Have you ever felt like, while you support women’s equality and liberation, there was something off about mainstream feminism? Maybe you couldn’t put your finger on it, but you know that even though you are doing everything right, you don’t feel particularly liberated or equal.
You’re not alone. Feminists of the 19th and 20th centuries who were campaigning for women’s liberation would likely find mainstream feminism to be a complete misnomer — maybe even a grand joke.
Extreme and violent sex acts, the buying and selling of women, and heightened performances of feminity are all considered “feminist” today, so long as women “freely” choose to participate. But is it possible we’ve been lied to?
Today’s mainstream feminism isn’t moving us closer to liberation. It’s just making women complicit and active in their own subjugation.
Lie #1: The Problem is Individual Bad Men
The #MeToo movement has certainly done some good. It brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment and assault to the forefront, especially in Hollywood and politics. Yet, the conversation remains framed around individual bad men, labeled “abusers”, while not-yet accused men are able to get woke points on late-night TV by calling them out.
To be clear, I’m not saying all men abuse women to the same degree. Many men are actively trying to be better allies to women. But this “not all men” approach obscures the real issue here: male violence.
As I previously pointed out, the research on male violence is overwhelming:
- 90% of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men
- 93% of perpetrators of sexual violence against men are men
- 95% of perpetrators of all child sexual abuse are men
“Nearly every adult male will participate in some form of sexual violence against women, even if they never commit criminal sexual assault — whether it is through buying sex (20%), sexual harassment at work (33%), viewing pornography (98%), campus sexual assault (35%), coercing a woman into certain sex acts (46% of college men), or simply maintaining the systems that allow this to happen.”
The dichotomy between a good man and a bad man, perpetuated by slogans like “Real men don’t rape” erases the reality that real men do rape. Real, human, actual male people are the absolute majority of rapists.
While we all have men in our lives we love, whether it’s a husband, boyfriend, father, brother, son, or friend, ignoring the truth that men as a class commit violence against women as a class is a patriarchial lie used to let men off the hook.
Lie #2: Your Subjugation Can Be Empowering
This lie is used to make women complacent with societally expected behaviors that nearly entirely benefit men. We see it with everything from makeup to prostitution.
To understand this, we must understand that femininity is an integral part of women’s oppression. Despite modern claims to the contrary, femininity is not an inherent aspect of womanhood. It is a socially-constructed set of behaviors, attitudes, and aesthetics which women are expected under patriarchy to adhere to keep us in the subservient position. Femininity, to any significant degree, is not a choice that many women have. It is a sign of our oppression.
Femininity is nearly always “less” than masculinity. It is less valued, less powerful, less convenient, less efficient. Expectations of femininity have been used to control women from the home to the workplace and everywhere in between.
Mainstream feminism, which prioritizes a false notion of “choice” claims that if a woman simply chooses to adhere to strict femininity, it is empowering to her. This narrative fails to critically examine how our choices are coerced by societal forces, and how an oppressed class can never freely choose to accept their subjection. To claim overwise is nothing more than victim-blaming.
This, of course, is not to say that women who do participate in femininity are wrong, less feminist, or weaker. Rather, it means acknowledging that some women will choose to play patriarchy’s game out of a desire to survive. But survival through conforming to patriarchy is not liberation, nor is it empowerment. It is coping. We should respect the fact that all women must find ways to cope under patriarchy, and we each do it differently, but that does not change the reality that femininity under patriarchy is subjugation.
Similarly, if women “choose” to participate in sex for survival under patriarchal capitalism, there is nothing empowering about this. If a woman’s choice to engage in sexual activity is fully dependant on getting paid, and we exist in capitalism where poverty can mean death, this choice is clearly coerced. The lie that “sex work” is anything but paid rape is so obviously for male benefit that it could not possibly be farther from anything resembling “feminism”.
Yet, today, mainstream feminists insist that it is an empowering act. This lie is often rooted in racism and classism as middle-class white women claim “sex work is empowering!” but would never consider it for themselves.
Lie #3: Sex Positivity Benefits Women
Sure, there are some parts of sex positivity that have benefited women. The most obvious example is the way women are shamed for being sexual, all the while being pressured by men into being more and more so. Sex positivity has attempted to end the shame women have experienced for enjoying sex — but has, conveniently, forgotten about the male pressure side.
Rather than expanding the choices for women in terms of when, where, how, and with whom we are allowed to be sexual and our ability to reject sex altogether, sex positivity has expanded a very narrow subsection of our choices. Now, we can be sexual with men in the bedroom, the kitchen, or even in the hallway! We can do it frontward, backward, and any which way. And don’t you dare kink shame if the man wants to beat you, perhaps to the point of death, during sex. That’s just all in good fun!
Sex positivity, in reality, has given women more ways to say “yes” to sex with men while attempting to remove “no” from our vocabularies altogether.
Today, women who do not wish to engage with sex with men are prudes, repressed, or worse: conservative.
This is not by accident. The long trek to tricking feminism into supporting male sexual pleasure over all else started with the sexologists of the early 20th century, who pathologized women who wished to abstain from sex as “frigid” and in need of fixing. This process is outlined in great detail in Sheila Jeffrey’s feminist classic, “The Spinster and Her Enemies.”
Today’s sexuality has been intentionally constructed by the men of our past.
The move to accept porn use as “feminist” is directly related to this attempt to normalize participation in violent male sexuality. More and more women are being pressured into participating in sexual acts that were created by pornographers to get more clicks from porn-addicted men. BDSM, the normalization of truly violent sexuality under the cover of constructed “consent” is the natural result of this line of thinking.
Today, feminism is allowing women to be murdered during sex because we are so afraid of “kink-shaming”. It’s working — 45% of men who claim that the woman they killed consented to his sexual violence win their defense.
Sex positivity has put male sexual pleasure above the actual lives of women. This is not feminism.
How to Spot A Feminist Lie
If you have been told that something is feminist or empowering, there is one way to check.
Ask yourself one simple question: Does this benefit men or women more?
Each of these lies has brought women some marginal benefit, which is why we’ve gone along with it for so long. The ability to name and shame an abusive man is new and exciting for victims. Those who feel they must perform femininity to get ahead at work enjoy feeling like they have agency over their decisions. Women are tired of being shamed for their sexuality, we want to be able to enjoy and revel in our sexual experiences.
But we’ve been duped. Mainstream feminism is selling us out to male violence and patriarchal norms.
In a culture where everyone is afraid to be “called out”, we may be afraid to question what we are told, let alone publicly. But feminism is not, and never has been, for male benefit.
So ask yourself, have I been lied to?
M. K. is a feminist writer and activist with a background in mental health advocacy. Subscribe to get her latest posts directly in your inbox.