‘Feminism’ and ‘Man-Hating’ Are Not The Same Thing

I have identified as a feminist for quite a while now, and especially recently, I’ve been very vocal about it. I don’t think there’s any shame is being vocal – in fact, I think it’s kind of important. After all, the only way to confront issues like rape culture, the objectification of women, and outdated gender roles is if we actually talk about them. But talking about feminism (and more than that, using the word ‘feminism’ unashamedly) has made me increasingly aware of another issue: the way in which feminism is frequently perceived as man-hating.

When I first started talking about feminism, I had heard women make comments such as “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men”, and so I knew about the association going in. But at the same time, I figured that very few people would associate me as a man-hater simply because I knew that I would be careful about the way that I talked. I would make sure that nothing that I said sounded hateful, and for two reasons: 1) because I don’t believe in fighting hate with hate, or think that I will be taken seriously if I do sound hateful, and 2) because I don’t hate men. I hate toxic masculinity, sure (more on that later), but men as a group are great, I’m not going to dismiss them all based solely on the fact that they associate themselves with a specific gender.

And yet, even while being careful about what I say, I’ve still gotten multiple responses that insinuate that all feminists (and me by extension) are man-haters. I’ve had people respond to a perfectly inclusive feminist discussion by saying, “you’re right; women are better”, when that wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I’ve had people say, “it’s weird to hear you talk like that, because most feminists are man-haters”, when that isn’t my usual experience. And oddest of all, even when I’m not even talking about feminism at the time, I’ve had people make comments such as, “well, you know how Ciara feels about men”, as though they immediately assume that because I talk about feminism, I have negative feelings toward men.

And I don’t. I really don’t. In fact, part of identifying as an intersectional feminist means that I actively try to avoid having any negative feelings toward any group of people who just happened to be born a certain way.

So why is this such a common assumption that people make?

Well, it isn’t any secret that this idea of the man-hating feminist has become a common one in popular culture. We hear talk of ‘feminazies’, as though somewhere in the world, there are actually group of feminists that round men up and lock them away in concentration camps (just so this is clear, this has never happened in the history of the planet). We hear about bra-burning feminists who scream in people’s faces to get shit done, to turn the order of the world upside down so that women rule and men obey. But the odd thing about this imagine is that, as common as it is to come to people’s minds, it doesn’t at all reflect the reality of feminism and its goals.

Ask anyone who identifies as a feminist, and chances are they will tell you the same thing: feminism is not about giving women, as a group, a position of superiority over men, as a group. If anyone is clambering to turn men into slaves and dogs, they are extremists and do not reflect the views of the average feminist. By definition, feminism is about creating a society of equality, one where nobody is limited by their gender. A society where women can lead the country and where men can express emotion.

And that brings me to another point – feminism does not solely concern women. Feminism primarily concerns women, sure: if a completely feminist world is created, it is women who will see the biggest changes in their lives, but women will not see the only change. Many feminist issues involve men, and not just as the perpetrators. This is because feminism is not a battle between men and women – feminism is a battle between feminists (male and female alike) and the patriarchy.

For those of you who do not know what the patriarchy is, this is the name given to a very traditional set of societal rules that enforce the idea that men and everything associated with male-ness is superior to women and everything associated with them. And believe it or not, the patriarchy hurts men too. The patriarchy is what enforces the idea that men must be tough and unemotional. The patriarchy demands that men be providers for their family, that they make good money, protect their women from any threats, that they have women in the first place and they aren’t, in fact, gay. And the hard truth about many of these expectations is that they aren’t easy to live up to. Some men have a very difficult time providing for their families, and when they do, they confront a sense of failure, an inability to be ‘the man’. All men are born with emotions, but the patriarchy demands that they don’t express them, that they bury them deep down and bear that burden alone, resulting in a difficult time expressing themselves and inevitable feelings of loneliness. And because the patriarchy views men as tough, when they are the victims of rape or abuse, it isn’t rare for people to not believe them, simply because they’re men and should have been able to fight off their attacker, especially if their attacker was a (according to the patriarchy) weak and fragile woman.

The patriarchy also expresses an odd perspective when it comes to men and children, including their own. According to the patriarchy, men are not natural parents in the way that women are, and therefore, when they take care of their children they are ‘babysitting’. Women are considered the primary caregivers; men are merely helping out. This can be a problem for the woman, most certainly, but it is also a problem for the man who wants to be taken seriously as his child’s father.

Furthermore, the patriarchy is also responsible for what is called ‘toxic masculinity’ – a set of learned behaviours that society pushes on men specifically, but are ultimately harmful, both to the man displaying them and to others. An example of toxic masculinity would be a display of violence – an act that is very frequently done to prove a man’s toughness (or maleness), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Other examples of toxic masculinity would include misogyny, homophobia, and sexual assault.

But toxic masculinity is not something that is innate to the male gender as a whole, and it is not a set of behaviours displayed by every man. When I say that toxic masculinity is something that needs to end, I am not referring to men as a whole, nor to masculinity as a whole. All that I am saying is that we as a society need to stop teaching boys from such a young age that they need to turn to such extremes to prove their maleness, because doing so only hurts them and others in the long run.

And these are issues that feminism is trying to fight. Feminism wants men to be able to show emotion, to allow their wife to provide for them if that dynamic works better for them, to not feel any shame if they don’t quite live up to what society demands that they be. Feminism is about equality, and that equality includes men.

Feminism is not an exclusive club either; men can identify as feminists just as much as women can. In fact, many male celebrities have stood up for feminism in the media, including Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe. Even the Dalai Lama has outright referred to himself as a feminist. These are not men who are actively fighting against their own interests; they are men who believe in equality. Equality for the women in their lives to have command over their own bodies and to pursue whatever they want in life, as well as equality for men to have emotion and be taken seriously as their child’s parent.

Hot or Not: Women and Competition

It was a very usual day, and I was passing the time in a very usual way – by bumming around on the internet. And while I was there, I came across a very usual post, one that I have seen variations of before and will see variations of again. This particular post used the figures of two female celebrities, Madonna and Lady Gaga, and it asked the question: which of these two women is hotter?

Now, there are many things that I could say about this post. I could say that Madonna and Lady Gaga are both intelligent business women and artists who have fought to keep themselves relevant through the changing years, and yet this post reduces them to their physical beauty. I could say that both women are much more than their appearance, and more than that, they have represented themselves as being more than mere objects whose beauty is to be judged and determined by others. But that isn’t what I’m going to say. As much as all of that is true, what I am going to discuss is the manner in which these two women were being pitted against one another as competition in beauty.

And this is not a rare occurrence for women either – sometimes very directly, such as the example of the post that outright asked whether Madonna or Lady Gaga was hotter, and sometimes more subtly, such as when people make comments like “girls who are *insert body type here* are much more attractive than girls who are *insert body type here*”. This last example gets passed around quite often. Women who are a bit larger are made to feel as though they would be more beautiful if they just lost some weight, but in attempt to validate women who are larger, the internet produced a quote that read “real men like curves, only dogs go for bones”. And body weight is not the only area through which women are pitted against one another. Women who don’t wear make-up are told that girls who do are more beautiful, while women who wear a lot of make-up are told that girls who wear natural make-up are more beautiful. And the competition doesn’t even end at physical beauty – many women, especially teenage girls, feel the need to insist that they “aren’t like other girls”, as though to say that there is something wrong with other girls while she is inherently better.

In a lot of ways, it seems as though our society has decided that there is one clear way that is ‘right’ to be a woman, but they haven’t entirely decided what that way is. Some will say that curvy women are hotter, some will say that skinny women are hotter. Some will say that feminine women, who enjoy doing their hair and nails, are better, and some will say that masculine women, who fix up trucks and live for sports, are better. Some will say that Madonna is hotter, and some will say Lady Gaga is hotter.

And you know the reason for this? The reason is that there is no one way to be beautiful.

We too often forget that. We think that we can come up with a definitive winner in this competition that all women were unwillingly entered into. Who is the hottest woman? What is the best way to be woman? But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. One person will like skinny girls, and another person will like curvier girls. One person will like girls who wear a lot of make-up, and another person will like girls who wear natural make-up. There will always be someone out there who will think you are beautiful, and there will always be someone out there who will think you are not, no matter what you do. It is impossible to please everyone, so really, why bother? The only person you have to please is yourself. So long as you are happy and you are comfortable in your own skin, the right people will be able to see that and love you for it.

So let’s stop pitting women against one another. Let’s stop saying that one woman is hotter than another because, really, she isn’t. Both women are beautiful, and they are beautiful in their own ways. And this idea that women need to be in competition with one another to be the most beautiful or gain the most men (if the woman in question wants men, that is) is only hurting us in the long run. We should be supporting one another, not tearing each other down. We should be trying to make our fellow women feel like they have value, like someone out there cares about them, because that is a much more beautiful thing to do than tearing each other down to build ourselves up.

Change and Destruction

I have had plenty of reasons for the goddess Kali to come to mind lately.

If you are not familiar with her, Kali is a Hindu goddess, frequently representing change. If you look up images of her, you might think of her as a malevolent figure, because she does strike a very gruesome image. In a Christian theology, she’d definitely be interpreted as a demon, between her necklace of severed human heads, her skirt made of severed human arms, and the man’s head that she holds in one hand, catching the blood that drips from his neck in a bowl that she holds in another hand. Not only that, but Kali holds many weapons, and she is depicted as standing on top of the Hindu god Shiva. To the casual observer, one who does not know a whole lot about Kali or what she represents, she might appear to be terrifying – and in some ways, she is. But she is not a malevolent figure in Hindu mythology. In fact, she is quite the opposite.

As I said, Kali represents change, and the thing about change is that it is never easy. Kali comes into your life and destroys everything that needs to be destroyed, and it might be painful. It might be hard to bear. But Kali only does it because it needs to be done, and afterwards, she creates something new, something that you might not immediately recognize to be better, but that is in the long run. Maybe it’s better because it allows you the chance to learn. Maybe without it, you would never have grown the way you need to, never would have developed the strength and the resilience that you didn’t realize you were capable of. Maybe it simply is better, but it will take some time for you to realize that. Or maybe you realize that it is better right away. Either way, it is something that needs to happen. It is change, and the only thing that we can guarantee in this life is that things will change.

This representation of difficult change is not unique to the Hindu theology. The phoenix, for example, must burn itself to ash in order to be reborn into a new life. Only by dying can it become something new, something with a whole future ahead of itself.

Change is difficult. Change can be crushing, heartbreaking, destructive even. Sometimes we will wish that things could just stay as they were, but they simply can’t. Life progresses, whether we want it to or not, and sometimes all we can do is have faith that Kali will serve us well – or at least that we will be reborn like the phoenix. And we are not entirely powerless in this either. As much as change is hard, we can make it that much easier by learning to accept it. We can mourn for the things we have lost, but at the same time we can take our steps in letting them go, in moving forward. If we hold on to the past, then it will constantly drag us back, but if we allow it to slip away the way that it wants to, then we can start moving forward. We can guide our future into place. We can force this change to serve us for the better, and the first step in doing this is by accepting that all things must change. Once we do that, once we stop resisting, then we can fight alongside Kali to put the things we need in place before us.

Being Not Okay

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As I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across this post from QuotesGate. “A strong woman knows how to keep her life in order,” it said. “Even with tears in her eyes, she still manages to say ‘I’m Ok’ with a smile”.

And I’ll admit, maybe I was in the wrong place in life to come across this post, or maybe I’m just not the right audience for this post. I mean, yeah, sure, I’d identify myself as a strong woman, and that’s the only audience that this post specifically calls out, but I’m a strong woman who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety three years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been working hard every single day of my life, every last second that I’m forced to spend within my diseased mind, to achieve peace and happiness. But as hard as I’ve been working, the last month or so has been particularly hard on me. Completing my B.A. in English sent me into an existential spiral, wondering what the hell I was supposed to fill forty hours of my week with now – what would fulfill me in the same way that reading and learning new things did? To try and ease my pain, I got myself a job, which turned out to be thoroughly unenjoyable, and I was let go from it as soon as the busy period ended, which just threw me right back into that very same existential crisis, but with the added depression of wondering what I had fucked up, if I was actually employable in the real world, and what it was about this job that I had hated so much. And on top of all of that, I’ve had a very hard time getting in contact with old friends, I’m not very good at making new friends, and I am very, very, very, very single. And I’m not saying all of this to complain – everything that I’ve gone through is very simply a part of mundane, everyday life, and I know that I will get through it eventually. The only reason I am saying this is to explain why I have not been emotionally okay for the last month.

My life has not been kept in order. I’ve been trying to keep it in order, but I’m twenty two years old, which means that I have a whole lot to balance right now. My arms are filled with creative pursuits, my job, my ambitions, my friends, my family, my health, my love life, my passions, my financial situation, and because of my history with depression and anxiety, I’m holding all of them while balancing on one leg. And for the most part, I don’t think I’m doing a particularly terrible job at holding them. Some things slip from time to time, sure, but I’m confident in my ability to pick them back up again. Maybe not right now. Maybe not for a long time, and maybe life will suck a little bit until then, but I know that I’ll figure it out eventually, or at least learn how to live without them.

And here’s the thing – many of us have lives that aren’t in order right now. I am not alone in this. And more than that, many of us have lives that aren’t in order, and yet we don’t know how to put our lives back in order, but why should that make us any less strong? Having an orderly life is not the thing that indicates strength – what indicates strength is your ability to persevere, your ability to keep trying even when things aren’t in order. A strong woman (or man) may not know how to keep their life in order, but they shouldn’t be expected to. That is a hell of a thing to expect from a person, because nobody has all the answers, not even the strongest of us. The strongest of us just don’t give up, even when we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.

But more than that, let’s talk about the second part of this post, because it might be the part that irks me the most: the part that claims that a strong woman (or man) can tell the world that they are okay, even when they aren’t. And, yes, sometimes it is incredibly admirable of a person when they put aside their own feelings to fix or otherwise manage a situation. But that is not something that we can expect from someone constantly. As someone with a background in depression and anxiety, I know this firsthand. Sometimes, emotions get to be too much. Sometimes I need someone to talk to. Sometimes I need to let those tears in my eyes actually spill out onto my cheeks. And sometimes, when I’m not okay, I need to admit that I’m not okay, because that is the only way that I can figure out the best way to deal with the situation.

Emotions do not make us weak. Talking about our problems and admitting that we are not okay does not make us weak. For generations now, young boys have been told that strength means swallowing their emotions to become men, and as a result, there are many men who are emotionally immature and unavailable – this is not a message that we should be extending to women and girls now. Because here’s the thing – emotions are simply a part of us. We should be allowed to learn how to deal with this, how to talk about it, how to learn and grow with our emotions. Suppressing our emotions does not get rid of them – it only makes them manifest in different, more harmful ways.

And from my own personal experience, I was only able to confront my feelings around depression and anxiety when I was finally able to talk about them. I was only able to become okay when I was able to admit that I wasn’t okay. Because being not okay is perfectly natural. Sometimes it happens – there’s nothing shameful about it. And sometimes, admitting that you aren’t okay is the strongest thing that you can do.

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

I’ve met two different kinds of people when it comes to opinions about social media.

On the one hand, we have the social-media-is-the-god-of-modernity people. These are the people who live on Twitter or Instagram, the people who defend the existence of the internet by pointing out that it is a part of society that isn’t going away, and so we should not only get used to it, but get good at it. These are the people who think of social media as something that will be of growing importance, something that you must understand in order to function in the world.

And then, on the other hand, we have the social-media-is-the-gateway-to-hell people. The people who don’t have anything more than an email account because everything else is pointless at best and opening you up to being stalked at worse. The people who worry about children getting a hold of social media because they are not capable of enough critical thinking to realize that they shouldn’t share private information with strangers, or send out images of themselves that could lead to bullying or unfair treatment from others.

And the way I see it, both sides have their points. I know many people who have dealt with misfortune as a result of social media. Although I have never personally experienced cyberbullying, I have spoken with people who have, and they have told me that it is even worse than face-to-face bullying because there is no escape from it. It haunts you constantly, always there on your phone or your computer screen no matter what actions you take to try and avoid it. I have known young girls who have taken sexualized photos of themselves and sent them out on social media, only to be humiliated when those images fell into the hands of someone who was not intended to get a hold of them. These are problems that have existed before social media, of course, but social media has made them easier to persist.

But social media is not the problem. Social media is a merely a vehicle, and it can be used for just as good as it is capable of evil.

As much as I have known people who were tormented through their interactions online, I have also known people who have an incredibly difficult time making friends in face-to-face interactions, and social media has made that just a little bit easier. Social media makes it easier to talk about things that we do not tend to talk about in our daily lives, because it’s easier to bare your soul before an empty screen than a human being. You can be honest on social media, exploring issues like mental illness or personal insecurities without fear of judgment. You can reach out to people without ever meeting them face-to-face.

This has happened to me countless times: I discuss depression, or suicidal thoughts, or my struggles with my sexual orientation – the sort of things that I would never explore in vivid detail face-to-face with someone, and the next thing I know, I have people messaging me on Facebook telling me that they have felt the same way as me. Maybe they’ve felt suicidal at some point, but they haven’t had anyone to talk to about it. Maybe they’re closeted bisexual. Maybe they’ve simply shared my thoughts at some point. Either way, social media allows us to be more open, more honest, and because of that, it can make us realize that we aren’t alone. That our fears, insecurities, and struggles are merely human. They are something that many of us share, and the burden becomes a little easier to bear when we realize that we aren’t the only ones carrying it.

Social media allows us to meet and make connections with people who are nothing like us, as well. I’m a young white woman, and maybe the majority of the people who I see day-to-day are young white women, but that doesn’t mean that those are the only people I can ever speak to. Social media opens up my world to so much more than that, to so many different perspectives that I may have never considered before. I can read the private thoughts of someone living halfway across the planet if I want to, and I wouldn’t be able to do that quite so easily if it weren’t for social media.

Social media allows us to learn about people. Sometimes we learn ugly lessons about how much we are able to trust a faceless stranger behind a computer screen, and sometimes we learn to open our mind and consider perspectives that we’ve never encountered in our daily lives. So altogether, what does this mean? Is social media a good tool, or a an evil one?

Well, in my personal opinion, it’s neither good nor evil. Rather, it has the capability to be both. There are many things in this world that are just as beautiful as they are sinister, but that doesn’t mean that we should avoid them completely. Social media is a passive tool that is shaped completely by the person using it – it is up to them to make it what it is. And I can say that we should just be careful about what we post and try to make the internet a positive place for everyone, but at the same time, that’s a difficult thing to maintain completely. Some people are going to use social media for ill. Some people are going to steal images that don’t belong to them, or hack accounts, or simply be generally rude, and sometimes there’s no real way to avoid that. That’s just life. But just because there is negativity out there, that doesn’t take anything away from the wonder that exists as well.