Misconceptions of Feminism

From UBC Wiki


Feminism has been largely considered by some a ‘dirty’ word. Historically, politically and societally, it has been associated with negative connotations. These institutions have been unkind in their treatment of feminism. This response is due in large part to the misunderstandings surrounding feminism. Many believe feminism to be the lobbying of men’s elimination in power, but truly the goal is equality all around. Feminist critiques contend that feminist theory and subsequent movements indulge sexism through focus on women, further assuming that feminists believe women are better than men. This chief misconception leads to other false impressions, for example the belief that overall sexism is a concern of the past. The word feminism may be considered a misnomer as it not only seeks equality for women but for men and transsexuals too.


Historically men have inhabited positions of power, creating a patriarchal societal structure. First-wave feminism finds its roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This wave focused on suffrage, creating opportunities for women. Formally, the movement began during the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 where equality was fought for by 300 men and women.

From the 1960s through to the 1990s, second-wave feminism flourished, concentrating on sexuality and reproduction in the context of the anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movement. In 1968 and 1969, feminists of the second-wave protested the Miss America beauty pageant claiming that women were being degraded as merely sexual objects. First-wave feminism was driven by white middle-class women while second-wave feminism included women of color.

Third-wave feminism began in the mid-1990s, heavily influenced by post-colonialism and post-modernism. Whereas the first two waves of feminism repressed the symbols that were associated with womanhood, i.e. high heels, push up bras, the third movement readopted these previously rejected notions that were thought to be the reason behind the patriarchy. [1]

There are notable differences among the three waves but their goal is the same - equal treatment for women. The legislation that would provide men and women with equality was a passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. A significant figure in the anti-feminism domain is Phyllis Schlafly, who campaigned to stop the 1973 legislation from being approved, just one example of the many anti-feminist activists due in large part to a misunderstanding of the movement's ideologies and goals. [2]

I. Feminism: Women better than Men

The intent behind feminism is equality. That is the chief notion of the theory and movement, similar to a race movement. Activists and theorists strive for equality, not disunity. Feminism and equality are synonymous. [3] A 2014 poll from Time Magazine suggested, banning the word feminism, among other words. Criteria for ‘banning a word’ according to Time included “If you hear that word one more time, you will definitely cringe” [4] Identifiably this suggestion is unfounded and has no basis for extinction.

Feminism is not the act of silencing men, nor the act of demonizing men, as so often wrongly assumed. British writer Chris Good in his article Why Feminism is not the Fight for Equal Rights states that he and his son have felt the discrimination of the feminist regime, but what he fails to acknowledge is the adversity women faced at the hands of discrimination for years, which ultimately led to a movement where females fought to have their rights regained. If men had suffered under similar circumstances surely a movement for their equality would be campaigned for. Good states “I am an advocate for men’s rights too…and that means I’m certainly not a feminist.” [5] The dictionary defines feminism as “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes...the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” [6] This definition has by no means changed; the feminist movement is still the movement towards equality for men, women, trans, all genders.

Pop culture is replete with figures who misunderstand the term feminism. Among others, musician Katy Perry when asked if she was a feminist responded, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women.” [7]

A notable figure in the field of feminism is bell hooks who informs in her book Feminism is for Everybody that feminism makes a convincing case for the inclusion of men within the movement. Hooks makes the argument that feminism creates a world free of sexism, which is only possible if both men and women believe in the ideologies of feminism. [8]

II. Feminism: Only for Women

The chief misconception that feminists think females are superior to males also encourages the notion that men cannot rightfully be feminists. The fallacy that men cannot be feminists consumes and corrupts a vast number. Feminist theory states that if you believe in equality of all sexes, then you are a feminist.

Time Magazine quotes the popular website AVoiceForMen.com whose mission is to rail against the institution of marriage because it is ‘unsafe’ and ‘unsuitable’ for modern men. [9] Men propelling the Men’s Right Movement in Canada are advocates that feminism is only for women. Paul Elam, leader of A Voice for Men, has been described as a misogynist, attacking individual women he views as threats to his campaign and to men in general. [10]

Relating back to the equality of both sexes, there are in fact men who actively support feminism and contribute to its aims. Jackson Katz founder and director of MVP Strategies, and feminist activist argues that we need to encourage men in positions of power to put an end to their silence in response to gender violence prevention. The feminist movements affect both men and women; Katz encourages men to thank women and their initiation of leadership in the battle for equality. Men and women are both victims of men’s violence. Gender violence has been seen as women’s issues but they are equally men’s issues. Denying this gives men an excuse not to care or pay attention. [11]

III. Feminism: Sexism is No Longer an Issue

Arguments that sexism is no longer an issue are fallacious when looking at the current situation of women in society. Surely women’s rights have been validated more than they have been historically, but women still experience inferiority in comparison to men.

Under-representation in Politics

In the United States, The Paycheck Fairness Act was put forth on April 9, 2014, a bill that proposed equal wages for men and women performing the same job. For the third time Senate Republicans blocked the Act. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the Act. [12] The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual income for full-time women and men workers in the United States. Women earned $37,791 compared to the $49,398 earned by men. In Canada women earned 67.7% of men’s weekly earnings for part-time and full-time works in 2013. [13] Across North America, and assuredly various parts of the world, women deal with disparities in equal earnings.

Women are underrepresented in politics, government, businesses, in positions of high power and autonomy. Politically, women don’t experience equality as demonstrated in the statistic that females account for only 23% of MPs in the House of Commons in the United States. [14] Strikingly similar, in Canada in federal, provincial and territorial legislatures, women hold only 23% seats. [15] A poll showed that only 55% of Americans thought the country were ‘ready for a female president.’ [16]

Reproductive, Body, and Abortion Debate

Thirdly, women’s right to their own bodies is a major bone of contention in society, media, and ethics.“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood [17] satirically portrays a futuristic United States where reproduction and women’s bodies are regulated and governed by the state. Handmaids conceive and bear children for the elite. This novel among others of its kind explore the politics of reproduction and women’s bodies. A major proponent of feminist theory, particularly second-wave feminism, is Simone de Beauvoir who outlines in The Second Sex the importance of separating woman’s identities from their bodies. [18]

Academy Award winner film Juno [19] depicts a teenage girl who after an unplanned pregnancy, must decide between raising the baby, putting it up for adoption, or aborting it. This film raises awareness of the choice inherent in going forward from pregnancy. The Abortion debate has been and continues to be an issue in the aim for women’s equality.

Canada’s first Criminal Code in 1892 prohibited abortion in addition to the distribution of contraceptives. Dr. Henry Mortengaler emerged as an advocate for abortion, opening the first clinic in Montreal in 1969. He was charged with several offenses as he defied the law in his actions, serving an 18 month jail sentence in 1975. Later than same year, more than a million signatures petitioning against abortion rights was delivered to Parliament. 1988 saw the Supreme Court of Canada striking down Canada’s abortion law, as it was unconstitutional. It violated Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, going against women’s right to “life, liberty and security of person.” After much contention, abortion is legal in Canada. [20]

The Supreme Court case of 1973, Roe v. Wade saw the legal permission of abortion in the United States. Abortion in the states is legal but can be restricted by individual states. Currently six states have trigger laws which would make abortion illegal within the first and second trimesters, while three states hold laws that criminalize abortion. [21]

Thus, abortion though mostly legal now has largely been debated and still experiences difficulties. This issue originates from women’s right to their own bodies.

Sexual and Violent Assualt

Fourthly, sexual and violent assault of women continues to occur in alarming numbers. According to Statistics Canada, 472, 000 women reported sexual assaults in 2009. Over 50% of women will be sexually assaulted, raped or abused. [22] Only 8% of these attacks are reported to authorities. In 1997 a study found that 91% of rape victims are female and 9% are male, rape being defined as penetration by the offender. The majority of sexual assault is against women. [23]

These considerations show us that sexism is still present in society, and by not admitting it, the problem only increases.

IV. The Importance of Language in Feminism Discussion

Jackson Katz highlights the significance and power of language, saying the dominant group often doesn’t get paid attention to in issues of race, gender, sexual identity. That group is rarely challenged to think about its dominance, and this is a key characteristic of power. In order to amend this, Katz recommends the use of language to raise awareness that men have been erased from the conversation about gender violence which is centrally about them.

Feminist linguist Julia Penelope examines the language used to discuss violence against women. For example, the sentence “John beat Mary” gives focus to John, portraying him as the perpetrator. ‘Mary was beaten by John’ lets John off the hook by honing in on Mary. Further, the sentence ‘Mary was beaten‘ completely eliminates John and ‘Mary is a battered woman’ shapes Mary’s identity, defining her in those terms. The politics of language are hugely importance for Katz. By participating in language such as “Mary is a battered woman” versus “John beat Mary” prompts and encourages victim-blaming.

Katz identifies silence as a major culprit in violence of women. Most sexually and violently abusive perpetrators are men. These perpetrators are everyday, and normal, produced by institutions such as family, economics, race, etc. As a solution Katz suggests we question the role of these institutions and what we are doing to help produce perpetrators. Men’s silence is a way of saying ‘don’t rock the boat,’ progressively silencing women by killing the messenger per say. By calling feminists disgusting or femi-nazis, men silence women further. Instead of focusing on those directly involved like the perpetrator and victim, Katz pioneers the ‘bystander approach’ which focuses on those who aren’t involved but remain silent in the face of gender violence. Men who are not abusive are encouraged to challenge abusive men through utilization of language because silence is a form of consent. He quotes Martin Luther King saying “ “In the end what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Adult men of power are responsible for the change according to Katz. [24]

Similarly, Heather Latimer, author of “Popular Culture and Reproductive Politics” in her discussion of Margaret Atwood’s fictional novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” emphasizes “Language plays a huge part in the handmaids’ lives, and one of the first lessons the novel offers is how it can be used to strip women of their rights, reproductive or otherwise. For instance, the hand-maids are forbidden to read and write, and are dehumanized through the erasure of their names” (219). [25] Women are stripped of their identities through the use of certain language or lack thereof. In Atwood’s novel, women are classed in one of three categories, Handmaids, Wives, or Marthas. They can’t achieve individuality because they aren’t assigned individual names. [26]

“Women” as Category of Analysis, Or: We Are All Sisters In Struggle

One important aspect of feminism is that women are not a homogenous group. They come from a large variety of places, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and deal with a number of different issues. Therefore, one of the main issues that feminism deals with is the fact that people assume all women deal with the same issues. For example, people often perceive “Third World Women” as being a powerless group, where as “First World Women” are powerful actors in feminism.

Despite the fact that different women across the world deal with different problems, they all share one commonality: they are all victims of sexism. Therefore, women need to unite as sisters in feminism, instead of creating a binary of First World issues versus Third World issues.


Many harbor notions that feminism is a format of man-hating, that feminists don’t strive for equality of both sexes. Through debunking these notions and other misconceptions, feminism can be understood for what it really stands for and seeks.


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  23. Wikipedia. Rape Statistics. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [1]
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1. Rampton, Martha. The Three Waves of Feminism. Pacific University Center for Gender Equity Gender and Sexuality Studies Minor. 23 Oct, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/three-waves-feminism

2. Alter, Charlotte.#WomenAgainstFeminismIsHappeningNow Time Magazine. 23 July, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [2]

3. Williams, Anwyn. Common misconceptions too many people have about feminism. Hello Giggles. 17 Nov, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [3]

4. Steinmetz, Katy, Which Word Should be Banned in 2015? Time Magazine. 12 Nov, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [4]

5. Good, Chris. Why Feminism is NOT 'The Fight for Equal Rights' Thought Catalog. 30 Dec, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015.Web. [5]

6. Reading, Emma. It's Time We Talked About Feminism Properly Thought Catalog. 6 Jan, 2015. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [6]

7. Carolyn. Celebrities Misunderstanding Feminism. Just...Enough Already!!! 6 Jun, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [7]

8. bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics Pluto Press, 2000. Print.

9. Roy, Jessica. What I Learned as a Woman at a Men's-Rights Conference Time Magazine. 2 July, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [8]

10. "A Voice for Men Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [9]

11. Eisenberg, Rebecca. A TED Talk That Might Turn Every Man Who Watches It Into A Feminist? It's Pretty Fantastic. Original video: Katz, Jackson. TEDxFidiWomen. Web. [10]

12. Drexler, Peggy Dr. Mom and Dad, Please Explain This One to Your Daughters Huffington Post Politics. 2 Jan, 2015. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [11]

13. Women's Earnings and Income Catalyst. 24 Mar, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [12]

14. Watson, Roisin. Addressing the under-representation of women in Parliament The Guardian 30 Jan, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [13]

15. Wikipedia Women in Canadian Politics Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Feb, 2015. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [14]

16. Barbour, Christine and Wright, Gerald C. Keeping the Republic, Power and Citizenship in American Politics Sixth Ed. Sage CQ Press: 2015. Print.

17. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale McClelland & Stewart, 2014. Print.

18. Beauvoir, Simone de (1989) [1952]. The Second Sex. Trans. H. M. Parshley. Vintage Books (Random House). ISBN 0-679-72451-6.

19. International Movie Database. Juno. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [15]

20. CBC News World. Timeline: Canadian abortion rights CBC News. 26 Apr, 2014. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web.[16]

21. Wikipedia. Abortion in the United States by state Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [17]

22. Women Against Violence Against Women. Statistics WAVAW. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [18]

23. Wikipedia. Rape Statistics. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11 Feb, 2015. Web. [19]

24. Eisenberg, Rebecca. A TED Talk That Might Turn Every Man Who Watches It Into A Feminist? It's Pretty Fantastic. Original video: Katz, Jackson. TEDxFidiWomen. Web. [20]

25.Latimer, Heather. Popular Culture and Reproductive Politics: Juno, Knocked Up and the Enduring Legacy of The Handmaid's Tale" Sage Publishing: 2009. Print.

26. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale McClelland & Stewart, 2014. Print.