Conservative Views of Feminism

I’ve been reading the book, Feminism: Opposing Viewpoints, and what strikes me about the “answers” to feminism is how misinformed they are. At the same time I can see how some of the non-feminists came to the conclusions they do. Misconceptions about feminism are widespread. To give you an idea of what I mean, here are some of the titles of the conservative essays in the book:

  1. Women are not the victims of sexism.
  2. Claims that women face discrimination in the workplace are exaggerated.
  3. Feminists have overstated the problem of violence against women.
  4. Women are not harmed by societal standards of beauty.
  5. Feminism has limited women’s choices.
  6. The sexual revolution has harmed women.
  7. Feminism has caused the breakdown of the family.
  8. The feminist movement is dead.
  9. Feminism has abandoned its original principles.
  10. Feminists should not seek international rights for women.

Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty of room for debate here. But the majority of these statements, put down in black and white, seem to be simplistic knee-jerk reactions. There’s also a lot of blaming going on. If women are unhappy today, it’s because of feminism. Every problem that women face is made worse by feminism. Feminists should mind their own business and leave the average woman alone.

The consensus seems to be that the vast majority of women cannot identify with feminist concerns and don’t think that a feminist movement is necessary. But when a 1999 Gallup/USA Today poll asked women “how important do you think the women’s movement has been in helping women to obtain greater equality with men?,” 57% percent said it was extremely or very important — only 4% said it wasn’t important at all. When asked women how important the women’s movement would be in the next century, a nearly identical number, 56%, said it would be extremely or very important. (See here for more results of the poll.)

The biggest reason for the difference of opinion between conservatives and feminists is that conservatives rarely acknowledge that there were problems to begin with. Perhaps feminists see problems everywhere, but I for one would rather see problems where they don’t exist than not see–and not do anything about–problems that do exist.

At the same time, I think the feminist movement is made stronger because of its critics. Feminists should not fall into the same trap of knee-jerk reactions. We need to carefully consider the consequences of every statement we make and every cause we support. We need to listen to those who oppose feminism in order to determine what is really bothering them. And we need to address those concerns. But we also have the right to take credit where it is due. The feminist movement is responsible for a lot of positive changes in society. Don’t let the anti-feminist conservatives tell you differently.