Why does this look like a baby rattle?

Feminism makes some men very nervous.  They are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and being labelled a sexist.  They may feel like outsiders, unclear of their own standing as these conversations unfold.  Men and women alike may not be sure what feminism entails, but it can seem like a daunting list, one they may not fully support.

I would like to create an environment in which our budding male feminists feel comfortable supporting equality and can avoid stepping into landmines of their own making.  Or, conversely, reading this overview of feminist concepts may make you feel completely hopeless because those clever feminists are onto all your tricks before you are!

I’m an optimist at heart.  I have a hard time imagining there are people who don’t believe in equal treatment for men and women in this day and age.  If you’ve never self-identified as a feminist, maybe you will now.  Let me caveat that there may be better definitions for these terms out there, and this list is by no means exhaustive (although it may be exhausting!).  Feel free to add to or discuss the definitions and terms in the comments.


Let me start by briefly explaining the 4 waves of feminism:

First Wave.  From late 1800s to WW2.  The aims were to eliminate legally mandated sexism, granting women the right to vote, to own property, marital rights, access to education and unemployment benefits.

Second Wave.  Post WW2 to the 1980s.  The movement was most active from the 1960s when Betty Friedan published the Feminine Mystique.  The aims were to eliminate unofficial equalities:  wage gaps, roles in families, education gaps, and reproductive rights.  When the ERA failed to pass in the 1980s, many said the Second Wave failed.  Some women began to refer to themselves as Post-Feminists, claiming the Second Wave succeeded because it addressed issues faced by most white middle class women.  Third Wave Feminists criticize post-feminism as a position of privilege.  Feminists also split on the issue of sex-positivism and anti-pornography.

Anti-Pornography Feminists.  Oppose objectification in all forms.  They believe in restricting aggressive male sexual behaviors to prevent women being exploited.  My definition:  Restrict male sexuality to create equality.

Sex-Positive Feminists.  Object to the vilification of male sexuality.  They believe in maximizing sexual freedom and choice for women as the path to equality.  Some even support the legalization of prostitution to ensure rights for sex workers.  My definition:  Empower female sexuality on par with male sexuality.

Third Wave.  Began in the 1990s.  This movement was concerned about issues faced by subgroups and about things not addressed in previous waves:  LGBT rights, ageism, liberal policy changes and social justice.  The “Grrrl” power feminists are from this wave.

Fourth Wave.  This term is less commonly used and refers specifically to internet feminism.

There are a few feminist sub-categories I’ll mention:

  • Liberal Feminism.  Focus is on equal rights through policy changes, not cultural issues.
  • Radical Feminism.  Seeks the abolition of gender.
  • Cultural Feminism.  Seeks to establish competing female power structures, traditions and norms.
Just where do you think you’re going to pin that?


Whew, that’s a lot of information.  Now to the lexicon.

Patriarchy.  A system which puts men in power over women and children and favors male traits.

Rape Culture.  A culture in which sexual violence is glorified, encouraged, or normalized.  For example, teenage boys high fiving each other after intentionally mowing down prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto.  Rape culture also exists when men are encouraged to be sexually aggressive toward women or when male sexual aggression is portrayed as sexy or rape is viewed as a compliment (e.g. a woman is irresistible; therefore a man couldn’t control himself).  Using terms of sexual dominance (e.g. “making someone your b*tch”) is another example of rape culture.  Rape culture is also evident when girls are told how to dress, behave or speak in a way to avoid exciting male sexual aggression.

Three behaviors are usually associated:  victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.

Wage Gap.  This is the gap between what men and women are paid.  It is sometimes evaluated between like positions (smaller gap) or between all paid work (larger gap).  The larger gap is partly explained by women choosing or being encouraged to go into less lucrative fields, or conversely that fields dominated by women, such as nursing and teaching, are often undervalued by society.

Leaky Pipeline.  Women exiting careers, particularly in male dominated fields like tech, because of disincentives to stay or policy inflexibility.

Glass Ceiling.  The unseen barrier that prevents females and minorities from making it to the top levels of organizations.  For example, there are only 20 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Bechdel Test.  A method to determine if female characters in a movie, play or book are fully developed.  The criteria are:  1) there are more than two female characters, 2) that talk to each other (not just the male characters), and 3) the conversation is about something other than a man.  Examples of failing the Bechdel test:  The Book of Mormon, General Conference, and many of the district meetings I attended as a missionary.

Male Gaze.  A film technique which sexualizes females by zooming in on parts of their bodies as if the audience is viewing her from a heterosexual male’s perspective.  (Also a blogger here who enjoys getting his ass kicked by visiting feminists.)


Only available in women’s sizes, unfortunately.

Unexamined Privilege.  When males are unaware of how the world skews to their benefit (e.g. most high level executives are male, men are less often sexually harassed or assaulted, nobody questions a man’s parenting skills if he has children and a career, in most religions deity is male, etc.).

Reverse Sexism.  A claim often used when men feel their privilege has eroded through advances in opportunity for women.  Sexism can affect men as well as women, particularly when men are discouraged from being nurturing, from expressing emotions, or are shamed by their culture.  This is not reverse sexism, though; it’s just sexism.

Mansplain.  When a man explains something to a woman who actually knows more about the topic than he does.

Straw Feminist.  An exaggerated caricature of a feminist used to create a counter-argument rather than to engage in rational debate.  For example, “These feminists want to be men,” or “These feminists are all on a power grab.”

Silencing.  Techniques to shut women up who complain about mistreatment or to dismiss those complaints as trivial.  Ironically, pointing out these techniques could be seen as another form of silencing.  Some include:

  • Lived Experience.  First hand experiences and impressions of a minority or oppressed group are often dismissed as mere anecdotes by those with privilege.
    • Male Experience Trump Card.  A man declaring that because he hasn’t experienced what a woman claims, that it didn’t happen and that his (male) experience is typical and hers is not.  For example, in one company, 80% of women said they had been sexually harassed, but only 20% of men agreed that women had been sexually harassed.
  • Concern Trolls.  Individuals who express concern that the view of the poster may land them in trouble with authority.
  • Tone Argument.  This is an attempt to dismiss the argument on the basis of tone, not content.  If only the opposing argument would “say it nicely,” then people would listen.
  • Victim Blaming.  In situations of sexual aggression, saying “she was asking for it.”  Whenever women are blamed for mistreatment or harassment they receive because of their dress or behavior.  Likewise, in internet debates, a woman may be dismissed as being irrational or “too emotional” as a way to marginalize her viewpoint.  For example, watch any episode of Mad Men.
  • Many Bad Things in the World.  This argument trivializes female concerns compared to larger world issues.  Surely we can walk and chew gum at the same time, right?
  • Moff’s Law.  An attempt to silence the opposition (particularly in the internet) by saying “Why can’t you just enjoy it for what it is?” implying that the other person is overanalyzing a situation or making a mountain out of a molehill.
Nowadays, these hats would be reversed. That’s progress!


Being a pro-feminist man doesn’t get you off the hook either.  Here are some terms that could apply:

Trying to Score.  This charge may be made, particularly by men toward other men, that the man who is speaking out against sexism is only doing so for sexual gain.

Nice Guy.  A man who complains that women only like bad boys or men who treat them poorly, not “nice guys” like him.  He then tries to parlay this “whining” into pity sex.  As I recall, Male Gaze was accused of this one.  Ouch.

Magical Man Sparkles.  The inexplicable power that must be at play when a woman is continually ignored, and then a man says the same thing and is immediately heard.

Feminist Cookie.  Men expecting a reward for treating women equally.  An example, we had a work dinner scheduled, and one of the male managers could not attend because he was “babysitting.”  When I asked whose kids he was babysitting, I was told they were his own kids.  As I pointed out, that’s not babysitting; it’s parenting.  Nobody says a woman is “babysitting” her own kids.  There should be no extra credit for caring for one’s own offspring.


Must be all the uncomfortable underwear.

Internalized Sexism.  When women have internalized the cultural messages given to them to the point of defending actions that are harmful or limiting to their own sex.  For example, pretty much anything written by Kathryn Skaggs.

Not My Nigel.  A reply by some women to dismiss charges of sexism by disclaiming their own son’s / husband’s / father’s involvement.

In summary, I’ll end with one more term that tipped the scales for me in deciding to participate in Wear Pants to Church Day.  Personally, I even wear skirts to work; it’s hotter than blazes where I live and twice as humid.  But when I saw the comments from so-called faithful members calling feminists all sorts of names, making death threats, and telling them to quit the church if they didn’t like it, I felt compelled to join.

Lewis’s Law.  The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.