Examining the misconceptions of feminism

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In 1995, Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the United Nations.

“I believe that, on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break our silence,” she said. “It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights. If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women’s rights. And women’s rights are human rights.”

And so came this idea: “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men.”

Feminism is easily one of the most misconceived concepts in society today. So many students in the Jesuit community and communities all around the globe have this false concept of what feminism actually is and confuse it with misandry, or the hatred of males.

“I think that feminism is extremely misunderstood by most people,” junior Melanie Davie said. “The way it should be understood, everyone in the world should be a feminist. It’s equality between men and women, not just ‘power to the women,’ [that women] can do everything, or [that women] are better than men–no, it’s that [women] should be given a chance, too.”

Feminism is the belief and willingness to advocate for gender equality—which doesn’t just mean campaigning for equal pay and representation for women. It also means combating stigmas that leave the male demographic feeling like they have to conform to certain stereotypes because of their gender, such as the notion that men should be dominant and never display sensitivity. It fights the image that men can’t be in the field of fashion or nursing and that women belong in the kitchen.

Many people have no idea what a feminist actually is—there is even a Facebook page for “Women Against Feminism” and one for the “Meninist” movement, which completely illustrates how much our population doesn’t know about the notions of feminism. There is a negative connotation attached to the word itself. A huge misconception about feminism is that if you’re of the male demographic, you cannot be a feminist—which is not at all the case.

“All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights, the world will be a better place. We are better off when women are empowered—it leads to a better society,” singer John Legend said at the charity concert Sound For Change Live.

Shortly after came a flux in the trending false concept that feminism only aids in the betterment of the the lives of women. Supporting feminism doesn’t solely benefit women—it also assails against many of the issues men face in today’s society, such as the expectations men face to be “masculine” and fit the framework of a “male role model”. Hyper-masculinity has played a significant role in the increase of men suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. In addition to contesting this, the feminist movement protests against gender biased based verdicts in domestic abuse and child custody cases, abets male rape victims, and works to prevent the prejudice and violence that men of color, transgender men, bisexual men, and gay men face.

“Even in this day and age, [one gender is] still treated differently than [the other],” junior Emily Borst said. “It’s important that we are all treated equally and that we all have the same rights.”

It’s time to stop condoning phrases such as “like a girl” and “man up”—it’s time to start defying sexism. Adding “like a girl” to the end of any action—whether it be “throw”, “walk”, or even “write”—degrades women and conditions young, impressionable girls to believe that there is something inherently wrong with being a girl and that they are subordinate, or lesser than men. Telling young boys to “man up” when they cry dismisses their right to express themselves emotionally and forces them to believe that public display of a naturally emerging feeling correlates with “weakness”. Many of these young boys carry this view into adulthood as a consequence of this emphasis on being “tough”.

Feminism has furthered the civil rights movement, shed light on the institutionalized gender discrimination in the world, gathered an army against the perpetuation of rape culture, and exposed how much sexual harassment is ignored. It has also drawn attention to respecting of the rights of domestic workers and expressed the need for equal pay—not only between men and women, but also between women of color and white women and men of color and white men. It has provided inspiration for many.

Feminism has given many who were once silenced a voice.

In her article for The Huffington Post, “Why We Still Need Feminism”, freelance writer and editor Casey Cavanagh wrote powerfully, “Being a feminist does not mean you think women can’t speak for themselves, it means you realize that, even though some may be lucky enough to, there’s still many who can’t. It is not a gender issue—it is a humanity issue.”

“Gender equality is something we should strive for,” junior Michael Cline said.

In September of 2000, leaders from all around the globe came together in the United Nations New York headquarters for the Millennium Summit. There, they established the ten “Millennium Development Goals”–the third being to promote gender equality.

In 2005, their target was simply to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Ten years of ambition and awareness brought about a new and more powerful goal. The 2015 target? Empower all women—all races and levels of socioeconomic status—and eliminate gender disparity at all levels of education, a mission we should all decide to embrace.