By any historical measure, we currently live in a golden age for women’s rights. Women currently make up 47% of the United States workforce, with 40% of those holding college degrees, up from 11% in 1970. Additionally, movements dedicated to exposing and reducing sexual assault and harassment such as Time’s Up and Me Too have become prominent in recent years, bringing a largely hushed issue squarely into the public eye. Logically, one would think that in light of these seeming cultural advances, public opinion regarding women’s rights issues and feminism would be evolving as well. However, it appears, almost paradoxically, as though the stronger modern feminism’s grip on mainstream coverage, politics, and legislation gets, the more misunderstood and stigmatized the feminist ideology — equality of the sexes — and the word “feminist” itself becomes.
In my experience, the current diatribe against feminism and those who call themselves feminists is based primarily on a series of misconceptions, the most prominent of which is that the fundamental goal of the feminist movement is to orchestrate a systemic takeover of society while imposing their values and beliefs on unwilling citizens. Not only is this claim demonstrably false, but it makes a critical semantic mistake which is quite common among critiques of feminism: confusing uniformity and equality.
While at first glance, these words may appear to be similar or even synonymous, they are, in fact, quite different. Uniformity, in its simplest form, means sameness. Many of those who argue against feminism make the claim that feminism and feminists are attempting to do away with the idea that men and women are different. While there are undoubtedly some who attempt to make this argument, they are both misguided and in the minority. Basic biology tells us that men and women differ not only physically, but also cognitively.
Not only do women develop quicker emotionally, but recent studies have demonstrated that men and women differ neurobiologically as well. For example, a recent Stanford University study found that, “Women excel in several measures of verbal ability — pretty much all of them, except for verbal analogies” whereas men, “can more easily juggle items in working memory” (stanford.edu).
While this is obviously a singular example, it is demonstrative of the fact that modern science states, quite unambiguously, that differences between men and women do exist, and that these differences are not — as has been perpetuated for centuries — exclusively favorable for men. These are facts that few feminists will challenge, as, after all, the primary goal of the feminist movement is not androgyny, but equality.
Feminists argue not that differences between men and women should be ignored, but rather that the existence of such differences is no excuse for the subjugation, degradation and oppression of women for millenia. In actuality, the true goal of the feminist movement, equality, or the provision of equal rights, opportunities and respect to all members of a society, is not only worthy and long overdue, but supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans (94% according to a 2016 poll regarding the passing of an Equal Rights Amendment).
Logically, it would follow that since equality — the intrinsic tenant of feminist ideology — is so widely supported, feminism itself would enjoy the same level of popular backing. This, however, is far from the case. According to a 2016 Washington Post poll, only 43% of American women and 23% of American men identified themselves as feminists. Therefore, one must ask why this discrepancy between those who support equality and those who identify as feminists exists. And the answer is quite simple: trivialization. Phrases such as “toxic masculinity,” and “social justice warrior,” have been perverted and jovialized to the point where serious discussions revolving around them are inhibited.
For instance, the existence of toxic masculinity — certain norms of male behavior that are inherently harmful to society — can be demonstrated anecdotally. Recently, a female acquaintance was out walking alone when a man pulled up next to her in a truck and began to direct graphically sexual comments at her with his pre-teen son in the passenger seat. When she expressed her displeasure at his vitriol, he immediately became irate, as though her rebuke was somehow as egregious as his actions, threw his truck violently into reverse, and proceeded to follow her down the road, forcing her to take refuge in a restaurant for an extended period of time out of fear of violent retribution for daring to stand up to his harassment.
To my male readers, are you sick of hearing this phrase “toxic masculinity?” There’s an easy solution. Make an effort to not only treat women with respect, but also with the dignity bestowed upon an equal. If and when you become a father, be an example to your son. Make respecting women normal. If you do this, not only will we improve the lives of women today, but we will leave behind us sons who treat all women how we would hope our mothers, sisters and daughters would be treated, and a generation of men who proudly call themselves feminists.