When I first started learning about feminism and talking about it with others, I often received questions from my peers such as “What about your dad?” or “Don’t you have a brother?”
I thought they would ask me how I learned about feminism or how I planned to support it, not for details about my family tree. People have interpreted my statements that I support women’s rights as ill feelings toward men, which makes me think that there must be a false connection between the two ideas.
In Greece, it was considered unacceptable for someone like me to start questioning our heritage by speaking out about the inequality between sexes. Society silenced me, and I was left to discover feminism by myself.
I soon realized that to my family and some of my peers, my being a feminist implied that I despised men, so I stopped talking openly about it. Likewise, many young women refrain from calling themselves feminists for fear of being stigmatized as misandrists. Of course, this belief is far from the truth. So let me make it very clear: Feminism does not mean hating men.
Let’s start with a definition. Feminism is the belief in the economic, social and political equality between sexes. It has nothing to do with removing men from society. Rather, it has to do with believing that everybody should have the right to equal opportunities regardless of their gender.
Feminists are not out to attack men. In fact, we are just as quick to support men if that is the course of action that seems right in a world with the gender equality course of action. For example, if there is a heterosexual divorce case in court and the question of child custody comes up, being a feminist doesn’t mean you will support the mother immediately just because she is a woman.
The term for discriminating against men is misandry. This includes prejudice against men, which has been created as a reaction to the atrocities some women face, such as violence or sexual objectification, which is viewing a human being purely as an object of sexual desire.
Feminism as an ideology does not claim to hate men; it aims to stop misogynists and ensure that our culture does not support them either. Interestingly, a study conducted in 2004 found higher levels of hostility toward men in from those non-feminist groups than in feminist groups. Yet, there still seem to be many people that believe otherwise.
One main reason that society has connected feminism with misandry is simply the fact that some so-called “feminists” do hate men. But those people do not represent feminism, and the hatred of men is in no way a criterion for being a feminist.
Another factor that has led to this false link between misandry and feminism is the reluctance of some women to address men’s issues relating to gender equality. It is true that men can struggle despite our patriarchal society. One common example is toxic masculinity, a social message that says men cannot be vulnerable. This causes men to internalize their feelings instead of expressing them, which can cause harsh reactions.
However, the reason that some feminists might not tackle these problems isn’t that they hate men; many feminists support the idea that men can be weak or show their emotions. Feminists fear addressing gender issues in a broad sense will take the focus away from women’s issues, stunting progress for the cause.
Another explanation for the invalid association of feminism and misandry is the fear that feminists will overturn cherished traditions and religious beliefs surrounding gender, leading people to stigmatize the movement as a reaction.
Being a Greek woman has given me personal experience with people alarmed by the turnaround of principles and customs.
Greece is a very religious country that has integrated Orthodox Christianity into all aspects of social life. All of our traditions stem from Eastern Orthodoxy, and our social system is largely influenced by it. Sadly, our religion tends to pass the message that a woman’s role is to stay at home and assume all domestic duties completely, such as taking care of the kids or cleaning.
Even at church, women are not viewed as equals to men and have to sit apart from them. Some early Christian writings argue that this separation took place in order to avoid temptation, but this notion simply perpetuates the sexual objectification of women.
Unfortunately, women are still not equal to men in some parts of the world. For example, many companies do not offer friendly working conditions for mothers. These are just two examples from the long list of challenges that women face in today’s society.
For this reason, feminists and their allies should work hard in order to dissociate feminism from misandry. The movement has to continue its fight, but it cannot do so if it’s constantly mistaken for something it doesn’t even support. After all, by knowing the difference between feminism and misandry, those that don’t necessarily call themselves feminists can be some of the most powerful allies to the movement. Instead of hindering it by spreading false conceptions, they can provide arguments about its true intentions.
Leah Voudouri PO ’24 is from Thessaloniki, Greece. She is interested in discovering new books and often pays visits to book bazaars to find vintage editions.