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Fake Feminism: Do You Know a Fake Feminist?

The names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Over the past few years, the feminist movement has become a prevalent and heated topic, especially with the Trump-Clinton election. When we scroll through media outlets on our smart devices, we find a mix of uplifting and condemning articles related to the feminist movement. Although most people, women in particular, are in support of the movement, I have come across some unpleasant behaviors among people who identify themselves as feminists. There are many fake feminists.

Before I continue, let’s succinctly define the term feminist:

- Dictionary definition: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests (Merriam-Webster).

- My own definition: men and women giving equal treatment and choice to women. Feminism is about equality, not female superiority. Feminism is also about supporting and motivating other women.

- Fake feminist: any person who identifies as a feminist but possesses negative behaviors that harms or impedes another woman’s success, well-being or happiness.

As a first-generation immigrant and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), I have personally experienced strong female oppression. I witnessed women being ostracized for pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. I advocated for female students who weren’t given the same education as male students. I challenged school principals on reasons why they expel pregnant female students but not the male student who impregnated her (expulsion in general is ineffective). I fought against rape-marriage where victims are forced to marry their rapists. There are still women and girls in this world who do not have a voice like we do; they are not allowed to speak up without being imprisoned or punished. This is why feminism is an integral part of creating a world where all humans have a voice and equal political, economic and social rights.

A few months ago, I was catching up with a friend who has been experiencing challenges professionally because another woman at work keeps treating her like competition and rejecting her ideas during meetings. Throughout the past year, I was shocked by the amount of incidents in which women (including myself) experienced rejection as well as malice by other women in both work and social settings. Even the media sensationalizes women’s professional conflicts as “catfights.” This is egregious, and it’s happening in our supposed progressive, open-minded, first-world societies.

Thus, I’m writing an article to bring awareness to the growing issue of fake feminism so we can prevent it from progressing. The objective of this article is not to cast blame but to bring awareness to the issue, and to be more self-aware of our own behaviors toward other women.

Fake feminists come in many forms; it’s more about the action of the person during a specific situation or around certain women. For example, Riley could lead an Equal Pay Day protest with her coworkers and advocate for all women but exclude Brenda because she’s threatened by the leadership skills Brenda exuberates.

You may have personally experienced these situations or have been a fake feminist yourself. Below are situations that demonstrate when an individual is being a fake feminist and suggestions on how to stop it.

Queen Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. Despite the disbelievers of her time, Hatshepsut is recognized as one of the most successful rulers in Egyptian history and has the longest reign of any Egyptian female. However, many monuments of her represented as a woman were destroyed by Ancient Egyptians who disputed her abilities to reign simply because she was born a female. If you believe in feminism yet question or undermine the ability of a person’s qualification based on their sex (e.g., all women are emotional and are therefore less qualified for this position), you are being a fake feminist.

This encompasses men as well; believing that men are less qualified than women in certain fields (e.g., being a nurse) is discriminatory. Anyone who believes our sex or gender is indicative of our ability to execute a job is unjust. So please talk with other feminists to hear their perspective and change your obstinate mindset.

This happens when a feminist withholds professional opportunities from a woman because s/he feels intimidated by her:

  • Potential

  • Age (ageism)

  • Appearance

  • Intelligence

  • Personality

I encounter this scenario frequently in the workplace (and in social life), both from feminists themselves and victims of fake feminism. When I hear someone say, “I just don’t like her or trust her,” this confounds and aggravates me. Did she say or do something disrespectful directly to you? Did she directly hinder your work or your friendship out of malice? I’m emphasizing the word directly because I often hear people talk about other women through someone else’s story or based on a brief, one-time encounter (someone could be running late to work and was terse towards you). However, it’s rarely a direct negative, intentional interaction.

If you cannot identify examples of when the person has directly harmed or offended you intentionally, perhaps it’s time to reflect on your feelings. Perhaps it relates to your own insecurities because you feel intimidated by their presence and success.

Here’s an example from earlier: Riley leads an Equal Pay Day protest with her coworkers and advocates for all women but excludes Brenda because she’s threatened by the leadership skills Brenda exuberates. This example also occurs in social settings when someone deliberately excludes another woman from a social gathering or conversation because they feel threatened by her presence. This is female ostracism.

Be careful not to project your insecurities and bias onto other people, leading to negative outcomes and reflecting poorly of your character. Don’t conclude about someone’s personality based on one brief interaction. Furthermore, when someone is uninformed on a topic, educate them not belittle them. Every master was once a beginner.

Believe in your colleagues and friends. Be a mentor and role model for other women; we are all on the same team to achieve equality.

Talking about another person behind her back, especially when the person isn't there to defend or explain herself, is cowardly and dishonorable. This is extremely cowardly if the information you are discussing is hypothesized, exaggerated or fabricated.

True event: Nicole overheard her roommates talking about her eating habits and speculating if she has an eating disorder. Instead of approaching Nicole about their concern, they continued to talk about her for months like a gossip topic on celebrity TV channels. Finally, Nicole confronted them about the situation but by this time, friendships were already damaged and difficult to amend.

If you are concerned about someone, approach her/him respectfully about your concerns and questions. Don't make another female's eating disorder or problems a gossip topic. Don't mock another woman's personal struggle. You never know who you will encounter again and need help from; the world is a small place. Hence, be an honest, supportive and true feminist.

If you knowingly are the ”other woman” of an exclusive two-person relationship, you are a fake feminist. If you are contacting a man who’s committed to another woman behind her back (messaging him flirtatiously and finding joy in him confiding in you about their relationship problems), you are a fake feminist. If you secretly hope a couple breaks up for your own interest or find satisfaction in their breakup, you are a fake feminist. If you are a man who encourages this kind of behavior, you are also a fake feminist. Unless you are involved in an open relationship where all parties are aware of the setup, you are deliberately destroying another woman’s relationship and happiness.

How can you call yourself a feminist when you applaud disrespect and violate the trust of a fellow woman? How can you call yourself a feminist if you find joy in seeing another woman’s relationship deteriorate? Rather than building an empowering path for other women, you are eradicating the respect and trust that other feminists fought arduously for.

Instead of being the other woman, find someone who’s going to give you the respect that you deserve in a relationship instead of degrading you as the hidden woman. Stay out of someone else’s relationship and be a noble advocate for other women. Be an ally to all women in an already oppressive, patriarchal society.

What one person chooses to wear is none of your business. Feminism is about women’s liberation and giving women choice; we have the right to choose what to wear. To judge a woman’s clothing and determine her worth based on apparel is misogyny.

I’m a RPCV from Indonesia and like many other female RPCVs who lived in developing countries, we quickly discovered that our clothing has no impact on how we are treated by men. We are trained to dress respectfully to the local culture with long sleeves and bottoms, usually lose-fitting. Yet, every day (yes, every day) I was whistled at and harassed in some form. This didn’t only happen to me but also to the Muslim women in my community, and they are covered from head to toe with hijabs, long sleeves and skirts. Thus, do not victim blame a woman based on her appearance.

It is not about a woman’s clothing and it never was.

Even in the office, if their pants, skirts and blouses align with the company dress code, stop analyzing how they are dressed. A woman's clothing or appearance shouldn't dictate how you treat her as a person nor does our looks indicate our potential.

What a woman does or doesn’t do with her body is none of your business. Both men and women are sexually active and have the right to explore their sexual desires with participants’ consent. If you are calling another woman names because of her sex life, you are being a fake feminist. Stop calling other women promiscuous or sluts, regardless of the amount of sexual partners they have had. And if a woman doesn’t want to have sex, it’s also none of your business. Criticizing and judging another woman’s sex life doesn’t make yours better nor does your cynicism make you a better person or “candidate” for dating.

If you are concerned as a friend, state the situation without blame and have an open and respectful conversation about it.

Feminism is not about female superiority. Men are not better humans than women nor are women better than men.

If someone is less knowledgeable on the topic of feminism, we should open up the conversation and share what the movement is about with them. Mindsets don’t change in one day, just like old habits can take anywhere from 18 days to a year to change (source). Listen to other people’s perspective, digest the information, and patiently share what you believe. It’s about educating rather than forcing.

If you find that your behaviors or thoughts possess traits of fake feminism after reading this, it’s time to pause, reflect and change your mindset. Again, the objective of this article is not to cast blame but to bring awareness to the issue of fake feminism so we can prevent it from progressing. Our current society is designed for men and our culture has set women against one another in many ways - from competing over romantic partners and friends to careers. Although there has been progress in equality, there’s more work that needs to be done.

The media, including movies, T.V. shows, magazines and news articles, still sensationalizes disagreements between women as “catfights” (Women Politicians and the Media by Maria Braden). It assumes females as opposition and amplifies the stereotypical female contention. This narrative is wrong and inhibits our progress for equality.

There are still women and young girls in this world who do not have a voice, confined to their cultural restrictions. They are looking to us for leadership. When I taught in Indonesia, about 80% of the students attending my leadership programs were females. Ladies, we are role models for other women, our sisters and brothers, and our children. We must see each other as allies rather than competitions. For those of us who do have a voice, we must work together to change the rhetoric about women and it begins with our actions. We must examine each other’s negative behaviors and encourage positive feminist behaviors.

This new year, join a women’s career development group after work. Find volunteer opportunities where you are working closely with other women and girls. Attend a seminar on feminism and join a protest or rally for equal opportunities. Coordinate a youth development program and invite other feminists to help. Research about International Women’s Day and find ways to contribute.

On a daily basis, compliment your fellow female coworker on something she did well. Encourage other women to pursue management roles. Provide opportunities for other women to shine. Offer to help when you see a woman struggling with a task. Praise other female coworkers not only to their faces but also to their managers. Empower a female friend with new knowledge that you have gained. Invite them to join at professional and social events to encourage collaboration and friendships. Celebrate other people’s relationships and accomplishments.

We need to foster supportive environments not those fueled by competition and envy. When one female succeeds, we all do. Both men and women must work together as agents of change to achieve equality and fight against inequalities faced by women. Feminism is a collectivist mentality not just an individual focus.

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