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Useful Notes: Feminism
"Gross oversimplification time! What did we get from first-wave feminism? The right to vote, among other things. What did we get from second-wave feminism? The right to have sex indiscriminately, among other things."
The Nostalgia Chick

Feminism tends to take one of two forms when depicted in the media: Angry, scary bra-burners and vague declarations of Girl Power. Of course, in reality, feminism is a much more complicated movement.

A good comparison to feminism is a major religion like Christianity. They've both got one essential message, but there are many divisions and subgroups with different views on how to interpret/act on on that message, and some of them don't get along so well. There are literally dozens of different factions within the feminist movement, which split off of each other due to disagreements over everything from abortion rights to the pairing of feminism with racial/gay/whathaveyou rights movements to how big of a problem gender discrimination really is in the first place.

There are pretty much only three concepts you can count on any mixed group of feminists agreeing on:
  • That women should have legal and economic rights equal to those of men, such as the right to vote and to manage their own finances.
  • That women should be able to pursue any career they choose, and should get paid the same amount as a man doing the same job with the same level of competence.
  • That mutual consent is a must for all sexual activities.

...and even then, there are no guarantees. As with religion and politics, everyone brings a little bit of their own experiences and prejudices along with them.

Context: PATRIARCHY

"Why would anyone want to give up being a man? It's like winning the lottery and giving the ticket back."

Feminism began as a response to what was then the status quo within human societies. That status quo was believed to be the idea in many if not most cultures throughout history that Men Are Better Than Women. The exact reasons tended to vary from culture to culture—stronger and better at warfare, morally superior, smarter, better providers, sexually aggressive (or sexually restrained)—but the inherent assumption was that men are the superior gender. Feminists call this assumption "patriarchy."

Today, it is generally taken with a grain of salt. The Standard '50s Father has become a Dead Horse Trope in favor of the Bumbling Dad; the idea of hunting as a foundation of one's economic power is long gone in most places; and the idea that All Men Are Perverts is Played for Laughs. But to the extent that the notion survives, it can come with some Unfortunate Implications. After all, if men are better than women, then women are worse than men... and it's acceptable to tell them to Stay in the Kitchen, engage in Mandatory Motherhood, or to be the Standard Hero Reward. (Indeed, in some cultures it's not just acceptable to say these things, it's considered virtuous!) Feminists contend, therefore, that patriarchy is the root of a lot of Double Standards, ones that hurt both men and women... and they consider it their primary cause to fight against that overarching belief.

Additionally, feminists contend that patriarchy is a lot more pervasive and subversive than folks generally give it credit for. As an example, look at how Standard '50s Father transitioned into a Dead Horse Trope. Hint: it coincides with the rise of the "Women Are Wiser" trope. As women's depictions became increasingly Closer to Earth, men became empty-headed Cloudcuckoolanders—because, after all, men can't be anything women are, and if women are to be smart, then men must be dumb. And thus the Bumbling Dad trope became the norm.

A History of Feminism

In one sense, feminism is truly ancient. You can find women asserting themselves as independent and equal as far back as the sixth century BC (the poet Sappho), which might make feminism Older Than Dirt. You can also find works that are unmistakably feminist in many times and places, such as the Arthurian Romance Silence, from 14th century France, which features a female protagonist with a distinctly subversive name (as a girl she was given the name Eufemie by her mother, which not only means "Alas! Woman!" but also "euphemism", or a way of speaking around a subject rather than directly to it), which might make feminism Older Than Print. You also find notable feminists involved in the American Revolution, such as the iconoclast Thomas Paine and Abigail Adams (who was quite upset that her husband, future president John Adams, didn't follow her advice and make sure women were given decent representation in the Constitution), although they, of course, didn't call themselves feminists.

In the end, feminism is agreed to have begun as an organized and self-aware movement in the second half of the 19th century. In the United States, it grew out of, among other things, the tradition of women's open involvement in politics (as moral leaders and teachers) and drew on the long tradition not only of women political activists, but also women writers, poets, and philosophers. Historians generally agree that feminism per se began with the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, in upstate New York.

As one should expect of a philosophical, political, and social movement with more than 150 years of history, feminism has evolved since its beginnings. It has grown, developed, and responded to changes in politics and culture. Feminism has also simply learned as some of the brightest lights in the world have studied gender and its relationship with the rest of the human experience, exploring ideas and building a vocabulary to better understand them. As such, feminism is usually divided into three waves.

  • First Wave Feminism: The Seneca Falls Convention included a Declaration of grievances modeled on the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which outlined a number of ways in which the laws and society of the United States were unjust toward women. Feminism arose in part from the growing urbanization and industrialization of the US at the time. Not only that, but feminism was tightly bound up with religious revivalism sweeping the United States (New York's upstate was known as the 'Burned Over' district due to the waves of religious fervor that regularly swept through the area) and the moral issues of the day such as temperance and especially abolition. As such, the first wave was largely focused on women's rights in the workplace, on equal treatment under the law, and especially on suffrage. Whereas in the early days of the United States women were expected to form a key part of the household and form a model of virtuous womanhood as part of the moral underpinning of America and the rearing of its youth, the women of the first wave were particularly vocal and active, engaging in dangerous jobs (Nellie Bly had herself committed in order to expose the atrocious conditions of insane asylums) and political activism, even being imprisoned for their "unladylike" behavior.
  • Second Wave Feminism: Beginning in the 60s, the second wave developed in the midst of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement. Believing that women had achieved political equality but nothing else, feminism became more "radical", and indeed called themselves "radical feminists", although that term has a very different meaning today. As part of a culture bursting with ideas about social, political, and economic structures, feminism too began to look into different issues, often through a Marxist lens. This wave gave us such things as "patriarchy", "oppression", and "normative heterosexuality". Women's role in the home, in the workplace, in sexual relationships were all put under the microscope, as was the culture that took these things for granted. These were the feminists who burned their bras and stopped shaving, the feminists who aggressively moved into male-dominated professions, the feminists that Fox News can't seem to forget. The first wave was dominated by white women of means (albeit with significant black voices here and there), but the second wave drew increasingly from the other movements that were also powerful at the time, drawing not just ideas, but actual voices from the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement.
  • Third Wave Feminism: The third wave began in the mid-90s, with what are known as post-modern and post-colonial strains of thought. Drawing on the growth and development in ideas throughout the prior three decades, feminist thinkers recognized many flaws at the core of the second wave. Although the second wave was born in the cultural ferment of the 60s/70s and sought to include the voices of gay women and women of color, the fact was that second wave feminism was heavily dominated by straight, white women. Further, there had been a strong "us vs. them" mentality in the second wave that tended to alienate potential allies and feminists alike, as well as foster division within feminism itself. For example: the refusal of some feminist thinkers to accept any alternative forms of sexuality as anything other than objectification, particularly bondage and submission; refusing to believe men could ever be allies, but only patriarchal oppressors; refusing to believe that other women could have had different experiences, and that those experiences could form part of a larger, more nuanced picture of oppression. The third wave encompasses both "girly feminism" and "grrl power", in that the third wave seeks to empower women by acknowledging that, when you're free to choose your own path, your choice is a valid expression of your values and desires as a woman. Third wave feminism derides objectification while promoting self-expression; it actively opposes the danger and injury of sexual assault while promoting sex-positivism and "enthusiastic consent"; it fights patriarchal oppression and in so doing notes that that same patriarchy harms men, too. Finally, the third wave intentionally strives for inclusion and intersectionality, recognizing that oppression can take many forms and will affect different people in different ways (race, disability, sexuality, transsexuality, class, religion, etc).

Common Myths and Misconceptions About Feminism

All feminists are women.

By and large, the answer is no; basically every feminist will agree that men should forward the cause of feminism, or at least not obstruct it. However, the extent to which they should forward it will differ, depending on who you ask.

Some female feminists claim that, just as it's possible for straight people to be in favor of same-sex marriage, or for non-Jews to be against anti-Semitism, it is very much possible for men to identify as feminist. Some well-known men who identify as feminists or have expressed feminist ideals include Alan Alda, Joss Whedon, Kurt Cobain, Hayao Miyazaki, Henrik Ibsen, John Stuart Mill, Linkara and most of his male colleagues, Frederick Douglass, and L. Frank Baum. Even Dr. Eggman has been described as a feminist in the Sonic Heroes instruction manual.

Having said that, there is a competing school of thought that says while men can (and should) support feminism, they shouldn't be feminists, because feminism is (or should be) fundamentally about women solving their own problems without looking to men to do it for them. According to this school, being a feminist is a little like having N-Word Privileges: unless you have shared in the oppression of a particular group, you can't really understand that group. Men in this school tend to describe themselves as "pro-feminist" instead, and are called "male allies" by the viewpoint's women. Like N-Word Privileges, this idea is acknowledged to be a Double Standard in and of itself, but those who hold it consider it a justified one: the alternative as they see it is to let men be Know-Nothing Know-It-Alls on the subject.

All feminists are lesbians.

Lesbians have been an important part of the feminist movement pretty much from day one — prominent lesbian or bisexual feminists include Andrea Dworkin, Valerie Solanas, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Julia Serano, Camille Paglia and Mary Daly. However, many feminists are straight women—in fact, it's likely that most are, if for no other reason that homosexuals are believed to make up only 10% of the population. There are also male feminists and/or feminist allies (straight, bisexual, gay and asexual), asexual feminists, transgender feminists, and feminists of any other sexuality and gender identity you can think of. There have been a few feminist writers — especially during the 1970's, before the movement had made as many gains as it had today — who suggested that it might not be possible to have a truly egalitarian heterosexual relationship as long as sexism remained pervasive in society. This was fiercely debated even at the time, though, and it was certainly never mainstream feminist dogma that feminism carried a moral obligation to swear off sex with men.

All feminists are hairy-legged, makeup-shunnin', boot-wearin' brutes.

As much as feminists dislike the "women must be dainty and pretty" messages that society/media blast at them, for most, it's the must part that they object to. Some feminists choose to avoid or reject mainstream beauty ideals as a statement of protest, and there are some who adhere to a Real Women Don't Wear Dresses philosophy. There are others who argue that valuing traditionally masculine behavior (like being unconcerned about looks) over traditionally feminine behavior (like wearing dresses and makeup) is ultimately pretty anti-feminist in itself. Most modern mainstream feminists just think men and women should be equally free to decide for themselves how much effort they care to put into their appearance.

Feminism was invented in the 1970s.

The movement first gained coherence in The Seventies, yes... But go back to any place and time where there has been widespread discrimination against women (namely, All of Them), and you will find feminism—or, at least, something that looks like feminism if you squint hard enough. The word "feminism" dates back to 1895; the entire "suffragette" movement, in which American women campaigned for the right to vote, took place in 1905; and Christine de Pizan was writing feminist works as far back as the early 15th century. If you believe that men can be feminists and that one does not need to describe oneself as a feminist to be one, then the very first might well be Euripides, which would make feminism Older Than Feudalism. (On the other hand, some of his contemporaries called him misogynistic even by Ancient Greek standards.)

Feminists think men and women are 100% identical.

Most feminists would agree that there are overall differences between the sexes. While sentiments like "men on average have two thirds (or 60 to 100%) greater muscular strength in the upper body" can lead to arguments if stated/interpreted wrongly, the majority of feminists would concede that, yes, most males have most females beat in raw physical strength. What really grinds a feminist's gears are suggestions that:
  • Something that applies to one sex is universal and cannot apply to the other sex. ("Any man is physically stronger than any woman, ever, period.")
  • Differences between the sexes are an excuse for sexual discrimination. ("Women are not as physically strong as men, and thus no women should ever be allowed to have jobs that require lifting heavy objects.") (Or, even worse, "Women are not as physically strong as men, and thus no woman should ever be allowed to have jobs.")
  • Failure to adhere to expectations about one's sex is an excuse for ridicule. ("Any man weaker than a woman is a loser; any woman stronger than a man is a freak.")

Likewise, feminists often wonder how much of certain purported differences - say, girls being better at reading and boys being better at math - are actual innate differences, versus how much they might be a result of socialization (e.g., girls are scared away from pursuing math/boys refuse to spend time reading because they don't want to behave "inappropriately" for their gender and/or they're already convinced they'll be bad at it due to their gender). Most feminists don't deny that it's possible there are some real, innate psychological differences between the sexes, but what exactly those differences are is a matter of heated debate even among experts who make it their life's work to study such things.

Feminists also have a problem with attributing to gender individual character traits that could have originated from other sources, like natural human reactions. For example, if Jenny is crying because her father died — which surely warrants a good cry — but people observing her assume that she's emotionally distraught because she's a giiiiirl. (If you're about to protest that this sort of behavioral mis-assignment could happen to anyone, well, you're right: it's a known psychological bias called the fundamental attribution error.)

And just to complicate matters further, there's a whole school of thought (though, again, not the mainstream these days) called Difference Feminism, which argues that there are real, significant, biological differences between men and women, and that feminism should be not about treating men and women as the same, but about making sure feminine traits aren't devalued in comparison with masculine ones.

Feminists are frigid, hate sex, and want to stop anyone from enjoying porn or fanservice.

Feminists have a problem with porn tropes that promote a degrading or hateful view of women ("Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization, Sex Slave, the "Rape Is Love" trope that ran afoul of FiveP, etc), and with the ways the porn industry exploits a lot of the women who work for it. Some (again, this was a more popular position in the 1970's than it is today) do think porn inherently objectifies women and is therefore always misogynisticnote . Other feminists, though, think what the world actually needs is better porn — porn that presents sex as something where both partners' desires are equally important; Gloria Steinem uses the terms "pornography" and "erotica" to differentiate between the two.

There's more of a consensus on fanservice: feminists generally claim not to be against seeing sexy ladies in media, but don't like how often this leads to objectification, with Character Development deferred in favor of Male Gaze. (Whether this actually holds up in practice varies from feminist to feminist.) In any case, most feminists enjoy sex just fine, and those who don't are typically at least okay with the idea of it. There's even a whole faction of the movement, called Sex-Positive Feminism, that focuses on working to promote positive and empowering views of sexuality, and feminists who work in the sex industry who consider the work that they do to be empowering and advocate for feminism and the world at large to be more open-minded about sex work.

Feminists hate men, think women are better than men, and think women should have more power than men.

Women who seriously blame men for everything are known to academics as "misandrists", to readers of this wiki as Straw Feminists, and to mainstream modern feminists as "wrong". Most feminists don't think sexism is primarily something all individual men do to all individual women; the problem as most see it is patriarchy. Culture is insidious: women can, and frequently do, act in ways that support patriarchy; and men can and do fight it. The point of feminism (as much as such a vast and highly fragmented movement can be said to have a point) is to raise women to the level of rights/respect that men have had for centuries, not to drag men down to subhuman levels as some cosmic act of revenge. Note that this has not always been the case: feminism goes in waves, and there have been times in which open hatred for men has been common among feminists as opposed to a radical fringe position. Even today, it is all-too-easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because women have traditionally had less power in many situations, it is therefore always appropriate to divest men of power and invest it in women instead. But in modern feminism, at least on paper, this is less a core tenet of the movement and more an excess that some feminists are guilty of.

Feminists think women are the only ones who are hurt by sexism, and don't care about men's problems.

It's pretty uncontroversial in feminist circles to point out that patriarchy hurts men in plenty of ways. It's also uncontroversial to argue that it hurts women more on the whole, but this can lead to Flame Wars, which (like any sane person) most feminists would rather skip in favor of just actually doing something about the original problem. A lot of feminists specifically focus on the ways men's oppression and women's oppression are linked — for instance, many argue that companies need to start granting paternity leave both so that fathers can have the chance to bond with their kids, and so that women aren't automatically assumed to be responsible for child care.

One of the ways in which this stereotype has more recently reared its head on the Internet is when feminist blogs and websites have mocking rules against "what about teh menz?" discussions. See, when feminism became a thing in the 70s, a (originally pro-feminist) counterpart movement sprung up called the "Men's rights movement," which argues that patriarchy hurts men in plenty of ways (again, not controversial; feminists agree), and additionally that feminism has gone too far (yes controversial; please do not discuss it here). Add in the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory and the sad realities of the Vocal Minority, and the term "Men's Rights Activist" is taken - sometimes wrongly - to apply to real-life Straw Masculists, people who are misogynistic and supportive of male privilege and the double standards it enforces. Because of this association, feminists tend to be cautious about how much of that viewpoint they allow into their discussions.

And even when sane, normal, feminist-ascribing men are involved in the discussion, there is also an ideological point to be made. Though (again) it is not controversial to point out that patriarchy hurts men, it changes the tone of a discussion when a man makes that point. It is all-too-easy to fallaciously infer that he doesn't really care about women's problems unless he is personally affected by them... which, in addition to being a pretty lousy attitude, would go squarely against the whole point of feminism.

Feminists burn bras.

Back in The Sixties, there were some public demonstrations in which feminists threw bras, high heels, and other fashion-related items into trash cans to protest unrealistic standards of beauty. A newspaper headline compared these actions to men burning draft cards during The Vietnam War. The two ideas got jumbled together in the public consciousness, and the myth of bra-burning continues to this day. Some individual feminists almost certainly did this on a smaller, local scale, but there are no records of mass, well-publicized instances of bra-burning (as there are with men burning their draft cards), and it does not seem to have been a common demonstration tactic.

Feminists are angry, bitter harpies.

In a Venn diagram, the circle of angry, bitter harpies and the circle of feminists overlap but are not identical. While there are some feminists that are angry, bitter harpies, correlation does not imply causation.
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