Feminism is a complex and nuanced topic that cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs. Rather than being an essay, this page will try to keep it as short as possible by stripping the topic down to its bare minimum.
A lot of people have preconceived opinions regarding feminism. That is why this page will need to address certain misconceptions regarding feminism and women's rights.
A movement for gender equality
What is feminism?
Feminism is the chosen name of a range of social justice
movements which fight for women's rights, in order to strive for social equality between genders
Although there are various branches and schools of feminism, they all converge on the common conclusion that modern day society is still biased against women in many ways, and that action must be undertaken in order to fix those biases
There is no central feminist authority, nor is there a homogenous movement, but all feminists are bound together by a common long history of struggles and a desire to continue the lineage of this shared history
Has feminism accomplished anything?
Feminism originated as a series of movements for women's emancipation in the western world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, back when women had far fewer rights than they have nowadays
Many important battles have been won through these women's rights movements, including:
- The right to vote and be part of politics.
- The right to decide whether or not to have children.
- The right to be legally and financially independent.
- The right to have access to a higher education.
- The right to use their own names when writing or creating art.
Is feminism still relevant nowadays?
Although the situation of women in society has massively improved in the 21st century, they still face systemic prejudice, even in high income countries. As long as women are the targets of disproportionate amounts of violence and inequality, feminism will continue to be a relevant and necessary movement.
Here are some examples of the discriminations women still face:
- Domestic violence, which leads to feminicides:
- 92% of domestic abusers were men in the United Kingdom in 2022.
- 3 women per day were murdered by their partners in the USA in 2020.
- Over 80% of domestic violence murder victims were women in France in 2022.
- Most of those could have been prevented if domestic abuse was taken seriously..
- More than 100 million women were missing Worldwide, as of 1990.
- Sexual violence and rape culture:
- Every 68 seconds a sexual assault happened in the USA in 2019.
- Over 90% of rape victims were women in the USA in 2018.
- 1 out of 6 women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
- Rape has long lasting effect such as PTSD, anxiety, loss of trust in people.
- Only 12% of rape victims reported it to the police in France in 2018.
- Less than 1% of those rape victims have seen their rapist convicted.
- Work and income inequality:
- Over 50% women were unemployed worldwide in 2019.
- Those that were employed earned 33% less than men for the exact same work.
- 17% less was earned by women than men in 2019 in France on equal worked hours.
- Only 9% of the top 500 companies were led by a woman in the USA in 2022.
- $46,500 is the average pay gap between women and men CEOs in the USA in 2011.
- Only 11% of "ultra-wealthy" people worldwide were women in 2022.
- Romantic life, marriage, and housework:
- 91% of mothers vs. 30% fathers spent an hour a day on housework in 2022 in Europe.
- 1h30 more per day was spent on housework and children by women in France in 2016.
- Women were 46% more stressed out by their husbands than by their kids in the USA in 2013.
- Men were 6 times more likely to leave a partner diagnosed with cancer in the USA as of 2009.
- Only 2 in 5 women were satisfied after sex with their partner in the United Kingdom as of 2019.
- 71.5% women experienced positive effects after stopping the contraceptive pill.
- Yet birth control remains the full responsibility of women in most couples.
- Perception in society, and academic sexist bias:
- 75% of speaking time is monopolized by men during meetings in the USA as of 2012.
- Men think women dominate conversations when they take more than 30% of the talking time.
- Men interrupt women in conversations 33% more than they interrupt other men.
- Women earned over 50% of science degrees in the USA since 2000, yet hold 27% of the jobs.
- This causes a sexist bias in scientific and medical fields, which affects the health of women.
- Portrayal in media:
- Only 27% lines were spoken by women in 2016's biggest box office movies in the world.
- Every French TV and radio channel except one gave more speaking time to men in 2019
- More than half of comedy sketches aired in France in 2019 contain sexist "jokes".
- Only 36% of people shown in advertisements were women in the USA in 2016.
- 52% of women present in advertisements were depicted as sex objects in 2008.
- 45% of video game players in 2021 were women, vs. 20% of video game characters.
Can I be a feminist?
If you feel alarmed by any of the examples listed above and sincerely want society to change for the better, then you are a feminist
Even men can - and should - be feminists. Although in that case you might want to call yourself an ally
instead, or even better, to not call yourself anything and let your actions speak for themselves: educating yourself about feminism, listening to women, and trying to make society a better place for the women around you. Some of the men who loudly claim to be feminists end up taking over women's already limited space.
In any case, keep in mind that feminism is and will always be for women and about women. The end goals of feminist struggles require all men to learn, grow, and change for the better, even if it sometimes means giving up some ground to women and making some sacrifices. In the long term, many studies have shown that a more equal society ends up benefitting everyone, including men
Common questions about feminism
Do feminists hate men?
Feminism is not a unified movement. It is a collection of varied people, which each have unique political thoughts, personalities, and outlooks on life
. As of such, yes, there are some feminists that do hate men.
The belief in a hypothetical majority of "man-hating feminists" has been propped up as a scarecrow by antifeminists, yet all studies on the topic show that this is a myth
. A 2009 study even came to the conclusion that feminists hated men on average less than non-feminists did
People in power get to decide the rules of society, and these people are mostly men
. Many of them try to hold on to their position of dominance by fighting against social progress, and therefore against women's rights. This system of mostly male dominance over society is called the patriarchy
Feminism is in opposition to the patriarchy, which is sometimes wrongly conflated as fighting against men as a whole. Taking down the patriarchy is in the interest of men too. This is not only because the patriarchy holds back a lot of social progress which would benefit everyone, but also simply because women did nothing to deserve their situation, and helping them out in their struggles is the morally correct thing to do
As a side note, feminism does sometimes include the support of men's rights as well, as the end goal is gender equality. For example, men being allowed to take paternity leave after the birth of their child would alleviate the burden of child rearing for women, and thus feminists fight for men to have equal access to paternity leave
Don't radical feminists take it too far?
Feminism is not a single ideology, but rather a movement which contains many different ideologies
One of the feminist schools of thought is called radical feminism
. This ideology considers that society can not be fair for women as long as it is male-dominated, and that it is therefore necessary to fight and overthrow the patriarchal domination of society before any major progress can be made for women's rights.
Be aware that this is an extremely simplified summary of a very complex topic, almost a caricature of reality. There are many more nuances to feminist schools of thoughts, with a lengthy history behind each of them
The term "radical feminism" has been used by anti-feminists as a way to demonize feminism as a whole, pointing to hypothetical "man-hating radical feminists" who "take things too far", usually some cherry picked individual examples. This has nothing to do with the actual definition of radical feminism.
If there is one movement that should be feared for its dangerous radicalism, it is the ever growing reactionary
anti-feminist cycle of violence
, fueled by moral panics
and disinformation over what feminism actually is
While feminism is not fueled by hate
, a lot of men do feel irrational hatred towards feminism
or even against women as a whole
. Sadly, as Brandolini's law
states, it is magnitudes harder to fight anti-feminist disinformation compared to how easy it is to make people irrationally angry at feminism.
Why not call it egalitarianism?
Feminism is an egalitarian
movement, as it aims to reach equality between genders. Why would feminists not want to refer to themselves as egalitarianists instead?
Simply enough, because women are the ones being denied rights. In the current state of society, the fight for gender equality is almost entirely a fight for women's rights (and non-binary
It doesn't help that a lot of people who label themselves as gender egalitarians tend to be universalists
or men's rights activists
, both of which have a tendency to use the pretense of "equality" as a way to make debates about themselves, and in the process silence minorities
, including women
Why don't feminists fight for women in other countries?
argument is often used as an accusation against feminism.
Most, if not all feminists obviously do support the fights for women's rights in countries other than their own, including lower income countries in which women have much worse situations.
Just because some other countries or cultures have it worse doesn't mean sexism doesn't exist or doesn't matter in people's home countries. A feminist might talk mostly about issues affecting their own daily lives, but it doesn't mean they don't care about the ones affecting other women.
There are already women's rights activists and feminists in other countries. The best way to support these movements is by visibly showing solidarity, and optionally giving financial help. History is full of examples of foreign cultures trying to spread their own values over native ones
, the results
are almost always much worse than when change comes from within
Besides, feminist successes in high income countries alters global culture in ways which will eventually influence low income countries
. This is why many feminists both support the fight for women's rights in other countries and choose to spend most of their energy on activism in their home country.
What about bad feminists?
Every social justice movement includes misguided activists
, feminism is no exception.
The most visible ones are TERFs
, who reject trans
women and spend more time fighting against trans rights than actually fighting for women's rights. Although they call themselves feminists, they are bad faith actors
, as they have ties to far right
, which actively fight against women's rights
There are also women who call themselves "conservative feminists". Being a conservative
is incompatible with feminism, as conservatives worldwide are actively fighting to limit or even revoke women's rights
The existence of some ill intentioned people who label themselves as feminists does not invalidate the progressive nature of feminism. It does however raise the risk that, once they manage to gain enough media presence in a country or culture, they could instrumentalize feminism in order to spread their reactionary
This happened in the United Kingdom in the early 2020s, as TERFs became more visible than feminists, spreading their transphobic
message with the support of most of the country's media
. However, this was not an issue caused by feminism itself, but rather a deliberate sabotage, put in motion by some of the United Kingdom's biggest media conglomerates and conservative politicians
Is feminism only for straight white cis women?
Feminism takes into account intersectionality
, a concept which states that all forms of discrimination intersect with each other, and thus fighting for the rights of one minority
implies taking part in the fights for the rights of all other minorities
Despite this, invisibilisation
of some minorities can sometimes happen within feminist movements. Indeed, feminists are not immune to the biases which affect all of society
This causes some people to accuse mainstream feminism of actually being "white feminism", a movement which mainly serves the interests of cis
straight white women, and ignores if not hinders all other women
If some of the people who fight for women's rights do not feel represented by feminism in their country or culture, they might reject the movement, or even start actively fighting against other feminists. As strength comes from unity, it is necessary that intersectionality always remain at the heart of feminism
Common questions about women's rights
Aren't divorces favorable to women?
There exists a strange misconception that women are always the "winners" in divorces, often even painting them as "gold diggers" if they try to fight to keep some money or custody of their children.
When it comes to money, not only are women often worse off than men after divorces
, but men actually tend to become richer following divorces
. Fear of this gender bias in divorce proceedings causes many women to stay trapped in unhappy marriages
As for custody of children, in every high income country, most cases are not decided by judges but rather between the parents themselves
. Many of those cases give full responsibility of the children to the mother, which adds to their financial burden. Alimony, meant to alleviate this burden, is often not paid by the fathers (57% alimonies were unpaid in the USA in 2015
, 40% unpaid in France in 2019
In the rare cases where the custody battle is decided by a judge, contrary to popular belief, results tend to be biased towards men. To use the USA as an example, while it is true that 90% women get awarded custody of their children, it is because both parents often agree to give full custody to the mother. When each parent asks for custody and the judge has to decide, 60% of cases get awarded to men
Although some divorce rulings can feel unfair towards men, nearly all studies agree that the overwhelming majority of women are the losers in divorces in the long term
Why do men work so many physically demanding jobs?
Some of the most physically demanding jobs, such as construction or firefighting, are dominated by men
If men really wanted women to work more in those jobs, then they should begin by ensuring that those jobs did not have a much higher prevalence of workplace discrimination
and sexual harassment
In 2020 in the USA, although the number of women in construction fieldwork had risen to 4%, almost half of them expressed a desire to leave the field due to the way they were treated compared to men
Feminism includes fighting to improve the conditions of women in these jobs, and, until the situation improves, men can only blame themselves for the lack of women in construction work, as they are the ones driving them away. The same issue exists in every other field of work dominated by men
This aside, there are many jobs dominated by women which take a huge physical and/or mental toll on the body. In high income countries, jobs such as nursing, healthcare, teaching, cleaning, customer service, are mostly held by women
. In low income countries, women are more likely than men to be working in vulnerable conditions
Why aren't women drafted and forced to fight in wars?
Nobody should have to go through a mandatory military service, regardless of gender.
In countries with a mandatory draft, military service is an important part of men's socialization. It happens to be a place where they witness and take part in a lot of sexist and violent behaviors, which they will then repeat throughout their adult lives
Although the mainstream feminist stance is to fight against military conscription for both women and men, it is not women who are refusing to be drafted, but rather the military system which puts some effort into remaining exclusive to men
Even in countries with mandatory military service for women, such as Israel, the military hierarchy remains a boys' club and fails to curb the sexual harassment endemic to military structures
As for wars themselves, violence is not exclusive to the front lines. While men are fighting, women are left alone to raise children, care for the injured and the elderly, and keep the country's economy going. Sexual violence against women is one of the most commonly used weapons in wars
, even in modern conflicts on the territories of high income countries
According to the United Nations, in 2009, women and children were the main victims of wars
, due to issues such as lack of access to proper healthcare following sexual violence, complications from untreated pregnancy and childbirth issues, adult men's wellbeing being given priority due to their status as fighters, being neglected and abused during post-war reconstruction efforts, and more.
Although men are more likely to die during armed conflicts, the long term effects of wars affect women much more
What about false accusations that ruin men's lives?
Some people are convinced that women yield the "power" to ruin men's lives through false sexual assault accusations. This offensive stereotype is based on misconceptions, as the reality behind sexual assault accusations is quite unlike the way these people imagine it to be.
As mentioned higher up on this page, women are the main victims of sexual assault. But beyond that, not only did barely 12% of rape victims report it to the police in France in 2018
, less than 1% of those rape victims have seen their rapist convicted
These numbers are similar in most countries. In the USA, 975 out of 1000 sexual assault perpetrators walked free in 2019
. In the United Kingdom, 1.6% of rapes recorded by police led to the suspect being charged in 2020
. Given these numbers, even if a man is falsely accused of rape, odds are there will be no long term consequences for him.
Meanwhile, serious academic studies trying to quantify the number of false rape allegations made by women estimate them to range from 0.5% of all rape accusations
to up to somewhere between 2% and 5%
. The actual number is likely to be much lower than these estimates, as many of the cases considered false allegations are actually women choosing to withdraw their accusation before the prosecution ends, without necessarily having lied about the sexual assault
To put all these numbers into perspective, in 2017 in the United Kingdom, men were 230 times more likely to be sexually assaulted themselves than they were likely to be falsely accused of rape
. Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that every single rape case prosecuted that year was a false accusation, men would still be twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault than to be prosecuted for a false accusation
Besides, accusing a person of rape is not an easy or neutral act. It can easily backfire on the accuser if the judge or jury decides that they don't like the case
. Even men with dozens of rape accusations against them will often manage to find sympathy in judges and in popular opinion, if they try to paint themselves as the victim of false accusations
With all this in mind, it is no surprise that a study made in 2021 in the USA came to the conclusion that not one single false accusation has led to a man's life being affected negatively in the long term, while the lives of sexual assault survivors always spiral negatively in the long term
This myth of widespread false accusations puts women under massive scrutiny during sexual assault police cases and trials, to the point where it seems they are the ones having to defend themselves instead of their rapist
. This makes it extremely hard for women to find justice, to the point where many are afraid of seeking justice at all, explaining the low numbers of cases reported to the police in the first place
In summary: What is really feminism?
Feminism is a movement which acknowledges that, while women's rights have progressed a lot in the last century, society is still sexist. A lot of work still needs to be done before equality is reached between genders.
Feminism is not a unified movement, but rather a collection of varied people and diverse schools of thoughts. They all have one cause in common: further advancing women's rights.
Feminism is a movement by and for women. It does not fight against men as a whole, but rather against the unfair system of mostly male dominance of society. Men can (and should) be allies of feminism.
Feminism is the target of many anti-feminist movements, which try to paint it in a bad light for various self-serving reasons. Nevertheless, a more equal society would benefit everyone, including men
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