Friday, April 22, 2011

Anger Sharks: Why Is Feminism Misunderstood?

"Males as a group have and do benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us. But those benefits have come with a price. In return for all the goodies men receive from patriarchy, they are required to dominate women, to exploit and oppress us, using violence if they must to keep patriarchy intact. Most men find it difficult to be patriarchs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, even the men who perpetuate this violence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriarchy changes. So they find it easier to passively support male domination even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong. Again and again men tell me they have no idea what it is feminists want. I believe them. I believe in their capacity to change and grow. And I believe that if they knew more about feminism they would no longer fear it, for they would find in feminist movement the hope of their own release from the bondage of patriarchy." -bell hooks, "Feminism is for Everybody"

The anger sharks have been swimming around my brain since last Monday. Why? Because of two opinion articles in my campus newspaper (which I will be a co-Editor in Chief of next year), both written by men and both about feminism. Sufficed to say, these articles contained no real facts about feminism today...sending my beloved women's and gender studies department on campus into a full-on uproar. They are livid, and I feel guilty for not having snatched away these boys' keyboards. The one upside, though, is it turns out this may actually be a good thing. We received plenty of letters to the editor about the article, thus putting some truth about feminism out into the print world.

However, it pushes me to ask a crucial question: Why do so many people, men especially, misunderstand feminism and feminists?

Judging from what those two wrote, it's easy to see that the movement is still defined by the things which defined it in the 60s and 70s--workplace equality, namely. Somehow, though, "workplace equality" got translated over the years to mean "eliminate the men" to a lot of guys (and women). Do people know what "equality" actually means? Sometimes I worry.

Fact: Even radical feminist theory does not aim to eliminate or "exterminate" men; it suggests instead that women create woman-only spaces in which they can feel safe and free from patriarchal oppression.

Another fact: When a movement aims for complete equality regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality, it tries to accomplish a state of being equal in status, rights, and opportunities. Feminism is one such movement.

It is difficult for me to understand how some people have managed to convince others that feminism is NOT about equality. Then again, maybe it's not so hard to figure out. After all, strong women who push themselves and excell in their chosen fields are constantly met with resistance, such as being labeled a "bitch" or a "butch" or just plain "cold." As soon as ambitious women began to appear in workplaces, the accusations of these women wanting to be better than their male counterparts also began to appear.

But, honestly, a few motivated women amongst a sea of competitive and ambitious men should not scream "women are trying to take over the world" to anyone.

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