Feminism and misogyny are in the news a lot lately, and are even blamed as the reason we have a president nobody likes. However, feminism comes in many shades of gray, and the blanket word “feminism” does not cover all of them. From pundits like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright to women’s activist groups, feminists come in many shapes and sizes and should definitely not be confused with one another.
That’s right — feminists are so different in their beliefs and practices that it is important to differentiate which kind of feminist one is dealing with. The problem is, no one has really broken down feminist beliefs precisely in a way that highlights the differences between them, because doing so is considered chauvinistic to some.
As a woman myself, my first feminist notions came at a very young age, before I even knew what feminism was. It came with a vehement denial that men were any better than women, even a denial that God could be a man or “father” figure on the basis that women were just as important. In today’s society, I acknowledge that there are attitudes about women that contribute greatly to inequality with men. In many places in the world, women are still severely subjugated, and even in post-industrial society there are gender roles and expectations that contribute to what almost all feminists call the Patriarchal Society.
No matter who tells you differently, the Patriarchal Society is definitely a thing. Somewhere along the line, men realized that there were a few things about women they could use to exploit, and they did it vehemently. Over time, women did make their mark and improved their lot, but with men making the rules, the deck has traditionally been stacked in their favor. This has contributed to a worldview that in some ways is shared by women, resulting in self-defeatism on the part of many and submission on the part of others; this latter is especially true in women who come from families that adhere to strict gender roles, and the former is the result of a lifetime of cultural expectations. This self-perception on the part of many women is the most insidious effect of thousands of years of subjugation, because it planted a seed that is still flourishing to this day, a seed that absolutely must die.
So how have feminists tried to kill this invasive weed? Of the many feminist points of view, there seem to have emerged three ways of thinking that have gained prominence:
1. Militant feminists: Rush Limbaugh had a nastier term for all feminists that really only applies to the misandronistic attitude adopted by some. Groups like FEMEN, in my opinion, fit into this — all their running around screaming, bearing breasts, disrespectfully trashing public events is part of the display. It is also marked with a female supremacy, an attitude of wanting something more like revenge than equality — a Matriarchal Society. They disown women whose aspirations include marriage and family, ridicule women in productive relationships with men, and even scoff at the type of manners involved in opening a door or pulling a chair out at a table for a woman (which, by the way, was invented by a woman to curb patriarchal treatment of women in the 12th century CE, a woman who was certainly an early feminist). Make no mistake, they are extremist. Nowhere near all feminists believe as they do.
2. Wymynists: While this term came from a campy college movie and referred to militant feminists, movies are reflections of life, not life itself. Wymynists are what I call the faux feminists that currently dominate the Democratic party. A few of the more blatant examples have been Gloria Steinem, Madeline Albright, and Hillary Clinton, but they have masses of followers that pay lip service to female equality while completely acknowledging that they think women are inferior. They seem to cast women as saintly but defenseless damsels who need the protection of the big strong patriarchy while simultaneously expecting equal or better treatment by virtue of their extra X chromosome. To be fair, this is a product of another insidious seed planted into our society’s psyche — the divide and conquer of identity politics — but it is nonetheless the attitude of self-proclaimed feminists. While they do not reject men outright the way the militant feminists do, the pussy-hat crowd certainly holds a grudge and slings around terms like “misogyny” and “mansplaining” whenever they feel threatened by a discussion critical of their views. Many will read this description and accuse me of “internalized misogyny,” but this is merely a way of accusing a woman of “mansplaining,” thereby discrediting her opinion. In their eyes, women are victims, and can never be anything but.
3. Rational feminists: Now this one is tricky, because this train of thought has only recently emerged. Feeling unrepresented by either of the other two groups, and especially disenfranchised by a combination of Donald Trump’s crass remarks about women and the wymynistic approach taken by the Clinton campaign, rational feminists are beginning to speak out. They recognize women as equals with their own roles to play, but do not wish to dominate society. They believe in equal rights for men, as well as themselves. They recognize that women are just as capable of bad behavior as men are, and can victimize as efficiently as a man. They are assertive, rejecting the demure gender roles of the past. They are intelligent, using wisdom and efficiency to make their own choices, regardless of the Patriarchal Society — career, family, both, neither, whatever they want — and they are supportive of other women doing the same. They subscribe to neither female supremacy nor female victimhood, but also know that women contain elements of both — we are supreme at some things and we have been victimized. Even so, they walk their path as enlightened individuals, rising above gender unless the situation actually calls for it.
I hope I am privileged enough to count myself among this new wave of feminist thought — I certainly like to think I am — and I also hope that the future sees this type of feminist overcoming the other two. Centuries of patriarchal tradition need not dictate our behavior toward men or toward ourselves, but the current paradigms take those extremes: one by rejecting the Patriarchy entirely and the other by demanding protection of it, from it.
I’d like to see all the feminists who reject these two views, the ones who reject the idea that progress requires either of these extremes, come forward and become more involved in policy. I’d like for the world to see that women neither need to stampede around like wild animals to make a stand, nor do they need to boo-hoo about thousands of years of victimhood. I want women everywhere, even the most marginalized and enslaved, to see another feminism, a feminism where we can channel both of those aspects into opportunities, a world where angry feminists channel all of their boob-showing, pussy-hat wearing anger and energy into supporting policies that actually benefit women — everyday women.
None of that is going to happen if we keep supporting patriarchal socialization. As long as activists like FEMEN and pundits like Hillary Clinton are paying lip service to real change, women in general are not going to feel empowered in their everyday lives, and this is where the changes take place, not at the top in the news media or government.
Do you want to be a rational feminist? Then do a few things to show that you are. Go to school, no matter what anyone says. Ask your employers for that pie-in-the-sky salary without convincing yourself you’ll never get it. Open the door for your male date — chivalry goes both ways. Because the biggest crime of gender inequality is also its biggest secret — that the chains of the Patriarchal Society are in the patterns of behavior we have accepted from gender, in the norms we expect from women, norms which even women expect from other women. It is time for a new paradigm, a new norm, and it is up to us, everyday women like you and me, to establish that new norm. If we leave it to the extremists, all we will get is the extreme. Break free and let’s make a new norm together. Let’s set the example so that billions of women around the globe can be individuals. It costs no money and you can do it in almost any interaction you have in your everyday life.
Instead of a Patriarchal Society or a Matriarchal Society, let’s set the foundations of a Human Society.