In this article, we examine several reasons why many men and women have objected to feminism and the ideas of feminists. We will cite several statistics and also take into consideration how some feminists have responded to these criticisms.
Important to note is that we do not purport the views included below to be representative of all feminists and their interests. This is why we have included the term “underbelly” in the title. An underbelly can be defined as “a hidden unpleasant or criminal part of society.” This obviously requires some clarification: we are not saying feminists are criminals, but we are saying that some of them are indeed quite unpleasant members of our society. The term underbelly is deliberately used here to distinguish between feminists so that we avoid uncharitably lumping all of them together into one group. Let’s begin looking at some of the issues.
Feminism’s Legitimating Misandry
Some might have concern that feminism is not only misandrist (hatred of men and boys) but that it targets White men in particular. The feminist Sara Ahmed, for example, states that she refused to quote White men in her book Living a Feminist Life (2017) because,
“White men cite other white men: it is what they have always done; it is what they will do; what they teach each other to do when they teach each other. They cite; how bright he is; what a big theory he has. He’s the next such-and-such male philosopher: don’t you think; see him think” (1).
This is her attempt to “bring the house of whiteness down.” As some have argued, this attack on Whiteness is essentially an attack on White people, which is in this case White men specifically. The problem is that White people and Whiteness are not carefully distinguished but tend to be conflated. In other words, all Whiteness is evil and bad and needs to be torn down. There is nothing possibly good in Whiteness. Essentially to tear down Whiteness is to tear down White people. This feeds into the impression that feminism is not only anti-men but that it is anti-White men.
Ahmed defines White men as an “institution,” which she calls a “persistent structure or mechanism of social order governing the behaviour of a set of individuals within a given community.” We interpret this to suggest that there is no individuality. White men are seemingly not agents with a will who can select between right and wrong, but cogs within the machinery of a mechanism that governs social order. The implication here is obvious: White men are oppressors.
Moving beyond contentions around White men, we arrive at men as a general category. It is often perceived that feminism legitimates misandry and the demonization of men as a group. Some have been rather unabashed on this point. For example, men might feel demonized by feminists such as Suzanna Danuta Walters, the director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University, who states that men should account for “all the millennia of woe [they] have produced” by “pledging to vote for feminist women only. Don’t run for office. Don’t be in charge of anything. Step away from the power… We have every right to hate you” (2).
The French feminist and writer Pauline Harmange attempts to rescue misandry: “[W]hat if misandry were necessary – healthy, even?” There have been tweets that have dehumanized men by comparing them to sharks, which are far less likely to cause harm to a woman than a man.
Feminists have also been quick to demonize men as in the case of false claims a female student made about being raped (3). The British feminist writer Laurie Penny believes that all men are steeped in a woman-hating culture and that “even the sweetest, gentlest man” benefits from women’s oppression (4). In her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981), Andrea Dworkin writes that “Men are rapists, batterers, plunderers, killers; these same men are religious prophets, poets, heroes, figures of romance, adventure, accomplishment, figures ennobled by tragedy and defeat. Men have claimed the earth, called it ‘Her’. Men ruin Her.” One commentator claims that a woman he knows praised the SCUM manifesto, which calls to “destroy the male sex” (5).
These voices and stereotypes can serve to induce in men a fear that feminism legitimizes misandry (which some feminists openly claim it does). Unsurprisingly, men are unlikely to support such a movement.
Regarding stereotypes, many men will no doubt take offense at sentiments they believe generalizes them as perpetrators of violence against women. For some feminists, there is no attempt to distinguish between men, so all men are lumped together. As Harmange states: “What I experience, and what a lot of women experience, is that it is a general negative feeling towards men as a gender and social group.”
It is men as a group that is believed to hate and hurt women. Then we also find the #AllMenAreTrash feminists (6), a movement that is made to be deliberately provocative to bring to the minds of men the victimization of women by men. Such views are justified by some feminists through the argument that all men are potential predators of women. All men are, essentially, a potential Harvey Weinstein (the man who is believed to have sexually harassed more than eighty women). Another proud feminist remarks,
“I drink from a coffee mug that says “Male Tears.” Female friends sign off emails to me with “ban men” or “kill all men.” In at least three people’s phone contacts, my name is followed by an emoji depicting a man with a big red slash through him. When I have the loathsome task of submitting an author bio, I frequently describe myself as a professional misandrist” (7).
She contends that we are not to take these sentiments literally, but that it is instead about raising awareness in men of male privilege, violence against women, etc. But one might find this an odd strategy because deliberately provoking others, especially those who one is trying to reach, will likely prove counterproductive in the long run.
Feminism’s Image Problem
Feminism clearly has an image problem, which is not too surprising given some of the views expressed by the radical feminists above. What is surprising, however, is that feminism has an image problem among women, the very people its interests are supposed to serve. Most women, despite believing in gender equality, do not identify with feminism. Fewer than one in five young women would call themselves a feminist, polling in the U.K. and U.S.A. suggests (8).
A 2018 YouGov poll did put this number a bit higher as it found that (only) thirty-four percent (34%) of women in the UK said “yes” when asked if they were a feminist (9). Men and women polled in other European countries tend to paint a dim picture for feminism’s appeal. Only eight percent (8%) of Germans answered “yes” when asked if they were a feminist, as did twenty-seven percent (27%) of Britons, thirty-three percent (33%) of French, twenty-two percent (22%) of Danes, and seventeen percent (17%) of Fins. Sweden was the highest as forty percent (40%) of Swedes responded with a “yes” although sixty percent (60%) fall into the “no” and “I don’t know” categories. Resistance is quite high in fact: seventy-seven percent (77%) of Germans emphatically claim not to be feminist, as do sixty-two percent (62%) of Danes and sixty-six percent (66%) of Fins.
Further of interest is that the majority agree that men and women should be treated equally in every way and even agree that sexism is still an issue. Yet despite this, most people just don’t want to identify with feminism. And we suggest that some of the aforementioned misandrist sentiments explain why.
But there are also several other factors why people do not identify as feminist, such as race, misconceptions about feminism, and socioeconomic factors (feminism tends to lack appeal to working-class women and those from lower-income backgrounds, etc.). These are pressing issues for feminist scholars, activists, and academics to solve.
It is also worth stating that research into the views of US millennials found twelve percent (12%) of Hispanic women, twenty-one percent (21%) of African American women, twenty-three percent (23%) of Asian women, and twenty-six percent (26%) of White women identify as a feminist (10). Research and interviews of a diverse group of young German and British women found that a major factor for why feminism is rejected is because it is associated with man-hating, lesbianism, or lack of femininity (11).
Some women are actively in opposition to feminism. There is a movement rallying behind the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism. Splurged across social media are pictures of women holding above slogans for why they “don’t need feminism.” For example: “I Don’t Need Feminism Because: ‘Female empowerment’ implies that I’m currently inherently weak.”
How Do Feminists Respond to its Underbelly?
Some feminists have taken to task the various voices within feminism that we have bracketed under the so-called “underbelly.”
Some feminists argue that these voices misrepresent feminism and what it stands for. Indeed, they concede, we do find “Some individual feminists [who] hate men… You might even argue based on what you find on the internet that most feminists hate men. It’s irrelevant” (12). Rather, feminism is about creating a society in which gender roles don’t restrict one from having an equitable chance at success. There is no “man-hating” in this picture and misandry is an “unfortunate reactionary sentiment bought into by some people (misandrists) who also identify with the feminist movement.”
Some feminists also do not wish for the misandrists in their movement to deflect attention away from real issues that women and girls experience in society today. For example, feminism is needed because there are still gender-based cultural biases and pressures that exist. There is still physical and sexual violence across the globe. There are still patriarchal religious institutions and the subservient roles women play within some religious traditions. Sexism still certainly exists. Some men, although perhaps a very small number, still view women as inferior and less capable than men*. Many academic feminists realize how women’s voices have been silenced and oppressed historically and seek to reconstruct history by bringing out such voices from texts. So many feminists, academic and non-academic alike, find that there is much relevance to feminism today.
These feminists also claim that feminism is concerned with men too, so they must not alienate them from the movement. Many of the issues feminists highlight “almost certainly affect men as much as women. A true equality movement would be concerned with the needs and interests of both sexes. It would, for instance, advocate for all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of gender — and for fairness to those accused of these offenses. It would support both women and men as workers and as parents.”
Rita Gross, a scholar of religion and feminist, also noted how feminism without men and that alienates men from the discussion is less than desirable if feminism ever intends to attain its goals (13). Some feminists have attempted to rebrand feminism by changing perceptions. The feminist Candice Brusuelas criticizes supporters of the #MenAreTrash movement and reasonably retorts,
“Though it gets attention, the term “men are trash,” isn’t effective. It doesn’t make men go, “Oh, I see what you mean. Maybe I need to rethink the way I treat women.” Instead, it usually makes them defensive and angry. It makes them hate more. It tosses aside the common ground and goals we need to be discussing and reduces it to name-calling” (14).
For these feminists, whatever one might make of them, feminism can (and must) do without its men-hating, misandrist jokes and tendencies, and offensive labels and slogans, otherwise it will be forever stuck in the mud produced to by feminism’s underbelly and the negative public appeal so often accompanying it.
*An anecdotal example is a discussion this author had with a man who argued that women should not have the right to vote due to some cognitive deficiency on their part.
1. feministkilljoys. 2014. White Men. Available.
2. Danuta Walters, Suzanna. 2018. Opinion: Why can’t we hate men? Available.
3. Young, Cathy. 2013. The Hyped Campus Rape That Wasn’t. Available.
4. Penny, Laurel. 2013. Laurie Penny on sexism: Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism. Available.
5. Infantino, Andrew. 2019. Misandry in feminism is real and needs to be addressed. Available.
6. feminisminindia. 2020. Why I Will Not Stop Saying ‘Men Are Trash’ & Other ‘Radical’ Feminist Opinions. Available.
7. Zimmerman, Jess. 2014. Men, Get On Board With Misandry. Available.
8. Scharff, Christina. 2019. Why so many young women don’t call themselves feminist. Available.
9. Scharff, Christina. 2019. Ibid. In her article for the BBC, Scharff cites links to all the original studies for the statistics quoted here.
10. Scharff, Christina. 2019. Ibid.
11. Scharff, Christina. 2013. Repudiating Feminism: Young Women in a Neoliberal World. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.
12. Killerman, Sam. 2012. 5 Reasons Why So Many People Believe Feminism Hates Men and Why They’re Not True. Available.
13. Gross, Rita. 1996. Feminism and Religion. Boston: Beacon Press.
14. Brusuelas, Candice. 2017. ‘Men are trash’ — the powerful movement that needs a new name. Available.