As someone who actually does believe in gender equality and (tries) to treat people equally and examine any subconscious biases I may have, I'm curious about why the feminist movement seems to get so much bad press and why it hasn't been able to change that.
The easy answer for feminists is to believe that those who dislike it are sexist/misogynists and are threatened and offended by equality. However, despite racism being as big a topic and issue in modern culture as sexism, groups promoting racial equality are not half as controversial or as frequently debated as feminism.
Why is that?
I'm writing this Take to help put my issues with feminism into words and perhaps explain to feminists some rational reasons why some people still find the tag controversial.
Here are what I believe are reasons why many avoid the Feminist tag:
Some of the people criticisng feminism are actually sexist (and sometimes, stupid)
This is called hyperbole. It's also called insanity.
This is certainly true. A lot of people are sexist and would obviously take issue with feminism in every form. There's not much more I can say about this as it is pretty self-explanatory but this isn't the only issue. People who believe in gender equality do still have issues with the Feminist tag.
It doesn't represent men
Whether feminism has indirectly helped men or not is debatable but it doesn't change the fact that it’s main priority is to help women, often by taking power from men. Sometimes this is justified but another issue is that feminism generally claims that men hold power in society and that women don't, which seems foolish to guys who have little real power (like me). You cannot consistently demand a group surrender power while also maintaining that they are responsible for your problems and they are the enemy ('fighting the patriarchy') without them becoming somewhat resentful and confrontational.
The end goal(s) are debatable
Obviously equality is a principle fairly basic in modern society. But one difference between gender equality and racial equality is that there are no real differences between black people and white people, beyond the superficial. You can observe a white person's experiences and compare it like-for-like with a black person's experiences and observe the differences. Men and women, however, are different. Our bodies are different (different sizes), our lives are different (pregnancy, periods etc.) and our goals are different in ways that never applied to different races and colours. How can you seek equality in areas like abortion when both genders experiences are entirely different?
Also, many of the differences between men and women, on some level, make us happy. Feminists may lament the lack of female power but women consistently and overwhelmingly say that they would prefer confident, successful (and powerful) men. Also, sexually they are generally submissive. Feminism examines every kind of media and criticises it for any form of sexism and then 50 Shades, despite being by all accounts an awful book, sells 125 million copies in over 50 languages. The film version, also poor by all standards, made over $500 million. There are no parallels between this and other civil rights movements. Gay people don't buy books and fantasise about being denied the right to marry. I know that seems like a silly comparisons but it shows how both genders are different regardless of what feminism says.
Feminists are often petty when dealing with those who don't join
When Shailene Woodley declined to accept the tag, this was the response:
"Were you fooled into thinking that barefoot Shailene Woodley was a breath of fresh air as a celebrity? Think again." - https://jezebel.com/shailene-woodley-has-some-thoughts-on-feminism-and-the-1571997758
Another (actually quite good) article is this one: https://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/07/why-millennials-think-they-hate-feminism.html However, even the title is condescending. Is the author really the authority on the thinkings of an entire generation? She basically implies that the whole generation don't know what they hate, they only think they do. This level of arrogance and detachment is not uncommon among feminists who have grown accustomed to thinking they have the right to modify of all society to change how we think and that article is actually very good by the standards of feminist articles in terms of how reasonable it is.
In another article, Katy Perry is criticised for rejecting the tag and the author concludes that she would have been a crap feminist anyway (https://jezebel.com/5964727/katy-perry-billboards-woman-of-the-year-is-not-a-feminist). Here Taylor Swift gets similar treatment: https://jezebel.com/5953879/dont-go-calling-taylor-swift-a-feminist-says-taylor-swift.
So why does the movement which claims to only be after equality so often get 'confused' with man-hating?
The group excludes men
Firstly, many forums and groups as seen as forums where women must be listened to (i.e. men's opinions are secondary).
"The thing is, a feminist space — unless the topic is specifically men’s issues — is not the place to have that discussion and neither are spaces (feminist or otherwise) in which the topic is specifically focused on women’s issues."
The issue is that feminism generally sees itself as the only answer to the issue of gender inequality and, regardless of how often they claim otherwise, has men as a second priority at best. Feminism is a group set up by women, ran by women and for women. It neither cares for nor has interest in men's issues beyond what affects them. This is why so men many wind up going to the weird MRA sites. The only alternative is feminism which has little care for them.
Secondaly, many male feminists are called 'allies' which is a condescending term used purely because the speaker doesn't believe guys can/should be feminists. Which begs the question: why not? Is it because guys are seen as secondary to feminism? Is it because guys can't be trusted to be a feminist proper because they are innately the enemy? Why get involved in a group which sees you as secondary or worse, the enemy?
Feminists don't really care about Men's issues
Now that is feminism in action.
"In 2010-11, there were more female (55%) than male fulltime undergraduates (45%) enrolled at university – a trend which shows no sign of shrinking." - https://www.theguardian.com/education/datablog/2013/jan/29/how-many-men-and-women-are-studying-at-my-university
Feminism was determined to get women better represented at College level. It still is. However when men are under represented, there is silence. The reasons for this is that when women are under represented, it is sexism. When men are under represented, it is fine. This is because feminism is dedicated to helping one gender meaning it is incapable of equality.
"Men have a shockingly high rate of death by suicide compared with women. Across all countries reporting these data (except China and India) males show a suicide rate that is 3.0 to 7.5 times that of women. ... The silence surrounding suicide among men is also striking and warrants comment. First, there appears to be an overall lack of public awareness regarding the high rates of suicide among men"
One of the rare feminist takes on this is Julie Burchill's comment of "Let them go."
"Of the 400,000 people in the United States receiving post-divorce spousal maintenance, just 3 percent were men, according to Census figures. Yet 40 percent of households are headed by female breadwinners — suggesting that hundreds of thousands of men are eligible for alimony, yet don’t receive it"
Men generally, face less bias then women, I agree. However, feminsm's silence on these issues is noteworthy and obvious. The reason is that feminism has few men involved in it (by design) so doesn't know or really care about these issues. Why should it?
Many people have valid reasons for avoiding the tag of Feminist as it links them to many people, some of whom are, basically, stupid. The movement is large and it's aims and methods are vague and often debated. It's theories are complicated and it's solutions strange. It's proclaimed goal of equality is fine and rarely debated, the movement and term however is often shunned ("a new poll by Vox reveals that only 18 percent of Americans consider themselves to be feminists. In contrast, 52 percent said that they were not feminists, another 26 percent said they weren’t sure whether they were, and 4 percent refused to answer the question
According to the Vox poll, conducted by research and communications firm PerryUndem, a whopping 85 percent of Americans responded that they believe in equal rights for women.").
Why is this? Well, I will actually use a feminist's words to help explain: "Too many people are willfully ignorant about what the word means and what the movement aims to achieve." In her words, "There’s nothing wrong with famous women (or men) claiming the cause. But the fame-inist brand ambassadors are a gateway to feminism, not the movement itself". She's right. What many these days think is feminism (the dictionary definition and the soft version reported to us by Beyonce) is not the movement.
What is feminism in practice? Feminism is, in effect, a group that promotes the interest of women which is different from a group that promotes equality. It ignores Men's issues as they are distractions that undermine it's justifications of promoting women.
Also, if you are reading this and believe I need to 'man up' and stop bitching, I would wonder if you would respond the same to a woman's complaints. The way men's issues are shut down with the insult of men not "manning up" is proof of the way feminism has deliberately failed men and, I fear, will continue to do so.