“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” So says the author bell hooks (Gloria Watkins) in her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. And what is sexism? It is 1) Prejudice or discrimination based on gender, 2) Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender. (See Answers.com for more definitions.) What most people don’t realize is that sexism cuts both ways: men can be victims of sexism, too, and feminism seeks to prevent either sex from suffering the discrimination and stereotyping that is associated with sexism. In other words, feminism is not just for women.
Feminists are not, by definition, man-haters. They can seem to be because they push against the social role that has been assigned to them by a patriarchal society. But patriarchy forces men into roles as well. The average person clings to his or her assigned role in society; it gives one a sense of security to do so. Breaking out of those roles requires two things: 1) questioning the social order, and 2) identifying the sources of oppression.
It is not necessarily individual men who are the oppressors, although clearly they can be. Women can oppress each other, and often do. The mother who teaches her children that males do one kind of work and females another. The co-worker who defers to men but not to women. The woman who sets herself up as a rival for men’s attention. Women who bear resentment against mothers who work/mothers who don’t work outside of the home.
You would think that women would be supportive of each other in this fight against sexism. One slogan that resonated with women in the ’60s and ’70s was “Sisterhood is powerful.” The message was that we are all in this together and we need to root for one another in our respective struggles. But in forming a sisterhood, men become the “other.” They cannot be our “sisters;” therefore they must be the enemy.
It is normal for people to categorize themselves and others. This is important in the process of developing their sense of identity. The problem comes when those outside his or her own category are demonized, merely because they are different. Not only that, but outsiders become suspicious of those who belong to a “group.” The general attitude toward feminism is that it is some sort of exclusive club which seeks to keep others out. While it is true that to be a feminist means that you must fit the definition, it is by no means true that feminists are only concerned about women, or only about certain kinds of women.
Feminists who act exclusive, who demand that a woman must remain single, or childless, or against pornography, or hateful toward men, are not, in my opinion, true feminists. They are women with bones to pick. True feminists are inclusive; they seek to end discrimination and prejudice toward all women, men and children; they are for the expansion of every individual’s potential, unencumbered by society’s strictures; they are for tolerance toward different lifestyles, races, religions, classes and cultures; and they are supportive of any movement that seeks to end any type of prejudice. Anything less and you cannot in all honesty call yourself a feminist.