Feminism 101: The Myths, Debunked! (Part 1)

Sabrina introduces us to the simple modus operandi of feminism and shares her introduction to it. Don’t worry, no man was hurt at the time of writing.

I am a feminist and proud of it. Not quite understanding the term at first, it took me a while to realise that I was one. My first encounter with anything feminism was when I was probably about 16. I was on a trip abroad when I bumped into a group of women handing out stickers for free.

“Girls can do anything!” and “Women can do anything!” were words in purple and fuchsia that blared out at me when I looked down at the stickers in my hand. What does this mean? Girls can do anything? my young, innocent heart asked as I took a handful to bring home to my friends.

Two weeks later, I was back in school, showing my friends what I eventually thought was a great message. “Oh, is that all?” one of them asked disappointedly. “Girls can do ANYTHING?” a boy who had happened to pass by laughed raucously, as if to say that was the most ridiculous idea in the world.

That same night, I sat down at my study table, thinking, “Why didn’t they see what I see? That I can be anything that I want to be?” I stuck the sticker at eye-level so I could see it whenever I needed to study. Eventually, I could even see it from the foot of my bed. I felt inspired. Up till today, I believe it was those words that planted the seeds of motivation in me to continue far into my pursuit of better things. (As a girl back then, being highly educated was a goal that was rare and highly sought after.)

Many years later, I heard the term ‘feminist’ from a popular movie at the time – Miss Congeniality. The story was about an FBI agent who absolutely looked down on beauty pageants as she viewed them as being airhead-ridden, filled with girls who only claimed they wanted ‘world peace’. Meanwhile, the agent (played by Sandra Bullock) was portrayed as crass and completely unladylike.

Anyway, in one scene, Cathy Morningside, one of the characters in the movie, says to the agent:

You know, I’ve been fighting all my life against your type. The ones who think we’re just a bunch of worthless airheads. You know who I mean: feminists, intellectuals, ugly women.

This painted such a deprecating view of feminists. For someone who didn’t understand feminism back then, it sounded to me as if feminists hated beautiful women and anything that embodied the characteristics of femininity.

Feminism has gained such a notoriously bad reputation over the years. To a certain extent, it has been stereotyped as being (1) hostile towards men, (2) manly by nature, and in some cases, (3) driven by lesbians. And we all know how much the average Malaysian looooves the LGBT community (not)!

I have seen women disassociating themselves from the term, as if it were a dirty, tainted word. I myself have taken some time to come to the terms with the fact that I am, in fact, a feminist. But here is the deal. Being a feminist has nothing to do with being feminine, man-hating or even your sexual preference. I melt at the idea of romantic gestures, ooh and aah over beautiful dresses, look forward to being asked out on dates, and for the record – absolutely appreciate any form of chivalry shown by the opposite sex.

source: http://bit.ly/T3neE4

Being a feminist does not mean that I am any less of a woman. In fact, I am much more. And much more because I feel more aware of the needs of both sides, of a need for balance. I understand equality and the importance of give and take.

Being a feminist means that I simply believe that women deserve much more than what they are getting at the moment, and am willing to speak up about it. As Cheris Kramarae puts it:

Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.

We are all born human and we all have the same basic needs. Is it wrong therefore for a woman to want equal opportunities, a safe world, or something as simple and basic like freedom or liberty? To be happy and satisfied with life?

Here is an interesting factoid: Being a member of feminist community also means you can be male. Yes. It is not exclusive to the female gender but open to anyone who believes in the right of a woman to be treated as a human being. As long as you do, you are already a feminist. After all, the issue of gender equality is an issue that affects everybody.

I look forward to the day when my fellow Malaysians – especially the men – will  stop seeing feminism as just a women’s issue but a human rights issue.

(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of crl!, source: http://bit.ly/VOvNRV)

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Involved in many causes, many NGOs including Sabah Women's Action-Resource Group (SAWO) and many events at once, but it is a choice and just something she cannot resist. According to her, life is too short to be content with being bored. Her favourite phrase is 'Carpe Diem', which she applies to her everyday life. More of her ramblings can be found on her personal blog: www.sabrinaaripen.blogspot.com

Posted on 29 January 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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4 Responses to Feminism 101: The Myths, Debunked! (Part 1)

  1. Village Panda

    I wish that is true. If only the feminists of this country know where to the draw the line that separates the true, noble intents of the feminist movement in Malaysia and the one of hypocrisy, stereotypes.

  2. Nathalie

    The thing about feminism is that it's an umbrella term, encompassing various ideas which may occasionally clash. Those who criticize feminism often use strawman arguments.

  3. winnie

    well said Sabrina! I experienced some of the things you talked about. People thought I was a man hater and castrater just because I believe that women should have equal rights as man! I'm glad that more people are not afraid to use that word anymore.

  4. Amanda

    To me, being feminist is:

    1. Recognizing that it is not impossible for women to be great engineers, laywers, doctors, pilots, race car drivers, or even prime minister. Women can be career-driven and that's okay.
    2. Recognizing that women can be a stay at home housewife, not drive a car, and that's okay.
    3. Women can be soft and demure, or loud and stubborn. Either way, that's okay.
    4. Women can be meek or opinionated. Either way, it doesn't make one any less a woman.

    I think feminism is rejecting that culture must dictate for women to act according to any one stereotype. Feminism is accepting that women can be, as your stickers helped you remember all those years, ANYTHING they want to be.