A lot of people have told me that I’m nothing like what they imagined a feminist would be. I’m sex positive, liberal, non-radical and far from misandrous.
The thing is, all the feminists I know are like that. I don’t doubt the existence of sex-negative, radical, misandrous feminists, but why is it that their existence seems to have shaped the image of the entire feminist community?
This is the straw feminist trope. A stereotype, a cliché, created and enforced by the entertainment industry.
But what is a trope? A trope is a concept that is used repeatedly in films, television shows, games, etc., and it is often offensive. The straw feminist trope is one where a feminist character is introduced into a plot, then quickly made out to appear insane, irrelevant, silly, unpleasant or all of the above. This trope contributes endlessly to the negative image of feminists in society.
The straw feminist trope stands to serve three purposes in the name of misogyny:
1) To vilify feminism
2) To encourage gender oppression
3) To separate feminism and feminists from any positive notion of women
Image from Hark! A Vagrant
The first goal is achieved easily. The straw feminists are a breed of women who focus their entire existence on metaphorically castrating men. Their feminism is based around misandry, and they seem to be set on creating a hyper-matriarchal society. The issue is, that is not what feminism means for most feminists. Feminism is about equality. By making it seem like an emasculating concept, the straw feminists push forth the notion that feminism is ridiculous and unnecessary, that it serves selfish purposes that will not only do no good, but will in fact harm society and the individuals within it.
The straw feminists also encourage gender oppression. They do this not as characters, but as part of an environment.
Confused? Let me explain.
Straw feminists are rarely placed in an environment where gender oppression and sexism exist. The worlds they exist in are perfect examples of unbridled equality. And so, the battles of the straw feminists seem ridiculous, out-dated, unnecessary and just plain annoying. The issue is, the world we live in isn’t like that. The real world is a place where women are systematically oppressed every single day. Women aren’t afforded the same rights and privileges as men, no matter where you come from. So these straw feminists in their post-feminist, idealistic worlds make us think that sexism doesn’t exist. They make us think feminism does nothing but irritate and that we don’t need to fight because we’ve already won. This misconception is doing more than just set back the feminist battle – it’s encouraging misogyny, because it makes it seem harmless and irrelevant to sexism and “the bigger picture.”
The last goal achieved by the straw feminists, and perhaps the most destructive one, is the separation of feminism from any positive notion of women and girls. The straw feminists often “star” alongside an intelligent, strong, funny, independent and generally positive female lead, who will grow to hate this straw feminist and make it clear to the audience that she is not one. Why? Because strong, intelligent, positive women aren’t feminists. Feminists are annoying creatures whose time has passed, they are not clever or independent or funny – they have no positive value. This serves to make women feel and think that being a feminist makes them a lesser person. In these depictions, being a feminist means you’re an aggressive, delusional, unpleasant idiot who has no place in a progressive society such as ours.
Acknowledging the dangers that the straw feminist trope presents is important, and what is even more important to act upon those conclusions. It is important that we educate children and adults about sexism, oppression and positive feminism in all its forms. Only in this way will the straw feminist stop making appearances in our already destructive media.
Written by Ophir Shemer