In Defense of Feminism: Tips for Speaking Up

As we approach the end of the semester, I, like many other bloggers, find myself reflecting on what I’ve learned from my Shout Out! experience. In the wake of becoming a feminist blogger, I decided to become a feminist advocate as well- not just online, but wherever I had the opportunity. One thing that I have challenged myself to do this semester was to “come out” as a feminist whenever I heard someone denounce feminism. Though I can’t say that I took every opportunity (sometimes I was too intimidated, or the exchange seemed too brief), I’ve definitely learned a lot about what others think when they hear the “f-word.” So today, I will share some common arguments against feminism, and some of what I’ve found to be helpful ways to counter them.

“I’m not a feminist or anything, but…”

This statement usually precedes the expression of a feminist idea. It’s very often uttered by women who agree with many if not all of true feminist ideals, but are under some kind of misconception of what feminism really is. They say this as a disclaimer so that no one discredits what they say by calling it “feminist nonsense.” Though it saddens me to know that owning the feminism of the idea may cause some to dismiss it, I’ve spoken out a few times when this was said to or in front of me. The most effective conversations I’ve had have stemmed from these starting points:

–       Ask them why they are not a feminist, and tell them I am one and agree with their statement.

–       Tell the speaker that they don’t have to identify as a feminist, but that their statement was in keeping with the ideology.

This usually leads to a conversation that includes…

“I’m not a feminist because I think all people should be equal.”

No one would try to tell a biology student what biology is about, but everyone thinks that their opinion of feminism should be weighted at least as much as yours is, despite never having educated themselves on the subject. More frustrating than the last, this is where another person will try to tell you that they know more about your feminist identity and ideals than you do, and that feminism’s goal is female dominance over men. As proof, they may say that feminist issues all revolve around women, and that they hardly ever involve men’s issues. For this, here’s what I’ve found helpful:

–       Tell them that feminism advocates true equality, and that anyone who thinks women are superior instead of equal is not a feminist.

–       Explain that the need for feminism comes from a current inequality between genders, where men are superior, which naturally lends itself to the discussion of mainly women’s issues.

–       Tell the speaker about the ways that feminism discusses the intersectionality of gender and other issues, like race, gender identity, and religion, and how feminism can be an empowering force for anyone struggling with oppression.

You're right! I'm so glad you know more about my area of study than I do!

“Feminism’s alright, but I’d rather have the days when men held doors open.”

As parklena discussed yesterday, a person shouldn’t hold the door open for you because they think that you are incapable of doing so yourself- they should do it because they are a nice person, and it should be done for everyone, not just for women. Further, if you’d like to trade all of the strides that feminism has made for you in the past few decades for a man to hold doors open everywhere you go, I’m guessing that you don’t know or remember some other details about those “good old days.” My responses have usually included:

–       Why are the two mutually exclusive? By promoting equality, I’d hope that everyone would want to be nicer to each other.

–       I like having the door held for me, and I also enjoy the rights I’m afforded thanks to feminism, like a more equal pay rate and laws and work rules against sexual assault and harassment.

–       I’m sure men like having nice things done for them, too.

“Only ugly women are feminists.”

You’ll usually come across this argument as an attack on you for being feminist, or a defense of why you shouldn’t be one. Either way, your appearance shouldn’t dictate your credibility. My most successful discussions have included:

–       Asking if there isn’t something wrong with a woman’s appearance defining her worth.

–       Point out that many women who are perceived as “beautiful” are still unfairly objectified.

–       Counter that, as Katie O. has pointed out, feminism is for everyone.

Though these are only the most common arguments I have heard, the responses I’ve included often work when addressing multiple attacks on feminism. The best method I’ve found for having a truly beneficial discussion about feminism is by being polite but firm, and asking exactly why that person thinks the way they do. It is also helpful to point out that misconceptions about feminism are sadly common, so as not to offend someone who is misinformed. Although not all of my conversations have ended the way I’d have liked, most people I have come out to expressed a change in the way that they see feminism, and more importantly, the way that they see women.

One thought on “In Defense of Feminism: Tips for Speaking Up

  1. I really enjoyed this post, FemOnFire! I feel this will really help people speak up more. I’m glad you wrote on this and I feel that your arguments will help a lot of people understand feminism better.


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