South Africa dedicates the month of August to women. Empowering women is a basic tenet of feminism but just what do students think of feminism, and how do they experience it?
Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the basic ground of equality of the sexes. According to South African History Online, the South African society is conventionally patriarchal which means men held the authority in society and women were subordinates to men.
Waves of feminism
Feminism as a movement developed in waves over time to address different issues.
Waves of feminism
- The first wave of feminism was the right to vote. South African white women were first able to vote in 1930, but black women only gained this right in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.
- The second wave of feminism includes workplace rights and reproductive rights.
- The third wave of feminism includes identity in terms of beauty, femininity and masculinity and more.
- The fourth wave of feminism is now, and focuses on women empowerment through internet tools. This includes Hashtag Feminism.
There are also many different variations of the movement, ranging from liberal, radical, black and intersectional feminism, among others. Each of these brought in social changes to the wider movement.
Students’ views on feminism
However, despite all the literature and background information, there are still many misconceptions. Students, as the thought leaders of the future, give their viewpoints and experiences.
Let’s start with the views of a few female students at Durban University of Technology (DUT).
1. Women think they are superior to men
A common misconception is that feminists think they are superior to men rather than equal.
“A misconception is that feminism is for the superiority of women, when it is actually for equality,” says fourth year radiography student Feroshia Osman.
This sees feminists as overly radical individuals, who are fixed on being superior to males, says BTech journalism student Carissa Marnce.
“However, our current culture operates with men receiving the benefits of patriarchy in society,” says Marnce.
“This means that women are the disadvantaged group who do not have the same rights and opportunities as men. Therefore, feminism aims to fight outdated gender stereotypes that are preventing women from empowering themselves in every facet of life.”
The view of the “superior feminist” is common, says first-year journalism student Sisanda Ngongoma.
“In a traditional home or rural area, they say that feminists are a bunch of women looking down on men and they take it as bashing men by looking down on their roles. They see feminists as disrespectful,” Ngongoma says.
2. Feminists hate men
This misconception is where people believe feminists hate all men.
“In the past, when I said I was a feminist, I was asked if I hate men or if I thought that women are above men,” says first-year business and information management student Marissa Naidoo.
She says people “further sent memes that paint the picture of women hating men”.
“People have this misconception that because you’re a feminist you think females are above men. But we just want equality,” Naidoo says.
3. Women want to be men
Many perceive feminists as women who want to be men and think they have masculine qualities.
“A lot of feminists exhibit qualities that are usually praised when seen in men. However, when seen in a woman it is as if something is wrong with her,” notes third year journalism student Nasiha Khan.
“They take it as if we want to be men. It is a double standard when it comes to how a woman and man should behave.”
4. Feminists lack femininity
“Feminism is all about giving women a choice, whatever that choice may be.”
Another misconception is that feminists lack the softness that many expect women to openly possess. Many see them as not wanting to marry or build a family.
“The most common misconception I have encountered is people thinking I am against women who are housewives or married in polygamy,” says BTech journalism student Sanelisiwe Mabaso.
“This is not true because feminism is all about giving women a choice, whatever that choice may be.”
5. Men can’t be feminists
Society automatically thinks “female” when you mention “feminist” but this is also a misconception. Feminism is a movement for equality and men can be feminists too.
Former United States president Barack Obama, for example, identified himself as a feminist. This was a huge positive boost to the perception of feminism.
University of Witwatersrand politics and international relations student Agastya Thaker, 23, gives his perspective.
“For a lot of men that’s a misconception because it has not been normalised yet for men to be feminists,” says Thaker.
“The nature of the cause has put women at the forefront but I feel more attention should be drawn to how men can be functional feminists in their lives.”
Looking at the different student responses, perhaps it is time to tackle these misconceptions. After all, it would be ideal if men and women can exist peacefully and there was not need to fight for equality of the genders.