The difference between feminism and you-go-girlism

June 03, 2015
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately (or not wasting time procrastinating on the internet, which, in this day and age, is pretty much the same thing), you’ve probably noticed that a common criticism of feminism is that it belittles men. It’s a popular enough opinion, but personally, it hasn’t been my experience of feminism.

I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t a tendency in popular culture to ridicule men. The thing is, this doesn’t really have anything to do with feminism – not directly, at least. Rather, it’s the work of feminism’s dumbed-down, commercialised, snappy-fingered and alcoholic cousin: a phenomenon that I term ‘you-go-girlism’. And people seem to be getting the two confused.

You-go-girlism is most notably apparent in sitcoms, which seem to think that the best way to relate to feminists is to have their female characters belittle and emasculate their male characters. In Friends, Chandler is often mocked for his sexual inadequacy, and Ross for his lack of conventional “manliness”. In Frasier, the titular character is frequently the recipient of jibes from the women around him (as well as his patriarchy-approved father) aimed at his alleged femininity (characterised chiefly by a love of art and fashion, and a disinterest in sports). How I Met Your Mother likes to chime in, too: frequent swipes are taken at the male characters, again for their lack of ruggedness and physical strength.

 These shows have confused empowerment with belittlement.

The thing is, these attacks on men have nothing do to with feminism, which a simple Google search will tell you is “the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. What we’re seeing in these shows is a lazy and cynical attempt to appeal to female empowerment by appearing to challenge the male-dominated status quo - simply by attacking men. According to these shows, women don’t need equal recognition inscribed in law and policy; they just need to make the men around them feel shit about themselves. These shows have confused empowerment with belittlement.

This practice of belittlement serves to reinforce gender stereotypes - something that feminism is explicitly against. And that’s because gender stereotypes about men in turn affect women. If we believe that Ross is less of a man for not liking sports, we’re less likely to accept sporty women. If we believe that Frasier is feminine for liking arts, we’re less likely to accept women in science. If we think that Ted Mosby should be shamed for not being violent, male violence will continue to be normalised. Having female characters roll their eyes at their partner’s “obsession” with sex perpetuates the notion that sex is something that only men enjoy, a notion conducive to the shaming of sexually voracious women as “sluts”. This dynamic is almost Newtonian in its symmetry; for every shitty stereotype, there’s an opposite and equally shitty stereotype.

 Feminism needs to be a team effort, and we can’t let pop culture divide us.

While the media’s endless parade of female sexual objectification is probably more damaging, male gender stereotypes undermine feminism’s efforts even further. And they continue to plague some of the most popular shows on television: Big Bang Theory, I’m looking at you. Wherever they pop up, it’s important that gender stereotypes be identified and called out for the bullshit they are.

As Emma Watson put it in her 2014 address to the United Nations, “If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.” Feminism needs to be a team effort, and we can’t let pop culture divide us.

Joel Svensson

Business major, journalism minor and sometime voice-actor, Joel Svensson pretends to be smart at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Image: Gaelx, Flickr Creative Commons license