I am a proud feminist. I sometimes wonder how any woman could identify as anything besides a feminist. After all, the principles of feminism are simple: to fight for equality for and empowerment of women. However, I’m beginning to understand why some women feel uncomfortable with the label. And the reason they feel that discomfort, sadly, often comes from feminists themselves. And to further pair it down, it seems to come specifically from white liberal feminists.
I’m learning that there are many people who call themselves feminists without having a strong understanding of what the word means. First, some feminists seem to think that feminism is about hating men. During the Me, Too movement, the word feminism became strongly associated with the complete disgust and hatred of men. Phrases like, “it is all men,” and “put them all in the garbage” became popular battle cries of self-proclaimed feminism. And I get it, to some extent. Collectively, women are fed up with the treatment we receive at the hands of men. Not just the micro-level shit we put up with, but also the macro-level, systemic shit that protects and enables that treatment. It’s understandable that the inner response might be to simply want to burn it all down. However, feminists don’t fundamentally hate men.
Second, there are a lot of, again, self-proclaimed feminists who, paradoxically, appear to hold many negative opinions toward women, too. They treat women who disagree with them—women who prefer traditional gender roles in their marriage or who see men as “head of the household”—like they are stupid, infantile, or indoctrinated. They criticize these women for “setting women back,” when all these women are doing is living their lives the way they prefer to live.
Feminism as a philosophy is not anti-men. Feminism is also not anti-traditional women.
Feminism believes that patriarchy—the system that subverts and oppresses women—also harms men. It sees men as victims of patriarchy, but in obviously different ways. Feminists fight for men to come to terms with this and to fight for their own liberation from patriarchy as well as ours.
Feminism, at its core, is the belief that women should be able to pursue whatever life makes them happy without people or institutions standing in the way. Obviously, we stand against people using their voting power to oppress women, which, I believe, is where some of the anti-Conservative sentiment comes from. Conservative women do tend to vote conservative, which often leads to the oppression and suppression of women. Those are important conversations that feminists are correct to engage in. But sadly, I frequently see feminists, particularly in online discourse, trying to take conservative or traditional women to task over their own choices for their own lives, marriages, and families.
And this is where I feel feminism has really cooked a bit too long in its own juices.
If we are fighting for the liberation of women, that means for all women. That means for progressive and traditional women. For cis women and trans women. For trans men, too, for that matter. Any brand of feminism that fights for the liberation of women but only if those women ascribe to a certain lifestyle that we happen to agree with is not feminism at all. It’s just patriarchy, repackaged and pink-taxed.
In fact, I would say it’s anti-woman.
The other day, I posted a video about my husband and I going over our budget. I explained how he and I sat down to look at where we went over budget and where we went under, and my husband had to point out to me where I had made some purchases that had un-balanced our budget. I explained how this was a hard conversation for me, one that brought up complicated feelings, but that I had to embrace as a “me problem” since I had—in an untriggered state of mind—agreed that having this budget was a good and important thing.
A woman left a lengthy comment lecturing me for “allowing” my husband to make a budget and insisting that I should be involved in every aspect of the finances. It didn’t give any indication that she actually cared about my marriage and home life, but rather, that she wanted to use my video as a stage from which to publicly shame me for not being a “woke” woman.
I explained to her that liberation in my marriage means having my husband take over some of the mental load of household chores. I would rather not be involved in every decision, obligation, task, or chore in my home. My husband and I agreed that him handling the budget was the best for us both. He has skills that lend themselves to budgeting. I do not. So, I have my tasks that are primarily mine, and he has his.
This is just one small example of the way I see self-proclaimed feminists undermining women in the name of feminism. It happens all the time. And I’d just like those of us who call ourselves feminists to reflect on this a bit. It is incredibly anti-woman to criticize and marginalize women for choosing a way of life that works best for them. It goes against the very foundations of what feminism is! In some ways, we are starting to sound like the men here, but on the other side of the coin. They criticize and demean women who want independence, liberation, and equality. We criticize and demean women who prefer traditional roles and dynamics.
Let’s make sure that we aren’t using feminism as a tool for propping up anti-woman ideals. It’s not a cute look. And, if we’re not careful, we’re going to be the ones setting women’s liberation backward.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.