Take a moment and pick up a dictionary and search for the word “equality.” What does it say? What are the synonyms? What are the antonyms? I’m asking because for the past year, I’ve been reading article after article written by feminists and feminist-leaning supporters on the internet that insists that feminism is equality. Most notably, it is those authors from feminist websites like Feministing, Feministe, and Every Day Feminism. Less frequently but still, relatively speaking, very frequent, writers from the Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Independent, and others have reinforced this definition of feminism. As in, feminism is a synonym for equality. Go ahead. Look up a thesaurus right now and see if the word “feminism” is one amongst the many synonyms for equality. I think that you’ll probably find that it’s not there.
No way!!! What the deuce?!? Why isn’t it there??? Well, one possible reason might be that it’s not a synonym for equality. That’s right, folks. Feminism is NOT equality. But why did the feminists started calling feminism is equality? Well that, my dear readers, is because the feminists are trying to re-brand themselves to represent something more than they actually are. Nay, if anything, they are expanding their scope of what feminism ought to represent and what it should mean to everyone. While this is not a bad approach in and of itself, I have an issue with it when feminists start taking ordinary, everyday words in the English language and using them interchangeably like they are the same thing. They’re not. There’s a perfectly good reason why there are so many other words that you can use to represent something because sometimes, one needs to be specific about what sorts of rights that one is fighting for, for instance. And other times, it would be more appropriate to use words that signify “levels” and “degrees” as in how much or how little, or how far and how short, etc.
To illustrate this, let’s take the word “fire,” for instance. There’s a low and slow burn, which is a type of fire at the lowest possible level and then there’s a blistering flaming inferno, which would be a type of fire at the highest possible level. They are all categorically “fires” to varying degrees and it would be correct to label them “fires” but there are other words to represent a fire like a blaze, flares, embers, chars, and pyres, for example. But with equality and feminism? No. Equality refers to a more broad category of rights and opportunities, as in being all inclusive of any gender, nationality, race, age, sexual orientation, etc. On the other hand, Feminism is specific. It’s specific to women’s rights and opportunities only. And it was only a more recent thing, as in the last decade, that it started expanding its definition to include men. Even then, much of its rhetoric, ironically, still revolves around women and intensely focuses on women issues. So one runs into the problem of “So, which is it? Are you fighting for women’s rights only? Or both men and women’s rights equally?” Even amongst the moderate feminists, much of their rhetoric revolves around women’s issues while throwing a bone here and there insisting that the “fight” should also include men and that men should be fighting alongside women for women’s sake and for the men’s sake.
The latter, however, has me scratching my head. What exactly are we, as men, fighting against with respect to the traditional gender roles? According to feminists, under the traditional gender norms, men are expected to be emotionless, to be tough, and to be strong. Men are expected to be providers, protectors, and leaders in all aspects of life, including relationships. Now, emotionless? I can see how that might be misconstrued as being problematic for men so far as behaviors are concerned. The idea behind it is simply that men are supposed to suppress their emotions and this is detrimental to their overall well being, which I don’t necessarily disagree with but I think that most men, if not all men, know through experience and trial and error that there is a time and place to show emotions and there’s a time and place not to. So far as toughness and being strong? I see those as pretty universal “traits” that are neither good or bad in and of themselves. Why? Well, life in general is tough. It requires a certain kind of tenacity to deal with life’s frequent ups and downs. Everyone knows this. Everyone has experience this at least once, if not, more in their lives. It requires strength and toughness to get through life, to get that dream job, to negotiate the salary that you deserve, to build that small business, to deal with the natural ups and downs of any kind of relationship, whether plain vanilla friendships or romantic ones. So to me, being strong and tough are necessities in life, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, age, marital status, etc.
Now, as for men being expected to be providers, that can go either way with either gender. But let’s just suppose for a moment that men do bear the bigger burden of being the providers, not just in personal relationships but for the greater society at large, such as doing dangerous construction, mining, and waste disposal jobs that gives society the types of conveniences and easy accessibility to resources that we’re used to, for instance: clean water, flushing toilets, houses to live in, and streets free of trash and other undesirables. And those jobs can be overwhelmingly stressful so relieving men of that burden, the expectation of being providers, might be a plus. So that’s a plus one on the feminist camp. Men being expected to be protectors? That is pretty obvious, I would say. Men, by sheer genetics, are going to be born to be bigger and stronger than women. Men, by sheer genetics, are naturally going to produce testosterone more than women. This translates to more aggression, bigger muscles, and a stronger tendency to compete. By contrast, women who are naturally going to produce higher levels of estrogen are naturally going to be less aggressive, have smaller muscles to fat ratio, and less likely to compete. Can you imagine if a fight was going down and the wife defends the husband against a big hulking opponent who is twice her size and weight? The probability of her winning that match will certainly not be in her favor, to say the least.
Lastly, men being expected to be leaders. This one, I think, is another character quality that is universal and applicable to both genders. So doing away with this gender expectation seems pointless, bordering on being detrimental. Even before feminism became mainstream, there were already men who did NOT subscribe to this gender expectation: writers, artists, actors, journalists, fashion designers, photographers, and just about any other career involving the creative arts. Ever heard of the term “starving artist”? I’m sure you have. That’s pretty much where it came from. These are people who, through their choices, ended up in professions that either don’t pay much or pay anything at all for a long, long while; hence the term, “starving artist.” A world without leaders or a world without championing and encouraging leadership qualities in a person just seems counter-productive. If anything, it would encourage mediocrity. It would encourage people to be happy with the way things are, just as they are, however unfair, unequal, or harmful it is. Does this sound like a world worth fighting for? I hope not.
At the immediate moment, equality seems to the popular word that is being tossed around and used quite interchangeably within feminist circles. This renders the word “equality” practically meaningless. Trite. Redundant. Why? Because if feminism is synonymous with equality, then why bother using words like civil rights, civil freedoms, civil liberties in the first place? Why not just call all of these individual words feminism? Why bother making any kind of distinction in the first place? When Martin Luther King Jr was fighting for the civil rights for Blacks and leading the civil rights movement, why didn’t he use the word feminism in his speeches and call his movement the feminist movement? When Cesar Chavez was fighting for farmer’s rights, equal pay, and ability to unionize, why didn’t he use the word feminism in his speeches? There are literally dozens of examples throughout American history that can be used here. If feminism is synonymous with equality, we should be seeing this word being used throughout American history to represent such rights interchangeably, but yet this is not the case. Why? Because each movement is fighting for a very specific set of rights for a very specific group of people or segment of people within society. Feminism is no different here yet here we are, seeing feminist writers using the word feminism interchangeably with equality like it is one and same thing. Let me reiterate: It isn’t. It is, however, fighting for a very specific set of rights, namely, women’s rights. The only question is: what are the specific rights these women are fighting for? The infamous wage gap? That myth has been debunked already by numerous folks in academia and non-profit organizations alike. The right to their own bodies? Women already have that right to abort their babies any time they wish. Planned Parenthood and numerous other non-profits are already in place and ready to support their choice to abort and guide them from start to finish on the whole process. The right to vote, to hold office, access to jobs that were traditionally dominated by men previously? They have them. All of them. Even the right to join the military and be part of the combat team had recently passed. The opportunity to be drafted is likely the next step for total equality in the military.
With that said, it’s important to keep a watchful eye out for this kind of wordplay, this equivocation of two somewhat related words. It’s precisely this kind of sloppy language usage that leads to all kinds of problems in the English language.