Feminism, like any label, is often limiting and is frequently misconstrued because of the strong emotions that the word evokes. It is because of this heightened emotional connotation that I began to try and understand Feminism. As a man, I will never experience what women experience, and I realize that without this experience, it is naturally difficult for me to empathize. I do, however, believe that this obstacle should not stop me from trying. I began my journey of understanding by contacting Dr. Suzanne Holt, the director of Women’s Studies at Kent State. Conversing with her, listening to her points of view, many coming from a feminist perspective, she enlightened me of a major misconception.
“Our culture’s mindset at present contains some unfortunate presumptions,” Holt said. “Among them: that to be a true woman means certain things and that feminism is against all of those things. If it means being a mother, then feminism is against being a mother. If it means being a wife, then feminism is against being a wife. So, there’s this presumption that whatever has been the good, traditional values ascribed to women, feminism is against all of those God-given, right and natural values. So, as feminists in a context of such powerful, well-maintained presumptions, we’re up against a wall there. Because this sort of vantage point pits women against women, and it pits women against men — and vice versa.”
Feminism also carries the misconception that in order to be a feminist, you have to hate men — not true. Dr. Holt believes “one of the most damaging misconceptions has to be the whole man-hating stigma.”
“If I’m pro-woman, then I’m anti-man…or that I blame them all … for everything wrong with the lives of women. There is this very fundamental confusion wherever differences have been the basis for different treatment — different rights.”
The stirred antagonism between men and women can distract us from seeing past or through our differences.
When I asked her how feminists should battle these misconceptions, Dr. Holt asked me to ponder the idea that maybe — facing the future just now — Feminism should be about building and not battling.
This simple suggestion opened my eyes to a whole other perspective. The word battle implies that there is a winner and a loser. Why should someone have to lose? When discussing equality, there should never be a loser. The word build, on the other hand, makes no such implications. Obviously feminism, like most social movements, had to begin with a battle; a loud cry of “No!” had to be heard by a male-dominated society and its biased institutions. In many ways, this cry is still falling on deaf ears, and subsequent battles must be fought. But, from the victory of these battles, new foundations must be laid, and we must build on them. Perhaps this is the right time to do that, capturing the positive potential of a new ideal born of feminism, its advances and the critical responses to them. “Together, men and women can start a new wave of—maybe we even need to rename it—a kind of feminist thinking that sees mutual respect and mutual understanding as values that together we share.”
We need to distance ourselves from the implications that feminism is a polarizing movement—the mentality that feminism is “us versus them.” We can no longer antagonize each other by the use of objectification and disparagement. These negative actions will unite no one, and they will solve nothing.
In order to build, however, we need to grow into the mutual respect that Dr. Holt discussed. I’m not sure if we’ll ever reach that level of understanding, but the only way it can be achieved is if we, as individuals, claim the responsibility for making the change.
Patrick St. Pierre is a senior English and psychology major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]