How to Understand Feminism

Three Parts:Researching FeminismUnderstanding what Feminism Is NotWhat Feminism Is

Feminism is a movement that supports the equality of women and actively trains women to accept non-traditional values and fight traditional standards that keep women unequal. It is about making the world a fairer place for all women, retaining a critical perspective, and treasuring diversity. You do not need to be a woman to be a feminist, and feminism does not focus on improving the world for just women alone but for society's benefit as whole.

Part 1
Researching Feminism

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    Start off with basic feminist literature. Feminists are a diverse group, from the accessible and personable bell hooks to the sharp-witted academic Judith Butler. Try checking out basic feminist books from the library or reading Feminism 101 articles.
    • Much of feminist thought takes place at a college level. However, there are some websites written at plainer language if you are young or intellectually disabled and interested in feminism.
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    Read from a variety of writers. You may find a writer or two whose works you hold particularly close to your heart. This is great. However, it's important to remember to step out of your comfort zone. In order to be a feminist, you must challenge yourself and listen to many different perspectives.
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    Delve into the feminist community online. Feminists are gathering in bigger numbers on the internet, where it is (usually) safer and they can find others who aren't afraid to speak up. Websites such as Tumblr, Everyday Feminism, Jezebel, and others often host feminist discussions.
    • Be careful of trolls and harassers. Feminism has a significant backlash (notably the MRAs), and prominent feminists may be targeted. Get a strong support system and call the police if threats are made against you or you feel unsafe.
    • Internet feminist culture has had issues of ableism, bullying, and antisemitism. Be aware of these issues and don't be afraid to call someone out if they are doing something problematic.
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    Learn some terminology. The feminist community, like all communities, has its unique vocabulary and norms. While it would be impractical to list all words right here, here are a few examples:[1]
    • Patriarchy—a society in which men are given more power than women, masculinity is seen superior to femininity, and rigid gender roles are enforced (to the detriment of everyone).
    • Rape Culture—a culture in which rape is normalized or dismissed.
    • Nice Guy (TM)—a man who acts nice in the hopes that a woman will reward him with sex, and may respond with anger or violence if she does not. Distinct from ordinary nice guys.
    • Cisgender—a person who is not transgender; their gender identity matches their biological sex.
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    Look into intersectional issues. Feminism is about helping all women (and all people), which includes women of color, LGBTQIA women, disabled women, large women, poor women, and women who belong to religious minorities. As you research, make sure to listen to the voices of women who lack privilege in areas besides gender.
    • Men and nonbinary people may write articles about other axes of oppression. Don't feel like you need to limit yourself to only female writers!
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    Be prepared to learn. Feminists are constantly challenging and critiquing ideas. In order to move past prejudice, one must be willing to put aside one's ego and not take criticism personally.
    • Everyone does problematic things sometimes. Listen when you are called out, understand why that particular action was wrong, apologize, and work to do better next time. If you can do this, then you're doing great.
    • Don't beat yourself up over past mistakes. Learn from them, and move on. You did the best you could do at the time.

Part 2
Understanding what Feminism Is Not

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    Discard the stereotypes you've heard. Feminism is not a club of bra-burning, hairy, masculine lesbians with short hair.[2] Feminism encompasses all sorts of women—from feminine homemakers to business executives to disabled writers to charming lesbians.
    • Some feminists are fat, hairy, short-haired, masculine, and gay. According to feminism, these women are okay too.[3] There is no wrong way to be a woman.
    • Feminists did publicly throw bras into trash bins during the Second Wave, but bra-burning is a myth.[4][5]
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    Don't confuse feminism in general with basic white feminism. Feminism is not limited to white, middle-class and upper-class working women. Homemakers, sanitation workers, minimum-wage factory workers, secretaries, daycare workers, unemployed women, et cetera are all welcome in feminism. Feminism advocates respect of women of all walks of life, because women should be able to choose whatever path suits them and their priorities best.
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    Realize that feminism is not about the disempowerment of men. In fact, feminists have called for support for male rape victims,[6][7] the breaking down of rigid gender roles that hurt men, an end to infant male/AMAB circumcision,[8][9][10] and intersectional rights (race, disability, size, LGBTQIA status) that all affect men.
    • Feminism does not seek to do to men what patriarchy has done to women.
    • The only men who will be hurt by feminism are the men whose livelihoods depended on the oppression of women. If you're an ordinary good man, you'll have some learning to do, but you'll be fine.
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    Do not tear down other women in the name of feminism. Feminism holds that all women deserve equal rights, not just the "correct" type of women. It is not about women distancing themselves from femininity to seem superior as individuals. In feminist belief systems, femininity and feminized things (e.g. feminized jobs) should not be seen as lesser.
    • The phrase "I'm not like other girls" is a key example of what feminism is not, because it implies that "other girls" are inferior and less worthy of respect.
    • Women should be able to like pink, manicures, pop music, etc. if they choose. There is nothing inherently inferior about this.
    • Calling other women "sl*ts" and "b**ches" is not feminism. Insulting women who are less intelligent or less educated is not feminism. Throwing mentally ill women, fat women, lesbians, etc. under the bus is not feminism.
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    Learn that feminism is not a monolith. It has different sects that hold different beliefs. (Even within sects, different feminists have different opinions.) Here are a few of the sects that are often mentioned:
    • White Feminism—a sect that focuses on white women, ignoring or even speaking over women of color. (Not all white women who are feminists are White Feminists.)
    • Sex Work Inclusive Feminism—a group that believes people who voluntarily perform sex acts for money should be respected and kept safe, and that sex work should be decriminalized. (They do not support sex trafficking, which is done against the victims' will.)
    • Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism—a sect that believes transgender women are men who intend to invade women's safe spaces (among other things).[11] Its adherents are often called TERFs.
    • Sex Positive/Sex Critical—feminists who believe that female sexuality should be de-stigmatized and celebrated, versus those who voice concerns over male/female power dynamics in relationships.
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    Recognize that feminism is not about hating men. Studies have shown that feminists actually feel less hostile towards men than non-feminist women do.[12] Plenty of feminists are married to men, and/or could name several men they care about in their lives.
    • Feminist values such as consent also apply to men.
    • Some feminists believe that men can be feminists, while others are concerned that male feminists will try to take over the movement.[13] Some men prefer to identify as "feminist allies" to be clear that they're only here to help.
    • Men have male privilege.[14] Having privilege is not equal to being evil.
    • You may run across misandry jokes. These are humor attempts, in which feminists satirically say the same horrible things about men that society says about women.[15]Satire means that they do not actually hold these beliefs.[16] No reasonable person actually wants to "kill all men."[17][18]
    • "Not all men" is an obvious statement.[19][20] When feminists say "I hate when men do ______," their intent is to spark discussion, and make men think about whether they do that thing. The men who do it can rethink their actions and do better, and the men who don't do it can nod intelligently and keep moving.

Part 3
What Feminism Is

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    Realize that feminism is more than "girl power" or "hey, it'd be cool to be equal to men." Feminists seek to dismantle all systems of oppression—not just patriarchy like their name suggests, but also systematic racism, heterosexism, ableism, and more. It covers issues from rape culture to income inequality. In the eyes of a feminist, every human has human dignity, and deserves the same freedoms and opportunities in life.
    • "Girl power" ignores the idea that women can do bad things too.
    • Equality to men is an impractical idea—which men should women be equal to? White heterosexual men? Black autistic men? Fat transgender men? Not all men are equally privileged.
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    Observe how feminism encompasses injustice of all forms and mutations. It supports everyone from the rape victim to the woman whose bottom is pinched by a coworker, from the teenage wife to the gamer who is frustrated at seeing characters of her gender seen like objects. The existence of larger problems does not invalidate the smaller problems.
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    Recognize that feminism holds that all people deserve to be treated with basic human decency. They should not need to dress a certain way, lose a certain amount of pounds, hide signs of their religion or disability, or straighten their hair in order to be treated with basic respect.
    • Basic respect means (among other things) freedom to walk around without stares of disgust or rude remarks, human rights such as effective healthcare, equal opportunity, and not fearing for their safety or lives because of their gender/race/gender identity/etc.
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    Recognize the importance of consent in feminist beliefs. Feminists believe that no one's bodily autonomy should be violated. This is very clear in their stance on sex and sexual assault, but also in a number of things in everyday life. In feminism, consent has no exceptions.
    • Most feminists are pro-choice[21] because a fetus is using a pregnant person's body (causing things like vomiting and serious financial expense), and it thus it should be removed if the pregnant person no longer consents to its use of their body.[22]
    • Feminists usually oppose the draft[23] and routine infant circumcision,[24] because men did not consent to the draft, nor can infants consent to an unnecessary operation.[25]
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    Understand feminism's stance on the female body. Feminists believe that women's bodies are about more than sex and beauty. They dislike the treatment of women as sexy objects in advertising, movies, video games, and other areas. They are critical of the beauty industry that tells women that they need to meet a nearly impossible standard in order to feel happy and desirable.
    • Some feminists rebel against toxic beauty culture by deliberately choosing not to follow it (e.g. not shaving, wearing little or no makeup, accepting body fat). Others prefer to dress up according to beauty norms. Neither preference makes a woman a bad feminist.
    • Some women protest the idea that the female body (especially cis women's breasts) is inherently sexual. They believe that women should be able to breastfeed in public without people ascribing sexual meaning to it, and go topless in the heat like men can.
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    Recognize that feminism is intersectional. It encompasses more than sexism—it also addresses issues of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, income, size, religion, and more. This is because feminism is for all women, not just the straight white able-bodied etc. women. The need for feminism will disappear when all forms of oppression no longer exist.


  • Feminists do problematic things sometimes—everyone does. If this happens, politely tell them why their actions were problematic. The modern feminist movement has had issues with bullying of ignorant oppressors, ableism, and antisemitism.
  • If you are a feminist, you may get called out sometimes. This is okay. Listen to them, research the issue, evaluate whether their position is reasonable, apologize to anyone you hurt, and learn from it. You are learning and that's all right.


  • Be careful about whom you engage in debate. Some people are genuinely interested in respectful debate. Some people will turn aggressive if you disagree with what they say. If you feel wary or unsafe with someone, end the conversation. You aren't obligated to change their mind.
  • Don't participate in callout culture. If someone does something problematic, take them aside in private to explain. Don't mob them or make them feel unsafe; this will cause people to be afraid to speak up.
  • Never send death or rape threats to a feminist (or anyone ever). This is illegal, the FBI can track you, and you can go to jail for anonymous threats. You can also be an accessory to a crime if you tell someone to kill themselves. They might take your advice.
  • Keep an eye out for trolls. Sometimes anti-feminists will pose as feminists to say ridiculous things. If an idea seems terrible or cruel, it's either a feminist making a joke or a troll trying to discredit the feminist movement.
  • Never refer to someone as a "feminazi." This is extremely disrespectful to Jews and Holocaust survivors, as well as to feminists. Wanting equal rights is not on the same level as exterminating millions of innocent people.

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Categories: Feminism and Sexism