Rana Bou Saleh | Staff Writer

 Recently gender equality, also known as feminism, has become one of the 17 sustainable development goals set up by the United Nations General Assembly with an intention to be achieved by the year 2030. While other sustainable goals are generally agreed upon like ending world hunger, feminism is still controversial, especially in the MENA region. A lot of this disagreement surrounding feminism stems from problematic misconceptions, some of which have accompanied feminism ever since its dawn, while others are more related to the MENA region and its traditional mentality. In this article, we will cover 10 misconceptions about feminism and feminists.

Misconception 1: Feminism is a fight for power and forming the matriarchy.

Feminism advocates for gender equality. It tries to balance the power dynamics between genders. There is no matriarchy in the discourse of feminism. It is not about taking away power from anyone. It is about restoring power to the “subordinated” gender that is considered inferior and less of a human. Women lack a lot of basic human rights that allow them to have autonomy over their bodies and lives. Giving them their human rights does not equate to taking away rights from men.

Misconception 2: Feminism is a westernized concept.

Recently a show that aired on national Lebanese television called “فوق 18” (which literally translates to 18+) suggested that feminism is a westernized concept. I had heard it before, but I did not expect a female host to suggest such a statement so casually on television. The exact time at which feminism appeared in the Arab World has not really been confirmed, however, recent studies suggest that the first time it appeared was around the 1800s in Egypt along with the British colonization – this explains how the idea that feminism is westernized arose. 

Considering the fact that patriarchy predominates most of the world,  feminism is actually a concept that applies to all societies. So, it is not an idea that globalization paved into the Arab world, nor does it clash with our culture. If Arab people think gender equality clashes with their culture, perhaps it is time to rethink the oppressive and problematic traditions that we have collectively adopted. 

Misconception 3: Feminism is about hating men.

No. That would be misandry. Feminism simply calls for equality of genders, and since men are mostly the ones who oppose this initiative thinking it is aimed against them. But hating men does not stem from the concept of feminism, it is merely a reaction to the opposition of some men to the fights of feminists.

Misconception 4: Only women can be feminists.

This is actually a very common misconception. A lot of men I have met connect the term “feminism” to “femininity” and assume that it is a woman’s problem that they do not want to be connected to. Some men even argue that the term “feminism” should be changed to a more gender-neutral term because they do not want to be associated with femininity. That is, of course, their toxic masculinity speaking, because feminism started as an initiative striving for gender equality by resisting patriarchal mindset and environment that abuse and subordinate women, and if they are sensitive to the term then they have bigger issues to deal with.

Misconception 5: Feminism is harmful to men.

On the contrary, feminism aims to achieve equality between genders to relieve men of their roles as breadwinners and the burdens accompanying such roles. That way, they would no longer be forced to adopt certain mentalities and act in certain ways that hurt them emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Misconception 6: All feminists are the same.

Actually, that is a bit of a stretch. There are several branches of feminism the most famous of which are liberal and radical feminism. Considering feminism touches upon the personal experiences of individuals, feminists define feminism according to their own preference which could include any of the schools of feminism or a combination of several schools of feminism. Feminists do have common aims and goals, but they are not all the same.

Misconception 7: Feminists can’t take a joke and are angry all the time.

We can take a joke as long as it is not degrading and offensive, or one that belittles our efforts as feminists. There is a huge difference between jokes and insults, yet some people still cannot differentiate between them. Saying things like “go back to the kitchen” as a joke does not really pass as one considering the reality is still stagnant, especially in the MENA region. Women are still considered primarily responsible for their houses – their ambitions come second. The priority is still given to their family and not their ambition whether the two intersect or not. Actresses are still being asked how they balance their job and taking care of their kids. Women are still considered bad mothers if they prioritize their jobs. Women are still demanded to stay at home and take care of their kids as if their husbands have no responsibility towards their children whatsoever. Until women can freely choose their ambition in life without pressures from everywhere in society, such “jokes” are not acceptable. Feminists have the right to be angry. After all, they are fighting for their liberty and for an improvement of their daily lives.

Misconception 8: Feminists can’t be feminine.

Feminism is not about being feminine or masculine. It is about having the privilege of a choice. Feminists can choose to express themselves however they desire. So, they can actually be feminine if they desire to be so.

Misconception 9: Feminists want to grow beards.

I actually heard this one in one of my classes when a feminist student suggested that body hair on women is normal. Again, feminism is about choice. Just like men are free to have underarm hair and leg hair without being called gross or dirty, women should have the privilege of the same standards. So, no we don’t want beards, we just want to maintain our body hair in peace. It grows there for a reason. 

Misconception 10: Feminists want to pay for everything.

Recently, a very popular Lebanese singer, Carol Samaha, suggested that feminism means that the woman wants to pay for everything. Sure, the financial independence of women can be considered part of the feminist fight considering women were legally the property of men and could not own anything for a long period of time in history, so it is not that big of a deal that these women want to be autonomous. The problem is reducing feminism to financial independence. Although feminists want that kind of independence, a lot of us acknowledge the gender pay gap and know that men can afford a lot more than we can. So, no feminists do not want to pay for everything. 

Now that these misconceptions have been clarified. It is reasonable to reconsider a faulty perspective of feminism. Rejecting a concept because we simply choose to misdefine it says more about us than about the concept itself.