Debunking False Perceptions of Feminism

Niles Berry
Nathaniel Cave
Hannah DeMara

Huntington University


During the time of our undergraduate studies we discovered inconsistencies in modern understanding of Feminism. Being from predominately rural communities we were curious to discover if there was any indication of how our rural or urban lives shaped our understanding of Modern Feminism. The purpose of this study was to attempt to discover any correlation between rural upbringing and perceptions of feminism. We developed and used a survey that attempted to find individual's beliefs on Modern Feminism. We hypothesized that there would be some kind of correlation between rural versus urban environment and misperceptions of Modern Feminism. Our finding only loosely supported our hypothesis.

Literature Review

Over the course of history, women have been the subject of the belief that men are in some way superior and more deserving of political or social rights because of this perceived superiority. It was not until a few hundred years ago that a handful of men and women started speaking out about the injustices of treating women with any less respect than men. Having the same respect for both sexes would result in equal rights (equal pay and job opportunities) and that is where feminism comes in. Feminism is the belief that men and women deserve equal rights rather than the balance being upset one way or the other. Women have needed advocacy for years because of the misbalance between the two sexes and are now beginning to see the benefits of the advocacy over the past 50 years. Before feminism, there was a time when voting was prohibited, the ability for a woman to get a college education was practically unheard of, there was a limited job market and definitely pay inequality. Despite the progress we have made in the past century, women need advocacy still today (Banner, L. W., 1974).

Gender inequality has declined rapidly over the past 50 years due to the feminist movement throughout the world; however, there are still issues to be dealt with. Education and pay inequality are both huge issues that women still face in all sorts of places around the globe. In less developed countries, there is concern about breaking cultural values about having women in the work place. But in first world countries where the values are of no concern, the issue is that some employers are worried about favoring women because they are women and looking past actual work value of individual workers. These mindsets are not up to par with what feminism is aiming for, and it makes the road to equality just that much longer (Busse, M., & Spielmann, C., 2006).

Between 1640 and 1660, women in England attempted to exercise a right to vote without much success. The women that attempted to do so were seen as a threat to the patriarchal British society and caused tension with the early sparks of feminism in England. Seventeenth century women were facing political obstacles as well as religious obstacles that inhibited them from speaking out and starting any form of revolution or movement. After the Revolutionary war with America, women were in a better position to work towards equality because of their newfound freedom in religion and the right to speak out against certain policies (Mendelson, S. H., & Crawford, P., 1998).

In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. This marked the beginning of a long road to the dreams of equal rights for women not just in America, but around the world. For the first time in history, women were coming together in large groups to call out society’s inability to treat women as human beings. America was a breeding ground for feminism and the strength of women was becoming very apparent to even presidential figures. John F. Kennedy acknowledged the need for women’s rights, but failed to deliver adequate support to the feminist movement during the early 1960’s. Since then, feminism has pushed hard for the right to birth control, pay equality, and educational rights (Berkeley, K, 1999).

America is not the only country in the world that has pushed for women’s rights. In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution was the first major step in making women’s rights a goal in soviet Russia. Women noticed the inequality within Russia and demanded change. Pay inequality and social statuses were very difficult to combat. Russia has had tremendous difficulties with their feminist agenda due to the constantly changing political landscape of the country. This situation is relatively unique to Russia in that it has the force necessary for change, but the lack of a political structure to carry it through (Lapidus, G. W., 1978).

Thomas Starling Norgate was an early advocate for women in Britain who, against the will of the general population of men, sought to bring women equal rights and privileges to create a perfect society. Norgate was one of about a dozen other philosophers and free thinkers who had the courage to publish writings about the follies of treating women as anything less than equals to men. British society at the time was caught up in the belief that women were biologically designed for lighter workloads and meant for child-bearing and home-raising by nature. Norgate and his colleagues were some of the first to challenge that authority and argued that women deserved much better treatment than what was being given to them. Norgate was teasingly labeled as a “champion of the fairer sex”, but he bore the title proudly as he helped pioneer feminism in the late 1700s (Chernock, A., 2009).

Virginia Woolf is considered one the most prominent figures in feminist writing because of her ability to paint accurate pictures of the sort of discrimination women often feel. She has described the limitations set to women as being unnatural and wrong because of the misconception of women being incapable of doing anything that men can. She often talked of being gifted with less than that of a man when it came to the comfort of housing or of food and spring boarded many of her arguments off of those inequalities. Her arguments helped push feminist thought by providing a sense of individuality and strength in women that encourages all women to stand up for their God-given desires. Her message still stands today and asks for women to stand together in order to make a difference (Rich, Jennifer, 2007).

Peta Bowden talks about Betty Friedan and her work in the 1960’s that that is highly regarded as the start of the second wave of the feminist movement. Friedan acknowledged a steep disadvantage to being a woman in a predominantly male society without many expectations outside of housework. She believed that all women that embraced the view of physical limitations of women were buying into a nameless lie that she vowed to challenge. Friedan heavily pushed the idea of women rising to well paid jobs and to political positions to show the world that women are completely capable of (and should be in) the workforce alongside men. She became especially known for her strong belief in Equality Feminism, which is the belief of equal rights and opportunities for men and women (Bowden, P., & Mummery, J., 2009).

From Susan B. Anthony to Josephine Butler, feminism has had many victories over the past few hundred years. Feminism pushed to get women the right to vote, it pushed for equal job opportunities, and it is continuing to push for full equality. Women now have the opportunity to hold positions in Congress, the House of Representatives, and even run for office when, at one time, women were not allowed to speak out publicly. Osborne presents a list of women who have advocated for the rights of women for generations to come and have published pivotal writings that have helped pave the way for more advocacies on behalf of feminism (Osborne, S., 2001).

Radical feminism is a branch of feminism that believes that a patriarchal society discriminates against women, often fighting that patriarchal society beyond words. An early case of radical feminism can be found in the story of a young woman who, in 1968, famously shot a man and described her act as immoral because of her failure to kill him with her shot. The rising publicity and fame she got was used for the propulsion of the radical branches of feminism to fight for rights that had been previously unseen for women. This young woman’s idea of feminism proposed using shock and disrupting factors as ways to win rights for women. The mindset was to overthrow the existing order so that another may rise and take its place. Third compares these tactics to terrorists at the time (such as the Black Panthers) that frequently used shock and disruption to create chaos (Third, A., 2006).

Sommers’ book about how women have betrayed women when it comes to feminism covers different aspects of radical feminism and how it is that a form of civil war has erupted in the ranks of feminism. One side is purely convinced that we live in a patriarchal society that needs to be overthrown, while the other holds traditional feminist values of seeking equality and not worrying about dethroning anyone. Some of the radical views consist of the belief that traditional values of equality and freedom are inefficient measures of what women deserve. Traditional feminism, also referred to as humanitarian feminism, has been under fire from the recent swells of radical feminism that defines women’s social status as being oppressed by males everywhere (Sommers, C. H., 1994).

Audre Jean Brokes tells us that radical feminism has brought much harm to society not only by practicing exclusion, but by piggybacking off of civil rights activists. Brokes paints a picture of a feminist using similar framework of extremist factions of the civil rights movement as a stepping stone to push their values of feminism. The danger of doing so does not just include a dangerous environment for anyone who doesn’t have beliefs that line up exactly with radical feminists, but it also endangers the power of other women seeking equal rights rather than uprooting standing authority. Radical feminism values have proven to be incredibly inconsistent with the values of traditional feminism because of their lack of goals relatable to equality (Brokes, A, 2002).

Opposed to the feminist movement, there are men that feel threatened by the idea of losing special privileges in society to equality that they believe men naturally deserve. Blais (2012) introduces Masculinism and describes it as being a counter-movement to feminism.

Masculinism has sprung up from the fear of feminists moving past equal rights and using their power to upset the balance of equality. Masculinism is mostly dominated by white-European males that call upon men everywhere to fight for the perceived deteriorating rights of males everywhere. It goes as far to suggest that men push to have their voices made loud and clear so that more traction can be born from the movement (Blais, M., & Dupuis-Deri, F., 2012).

There are some differing views of feminism, where some perceive radical feminism as being the whole of feminism without regarding the traditional values and goals of feminism. Herbert, a professor at the University of Denver, discusses her history of coming across men and women that have denied their support for feminism despite their beliefs of women having equal rights as men. Many of her students have expressed their frustration with feminism because of its tendency to exclude men as a part of the fight to bring equal rights to all people. Herbert expresses extreme frustration with the misconceptions of feminism being exclusionary of men in nature and not inclusionary of all people that seek to secure equal rights for men and women. The views that her students were referring to were views of radical feminism and the desire to exclude men because of their affiliation with a patriarchal society. She argues that it is beyond time for feminism to include men in its goals to bring equality when men are not new to the idea of feminism; true feminism (Herbert, L. A., 2007).

A study was done on a Swedish IT firm regarding their layoffs and the targeted group of people that were being laid off around two decades ago. The case study was performed in hopes of finding a pattern of people that were losing their jobs outside of incompetence to fulfill work requirements. Peterson tells us that the Swedish IT departments have long been dominated by a male presence, leaving women mostly out of the picture. The case study was to help paint a more accurate picture of how far along Sweden has come with their gender equality. The results were

staggering and showed that after three years, the company no longer had any women in leadership positions within the company; showing regression away from the hopes of creating a more gender equal environment. Some of the reasoning behind these often gender specific layoffs was that some workers tended to show more value than others and the more valuable workers just happened to be men. The company discussed their financial crises that resulted in their laying off of many women in the company even though they wished to keep all of the women. They have claimed that their reasoning for these layoffs is purely off of work performance (Peterson, H., 2007).


Feminism has the power to change our society in a positive way because of the message of unity that it preaches. Men and women can work together to create a better world for future generations. However, not everyone perceives feminism as being a positive force. Some only think of radical feminism when they hear of feminism and therefore do not offer their support to the feminism cause. Collecting data of how much of the population is under that misconception can help provide us with the information needed to spread the truth about feminism and begin to unite the country, and then the world. With these data, we can arm organizations with the knowledge needed to help spread feminist ideals to help end gender inequality. This generation will be remembered for making its mark as a generation of change and advocacy, and we want to see equal rights for women as one of those changes.


Our study, with the intent on finding the contrast between rural and urban conceptions of feminism, was focused on reaching members of the urban and rural communities all around the Midwest. The participants were randomized via a link that was shared on Facebook in order to reach a more diverse crowd (predominantly from the rural communities that we grew up in). From there, we asked people to take a very short survey to help us gain some understanding of the conceptions of feminism that they may have while cross-checking the data with their communities of origin. The population reached was about a 50/50 mixture of people that had grown in either a rural community, or an urban community.


The instrument of the experiment was a Survey Monkey survey that was released via Facebook. The survey was a brief five questions with a few questions to decipher the demographic of the crowd reached. Names were not recorded and only a handful questions regarding their understanding of feminism were asked (like asking if they considered themselves a feminist and if they believed in equality between men and women). We were able to reach a respectable amount of people (over 200) on Facebook in just a few days by sharing the link and pleading with Facebook friends to partake in our survey.


We tested our hypothesis by collecting our data from a pool of people that we’ve known from our rural hometowns. The survey questions were:

  1. Define feminism.
  2. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
  3. Do you believe in a need for feminism?
  4. Do you believe in equal rights between men and women?
  5. Do you believe that feminism promotes gender equality?

These questions served as indicators of what the interviewees believe feminism to be, and to also indicate what their stance is on feminism.


We found slight statistical significance between location and perceptions of feminism (.064). We also looked at the age of participants and if they view feminism as having an equal rights agenda. Interestingly enough we did not find any significance in this field. Our results may have been skewed do to the cohort effect. We did not have all that much diversity when it came to age. Most of the participants in our survey were around our age.

We looked at peoples actual definitions and looked at how well they lined up with our own definition of feminism. Our definition of feminism is straight forward; the advocacy and promotion of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. We found that most people were actually on the right track when defining feminism.


Overall, we were not disappointed by the outcome of our research. We had made an assumption that rural communities would be less informed regarding a topic that has only recently (after resurfacing) come up in the media. Our assumption may not have been as supported as we had hoped, but it wasn’t completely discredited due to how close it was to being statistically significant.





Banner, L. W. (1974). Women in modern America: A brief history. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Berkeley, K. C.(1999). The women’s liberation movement in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Blais, M., & Dupuis-Deri, F. (2012). Masculinism and the antifeminist countermovement. “Social Movement Studies, 11”(1), 21-39. doi:10.1080/14742837.2012.640532

Bowden, P., & Mummery, J. (2009). Understanding movements in modern thought: Understanding feminism. Durham, GBR: Acumen.

Brokes, A. (2002). Radical feminism/dear sisters/ the politics of women’s studies/why feminism? (Book). “NWSA Journal, 14”(1), 212.

Busse, M., & Spielmann, C. (2006). Gender inequality and trade. “Review Of International Economics, 14”(3), 362-379. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9396.2006.00589.x

Chernock, A. (2009). “Men and the making of modern British feminism.” Palo Alto, CA, USA: Stanford University Press.

Herbert, L. A. (2007). Taking ‘difference’ seriously: Feminisms and the ‘man auestion.’ “Journal of Gender Studies, 16”(1), 31-45. doi:10.1080/09589230601116141

Lapidus, G W. (1978). Women in Soviet society: equality, development, and social change. London, England: University of California Press.

Mendelson, S. H., & Crawford, P. (1998). “Women in early modern England, 1550-1720.” Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Osborne, S. (2001). “Feminism.” Harpenden, GBR: Pocket Essentials.

Peterson, H. (2007). Gendered work ideals in Swedish IT firms: Valued and not valued workers. “Gender, Work, & Organization, 14”(4), 333-348. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0432.2007.00347.x

Rich, Jennifer. (2007). “Humanities insights: An introduction to modern feminist theory.” Humanities-Ebooks, LLP.

Sommers, C. H. (1994). Who stole feminism?: How women have betrayed women. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Third, A. (2006). 'Shooting From the hip': Valerie Solanas, SCUM and the apocalyptic politics of radical feminism. “Hecate, 32”(2), 104-132.




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