There’s nothing wrong with talking about equality in a general sense, but there’s also nothing wrong with calling movements by names that describe the issues they’re combating.
"Hey, you're a feminist. What do you think of that?"
If we feminists got a dollar every time someone at a party asked us this question, we just might close the wage gap.
Speaking of the wage gap, people love to ask me whether it's real or just a product of different priorities. They also really like to tell me about false rape reports.
Here are a few questions that I and every other Feminist Friend™ are tired of getting — and the answers, yet again, so that maybe someone somewhere will stop asking them.
1. "But couldn't the wage gap exist because men and women have different priorities?"
To some extent, the wage gap reflects men holding more demanding and high-paying positions, but as Jennifer Lawrence could tell you, it exists even when men and women hold the same jobs. One study found that controlling for hours and occupation still left a third of the wage gap unexplained. And beyond that, the fact that men are working longer hours in higher-paying positions is a problem in and of itself. Expectations that women be primary caretakers and men be breadwinners contribute to this trend, as does bias against women in leadership roles and lucrative fields and backlash against women who negotiate pay. So, no, it’s not just a result of different innate priorities.
2. "Do you have a problem with feminine women?"
No — I have a problem with stigma against feminine men, I have a problem with pressure for women to be feminine, and I have a problem with the stereotypes these expectations stem from. There's a difference between a woman wearing makeup because she likes the artistic challenge and a woman wearing makeup because she knows it will make her a better sexual object. I don't condemn either motive, but I condemn society for endorsing the latter.
I once attended a talk by Gloria Steinem where she said that a room with the door open and a room with the door closed are completely different, even if they’re the same room. One lets people in and out, and one blocks certain people from entering and others from exiting. The problem is with the door, not the room. Similarly, my problem is not with sports and cars or fashion and beauty but with prescriptions for who is interested in these things and who isn’t.
3. "But aren't there biological differences between men and women?"
There are biological differences between men and other men and between women and other women. There are differences, for example, between a trans woman and a cis woman, and when we say "biological differences between men and women," we erase this distinction. In addition to lumping together all the racial, sexual, and other types of identities within the groups known as “men” and "women," making generalizations discounts all the ways many people actually don't adhere to gender norms. Plenty of men have "feminine" qualities and plenty of women have "masculine" qualities because brains are not male or female. We exclude people who don’t match stereotypes when we say "men are like this" and "women are like this." We may think we're just telling it how it is, but we're actually dictating how it is by making people feel like they need to fit gender roles in order to be accepted as men or women.
4. "How do we account for false rape reports?"
Studies on false rape accusations have typically found them to constitute only 2-10% of reports, and one meta-analysis found that studies that vetted police classifications with social workers instead of taking them at face value found lower rates. This means that the rate of false rape reports is likely similar to that of most other crimes, which the FBI has found to be 2%, yet people rarely question victims of other crimes. One common myth driving the doubting of rape victims is that women accuse men of rape when they regret sleeping with them. But if somebody has sex and then regrets it in the morning, why would they undergo a legal process that makes the incident they supposedly regret public, further humiliates them, and doubts and shames them? Even though there is the occasional false crime report, the veracity of victims' claims is for the (albeit flawed) courts to decide, not people who know nothing about the situation. Until a ruling is made, it statistically makes sense to believe victims, and doubting them compounds the trauma of the assault.
5. “Why don’t you just say ‘egalitarianism’?”
Why don’t we just call LGBT rights or anti-racism beliefs “egalitarianism?” There’s nothing wrong with talking about equality in a general sense, but there’s also nothing wrong with calling movements by names that describe the issues they’re combating. Feminism strives to combat oppression against women, not because women are superior but because women are typically the ones being oppressed, while cis white heterosexual men are the dominant class. Society oppresses men in many ways as well, but combating this oppression goes hand in hand with feminism because it also requires challenging gender roles and stereotypes. And as an aside, I’d be more okay with saying “egalitarianism” if the term weren’t co-opted by men’s rights activists (check out the egalitarianism subreddit if you don’t know what I’m referring to). If you don’t believe the dictionary, take it from Beyoncé: Feminism and gender equality are synonymous.