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"Gross oversimplification time! What did we get from first-wave feminism? The right to vote, among other things. What did we get from second-wave feminism? The right to have sex indiscriminately, among other things."
A good comparison to feminism is a major religion like Christianity. They've both got one essential message, but there are many divisions and subgroups with different views on how to interpret/act on on that message, and some of them don't get along so well. There are literally dozens of different factions within the feminist movement, which split off of each other due to disagreements over everything from abortion rights to the pairing of feminism with racial/gay/whathaveyou rights movements to how big of a problem gender discrimination really is in the first place.
There are pretty much only three concepts you can count on any mixed group of feminists agreeing on:
- That women should have legal and economic rights equal to those of men, such as the right to vote and to manage their own finances.
- That women should be able to pursue any career they choose, and should get paid the same amount as a man doing the same job with the same level of competence.
- That mutual consent is a must for all sexual activities.
... and even then, there are no guarantees. As with religion and politics, everyone brings a little bit of their own experiences and prejudices along with them.
Common myths and misconceptions about feminism include:
All feminists are women.
Just as it's possible for straight people to be in favor of same-sex marriage, or for non-Jews to be against anti-Semitism, it is very much possible for men to identify as feminist. Some well-known men who identify as feminists or have expressed feminist ideals include Alan Alda, Joss Whedon, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Henrik Ibsen, John Stuart Mill, Linkara and most of his male colleagues, Frederick Douglass, and L. Frank Baum.
- It's worth noting that there's a minority school of thought that says while men can (and should) support feminism, they shouldn't identify themselves as feminists, because they think feminism is fundamentally about women solving their own problems without looking to men to do it for them. Men sympathetic to feminism who agree with this point of view generally describe themselves as "pro-feminist."
All feminists are lesbians.
Lesbians have been an important part of the feminist movement pretty much from day one -- prominent lesbian or bisexual feminists include Andrea Dworkin, Valerie Solanas, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Julia Serano, Camille Paglia and Mary Daly. However, many (probably most) feminists are straight women. There are also male feminists (straight, bisexual, gay and asexual), asexual feminists, transgender feminists, and feminists of any other sexuality and gender identity you can think of.
- There have been a few feminist writers -- especially during the 1970's, before the movement had made as many gains as it had today -- who suggested that it might not be possible to have a truly egalitarian heterosexual relationship as long as sexism remained pervasive in society. This was fiercely debated even at the time, though, and it was never mainstream feminist dogma that women had to swear off sex with men to become feminists.
All feminists are hairy-legged, makeup-shunnin', boot-wearin' brutes.
As much as feminists dislike the "women must be dainty and pretty" messages that society/media blast at them, for most, it's the must part that they object to. Some feminists choose to avoid or reject mainstream beauty ideals as a statement of protest, and there are even some who adhere to a Real Women Never Wear Dresses philosophy -- but it's increasingly argued that valuing traditionally masculine behavior (like being unconcerned about looks) over traditionally feminine behavior (like wearing dresses and makeup) is ultimately pretty anti-feminist in itself. Most feminists just think men and women should be equally free to decide for themselves how much effort they care to put into their appearance.
Feminism was invented in the 1970s.
Go back to any place and time where there has been widespread discrimination against women, and you will find feminism. (Or at least something that looks like feminism if you squint hard enough.) The word "feminism" dates back to 1895, and Christine de Pizan was writing feminist works as far back as the early 15th century. If you believe that men can be feminists and that identifying with the movement isn't essential, then according to some interpretations of his work feminism may go all the way back to Euripides. That would make Feminism Older Than Feudalism. (On the other hand, some of his contemporaries called him misogynistic even by Ancient Greek standards.)
Feminists think men and women are 100% identical.
Most feminists would agree that there are slight, overall differences between the sexes. While sentiments like "men tend to be slightly physically stronger than women" can lead to arguments if stated/interpreted wrongly, the majority of feminists would concede that, yes, males generally have females beat in raw strength. What really grinds a feminist's gears are suggestions that:
- Something that applies to one sex is universal and cannot apply to the other sex. ("Any man is physically stronger than any woman, ever, period.")
- Differences between the sexes are an excuse for sexual discrimination. ("Women are not as physically strong as men, and thus no women should ever be allowed to have jobs that require lifting heavy objects.") (Or, even worse, "Women are not as physically strong as men, and thus no woman should ever be allowed to have jobs.")
- Failure to adhere to expectations about one's sex is an excuse for ridicule. ("Any man weaker than a woman is a loser; any woman stronger than a man is a freak.")
Likewise, feminists often wonder how much of certain purported differences - say, girls being better at reading and boys being better at math - are actual innate differences, versus how much they might be a result of socialization (e.g., girls are scared away from pursuing math/boys refuse to spend time reading because they don't want to behave "inappropriately" for their gender and/or they're already convinced they'll be bad at it due to their gender). Most feminists don't deny that it's possible there are some real, innate psychological differences between the sexes -- they just think those differences are probably pretty small, and that it's better to just treat people to as individuals.
Feminists also have a problem with attributing to gender individual character traits that could have originated from other sources, like natural human reactions. For example, Jenny is crying because her father died -- which surely warrants a good cry -- but people observing her assume that she's emotionally distraught because she's a giiiiirl. (If you're about to protest that this sort of behavioral mis-assignment could happen to anyone, well, you're right: it's a known psychological bias called the fundamental attribution error.)
And just to complicate matters further, there's a whole school of thought (though, again, not the mainstream these days) called Difference Feminism, which argues that there are real, significant, biological differences between men and women, and that feminism should be not about treating men and women as the same, but about making sure feminine traits aren't devalued in comparison with masculine ones.
Feminists are frigid, hate sex, and want to stop anyone from enjoying porn or fanservice.
Feminists have a problem with porn tropes that promote a degrading or hateful view of women (Victim Falls For Rapist, It's Not Rape If You Enjoyed It, Sex Slave, etc.), and with the ways the porn industry exploits a lot of the women who work for it. Some (again, this was a more popular position in the 1970's than it is today) do think porn inherently objectifies women and is therefore always misogynistic; other feminists, though, think what the world actually needs is better porn -- porn that presents sex as something where both partners' desires should be equally important. There's more of a consensus on fanservice: feminists are generally not against seeing sexy ladies in media, but don't like how often the ladies' Character Development is pushed aside in favor of looking at their, err, other developments. In any case, most feminists enjoy sex just fine, and those who don't are typically at least okay with the idea of it. There's even a whole faction of the movement, called Sex-Positive Feminism, that focuses on working to promote positive and empowering views of sexuality.
Feminists hate men, think women are better than men, and think women should have more power than men.
Women who seriously blame men for everything are known to readers of this wiki as Straw Feminists and to mainstream feminists as "wrong." Most feminists don't think sexism is primarily something all individual men do to all individual women -- the problem is patriarchy, which is the name for the whole system of cultural ideas and institutions that function to oppress and control women. Women can -- and frequently do -- act in ways that support patriarchy, and men can -- and do -- fight patriarchy. The point of feminism (as much as such a vast and highly fragmented movement can be said to have a point) is to raise women to the level of rights/respect that men have had for centuries, not to drag men down to subhuman levels as some cosmic act of revenge.
Feminists think women are the only ones who are hurt by sexism, and don't care about men's problems.
It's pretty uncontroversial in feminist circles to point out that patriarchy hurts men in plenty of ways. (Some would argue that it hurts women more on the whole, but others think the whole question of whose oppression is worse is a pointless distraction from actually working to fix things.) A lot of feminists specifically focus on the ways men's oppression and women's oppression are linked -- for instance, many argue that companies need to start granting paternity leave both so that fathers can have the chance to bond with their kids, and so that women aren't always assumed to be the ones who are automatically responsible for child care.
Feminists burn bras.
Back in The Sixties, there were some public demonstrations in which feminists threw bras, high heels, and other fashion-related items into trash cans to protest unrealistic standards of beauty. A newspaper headline compared these actions to men burning draft cards during The Vietnam War. The two ideas got jumbled together in the public consciousness, and the myth of bra-burning continues to this day.
Feminists are angry, bitter harpies.
Most feminists will have certain Double Standards they especially loathe; however, they don't go around being cranky all the time, any more than atheists do. (Besides, don't we all have certain Double Standards we especially loathe? Fundamental attribution error at work again, ladies and gentlemen.)