Bernard Allen
Bernard Allen

Feminists shoot themselves in the foot

We live in a world where marketing your message is critical, whether you’re selling a commercial product or sanctuary. Even the most inherently good messages can be lost when shrouded with layers of extremism and contrast.

The idealist in me hates that fact.

The realist in me doesn’t like it much more, but works with it.

Two salient examples of this “branding failure” are religious fanaticism, which ends up detracting from principles of faith and altruism, and community vigilantism, which negates principles of justice and accountability. Another example is feminism.

I’ve always seen feminism as ideally being directed at protecting the rights of women, which nobody can argue is a bad thing. Yet strangely, when a woman sits down in a social setting for example and reveals to a group of both men and women that she is a “committed feminist”, it’s regularly met with either an awkward silence or a series of rehearsed negative retorts.

A very dear friend of mine who could be considered a feminist sent me a “feminism bingo” card once, with a few examples of how standardised replies to feminist expression have become. Some of them are actually quite funny (in a twisted sort of way). They included:

  • “It’s your job to teach me about feminism. Now do it.”
  • “We gave you the vote, now shut up.”
  • “Women just can’t be objective about gender issues.”
  • “You feminists all hate men!”
  • “You’ve just got a victim mentality.”

and the guaranteed trouble starter/coup de grâce:

  • “Is it that time of the month?”

It would be very easy to blame everybody else (read as “men”) completely for the negative publicity feminism has received, but I think a more honest answer would be somewhere in the middle, with feminists also being responsible for some of the stereotyping they live under.

Feminists have branded themselves incorrectly.

The title “feminism” is a bad branding move, because it isolates the group it’s trying to protect and creates the “us versus them” scenario that is the fatal flaw in countless persecuted groups’ protection strategies. By calling it feminism, women are being singled out, by women, from men. And considering men are presumably the culprits of gender discrimination towards women, how does that really help the cause? The real target market for the message of equality gets isolated, whether intentionally or not. How many men go around calling themselves a feminist (or “pro-feminist”)? Yes, I’ve been told they exist, but they remain in the same realm as rational ANC Youth League members for now (somewhat mythical, until I meet one).

The best way to fight for women’s rights is to fight for them under a banner of general human rights. If equality is what somebody genuinely wants, they won’t have a problem with doing that. Some very influential and inspirational women I know have taken that approach, to far better effect than the feminist isolation approach has ever had.

Women who want to be treated equally should get out there and promote human rights, in which ALL humans, regardless of gender or race or other thing perceived by the masses as a separation are treated with respect. And I’ll join them, right there in the front rows of expression and protest, in solidarity.

Women who want women to be separate in the human equation, or have a bone to pick with men in general can keep calling themselves feminists, and see where it gets them.

  • Jennifer Thorpe

    you say: “The best way to fight for women’s rights is to fight for them under a banner of general human rights.”

    Whilst your article is very cutesy and is keen on integration of feminist issues in the broader framework it has one huge problem: The reason feminist groups exist is to represent the particular issues faced by women and to try and present these to the public and to governments who show an obvious male bias. If you disagree that South Africa has this bias then I’ll ask you to consult some of the traditional legislation that our constitution makes room for, women’s poor representation in government and high level high paying positions and just generally women’s second-class status in SA society.

    If there these rights were achieved, as you make it seem that they are, then the need for these groups would evaporate. But it hasn’t, and so they need to continue.

    Obviously women are humans. But so are gays, hiv positive people, abused children, shackdwellers, foreigners etc etc. If you included them in the broader fight for human rights you will be ingnoring the specificity of their needs. And so you would be contributing to their abuse.

  • Mike

    I am male and I call myself a feminist. I also co-write a feminist blog ( So, to answer your question, male feminists do exist. Sure, I also want “general human rights.” But, in my opinion, just as the civil rights movement in the United States was fought under that “banner”, not “general human rights,” the best way to fight for women’s rights is under the banner of feminism.

  • Bernard Allen

    Dear Jennifer

    Pointing out male bias in society is irrelevant here and jumping a few steps ahead in the discussion, despite having substance.

    Please show me where I said that the rights of women had been achieved.

    As for specificity, how on earth are a woman’s needs for respect any different to all humans? Do they need to be loved more? Less? More on Tuesdays and less on Thursdays?

    Everybody needs to be loved and respected. And if you teach that to people instead of focusing on one particular group and reinforcing the ‘us vs them’ scenario in their minds, they will show respect to anybody who is influenced by their actions. Including women.

  • Mark Kerruish

    I am one of those “mythical” creatures: a man that calls himself a feminist.

    I am disgusted at some of the sexism I see coming from some so-called feminists. I see how the “poor branding” argument applies to the extremists who’ve lost the plot -read misandronysts of the worst kind- but but to your average feminist of my acquaintance, they betray a worthy cause with every sexist statement made.

  • Anne

    Being a professional woman in the construction industry I’ve learned that I have to work hard for respect. I’ve accepted that it is one of those things, and it’s up to me to prove that I can do the job as well, in fact better, than most of my male counterparts.

    When my grandmother, a Suffragette, fought for women to get the vote, they were simply fighting for the right to be treated as equals, not as feminists. Black people today have the same fight on their hands. We all want to be recognised for who we are, not for the colour of our skins or our gender. Most of us don’t want to lose those things that make us individuals.

    Black and white, male and female, in this country we now all have the right to be treated as equals. We have to accept that some of us have to fight harder than others, no matter how unfair that is. Life is not fair, and constantly shouting about feminism and racism just looks as though we are finding excuses for our own inadequacies.

    Occasionally I will come across someone who obviously thinks I don’t know what I’m doing because of my gender, but now I see it as another challenge that makes life more interesting. I don’t see the need to be agressive about it.

    The law is on our side – as adults we should all be capable of fighting our own battles.

  • MrMonk

    You miss the point Bernard. Most of the militant feminists don’t want equal human rights. They want beneficiation, payback and recompense for the millenia that you personally have repressed them. Merely saying ‘great, happy to have you as my equal, now keep up’ is further oppression. –ists of any sort are usually pitifully inadequate people who need the uniform of race or sex or orientation to justify their entitlement, whose pet agenda ranges from skin colour to religion and dominates their sad little lives. The last thing they want is ‘equality’

  • Po

    Feminism was a very necessary step in the movement of human rights. One of the first ways in which people react to prejudicial othering, as in the case of sexism, is to keep the othering but put positive values on being the other. Feminists did just that. The focus was on winning rights for women and the only way for them to be won was to separate themselves from men and point out the injustices. If it wasn’t for them we women would have no rights.

    Maybe what you are saying is that the time has come for us to stop othering because we have won our rights? IF that is true then I may agree with you , but if not, then it is till necessary to fight for women’s rights separately.

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  • Good Charlie

    Interestingly, the ANC rejected Jimmy Carter’s attempts to redefine the struggle under the banner of ‘human rights violation’ because they believed it would include too many grievances against the apartheid government, making it difficult to achieve the fundamental goals.

    i wonder if feminism hasn’t perhaps adopted a similar approach?

  • Sue

    Very well said Bernard. Funny nobody ever talks about male rights….
    Human rights should be the issue of course, and yes there are different matters which fall under that banner.
    Paternalism and the patriarchal society in which we live proves the need for more tolerance and mutual understanding. Words alone just won’t do that.
    Women and men are different – as with race – one word should cover that, another ‘r’ word – respect

  • http://Firefox old, female, paleface

    I am a feminist since its birth 1970’s. “BRANDING” was unknown as it was VALUE based.
    Women were incompetent legally and needed a MALE GUARDIAN for any contracts.
    The workplace, a male dominated area ; concrete ceiling.
    Nagging wives ” reasons for divorce” by a “neglected” husband.
    A divorcee was a leper. Salaries on a lower scale.
    Women must “not work” but stay at home.
    Devote all her energy to hubby and kids. (Not called “work.”)
    She got pocket money for a 24 hr devotion to duty “not work.”

    The original “feminists” are a dying species and all females have benefited from the
    ……..”feminist” original principles.
    ” To be a LEGALLY responsible, person in society.”

  • pete ess

    Can’t agree, Jennifer Thorpe. I’m with Bernard here. Feminism should lead the way for all “splinter groups” to get behind human rights, or be prepared to forever knuckling under the yoke of whichever group is currently strongest. As long as you feel more for “the specificity of their needs” than general human rights you are promoting division. The way feminism currently acts, if they WERE ever to gain a position of dominance they would act just as badly as fat old Dick Cheney-like white males do now.

  • R

    Do we have feminism in South Africa? I mean, I know there is a Gender Commission and a number of NGOs which purport to deal with issues relating to women specifically, but they never seem to say anything. I am not sure they actually do anything either. They are also very politicized; seem to follow political agendas and take very politically correct stands on issues. Another problem is that the language of empowerment has been appropriated by the sex trade and its lobbyists. The average woman is instinctively repelled by this. I dont the problem is just one of branding

  • Mark

    The real problem is not with feminists, it’s with people’s refusal to accept the realities behind their cause and understand their cause in the first place. When people, men and women (ironically) hear that someone is a feminist its amazing to see how dismissive and aggressive they get without even listening or understanding. Perhaps its because we know we are still complicit in oppression.

    The feminist movement, like the black consciousness movement, can only ever achieve equality if those who are oppressed can strive for their liberation without the potentially patronizing (interesting word hey) interests of the powerful taking over—even if intentions are good, intentions don’t matter. Whether we like it or not, most men still enjoy a patriarchal dividend which give us certain privileges and powers like the power to silence, the power to dominate, the power to tell feminists to get over themselves because they are being oversensitive. So no, feminists have not ‘branded’ themselves incorrectly and while it would be a nice idea to fight their cause under the banner of general human rights it kind of misses the whole point.

  • Foom


    “Despite the absence of effective quota legislation, at local government level women’s representation in local government has climbed steadily from 19% in after the 1995 elections to 29.6% after the 2000 local elections to 40% after the 2006 elections”

    “After South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 women formed 27.75% of members of the National Assembly, in 1999 it was 30%, in 2004 32.75% and in 2009 it reached 43%”

    Further, women are protected by numerous pieces of legislation.

    Men are most likely to be murdered in the RSA. (8 out of 10 murder victims are men).

    Perhaps the author should have proposed a “masculinist” movement aimed at advancing men’s causes instead of proposing that feminism be about gender equality.

  • Warren Foster


    I’m on board with you but only to a point. It would be neat if feminist ideology could be scrapped altogether. You’re hinting around the notion that, in drawing attention to a cause, the promulgator/s are reaffirming the difference, in this case, between men and women. And that would be true but the cause is only too necessary at the moment

    To me, feminism is not about women wanting to be socially equal to men, it’s certainly not about women wanting to be above men. It is about women wanting to enjoy the same amount of invisibility as men. For terms like “independent woman” and “lady driver” alike to be scrapped. For news stories and film synopses not to draw attention to female protagonists. (You may have read the term “female spy”, ever read about a “male spy”?)

    I believe feminists want nothing more than for their cause to be pointless and I honestly believe the day will come when feminists will need to step back but not now, not while sexist assumptions and the dominant patriarchy are invisible to society and the femininity of a subject, no matter what she does, is made so strongly visible.

    Oh and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance Bernard, I’m Warren and I’m a male feminist. You can see some of it reflected on my own Thought Leader page.


  • Jennifer Thorpe

    @ Foom

    Statistics are fun but if you really want to fight about them why not consider the statistics for the following:

    Likelihood you will get raped
    Likelihood you will get HIV
    Likelihood to be a victim or a survivor of domestic violence
    Likelihood to be poor
    Likelihood to be educated (until matric)

    And you will see that there is most certainly a need for feminism in South Africa today.

  • Mark


    How many of those men are murdered by women?

    By the way, what do we understand by femenisim anyway? What do most people actually understand femenisim to mean? Its all too convinient to claim that femenists are man hating without stating what femenists stand for. Is there one movement anyway? We talk about femenists and femenisim but most of us don’t actually understand what those terms mean. This argument is meaningless.

  • Mark

    @ foom

    The whole world is a masculanist movement, men are the invisable norm, the power brokers and by no means the victims. what are mens’ causes anyway?

  • Dithabana

    Feminism is a joke.


    How about, Likelihood that a boy is raised by a single mother?

    How about the likelihood that the same boy may respect other women more than he would men?

    How about the likelihood that 8 out of 10 men will fall victim to crimes committed by one of the single-mom-raised boys?

    “Stats are fun”, you say, but feminism is ridiculous especially in Africa. African women […on a running stomach] have had to struggle for a right to use the same tiolet as that used by you for decades.

    Feminism, as it stands, is essentially about equal earning, abortion [as she wishes], adoption and other sundry.

    The sad part is that feminists have lost their relevance which explains terming them “dying species”.

    Feminism is on its death-bed and those who think it is more needed today are just having wild hallucinations.

  • MLH

    I can’t believe that Bernard is much of an authority on women, let alone feminists. He’s certainly hardly objective.
    Is it my place, as woman, to get behind human rights once men have screwed them over? Why don’t more men get behind them?
    I could as easily write about the problems with macho men…millions of women would agree with virtually all I said (I’ve had a varied audience over nearly sixty years, my opinions have been tested).
    Fewer men would, I suspect.
    Frankly, writing to test your limited opinions is not the same as having anything pertinent to say about the subject.

  • Alistair

    Great article Bernard! I have a similar problem with the gay rights movement – using the language of difference to prove our united humanity obviously makes no sense. Any attempt to generalise people (such as ‘these traits are female’ or ‘this is how black people behave’) is an offense to the true liberation all these civic rights movements are striving to achieve. As Anne says, we all want to be recognised as individuals, not token representatives of a specific group.

  • Shelagh

    Our Government has a ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. There are two ways of looking at this: 1) that women in South Africa are acknowledged as still being disempowered and handicapped by their gender, or 2) that women are being patronised by our government.

    Either way, the battle is not yet over and, regardless of whether or not you consider women’s rights to be integral with human rights, a certainly level of militancy is required in winning battles.

    It is a mistake however, to see feminists – those who demand equal rights for men and women – as anti-male; it is not men who are the enemy, the enemy is the perception that women are lesser beings with fewer rights. MrMonk, despite your fears, we don’t want retribution – we just want to move forward.

  • http://Firefox old, female, paleface

    To macho males with a burden of an EGO that needs pumping every hour.
    See who rules the world with a velvet glove over an iron fist – FEMALES who else ?
    We manage fine with a normal sized ego.
    BEWARE – One male can impregnate 100 females who ensures the human species survival ?
    Do we need a city full of males when 1 is enough until he is kaput and we created more where that came from ?

    Shooting ourselves in the foot ? WE are the Queen bees; males the drones.
    BEWARE MSP.s – you court extinction.
    Women raise a family alone after the male leaves.
    Polygamy works !

    As women become more independent
    males primping, effeminate Metro Men
    Big Boep Men unacceptable
    or sperm count decreases ?
    Women can choose a donor.
    WHO is REALLY shooting themselves in the foot ?

    Be afraid men and ensure females are made to feel relevant OR
    the above scenario.
    MORAL :
    Males will never, ever understand female logic, intuition and reasoning.
    My militant generation has left a legacy our daughters are improving.
    WHO needs branding when you are a FEMINIST ?

  • Foom

    @JenniferThorpe and @Mark

    Stats are more than fun – they’re empirical.

    Here’s a few likelihoods of my own:

    Likelihood to be imprisoned.
    Likelihood to be a victim of violence.
    Likelihood to be raped in jail.
    Likelihood of underperforming academically
    Likelihood of committing suicide
    Likelihood of having access to own children restricted in event of divorce
    Likelihood of suffering from mental disorders
    Likelihood of abusing alcohol or some other drug
    Likelihood of dying before the other gender

    And you will see there is certainly a need for “masculism” in South Africa today.

  • pete ess

    We have had a sea change in who holds the power in SA. It was only fat old white males, and it’s now fat old black AND white males divvying up the economic and political power between them. The gender commission exists to shut women up. Female Cabinet Ministers exist to shut women up. Do they help their sistas once in power? No: There’s no real power for them to share. They’re pawns. Until the “have-nots” unite under a single banner and stand up for each other, nothing will be achieved. I doubt the women’s movement wants to kick a cripple out of his wheelchair to elbow into front place (power-crazy men will do that in a heartbeat), so they may as well join forces and say: “Human rights for all”. Or continue the charade and forget any real progress.

  • brent

    Best bumper sticker ever: “women who seek equality with men have no ambition”.
    My one regret is that i won’t be alive in 20/30 years time to enjoy a world that is run by women for the betterment of everyone.


  • @Foom

    Maybe you need to watch this, it may explain a lot.

    Tough Guise – Violence Media and the Crisis in Masculinity

  • Mark

    @Foom you are missing the point. We are talking about relationships of power not who is the biggest victim. What is masculinisim anyway? Patriarchy? A new mens club?

  • Sello

    It’s all about ‘identity politics’ and I can tell you that it works rather well. An example is the gay rights movement in South Africa and why it was so successful (atleast in the legislative realm as opposed to blanket tolerance). This movement paralleled itself on the struggle against apartheid and racism and it very strategically and dare I say parasitically took advantage of the politics of the day (early 1990’s) and with this cunning and finesse guaranteed itself explicit protection in section 9 of the constitution by saying we as a group have suffered the same way as you, that we are both victims of the broader master frame of apartheid, that we suffered because of our GROUPING as you did.

    We come together when we have a common experience and when we share ideals – this is the group solidarity that comes at play. The truth is that we are all ‘other’ in some way, manner or form. We live in a society where we are aggregates of minorities – attorneys form their own organisations exclusive to them, blacks do the same, journalists do the same, Muslims do the same, LGBTI people do the same, political organisations do the same etc. etc. etc… I think your article gravely misses the point by suggesting that grouping oneself as ‘other’ is self-defeatist.

    There is no arguing that women are different from men because they are different – it’s not about sameness, it’s about equal concern and respect across difference.

  • Squeeza

    FEMINISM! Amen, what more do ladies want. FEMINISM will be with us for ever. Love them or hate them. Is not a victim mentality.

  • http://Firefox old, female, paleface

    My congratulations to your mother who taught you well about the reality of life.
    For the majority- I feel such sadness as their mother’s believed in patriarchy – shame tog.
    Only males who have extremely bloated egos, full of air, feel victimised when a woman asserts her right to existence, other than serving a male on hands and knees and breeding his proof of virility.

    A woman treated with dignity, respect, equal status and validated for her existence, is the greatest, most devoted lifelong partner and best friend you will ever encounter. Also colleague at work.
    However, treat her with scorn and there are enough torrid tales about the consequences.

    BTW gentlemen – read the e-mails females send to one another about the pathetic strategies of males and how females outwit them every time. The laugh for the day.
    e.g: Eve was created to help man think above the belt – i.e. gave her the brain. I love this one the most of all and few women have not read it on the Web.
    Wise up.

  • Dithabana

    Anybody who is waiting for the day women will be “equal” to men will have to wait for the next great evolution on earth.

    Women will never equal men no matter what they or their men do. Women are the weaker “others” of this universe and they know it [ask old,female,paleface]. When tragedy strikes at night she clings to her man.

    That is why Celin Dion advised all women to “call the man”.

  • Diti

    And when economic or emotional tragedy strikes the man is the first to bolt leaving the “weaker” woman to singlehandedly raise the children and feed the family in the face of that hardship who is the weaker sex then? Dithabana I’ve got news for you men themselves run in the face of danger, cry out when they are being assaulted. We live with men we know they get scared too so what?

  • a.

    You miss the point perhaps; let women stand up for themselves, under their banner, of their choosing. It’s the essence of emancipation. What you say is akin to telling the ANC drop BEE for South African Economic Empowerment? So Jennifer Thorpe is right and you idea won’t fly.

  • Dithabana

    CEO of State Theater went to court to ask maintenance in the tune of R35k monthly from her former boyfriend who was the MTN CEO ( ).

    She is weak and he is strong.

    Who pays the “other” in a divorce settlement?

    The stronger (read: man) pays the weak (read: female)

  • Diti

    Maintenace is not determined according to the strength of one gender over the other but rather financial strength, therefore a finacially weak man can claim maintenance from a financially stronger former partner man or woman.

  • a.

    Dithabana, you strike me as one who learnt all they know by watching TV!

    Diti, both parents have an obligation to support their kids according to their respective means, according to the act. You are right here, but just sometimes the father remains behind to take of the children, and sometimes these fathers get custody of their kids. I number among those fathers. So your generalisation is a little lazy.

  • Sarah Britten
  • Sal

    Just to clarify: the new The Ministry of everyone-excluding-abled-bodied-adult-men is not a feminist ministry.
    Another point: nobody argues that women’s rights are a bad thing, but people do, and often, argue that their wives may not speak to other men on the phone… or that their daughters may get an abortion without consulting them…
    The real problem with feminism is that it’s a theory that challenges power where people hold it most dear – in their relationships and in their homes.

    I think feminism gets bad press is because too many people think they are feminists when they are not… and too many people think they are anti-feminist when they dont know anything about feminism. Feminism is just about the only theory that everybody feels competent enough to have an opinion on…. just because they are either male or female.

  • Chris

    I find it quite sad that we need to have this discussion at all. One would imagine that in today’s age we as a species would be well past this sort of thing.

    Funny, I wrote a blog post back in October last year about this very thing: