Empowerment… for everyone

I was sitting in a quiet room on campus when a student made the following statement: ‘I’m not opposed to feminism, but if their reasoning is that all men are scum, and women are equal to men, doesn’t that mean that all women are scum?’

When questioned about his misunderstanding, the student merely added, “It’s just the extremists that I can’t deal with.” His initial comment and rebuttal, which clearly ignored the questions posed to him, both drew modest laughter from some within hearing distance.

His comments, which were perhaps intended as a casual off-hand remark, in fact underscore a justification widely held by many men regarding their opposition to feminism. Perhaps mis-perceiving a vocal feminist for an radical one – someone who, according to popular stereotypes, refuses to shave, neglects beauty products and hates men – some men mistake feminism for institutionalized male-hating and proceed to dismiss what is in reality a struggle for comprehensive equality between the sexes.

Allow this message, then, to be a public service announcement for all men who share the unnamed student’s reasoning: Stop overgeneralizing feminists as extremists. You are embarrassing yourselves.

Whenever I hear a fellow man generalize and marginalize feminists or feminism due to these ‘extremists,’ I imagine these people conceivably:

-view all Muslims as terrorists because ISIS recruits Muslims for acts of terrorism

-think all black people are thugs, criminals, drug-abusers or pimps since such content abounds in rap music, a genre dominated by black artists

-see all Catholic priests are child molesters because some priests have been arrested for such offenses.

These claims are obvious examples of representative bias and would immediately be dismissed by anyone in serious conversation – however, the willingness of a sizable population of men, of which this unnamed student’s comments belie he is a part, to voice and defend such generalizations implies that, while logic can transcend ethnicity and nationality, it does not transcend biological sex.

That being said, let us understand what feminism is.

Feminism, as many feminists will tell you, instead fights for the establishment of equality between sexes and the deterioration of oppressive stereotypes that shape and distort our social understandings of masculinity and femininity.

Feminism fights for a woman’s right to not have her bust valued above her brain.

Feminism fights for a woman’s right to earn a salary equal to her male colleague. It similarly fights for her right to love sports, video games and short hair without being criticized for being masculine, just as it fights a man’s right to enjoy cosmetic, fashion and romantic comedies without being ostracized for his traditionally feminine interests.

What feminism does not fight for, however, is the dis-empowerment or disenfranchisement of men. It does not theorize men as inferior to women or work toward their eventual subjugation; rather, it advocates for the disintegration of the barriers to equality between sexes such that men and women can mutually thrive in harmony

To be sure, these objectives are, in fact, radically progressive. Feminism’s unabashed pursuit of equality is transformational, in the same respect that the civil rights movement or the push for universal access to education in the Middle East is transformational. Each movement sought – and seeks – to systematically dismantle the institutionalized means of oppression of one population and establish the foundation for universal equality.

However, when any opponent of the movement labels a feminist an ‘extremist,’ this egalitarian vision isn’t what they want you to imagine. In today’s society, the word extremist holds a violent and destructive connotation via its use as a substitute for the oft-used labels ‘terrorist’ and ‘Muslim extremist’ in reference to Islamic fundamentalism. The result, then, is fear of a movement that seeks to empower.

All of this is to say the following: If one is still inclined to oppose feminism, then that is their decision, a decision anyone is free to make, but make that decision after having thoroughly educating yourself on what feminism is rather than combating the illusions of feminism spawned by mislabeling and one’s own mis-perceptions.