Feminism 101

Feminism 101

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Over the past several decades, the feminist movement has made enormous strides toward ending violence against women and violence in same-gender relationships. Feminist theory aims to understand and combat violence against women by identifying the ideas, customs, and institutions that promote gender violence. Culture contributes to the perpetration of relationship abuse and sexual assault by shaping norms; casting men as physical and short-tempered, devaluing women, and glorifying violence by men and within sexuality. At the same time, silence and privacy are encouraged in the family and women are often blamed for the violence perpetrated against them. Feminism holds that men’s violence against women is supported by these limiting gender roles and constructed masculinity, while homophobia and cultural beliefs about appropriate behavior make that violence appear normal and acceptable.Check out our pages on Rape Culture, Feminism in Action, and What Causes Relationship Abuse for more information.Check out the following websites for more information on modern feminism organizations in action:

  • Miss Representation: Explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.
  • Feminist Frequency: A video webseries that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives
  • Ms. Foundation: Foundation with a mission to elevate women’s voices and create positive change.
  • National Organization for Women: NOW is the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States.

Feminist Movement to End Gender Violence

While a major component of the feminist movement to end gender based violence is to continue work to provide effective treatment and support for victims and hold perpetrators accountable, it also strives to confer ownership of the problem of gender violence and its prevention to men and refute the myth that victims provoke their own victimization.A distinction between Prevention vs. Awareness is key to the model of the feminist movement to end gender based violence. Prevention is defined as interventions that address the root causes of violence against women: ingrained sexism, limiting ideal masculinity, the glorification of men’s violence, and the institutionalization of these ideals across society. Prevention encompasses programming designed for men and boys as well as bystander intervention. Awareness is more broadly defined as efforts to increase the public’s knowledge of relationship abuse and sexual assault, where to turn for resources, how to help a friend, and how to identify warning signs. Awareness can be geared towards women and may include safety tips, such as self-defense classes, with the awareness that though these tips may reduce harm, they do not address the causes of violence against women and are not preventative measures; prevention is in the hands of the man who chooses not to rape.This model holds that violence against women will not end until we eradicate objectification of women. Until women are no longer seen as objects; they will no longer be considered things to be beaten and raped. See Rape Culture .

The movement against gender based violence recognizes that violence is a learned, gendered, and institutionally supported behavior, and targets the sources of violence rather than accepting the world as it is. It must also address issues of racism, classism, and heterosexism in order to effectively confront the gender-informed violence and oppression that affect the lives of men and women. To do so, the feminist movement aims to reframe masculinity, combat patriarchy, foster social justice, engage in activism and media advocacy to change social norms, influence commercial sectors, and impact public policy.

Men Against Violence Groups

There are many men’s organizations that are powerfully contributing to the movement to end gender violence. Check out these national men’s organizations that support the feminist movement to end violence against women:

Check out more resources for men on our Guys Getting Involved page.

ANTI-FEMINIST BACKLASH

Every successful movement will experience backlash against it.

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Unfortunately, the progress of the feminist fight to end gender based violence has met resistance. Anti-feminist backlash theorists challenge the progress of the movement by promoting the inaccurate concept that women are equally as violent as men and are equally likely to be perpetrators, discounting or ignoring research that finds that up to 95% of relationship abuse and 99% of sexual assault is perpetrated by a man against a woman. The research that fuels the anti-feminist backlash is largely completed with ineffective research models and inaccurate data. Many studies that find women to be just as abusive as men utilize a flawed version of the Conflict Tactics Scale, which does not control for the context in which the violence occurred, such as use of force in self-defense or retaliation. Many people are inclined to listen to the anti-feminist backlash against feminist theory because it allows them to move back to comfortable, dominant ideology.In responding to backlash, it is important to recognize that feminists do not want to minimize the suffering of men that are victims of abuse. Instead, feminist anti-violence advocates seek to address the gendered nature of this crime while providing resources and support for victims of all genders.

Anti-feminists also tend to fixate on the low possibility of false reporting when it comes to rape. False accusations comprise of only 2% of all accusations, the same for any felony; these are often made up of people who also think they are Britney Spears or parents who want to protect their “virgin” daughter’s reputation; these accusations are often interrupted very early in the process and do not go to trial. However, people are not worried about being falsely accused of stealing a car in the same way that they are worried about a false accusation of rape; the media tends to aggravate this. Here is an example of a backlash response to a sexual assault public service announcement.

Feminist Public Service Announcement

Anti-Feminist
Backlash Response

This sort of backlash response reflects a fear that they will be falsely accused of rape and is attached the myth that “regretted sex” can be confused with sexual assault. People who regret sex don’t call the police. Why do you think actual victims of sexual assault only come forward 10-20% of the time? It is because of the scrutiny and damage to the reputation of the woman who comes forward, even before an investigation occurs. Women know that calling the police leads to their own sexual lives being put on trial, rather than any sort of justice, so it is not used as a tactic to “get back” at an ex. This fear of false accusation is put in perspective when we compare it to the reality for countless victims/survivors that the rapist will get away with the crime; only 2% of rapists are prosecuted. The reality is the very opposite of these fears; false accusations aren’t happening and actual survivors are not believed. The Enliven Project has come up with a helpful graphic that demonstrates the truth about false accusation and reporting rates.(Click the graphic for a larger, clearer image)


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First of all, as the graphic demonstrates only around 10% of all survivors come forward in the first place to report rape and sexual violence due to social, emotional, and legal barriers. Of that 10%, only a small number face trial, and an even smaller number are actually convicted and jailed. When you compare the overall proportion of non convicted, unreported rapists among us to the percentage of those who are falsely accused (only 2%- the same as any other crime), it is clear that this fixation on false accusation is simply a distraction from the real issue: the lack of accountability for perpetrators and the lack of security and justice for survivors.

Many organizations that are part of the anti-feminist backlash may appear to be supportive of movements to end relationship abuse and sexual assault. For more information about recognizing the anti-feminist backlash, check out Patriarchy Reasserted: Father’s Rights and Anti-VAWA Activism (PDF)

A Note on Terminology

Domestic violence/relationship abuse refers to intimate relationships, not child abuse. Because the vast majority of relationship abuse is committed by men against women in heterosexual relationships, this website sometimes contains the female gender pronoun when referring to the abused person. Domestic violence/relationship happens at the same rate in LGBTQQ relationships and all of the information on this site is relevant for male victims and for individuals in same-gender relationships. In addition, please see our resources on same-gender relationships. Our goal is to encourage helping professionals to be gender inclusive. This includes using gender-neutral language when working with individuals, while continuing to analyze gender as a construct that has implications on gender-based violence in both heterosexual and same-gender relationships.top of page