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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times

Why are some people aversive to the concept of feminism?

A multitude of people regard feminists as individuals that do not

cooperate with or understand men solely out of resentment and are thus

accused of promulgating family breaking propaganda without taking into

consideration the reasons behind them criticizing male conduct as well

as the oppressive structure of the social institution of family. We have all

encountered people in our life that are both covertly and overtly weary of

feminism as a concept and a social movement. They either blatantly do

not believe in the equality of men and women while others that have a

distorted sense of society are of the opinion that this equality has

already been achieved. For obvious reasons, our specific views on

issues like feminism are more often than not rooted deeply in our own

first hand and personal experiences or those of the people around us,

rather than on any scientific data surrounding the issue. If we have first

handedly experienced gender-based discrimination or witnessed another

woman in our life face it, we are more likely to believe in the dire need of

achieving a truly feminist society. However, if we have not faced it

ourselves as a result of living in a protected and privileged environment,

we tend to get dubious of the legitimacy of gender-based discrimination

in today’s world.

Some people claim that the condition of women has improved because

of technology that men have created and that feminists are ungrateful

individuals that refuse to get satisfied with the level of “progress” our

society has already made. Many people are also unintentionally aversive

to the concept as unconscious gender bias is rampant within us so we

are not aware of it. In addition, such people, due to their blasé attitude,

are indifferent to gender-based discrimination while others refuse to

unlearn their problematic behaviour and perceptions either because they

are in a position of privilege and have no incentive to make effort to do

the same or because of their obstinacy.

The psychological concept of cognitive bias can also be used to explain

why some people tend to be vehemently anti-feminist. A confirmation

bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves favouring information that

confirms your previously existing beliefs or biases. If a person holds a

belief that a lot of progress has been made in society so much so that

men and women are already equal in terms of their rights and

opportunities and our society is truly feminist then whenever this person

encounters a woman that is, for example, earning more than her

husband, then they place greater importance on this “evidence” that only

supports or reinforces what they already believe. This individual might

even seek proof that further backs up this belief while discounting

examples that do not support this idea. Such confirmation biases impact

how we gather information, but they also influence how we interpret and

recall information. In the aforementioned example, such people will also

interpret news stories about violence or discrimination in a way that

upholds their existing ideas and will also remember details in a way that

reinforces these attitudes. Thus, a man with a confirmation bias that

women and men already equal in society is more likely to blame the

rape victim instead of the perpetrator.

Another reason why people, especially men, might dislike feminism is

because it has come to be associated with hating men. This is related to

yet another concept called availability cascade. An availability cascade

is a self-reinforcing cycle that explains the development of certain kinds

of collective beliefs. The idea that all feminists hate men has gained

rapid currency in the popular discourse because of its simplicity and its

rising popularity triggers a chain reaction within the social network as a

result of which the other people within this network also adopt it. The

increased popularity of this idea involves both the availability of the

previously obscure idea of associating feminism with man hating and the

need of individuals using this idea to appear to be current with it,

regardless of whether they in fact fully believe in it or not. This is

precisely why some people hold problematic opinions like feminists are

frustrated women that promote intolerance and hate in the name of

working towards gender equality.

Another type of cognitive bias that can be used to explain the aversion

towards feminism is the framing effect, wherein people decide on

options based on whether they are presented with positive or negative

connotations. The subject of feminism has been disappointingly reduced

to two poles in popular discourse. On one hand there are exclusionary

conservatives that depict feminism as a “feminazi”, “man-hating”,

“breaking up families” conspiracy against which the society needs to

protect itself to save families. For example, in India, there is a registered

men’s rights non-governmental organization called “Save Indian Family

Foundation (SIFF)” and their mission is to expose and create awareness

about the violations of human rights in the name of women

empowerment. On the other hand, there are inclusionary liberals that

ostentatiously pride themselves on being feminists. This version of

feminism attempts to implement equity while preserving traditional

institutions of power and is thus a simple concept for the so-called

progressive elites and masses to grasp and hence support. However,

both these perspectives are very narrow and restricted and ultimately

anti-feminist. It should be obvious that gender has been constructed in

society in a way that favours men or masculinity and burdens females

and non-binary genders with difficult life experiences. Be it gender based

violence, harassment, rape culture, assault on abortion and maternal

rights to gender wage gap, it is very evident that we as a society are far,

far from any sense of equality. The tendency of people, especially men,

to depict feminism as “feminazism” insinuates their sense of anxiety

associated with the potential creation of a society that dismantles the

existing patriarchal structure which is biased towards men and the

consequent deconstruction of masculinity and the power or privilege that

comes with it.

Feminism teaches people to ask relevant questions that challenge

people’s pre-existing beliefs. Feminists are inconvenient to the society

because they upset normalcy of a patriarchal society where it is

unacceptable for women to practice autonomy and question male

privilege. A New York based psychology professor Jay Van Bavel gave

the concept of identity-based model of political belief, which means that

our desire to hold identity consistent beliefs often far outweigh our desire

to hold accurate beliefs. This may be because being a part of a social

group that supports a specific belief fulfils fundamental needs like the

need for belonging which supersede our need to seek the truth. This

need for identity consistency explains why it is uncomfortable for people

to engage with opinions that challenge our beliefs or ones that challenge

normalcy. When we downgrade feminism and dismiss it off as noise, in

effect we dismiss the idea of equality that we have ourselves vowed to

uphold and practice.

Feminism is therefore, a movement for equality and a movement for

equality cannot be wrong in its intention, because equality is a

progressive concept that will always be relevant in any civic society.

-Gurman Kaur Chawla

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