I’ve always been a feminist. Even before I called myself one, I always agreed with most feminist ideals. However, as is the case for many feminists, it took me a while to identify with the term because of the massive stigma around the word. As I explored in my first ShoutOut blog post (awww!), people are still hesitant to publicly identify as a feminist, most likely due to the man-hating bra-burning stereotype. But how did that stereotype become popularized? Why do people refer to some feminists as “Feminazis” or “Tumblr Feminists?” And how do those stereotypes affect feminism in 2015?
1. Don’t call me a man-hater!
My guess is that the man-hating stereotype still exists because feminist is against the patriarchy, and people assume that the patriarchy is just another term for the general population of men. It’s not. As Allan G. Johnson explains in The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy:
“‘patriarchy’ doesn’t refer to [himself] or any other man or collection of men, but to a kind of society in which men and women participate… A society is patriarchal to the degree that it is male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered. It also involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women.”
Without quoting Johnson’s entire essay, out society is largely male-dominated (people in authority roles—political, economic, legal, religious, educational, military, domestic generally reserved for men), male-identified (core cultural ideas about what is good, desirable, preferable, normal associated with how we think about men/masculinity), and male-centered (focus of attention primarily on men and what they do). Because our culture is patriarchal, it is much harder for women to be heard, respected, elected, etc., which is why women are fighting to end the patriarchy, not end the male population.
Another possible origin for this stereotype is from the women’s suffrage movement, also known as first-wave feminism. There was a lot of anti-suffrage propaganda during the movement, commonly depicting women as old, ugly, unfavorable, and often accompanied by anti-men captions. Of course, this was not actually how the suffragists looked and felt, but it was how the opposition depicted them. These stereotypes stuck, and people who oppose modern-day feminist still believe that feminists are undesirable.
2. Don’t call me a feminazi!
This may be the stereotypical feminist term that I hate the most. As a Jewish American, it makes me incredibly upset for someone to compare feminists, a group that I identify with, to Nazis, the group that killed 12 million people (including 6 million Jews). Of course, a term so heinous had to be coined by an awful person, so it’s no surprise that the term ‘feminazi’ originated from Rush Limbaugh. As Limbaugh stated in his 1992 book:
“I prefer to call the most obnoxious feminists what they really are: feminazis… I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion.”
When he first created the term, he only used it to refer to a very small, specific group of militant feminists (which is still not OK), but has since used the term as a broader slur to attack feminists, pro-choice activists, and progressive women. This term is all-around offensive, and I hope this stereotype is eradicated completely.
3. Don’t call me a tumblr-feminst!
This is one of the newest feminist stereotypes, so it was a bit harder to pin down the origin (other than general stereotypes of tumblr users). From what I gather after watching a few YouTube videos and reading urban dictionary, a ‘tumblr-feminist’ is someone who uses generalized statements that aren’t fact-checked, are inconsistent, and contain only a narrow scope. Also, someone who’s posts about feminism online are the only form of ‘activism’ they partake in. The term ‘tumblr-feminist’ is used to undermine feminists by accusing them of being uneducated white-washed slacktivists, and of course that’s not true. You don’t need to do anything to be a feminist– all you need is to believe that men and women should have equal rights. That’s it.
I’m a feminist and I’m not a stereotype. As evident through the variety of voices that write for this blog, the numerous feminists activists on social media, or anyone else who believes in equal rights, there’s no such thing as a typical feminist. Stereotypes will always exist for any group, but it’s important to recognize them, explore their origin, and definitely not take them at face value– because most stereotypes are untrue. Just be yourself, be genuine and original, and don’t let the feminist stereotypes get you down.