Author’s note: The feminism discussed in this article is largely set in the U.S., which we Pinays have largely been exposed to through social media and popular culture. It can be considered popular or dominant feminism today.
"Being a feminist doesn’t mean the person hates men—it means the person is for gender equality!" So the line goes, which I’ve said countless times over the past few years as I called myself a feminist and believed that others—everyone—should too. But in the past year, it dawned on me how insidious feminism is and can be. Feminists mock boys or men, in spite of their saying they’re not man-haters. They rally for their cause and ask others to do too, but they support it with false information.
It’s easy to say that feminism has imperfections like any other movement does and leave it at that. I’d rather not.
My critique of the feminism many Internet users are exposed to will be divided into: 1) that feminists can be sexist, 2) that feminists today spread false information as they fight for “equality” in society, and 3) that feminism affects or neglects men and their rights. I’ll get ahead of myself and say I don’t approve of any of that because none of those help create a fair society. And if being a feminist today means doing any of those three, I’m out.
Gender discrimination or sexism through feminism goes like this: “Because you are [insert gender/sex here], you cannot be part of this organization.” It is to judge people based on their gender or sex alone, and letting that judgment be the basis of giving or withholding opportunities like employment. Opportunities should be equal, as fought for by the first-wave feminists. And as for being hired in a company for example, applicants should be judged based on merit—their work experience, accomplishments, and potential.
During the 2016 campaign season for the U.S. presidential elections, I saw articles (like this and this) and blog posts (like this) essentially telling Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman. (And in my case as a Filipino citizen, to support Clinton.) The cussing President Trump aside, the logic is that Clinton, being a woman, will stand for women’s rights. In other words they are saying a male president will not do that, which is already wrong as proven by someone like former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who advocated women’s equal right to vote and urged governments to promote citizens’ welfare by forbidding child labor and limiting the employment of women in work that’s hazardous to their health. Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran against Clinton in the Democratic Party but was relatively unpopular, is pro-choice and has always supported same-sex marriage (unlike Clinton). If elected president, he planned to extend paid maternity leaves to 12 weeks.
Furthermore, not all women are for women’s rights. We should have known this: We have older female relatives who still chastise us on how we should dress lest we are sexually harassed; we know of women who think contraceptive pills are “just for sluts.”
Going back to the former U.S. Secretary of State: Clinton has a hand at the crimes against humanity in the Middle East. She has helped arm and financially support terrorist groups in Syria in an effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for alleged war crimes. (“Let them kill themselves until they get exhausted, and then we’ll figure out how to deal with what the remnants are,” she wrote in what would later be a leaked e-mail, clearly unaffected at the prospect of risking innocent lives—lives of men, women, and children.)
She has also received donations of at least $1 million from Nigerian billionaire and businessman Gilbert Chagoury for the Clinton Foundation. This opened her up to a conflict of interest between her role as Secretary of State and keeping clean the image of Nigeria, which was being terrorized by the Boko Haram. Boko Haram has been engaging in terrorist activities since 2009 but only received international attention for kidnapping more than 260 young female students in 2014—they are still missing, by the way. It killed more than 20,000 people too. The Nigerian terrorist organization and Islamic State affiliate hence became the deadliest terrorist group in 2015. Allegedly swayed to protect the image of Nigeria for Chagoury’s business interests, Clinton did not designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization when she was Secretary of State in spite of its kidnapping and killing of women, or using them as sex slaves and suicide bombers all the while.
One has every right to have voted for Clinton in spite of knowing such facts—people can compromise and have different agenda, needs, and priorities. All the same, one also has the right to have voted for Clinton based on her being a woman, period. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is sexist in the same way voting for Trump (or supporting Sanders) because he is a man is sexist.
True champions of women’s rights will fight for the rights of the women who are most oppressed, and they will support those who do. A person highly valuing gender equality would have to find out a candidate’s track record and just how he or she plans to establish that fair society. Mainstream feminists have shunned such criticisms against Clinton, calling those who dare argue sexists and bigots. I see two wrongs there: the discrimination of politicians based on their sex or gender, and labeling or insulting voters who did not choose the female candidate. Those mainstream feminists attack the person rather than the argument, spitting out fallacies instead of presenting facts. I’m pretty sure that to them I am a traitor to my own sex for having said all this.
People have caught feminists spreading myths and exaggerations, and that makes me wonder what the feminist agenda is now. What do they stand to gain by causing panic and worry, and riling up women against society? Is it really still about gender equality or do some women who perpetrate the falsehood truly want to get ahead of men? Or are many of them just irresponsible as they fight for their cause? In any case, the facts will speak for themselves.
In the U.S., it’s reported that one in four or five college women has been sexually assaulted—raped, groped at private parts without consent, forced to kiss, and the like. That’s the statistic that has gone around because of the New York Times’ click bait title “1 in 4 Women Experience Sex Assault on Campus.” Other news outlets like Newsweek and CNN reported the same. The figure was then cited in articles on sexual assault (like this one on Teen Vogue), and even by people advocating gender equality (including former U.S. President Barack Obama).
Two studies are behind that statistic. One (The Campus Sexual Assault Study) was conducted in 2007 by Christopher Krebs and Christine Lindquist for the U.S. Justice Department, and the other in 2014 commissioned by the American Association of Universities (AAU) and done by researchers led by David Cantor. Both arrived at the “one in four (or five)” statistic, but that does not make the conclusion universal.
The findings of the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study do not represent the entire U.S. That’s because the researchers only interviewed students from two universities. And in a Time article, Krebs and Lindquist themselves wrote: “The 1-in-5 statistic is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault, and we have never presented it as being representative of anything other than the population of senior undergraduate women at the two universities where data were collected—two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest.”
Another limitation of the study is the low response rate of 42 percent, which could have affected the results positively or negatively. Nevertheless, even in considering the merits of their method that better guaranteed honesty from the participants, it does remain that the researchers’ limited conclusion has been used falsely, hence misinforming and misleading Internet users, if not causing worry and outrage.
On the other hand, the 2014 AAU study covers more campuses: a total of 27. Even so, the researchers caution against claiming this statistic to be universal, for similar grounds stated by the Campus Sexual Assault Study writers. Doing that is “oversimplistic, if not misleading.”
Cantor, one of the principal investigators of the AAU study, explained that the 27 campuses in the study are not nationally representative. The set of schools was much larger than that of the Campus Sexual Assault Study, but the universities were not randomly selected, and these (except one) were all members of the AAU.
Furthermore, 150,000 students having filled out the survey seems like a massive number, but compared with the 780,000 students that were offered to participate? That response rate is only at 19 percent, which Cantor sees as a problem in the study. It raises questions on whether the students who took the survey were more inclined to have been victims of sexual assault, thus inflating the results. He says that in the survey, there was “some indication that people who did not respond were less likely to be victims.”
Another very important critique on both studies is that they use “sexual assault” as an umbrella term for getting raped, for being groped, for being kissed. While some may count being kissed unwantedly as sexual assault, others don’t. (They just think that that particular guy is entitled, drunk, or confused, having poor social skills.) But the two studies classify those incidents as sexual assault, even when the participants themselves disagree. This not only inflates the figures but also blurs very different circumstances into one.
Feminists use the statistic in spite of the researchers themselves cautioning against such generalizations. It’s hard to say exactly what their motivation is for misleading people; and while some may have good intentions for citing the one-in-four figure, it does not do people good.
Campuses, and at a larger scale the government, are pressured to side with the assault victims because of this alleged epidemic. That means taking the victim’s word for what it is and/or setting up policies that will harshly punish the accused. There is hardly any due process in that. If a woman has to prove she was assaulted? You’re promoting rape culture! they say. To feminists, there is no “innocent until proven guilty” in these cases; yet the presumption of innocence is a human right. Systems of justice rely on that to prevent people from ruining innocent lives.
And here’s another myth brewing: that women can’t lie. Women can lie, because women are people and people lie. They can lie to save face or to ruin another’s. It’s quite degrading to say that women have no power to do wrong—that would question their ability to do good, to be noble enough to be truthful. It casts doubt on women’s agency and impact in their own lives and in the lives of others. Cathy Young, author of Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, put it well in her Slate column when she wrote: “In challenging ‘the myth of the lying woman,’ feminists have been creating their own counter-myth: that of the woman who never lies.”
Apart from fighting for little due process afforded men, feminists demonize men by making all of them look like predators. But they fail to see that other limitation in the two studies: What if both parties weren’t sober, which is likely the case in college parties? Yes, the woman is not in the right state to give consent. But what if the guy, in his intoxication, misinterpreted the woman’s actions and thought she was into him or flirting with him? Having both parties under the influence is a complicated situation for determining who, if anybody, is at fault. That said, feminists are unfair to just make that situation favorable only to women. Not that intoxication absolves, but taking that into consideration will definitely weed out actions committed by the real predators—those who drugged the woman to take advantage of her (to rape her)—from those caused by poor communication (“Oh, I was feeling some chemistry and I thought we could make out—you know, what some people do at parties.”)
Another myth feminists proclaim to be true is the gender wage gap. In the U.S., women earn 77 cents to every man’s dollar for the same work, so they say. Women’s groups have protested this on several occasions, but the wage gap due to gender discrimination is false.
The U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that the median earning of full-time female workers is 77 percent of the median earning of full-time male workers. (Or: “Women working full-time earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men working full-time.”) But that does not mean women earn less than the men due to discrimination. The claim that women earn 77 cents while men earn a dollar because of sexism can only be valid if it accounts for the same job, the same number of hours worked, the same position, work experience, among others. But feminists leave those crucial factors out.
Consider the very basic factor of number of hours worked. Men who work full-time (35 hours or more each week) work 8.2 hours a day, while women who work full-time put in only 7.8 hours. Of course those who work 41 hours a week (regardless of gender) will get paid more than someone who works 39.
Another explanation for the difference in median earnings of men and women is the industries men and women are part of, as well as their occupations. Nine of the 10 most profitable industries (like engineering) are dominated by men, while nine out of the 10 most financially unrewarding ones (like teaching) are dominated by women, according to a study done by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. (Their finding ties in with the U.S. government’s labor force statistics.) That said, feminists are wrong to immediately equate that with “systematic patriarchy or sexism.” It is possible (more probable even) that the jobs women have now were entered in freely, of their own choices and knowing the pay, hence debunking the idea of the patriarchy. But it is also possible that different values are attached to different industries or professions. One can argue there is inequality on that last bit, but the gender discrimination isn’t really there.
Labor economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have looked into the gender wage gap. By tracking male and female MBA graduates of the University of Chicago from 1990 to 2006 and controlling for previous job experience, GPA, chosen profession, marital status and number of children, they found that there was a tiny difference in salary. They explain that it might be due to lingering discrimination or that women are worse at negotiating starting salaries.
More importantly, Goldin and Katz have found that the gap widens over the years because women have begun to work fewer hours. Women’s careers are interrupted when they become mothers and have to take care of their children. The End of Men author Hanna Rosin writes in Slate, “If this midcareer gap is due to discrimination...it’s the deeper, more systematic discrimination of inadequate family-leave policies and childcare options, of women defaulting to being the caretakers.” That said, many feminists might do better by putting their time and effort from protesting the alleged wage gap to the current family-leave and childcare policies.
Men’s rights are at times disregarded as feminists fight for gender equality. I’ve heard the retort before: “You don’t lose your rights just because certain people gain theirs!” Sure, but some of your rights are compromised when some people abuse theirs. And some people actually do on occasion. Feminists and women aren’t immune to that.
Feminist websites like Everydayfeminism.com have published articles insisting that there is no such thing as reverse oppression or reverse sexism. They believe that someone who’s oppressed and belittled simply cannot oppress another person in the more dominant group. This is false. People, including men, can be oppressed in many ways, because they can be made to suffer through the different aspects of their lives.
Consider domestic violence against men. The 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey of the U.S. Bureau of Justice interviewed 40,000 households about rape and sexual violence. They found that 38 percent of incidents were committed against men. Researcher Lara Stemple who works with the Health and Human Rights Project at UCLA found that men’s experience of domestic violence is “a lot closer [to that of women] than any of us would expect.”
Or consider sexual assault against men. Stemple has analyzed data on sexual assault presented by five surveys that the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted independently in 2010 until 2012.
Stemple reports that the CDC results of the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that men and women had similar prevalence of rape in the past year: 1.270 million women and 1.267 million men. Those numbers are statistically equal.
But many of us didn’t hear about the men. According to Stemple, that’s because the media focused only on the sexual victimization of women, which led the public to continue believing that sexual violence is first and foremost a women’s issue.
To believe that women are the only ones sexually assaulted reinforces the limiting image of weak and vulnerable women, along with their image as passive and pure. This in turn affects how women and girls look at themselves and how they will live in worry and fear.
To believe that men experience less harm because they’re supposed to be physically stronger ignores the reality that male victims have significant injuries, as studies have shown. It also reinforces constricting and harmful notions of masculinity on men and boys, like how they always have to be aggressive in order to be “real men.” And lines like “Be a man,” “Real men don’t cry” have considerable effects on boys. Boys, especially teens, can become extremely aggressive to the point of putting the lives of other people at risk, or they can put their own lives at risk as they are haunted by suicidal thoughts they might eventually succumb to. All over the world, men are four to seven times more likely to kill themselves than women are, and many researchers believe it’s because, unlike for us women, men don’t have sufficient outlets to express their emotions without being ostracized.
To think “Anyway, men want sex” dismisses sexual violations done unto them and further dehumanizes them as they are relegated to animals. More importantly, it blinds oneself and a number of people from evidence that male sexual abuse survivors develop problems like depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and suicidal thoughts.
Reverse sexism—or sexism against men—does exist, and it’s perpetrated by so many people, men and women alike who are sexists. And that’s why it also isn’t right to tell men to check their privilege every single time they bring up the pressures and roles they have to put up with. Doing so is insensitive and further alienates troubled men.
Men don’t always have it any easier, which is to say we women have it easier sometimes. It’s mostly the men who have dangerous and even lethal jobs, as they are exposed to harmful substances, have contact with equipment, fires and explosions, and can fall and slip from structures more than 30 feet high. In the 4,836 fatal work injuries recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, men suffered 93 percent of them in the 158 billion hours they worked. Women worked 119 billion hours and suffered 7 percent of the fatal work injuries.
And when it comes to education, majority of college students are female (in 2013, 57 percent of students were female), which means women are more likely to go to college than men are. (They’re also more likely to graduate.) That’s been the case with a widening gap since the late 1970s. To put into perspective how far women have come: In the late 1940s, men accounted for more than 70 percent of college students.
A number of factors are at play to explain the gender gap reversal in college, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. By evaluating the performance of high school graduates in 1957, 1972, and 1992, the researchers saw that high school girls have improved in their achievement test scores, which show they have become prepared to go to college. On the whole, the girls also have better grades than boys. Moreover, girls have gained more benefits and reason for going to college, since more work opportunities and better employment chances have been afforded to them by higher education. An older marrying age also allowed them to choose to continue studying to eventually have a career.
The boys, on the other hand, have higher drop-out rates than girls, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Some of those who dropped out did it because they were failing, were suspended or expelled, or they needed to find a job to help support their families. Boys have higher incidence of behavioral and disciplinary problems, which relates to the higher rate of criminal activity committed by boys. As stated, they get suspended from school; but others get arrested.
Why do boys have more behavioral problems than girls do? Sociologist Jayanti Owens enumerates the factors: family problems like harsh discipline at home and a father’s absence (and boys are found to be more negatively affected by these than girls are); peer pressure in school that emphasizes “stereotypical adolescent masculine culture” that bullies nerdiness; and that low performance and harsh discipline further exacerbates poor behavior and low achievement.
With the current circumstances, boys, especially those who dropped out of school, are at a disadvantage since job seekers look for advanced skills and technical knowledge, which can only be attained in universities, in potential employees. If they do find work, they aren’t paid well. If they remain unemployed, they are at high risk of crime and diminished success.
And speaking of crime, there is also a gender gap in criminal cases, as found by researcher Sonja Starr who studied the criminal justice processes. Men are fifteen times as likely to be imprisoned as women are, and their sentence is 63 percent longer on average (23 more months) than women’s for the same crime. As for women, when they are arrested for a crime, women are more likely to avoid charges and are twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.
Starr offers a likely explanation for the discrepancy: the perceived role of the woman in a crime committed by the group she is part of. Women might be considered minor players, accessories, or followers, of their male partner. Prosecutors and judges then assume that those women are less dangerous, less blameworthy, or trustworthy. But Starr accounts that lawyers she spoke to said that such perceptions “are not always justified by the facts.”
Starr’s research also suggests that the gap is partly due to the presumed mother’s childcare responsibilities: “Prosecutors and/or judges worry about the effect of maternal incarceration on children.” When the female defendant mentions childcare, judges are less likely to recommend prison. But for married men who have children, there is no significant difference in their sentence. More surprisingly, however, is that among single men who have children, their sentences are significantly increased.
Starr writes, “If family hardship is a legitimate consideration, one might expect it to play at least some role in men’s cases as well. Numerous studies have suggested that paternal incarceration harms children even when the father was already a noncustodial parent.” Following that logic, there is discrimination against men because their role as a parent (and a figure essential to their child’s formation) is disregarded.
Feminism that is dominant today on social media is outdated and hypocritical to me. As practiced, it only mocks men for their egos and deep-seated concerns of being accepted—it doesn’t care to ask, really ask and truly find out, why men are so. It yells “Check your privilege” without even listening to the ways oppression gnaws at the other sex and without checking its own. It sees itself as the most clever thing, so it snubs all other thought, leaving no space for empathy altogether. It harshly discriminates against men, forgetting that men are human beings hence have rights and feelings too.
I’m no men’s rights activist, and neither am I a meninist. I’m just someone who stands on middle ground—so I’d like to think—calling people to be more empathetic and, quite frankly, to cut the BS. I believe in equality and human rights, and feminism today just went too far. It’s supposed to tear inequality apart, not the men.
My message to you radical feminists: Understand that gender roles exist for women and men, and that these boxes can be constricting to both parties. Have a little bit more empathy, because you help people that way. And extend that empathy to the men you say you don’t hate but you actually hate. Snobbery might make you seem smart and get you the Facebook and Twitter Likes, but that’s not everything—that’s nothing if you think about how many people whose issues you might be compounding but whom you could instead be helping.
If you want to do away with discriminative gender roles, do away with them for men too. Start by being kind and listening to men. That’s one way to achieve equality—to see that they have a voice that also needs to be heard. Another way is to accept that gender roles exist and that they suck sometimes, and other times not quite. As things are now, you have to acknowledge your privilege too. This patriarchy you hate on so much benefits you in ways you didn’t know because you don’t experience the same hardship, repression, and pressure that others spend years or a lifetime enduring.
If you want equality, accept criticism, punishment, and responsibility for your actions. You’re an empowered woman, aren’t you?
Feel free to share your thoughts directly to Serena through her email!