In Defense of Feminism

So a couple of weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted a video about why she’s an ‘anti-feminist’. I’m not going to link to the video or name her, because I don’t want to start anything or be petty. To me, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and regardless of whether or not I believe it or share it, it’s not up to me to attack them for it. She made a few good points, and she made a few bad ones. This blog post was not written to attack her personally; it was written because I wanted to address the dangerous problems with her argument.

I’m going to paraphrase her argument: though she believes in gender equality, she is against feminism because from what she’s seen, feminists in Canada care mostly about three issues: free birth control, free abortions, and the right to go topless in public. To her, these are trivial issues—she says people who want free birth control and abortions should just not have sex if they can’t pay for them, and women shouldn’t g0 around shirtless in public because women’s (upper) bodies are different from men’s as they are sexualized—and instead, we should be focusing on other things like the conditions of women in third-world countries.

And I do agree with her on some of this—we should focus on third-world countries as well as our own—but her argument is highly flawed. First, from what I know—and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong—a large portion of feminists aren’t lobbying for free contraception and abortions. They’re lobbying to have them covered by their health insurance, and though this is a small difference, it is a very important one. Instead of wanting free contraception and abortions, they want them covered under their healthcare plans like surgeries and other prescriptions usually are.

To make things ever weirder, things like Viagra and even vasectomies are usually covered by healthcare, and in Canada, things like incontinence products and, uh, human sperm for artificial insemination are not subject to GST (sales tax). And here’s the thing: birth control is not only used for contraceptive purposes. Women can use it to clear their acne, to make their periods less painful and lighter, to balance out hormones, and/or to make irregular periods more regular. I have a friend who takes birth control for her acne and another who takes it to balance out her hormones. Neither take it so that they can have sex.

And for abortions… the whole people-use-abortions-for-birth-control! idea is getting really old. Yes, there might be someone dumb enough to use abortions as their main method of birth control, but they’re nowhere near the majority. According to womenscenter.com, 83% of women receiving an abortion are unmarried, and women who have never married obtain two-thirds of all abortions. Furthermore, the abortion rate among women living below the US federal poverty level ($9,570.) is nearly four times that of women 200% above the poverty line, which may suggest that they’re having abortions because they know that they can’t afford to care for the child and give it a good life. And for more reasons, three-fourths of women surveyed cited concerns for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths said that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for other dependents; and half said they did not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their partner. Also, about 13,000 women have abortions per year because they became pregnant as a result of rape or incest. SSo yeah… not exactly for everyday birth control reasons. But if you look at the statistics, better access to birth control, especially in poorer areas, actually lowers abortion rates.

(And I’m not going to touch the Free the Nipple thing, because frankly, I don’t even know what to say about that one.)

And in addition to those flaws, there’s a bigger, more dangerous problem: she’s saying that she’s researched this and found that the majority of feminists want these things. That they’re focusing on these issues instead of worrying about the girls forced into marriages in third-world countries. And that’s not true. That’s about as true as saying that all feminists are lesbians who hate men (which, to be clear, is completely untrue).

It’s like saying that most Muslims are terrorists, and most Jehovah Witnesses go knocking on doors to give out pamphlets to try and convert people. That most blondes are as dumb as a doorknob, most Asians are geniuses, and most Hispanics are lazy and can’t speak English. That most cheerleaders are bitchy and promiscuous, and most jocks are assholes that only care about sex. And guess what—that’s not true. I have several Islamic friends who are literally the nicest people you’ll meet, and one of my friends is a Jehovah’s Witness and I honestly wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t told me. I know several blondes who are super smart, some Asians who aren’t, and my mom is Hispanic and speaks perfect English and has one of the strongest work ethics I’ve ever seen. I know some nice and non-promiscuous cheerleaders, and some of the jocks at my school are equally nice and not players.

Those are all stereotypes, and while it is true that most stereotypes have or had a basis in fact, that doesn’t mean that they’re still true for the majority of people. Saying otherwise is very dangerous for any given group of people. Would you like people to automatically assume that you’re a terrorist just because you wear a hijab, or that you’re dumb or lazy because you’re not white?

But I think that the reason why some of these stereotypes are so prevalent is that they are what we hear about the most often. The extremists of any group will always be the most known because they are the most radical, and the most “out there”. No one wants to hear about good Christians who spread kindness and love and go to church every Sunday when they can hear about Christians who don’t believe in evolution and think anyone who isn’t a straight, white male is subservient to them. The latter is more interesting because they’re so different. And different sells newspapers—well, that and death and destruction. I think we all secretly like hearing about the dark side of humanity for the same reason that we stop or slow down when we see an accident on the road. And people who represent that darker side make us feel better because we’re not like them.

And for feminists, the radical ones will always be the ones who push the hardest. They’re the ones who are shouting their manifesto at the top of their lungs; the less extreme ones, the ones like me and the other feminists I know, are the ones they squash under their feet in their haste to be heard. Most of us don’t even speak out because we’re afraid to be thought of as “like them”.

I’m not going to deny that there are feminists out there who think men suck and they should have the right to go out topless and get free contraception and abortions, because there are feminists out there like that. Saying otherwise would be a lie. But believing that they make up the majority is dangerous and harmful, as it is with any other stereotype.

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2 thoughts on “In Defense of Feminism

  1. I take your point about the dangers of stereotyping, but I don’t think it necessarily applies to a “political stance” such as conservatism, feminism etc. (When I think of stereotyping, I think of labeling a marginalized group.) So I think it is ok to make certain assumptions about conservatives based on their ideology; in the same way, I don’t see what’s wrong with linking feminism with causes that are typically associated with them (e.g. abortion). I do share the concerns of your friend about modern day feminism in developed countries… I think feminists’ efforts could be better utilized by focusing on the very real gender inequities facing women in the Third World. In developed countries, I believe our focus should be on the most vulnerable populations (including women); I don’t think there’s a need to focus on women per se. Finally, I have to say that the strong association with modern day feminism and abortion may be alienating women who support gender equality, but find abortion morally distasteful. I have written a bit about this in my blog post (https://not1ofthecrowd.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/not-quite-a-progressive/).

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    1. In general, I’m calling stereotyping “dangerous” because more often than not it’s a misinterpretation of a particular group. While I can see your point about most political stance groups, I do feel like feminism is sort of a marginalized group because it’s still not widely accepted and there’s still a slight social stigma to being a feminist.

      I’m not trying to say that it’s wrong to link feminism with these causes, per se. I’m just trying to say (albeit awkwardly) that I feel like it’s wrong to say that these three causes are essentially the whole point of feminism. Sure, they’re a large part of feminism, but to say that they’re the only ones is a gross mistake. I also agree with you that we should be focusing more on third-world countries where there are women who don’t and can’t have voices because of oppression. I think people just focus on local issues because they’re what we see every day. (And yes, it’s not only women we should focus on, but as they are one of the most vulnerable groups in those places, we should still focus on them.)

      Abortion is a very controversial issue, and its association with feminism may be what some people are leery about. Yet I feel like some people think to advocate for the ability to have abortions means that you are advocating for people to have abortions, which isn’t the case. Though I’m not a fan of abortions myself, I’m still pro-choice. You don’t have to believe in abortions to think that it’s a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, not anyone else.

      I read your blog post. I think you hit some very good points. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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