and mansplain to me that I’m over-reacting (typical male insult anyway) to a marginal few, while the raped and murdered bodies of women pile up in morgues all over the world every damn day.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Valerie,

    I never said I think men and women are yet treated the same. You took a sentence and inferred meaning, nor did I suggest you were overreacting. You clearly aren’t in this to have a civilized discussion, so I’ll leave it with this.

  • http://www.jmaureenhenderson.com JMH

    XY:ZT

    I agree with Andrew, although the point you raise about the loaded nature of the term is definitely something of which feminists are aware. That’s why I indicated that there are people (women AND men) who live their lives according to feminist principles, but may never think of the term or apply it to themselves.

    The name embodies the activist and advocacy-based nature of the movement and its historical roots and until there is no longer a need for this activism and advocacy (and that day is what we’re all looking forward to), I think it remains accurate.

    Do I think there needs to be a concerted effort to reclaim the word feminism and separate it from pejorative baggage and negative/inaccurate/outdated assumptions about what it means? Absolutely. And I believe that’s possible. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written this piece.

  • Grob

    From my point of view, I think many feminist try to get a retribution for how bad they were treated in the past. “Because we haven’t got access in the past in this or that business sector, now we should force the employers to have X % of women in their business”. That kind of measures, common at least in Europe (The spanish left-wing government, in their first term, split the ministers in 50%male, 50% female, to show how “equal” they were”), are as discriminatory as any form of male sexism and far from getting to an equal-rights society, only try to create more “political-correct” differences.

  • http://passersbyillustrated.blogspot.com Steven

    GROB, I don’t think you understand what equal representation means in a parliamentary system. If half of the population is women, and only 2% of the government is women, than women are not being represented.

  • Anony

    Valerie,
    Unless you’re a lower-class black female, you don’t have any right to be talking about “unearned privelage” either.

  • Grob

    Hey Steven! What i’m talking is ministers, not parlamentarians. De didnt belonged to the parlament, they were chosen by the president (maybe some were parlamentarians too, but not all of ‘em). I think should be run by the most capables, without watching gender, race or wahtever, because what takes a country forward is competence.
    But either way, I dont think the parlament should be splited 50/50. Representation is not attained by setting portions, is achieved by letting people vote equaly. But I think this is not the proper place to have this conversation hahah
    Nice to talk to you steven.

  • XY:ZT

    Valerie M,

    First you say…

    If men don’t want to be hated, they can stop beating, raping, and killing women anytime….Men: try leaving women alone, and our problems will be solved.

    Ahh, but they won’t be solved, for not but a day later, you say…

    All men benefit from male supremacy and rape culture whether or not they choose to personally terrorise women.

    So, I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t, because, although I don’t personally attack women, I’m not physically capable of running around the world making sure no one else does either.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that it is true that “All men benefit from male supremacy and rape culture whether or not they choose to personally terrorise women.” The unspoken implication of your argument, then, is that unwittingly benefiting from the consequences of a crime makes you guilty of the crime itself, as if you had committed it yourself. This is patently false; just a textbook case of non causa pro causa.

    As to this little bit:

    The truth is, if men want to live on equal terms with women, they will have to give up a lot, and THAT is why they tend not to be pro-feminist, nothing to do with us. They don’t want to give up their unearned privilege. It really is that simple.

    Actually, the primary reason many men are not pro-feminist, is for the same reason they were not pro-feminist before feminism existed: because they don’t have to be. It follows, then that the secondary cause for men not to be feminists is something to do with you; you suggest that men, in order to prove that they are not evil rapists or abusers, must make great, arbitrary sacrifices of personal happiness. This is not something that they would naturally do by moral requirement. It is something you are unilaterally demanding of them; that is totally your doing.

    If women (statistically) have a harder time in this world than men, that is unfortunate, but pity is not an argument, nor is envy, and if you think you’re going to hold me responsible for it all just because I have that one odd chromosome, well, let’s just put it this way:

    Blest be me,
    curst be thee.

    It just can’t be put any more politely. And it really is that simple.

  • Joe

    Again, one woman attempts to speak for all women.

    Another thing, what is rape, again?
    Have we lowered the bar on the definition yet again, so we can get to the “every 12 seconds” number?

  • http://fauxwhore.com magdelyn

    No a zero sum situation, eh? Tell that to Berkeley’s century old, internationall acclaimed rugby team which just got cut becuase of title IX (that is the reason the University gave, not just some interpretation.)

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  • http://www.howtogetagirlfriends.org Thomas

    @GROB: do we need quotas for everything in life? This is quite a non-issue which has been blown out of proportion. Classic case of making a mountain out of a molehill.

    I rest my case.

  • Mark

    A note to anyone trying to engage Valerie M in a debate. Don’t do it!

    She is a hater, and she hates men like Nazis hate Jews, she will never change her mind on this and she will continue to treat all men as if we were all rapists and murderers.

    She will also almost certainly deny that there is such a thing as female on male violence, or claim that if there is then it is justified.

    You can never make someone like this see reason, it is as futile as it would have been to try to stop Hitler from hating Jews and trying to take over the world.

    This does not mean we have to succumb to her view point, however.

    If history has taught us anything it is that evil is not defeated by co-operating with the enemy, again the example of Jews co-operating with the Nazis shows

    This kind of evil has to be fought, just not by wasting time trying to engage in rational debate with a hater. Instead focus on the people who do their own thinking and actually respond to reason rather than bitter vitriol.

  • Pvblivs

    All feminists believe in and support female supremacy — not equality. That’s what feminism really is, always has been, always will be. If it were about equality, the term “feminism” would be a misnomer. But you will not find the movement pushing for any eqality where that status quo favors women. As they say, a woman can do anything that a man can do. Women can (and some do) rape. But feminists got the term defined in law to exclude females as perpetrators.

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  • http://twitter.com/gavbo101 Gavin O’Brien

    Every movement must be held accountable for its “bad apples” and unfortunately, most movements are defined by them. (Btw I think you’re one of the good ‘uns, so I apologize if my comment offends)
    Feminism’s bad reputation among young men is well earned. I can say that with every confidence and look forward to the continued declining popular support for feminism as it’s every demand is met with society’s best efforts. Finally you will run out of legitimate grievances and fade into obscurity.  I think women are already learning that leadership is about opportunity AND accountability, and it’s taking a heavy toll since you were never taught how to be accountable for making mistakes.

    I think we are entering into a new era concerning a demand for female accountability. If you’re equal to men in intrinsic value and deserve the opportunity to succeed, then you absolutely must learn to admit that you’ve made some mistakes. 

    Until women can start admitting that women as a group do bad things to men just as men do bad things to women as a group, most men will never trust feminism. And they shouldn’t, to be honest.

    There needs to be accountability.

  • Thomas Allen

    Same cult bullish, new toilet.

  • J Doe

    Am I the only one getting tired of all the articles telling men how to behave around women? I’m sure if they wrote an article telling women how to behave around men, there’d be plenty of outrage to go around.