Feminism has become a bit of a dirty word. As Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In, it’s been this way for a while. It also needs to change.
Just like how the far left and the far right seem to define the Democrat and Republican parties in politics, the very aggressive feminists seem to now define feminism. This should make us question why this is.
A Brief Definition of Feminism: Setting the Record Straight
I personally define feminism as mindset that all human beings deserve equality. Feminism focuses specifically on finding equality for women who have historically been marginalized and discriminated against. Feminism does not mean belittling or hating men to achieve that equality. It means working with them and the general public to attain and maintain equality for all persons regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status.
You may be wondering why a mental health counselor is writing about feminism. It’s because feminist psychology is a legitimate field of psychological study and practice. It focuses on the liberation of the individual from person to person and systematic oppression. I have found can even be helpful with male populations such as those who suffered from child abuse. If you have ever lived in discrimination or have been belittled or spoken down to, feminist psychology seeks to help you find freedom from whatever oppression you face in whatever amount. It doesn’t discriminate and is incredibly important in our discussion of mental health.
Considering Cognitive Distortions and Feminism
A major cornerstone in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is analyzing cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is a though error. Imagine computer coding. You can think of a cognitive distortion as either an error in the coding that will cause the program to malfunction. It can also be considered as outdated software where it at one time had a purpose but is now gumming up the works.
I see at least three types of cognitive distortions in the current perceptions of feminists, democrats, and republicans. Although this post primarily focuses on feminism, it bothers me to hear the same cognitive distortions about political parties as well so I include them in this train of thought.
The first cognitive distortion I see in current perceptions of feminism is all-or-nothing thinking which is exactly how it sounds. It’s black and white thinking where we view things in terms of all or nothing. So, we may see a hyper aggressive feminist who seems to convey that they hate men. We fall into all-or-nothing thinking when we then say, “all feminists must be hyper aggressive.”
This might then lead us to not identify as a feminist! How sad! Feminism a its core seeks equality for all persons. That is something we should all want to identify with. Therefore, it’s important we challenge our perceptions to make sure they don’t get in the way of us connecting with something we’re passionate about.
Similar to all-or-nothing thinking is overgeneralization. This is where we take a small sampling of events and make broad sweeping inferences. So we may have a very negative conversation with someone who is a feminist and then infer that all feminists are aggressive or man haters.
This can close us off to future conversations, be foreclosed on our opinions of someone we meet, and can even lead to us becoming close-minded. This happens all the time, too.
In part, it’s because our brains learn via what is called reflexive learning. That’s the brain’s ability to identify that a round sphere is called a ball. Therefore, all round spheres are balls. This comes in handy if we still lived in the wild and a creature that growls and has fangs comes at us. It’s helpful that the brain can automatically generalize that creatures with fangs that growl are all dangerous. However, these overgeneralizations are not helpful when it comes to philosophical conversation.
Disqualifying the Positive
The last cognitive distortion I see in this issue is disqualifying the positive. This is where we focus only on the negative aspects of a situation and disregard the positive. Many of us have a negative view of feminism that prevents us from identifying as feminists. We focus so much on the negative view society has of feminists that we disregard all the positive things feminists have actually accomplished.
If we focus on the good of feminist philosophy, we are more likely to readily connect to it. Feminism isn’t about man hating. It’s about equality.
If you appreciate feminism, the next time you find yourself struggling with identifying as a feminist, walk through these cognitive distortions and see if you’re wrestling with them. All it takes is a shift in perspective and perception to connect with a powerful and important movement.