What is feminism and why do so many women and men hate it?

Part of the new series “Building a world that works for everyone”

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In my work in the media, as a therapist and coach, former vice president of a company, and a regular reporter on issues of gender equality, leadership, social change, etc., I have received thousands of comments from people around the world. They openly share their wide range of beliefs and opinions about gender equality, women and men in life and business, and feminism.

In honor of International Women’s Day today and the theme of #BeBoldForChange, I’d like to share my personal take on what feminism means at its core, and why so many men and women in our world still hate and strongly oppose it.

For more information on this issue, watch my Facebook Live video sharing my candid opinion:

I’ve seen this:

• There are millions of people who, both inwardly and outwardly, do not support the idea that there should be equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women

• There are thousands of people who believe that we have already achieved equality for men and women.

• There are also thousands of people who believe we are far from there, and who support the ongoing efforts to pave the way for equal rights for men and women.

There are thousands who believe in equal rights, but find “feminism” a word and a movement that are not aligned with their personal beliefs or values

• It is abundantly clear that our specific views on these issues are deeply rooted in our own personal and direct experience, rather than in data, research or science surrounding the issues. (In other words, if we have personally experienced discrimination, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it exists. But if we haven’t faced it ourselves, we often doubt it’s happening.)

• Finally, both conscious and unconscious gender biases are prevalent in us, but most of us are not aware of them

So, what would be helpful in this dialogue, or in this situation we find ourselves in today, where there’s a big divide between men and women, and between the people of our country who see things dramatically differently?

Let’s first understand what feminism is all about.

If you look up the definition of “feminism” in the dictionary, you’ll see these statements:

Feminism is:

1. Advocating women’s rights based on gender equality

2. The theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes

3. The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

4. The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men

At its core, feminism is about gender equality, not “equality.” So many people come up with the argument that women are not “the same” as men, so there can be no equality. In other words, because their bodies are different (many say “weaker” and smaller), and because men and women have different physical abilities, these physical differences mean that equality is not possible.

It is critical to understand that ‘same’ does not mean ‘equal’. This is about equal rights and equal access to opportunities. Men and women do not have to be physically “the same” to be entitled to equality. I would like to see that argument (that women and men are not “the same” and thus cannot be equal) disappear forever. In my opinion it is a misplaced one.

Here’s an example why: If there were two young boys in a classroom, and one was physically weaker and smaller than the other, would we believe that it is right to prevent the weaker, smaller boy from having the same access – to the teacher, to learning, to the computers, to the books and classroom materials, to other kids in the class — because he didn’t have the same physical strength as the other boy?

So how can we gain a better understanding of where we personally stand on equality?

Asking yourself these questions and answering them candidly will take you closer to recognizing what you really, sincerely believe:

1. Do you think that women and men deserve equal rights and equal opportunities? If not, why not specifically?

2. Are you against the idea that every human being on the planet deserves equal rights and equal access to all opportunities? If you are against it, what are you afraid of when equality is achieved? What are the downsides, in your way of thinking?

3. Do you think that only certain groups of people should have access to certain opportunities and rights? If so, which groups should be favored and given this access, and who should decide?

4. Do you think it would be inherently fair to give women access to only partial rights, while men have all other rights and opportunities?

5. Think back to what has shaped all of your beliefs about these issues. Where did they come from specifically? Childhood, early adulthood? Your personal experiences with men and women, or what you read and see in the media? Who in your ‘tribe’, family or peers influences your beliefs today?

6. What makes you angry and agitated when you read about men, women and equality in the media?

7. Do you believe that a world in which certain people are denied access to all rights and opportunities would lead to a fair, healthy and prosperous world for all?

8. Do your beliefs finally feel real? right for you? Do they feel aligned with who you really are – healthy, whole, with integrity, compassion and honesty?

The vast majority of people I speak to believe in equal rights for men and women, but the conflict is about how to achieve that equality. Many resist calling themselves a “feminist” or supporting the feminist “movement.” In fact, today a woman commented on my YouTube channel that “feminism is a cancer”.

Why do so many hate the term feminism and the feminist movement?

I believe there are five crucial reasons for this:

1. Feminism is associated with strong, powerful and angry women, and our society continues to punish powerful women. (So ​​much recent data and research has proven this.)

2. Many people fear that feminism will eventually lead men to lose – of power, influence, impact, authority and control, and economic opportunity.

3. Many people believe that feminists want to control the world and put men down.

4. Many people fear that feminism will overthrow long-standing traditions, religious beliefs and established gender roles, and that feels scary and wrong.

5. Many people fear that feminism will cause negative shifts in relationships, marriage, society, culture, power and authority dynamics, and in business, work and economic opportunity if and when women are on an equal footing with men.

What about sexuality – what does that have to do with feminism?

Reading about the media frenzy over Emma Watson having part of her breasts exposed Vanity Fair this month we see women arguing among themselves about what feminism is and how women should behave if they are true feminists. Emma (and Gloria Steinem) make a powerful point: Feminism is, at its core, about choice. Feminists can wear whatever they want. If we cannot freely choose how we behave, speak, act and present ourselves, then we will go backwards.

Unconscious gender biases.

In my friend Kristen Pressner’s powerful TEDx talk “Are You Biased? I Am,” she shares how her own unconscious biases against working women (in fact, against women who were just like them) affected her ability to treat men and women equally. Her courageous revelation paves the way for all of us to reflect more deeply on our unconscious biases and work tirelessly to expose those biases. Her proposed “turn to test it” strategy is an effective tool to help us do just that.

Ultimately, we all need to honor the beliefs, values, and ideals that feel good and right to us. To help us do that, I would like you to think about these last questions:

• Do your beliefs and behaviors support equality for all, or just for some?

• Could there be hidden biases that color how you perceive people of different genders, races, skin colours, religions, etc.? Can your personal experiences influence your view of the whole world?

• If you believe in equality for women, but not feminism, can you articulate why?

• If you believe in equality for all, are you able to stand up for it courageously, in a way that feels right for you, in your own life and in your own sphere of influence?

For more from Kathy Caprino, visit her Personal Growth programs, her TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up,” and her new video What Is Feminism and Why So Many Men and Women Hate It.

Gallery: 10 job sectors with the largest gender pay gap

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What is feminism and why do so many women and men hate it?

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