The general attitude toward Feminism, by both men, women, and beyond, continues to alternate over time. Before the #metoo movement of 2017, the term was still largely tip-toed around, in fear of being labeled a man-hating extremist. Well known Hollywood and Bollywood female public figures, in powerful positions, who were all for women’s empowerment, would yet refuse to associate with the term ‘feminist’, in fear of losing the popular vote. Post #metoo, the same celebrities are now financially benefiting from content targeted toward consumers of feminist ideals. While there’s been a massive shift in pop culture and society in general, leading to more people embracing the term ‘feminism’, there is now also a notable section within; of apologetics who may be described as ‘guilty feminists’.
They believe in the cause, but feel the need to explain themselves; “I’m a feminist, but…”.
The most common defense is, “I’m a feminist, but I’m not a feminazi!”. The burgeoning younger gen owning feminism comes alongside the threatened numbers in the equal or higher proportion who resort to reductive and derogatory terms such as ‘feminazi,’ a term historically used to dilute the movement. The feminazi trope is a humiliation-into-subjugation tactic that is sadly often effective. In a patriarchal society where men have always been the primary providers and continue to be the gatekeepers of wealth and power, validation has and still is largely sought from them. In earlier years, this led to a rejection of feminism as a whole by many women. However, for a lot of them now, it is a balancing act to low-key hold feminist views and ideals, without being perceived as an unattractive hardliner. Coming off as self-assured and strong is expected and admired of men, while it is threatening for a woman to be such.
Therefore, for fear of being labeled as undesirable and difficult, feminist views are accompanied with an explanatory item attached, “…but I’m not a feminazi” or “…but I don’t hate men” or more dismissively, “I’m more of a humanist”.
The ‘cool girl’ who is deemed laid back and fun to be around by male peers, isn’t the one to usually call out uncomfortable double standards. Rather, she is known to enjoy what guys like and odds-on will shun ‘chick flicks’ and other ‘girly things’. The ideal daughter or sister does not question male privilege or at least isn’t vocal about it, because that would be considered disrespectful and ungrateful. The desired female partner may hold strong views and have a strong personality, but only so long as it does not make the male counterpart feel emasculated. The mold of what a man wants and the internalized need for validation from them is still something women are struggling to realize, let alone break free of. Hence, deprecatory terms such as ‘feminazi’, which are used to discredit and shame, are still effective taunts.
The way forward, is not only to stop being apologetic for the sake of validation, but in turn to discredit and denormalize the use of such words. Language is politics and language wields power, after all.
Aside from go-to defensive statements, there’s also the ‘overcompensators’, who will bend over backward to appease the male ego. A few months ago, a status was being shared on Facebook, in the form of an open letter to men, signed off by a self-proclaimed ‘True Feminist’, which was a textbook example of overcompensating for expecting equal rights.
The writer starts off by being downright apologetic for having female-assigned seats in public transport (common in South Asian countries), while men don’t. This entails that it is a privilege to have such arrangements, rather than a necessity in a male-dominated space where groping and shoving are next to second nature, among a myriad of other forms of daily harassment. In an ideal and more equal society, the need for assigned seats would not exist and in practice, it does not exist in other countries with a closer male to female ratio in public spaces.
The writer continues in her sorry tone, that she will not question one's masculinity for displaying emotions and how she will not abuse men or post false accusations against them. The writer's brand of ‘true feminism’ constituted by the list of things she will NOT do, directly implicates that commonplace feminism IS exactly those very things, which in this case is abuse and false accusations against men. Such implications outright discourage victims from speaking out and discredits the work of countless survivors of assault who have continually been silenced and ignored, while only recently heard and addressed, post #metoo. It is not that every accusation is to be dealt with cancel-culture against the accused, but that every claim must be acknowledged and duly investigated!
Moving on to the prior point about judgment toward emotionally expressive men; for starters, it is the patriarchal society that has stereotyped gender-based characteristics, such as crying or expressing vulnerability, sensitivity, and sadness as weak and therefore, female traits by nature.
More importantly, feminist theory and discourse is what has popularly deconstructed and highlighted the discussion about the dangerous repercussions and downfall of hyper masculinity, for both genders. So no, acknowledging such concerns do not account to ‘true feminism’ as opposed to ‘wrong feminism’, it is simply; FEMINISM!
Creating contrasts between the so-called ‘true feminist’ vs the ‘extreme feminist’, and identifying with the former is a manner of self-preservation against the threatened male psyche, by othering qualities that are challenging to the patriarchal construct of society.
It is self-defeating to have to explain or constantly be apologetic for what one believes in, especially if it’s as basic as expecting equal treatment, opportunities, and respect. Consciously or subconsciously stroking the male ego, out of fear of rejection, has historically done little for women. It is support from allies that ought to be valued, not validation from the insecure and easily threatened.
Jennifer Rehana is a contributor to swayong.org