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What is a Straw Feminist?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A straw feminist is the feminist version of the infamous straw man. A straw man is a person who is invented to prop up a point, usually by pulling together threads of the other side's arguments and beliefs, and by misrepresenting statements made by the other side. Often, a straw man is specifically designed to be easily attacked, with the creator leaving gaps in the fictional creation's logic which can be assaulted with ease, thereby “disproving” the points made by the other side.

In the sense of feminism, a straw feminist or strawfeminist is a fictional “feminist” character who is used to make arguments about the feminist movement as a whole. A straw feminist can take a number of forms. She may be referenced in an article criticizing the feminist movement, for example, or she may appear in the form of a sockpuppet, a fake user account used to make inflammatory comments on a message board or blog community.

The typical straw feminist promotes radical ideas: she says that all men are evil, advocates castration for rapists, and makes inflammatory statements which are more representative of the fringe of the feminist movement than of mainstream feminist. She is the “fat, man-hating lesbian” who inhabits the nightmares of conservative commentators, embodying every imaginable stereotype about the feminist movement. The form of feminist represented by the straw feminist is shrill, strident, and often lacking in logic, in sharp contrast with the thoughtful, outspoken, and often very logical face of the feminist movement.

Most feminists are simply trying to create equal rights for women, and to promote respect for women which protects them from de facto sexism as well as de jure issues. They want to see equal pay for equal work, for example, or crackdowns on harassment of women in the street, on public transit, and in the workplace. Real feminists come in a wide range of socioeconomic classes, shapes, sizes, and relationships, just like everyone else.

The straw feminist argument is extremely frustrating for many feminists, partly because many people buy into it. Some women who actually have very feminist ideas are reluctant to call themselves “feminist” because of the negative perception of feminism, and criticisms of the feminist movement, even from informed people, often sound suspiciously like discussions of straw feminism. For example, many people claim that second wave feminism “goes too far,” not realizing that bulk of second wave feminists focused on addressing de facto inequalities which plagued women, not on creating a “womyns utopia” without any men.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon993588 — On Nov 26, 2015

"Not every woman wants to be a feminist. Some women really like traditional gender roles. I mean it think that it is really nice when a man opens the door for me or that my husband supports me so that I can stay home with my children."

A lot of people really don't understand that you can be a homemaker and feminist at the same time. The roles do not conflict. Only extreme feminists who don't really understand the movement at this point are anti-homemaker. Feminism is about having opportunities and choices. The more the merrier. Being a homemaker and enjoying a submissive lifestyle with your husband is one of those options under the umbrella of feminism.

You just can't expect everyone else to live the way you do, which is what most anti-feminist homemakers try to do - make us all live like them, at home, without a job and that's not okay for many of us, or even possible.

By anon343991 — On Aug 04, 2013

@Anon329279: I rather doubt that you read any post with an open mind. Whenever someone says "conspiracy theory" to describe the opposition, it is used as a silencing tactic.

It is a known fact that feminists oppose the idea of domestic violence shelters for male victims. In fact, they have renamed domestic violence as "violence against women" to further ignore male victims.

"I have yet to hear any of these men ever make a reasonable argument against feminism."

I rather doubt that you have ever actually listened to any actual argument against feminism. I suspect that you skim them for things you can build a strawman with. After all, your response never says, "could I get a source for this disputed assertion." Instead, you say, "conspiracy theory."

I don't think feminism is about equality. I think the choice of name says it all. Feminists want to improve things for women. If men have something better, they want to reduce or reverse the gap. If women have something better, they want to increase the gap.

By anon343732 — On Aug 02, 2013

Shrill, illogical feminists exist. They are not made of straw, but flesh and blood. Sorry, not sorry.

By anon329279 — On Apr 09, 2013

@anon273358: I read your post with an open mind thinking this would be a well-reasoned rebuttal of the article, but then you into unsourced conspiracy theories about feminists making up statistics.

All the anti-feminist stuff I read usually comes from men who believe that because they suffer more than some women, that feminism is completely invalid.

There are social movements out there with class issues at the forefront, but that doesn't mean that feminism has to go away or is invalid because it does not address whatever suffering or hardships you personally are going through.

You don't see people saying Black civil rights should have never happened because poor white people exist. Why is it with feminists that so many men suddenly go so far to the right to denounce it?

It seems to me a lot of heterosexual men harbor a lot of resentment against their mothers, their girlfriends, and the girls they like. They feel they have all the power. And something about feminism just rubs them the wrong way. I have yet to hear any of these men ever make a reasonable argument against feminism. They do however make good arguments against straw feminists.

And if it weren't for feminists, there would be no Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter and that is one of the grand ironies. Everyone wants to call feminism a failure and denounce it, it seems, and yet it has been very successful.

By anon326889 — On Mar 24, 2013

Wouldn't debunking and ending the patriarchy help in the cause for equality?

By anon291744 — On Sep 16, 2012

No, feminism is not about equality, but about debunking and ending the Patriarchy. Try again.

By anon273358 — On Jun 06, 2012

The problem with your assessment concerning the argument that mainstream feminists allow radical feminists to make the statements and advocacy they do because the mainstreamers actively benefit from it, has a lot of credibility.

Radical feminists are almost never lambasted and opposed by mainstream feminists and of those times when they are, almost never visibly or in a public way.

The closest you get to it is feminism being compared to "a tree with many branches". That analogy by its very nature makes it clear that while there is a desire for mainstream feminism to be distanced from the radicals, there is no desire for them to be separated from them since they do benefit from them.

Furthermore, the problem with feminism as a tree is its rotted trunk of a core concept of patriarchy. Now that concept can be excused in terms of what the early first wave feminists were looking at, since gender was a field of study in its superficial stages and the concept works in a superficial manner -- sort of.

However, the problem with the concept of patriarchy is that it completely ignores class and reduces all men to some all-powerful, never-victim, all-oppressing zeitgeist while depriving women of agency while reducing them to a singular zeitgeist of poor, pathetic, helpless damsels in distress locked in a big scary stone tower, guarded by a big scary dragon and waiting for a knight in shining armor to save them.

As a result, the concept of empowerment becomes utterly hypocritical because -- due to its grounding in the concept of patriarchy -- it becomes privilege without accountability.

These factors cloud every issue that feminism tries to involve itself in -- one of the most telling being domestic violence.

When feminists involve themselves in the issue of domestic violence, the results are utterly hypocritical. On one hand, they abhor and lambast female gender stereotypes directed at victims while actually reinforcing male gender stereotypes, either fabricating statistics or data outright, leaving death and bomb threats for experts in the field like Erin Pizzey and Richard Gelles and spouting utterly chauvinistic stereotypes towards male victims to justify it. They quote strength differences while ignoring the use of weapons and the fact that abuse can be more than physical. Furthermore, countless studies have found that roughly half of all domestic violence is mutual, roughly a quarter is exclusively women abusing men and roughly a quarter is exclusively women abusing men -- the very reason why Gelles et. al. have received multiple death threats.

When you example the core tenants of patriarchy, that's to be completely expected, because that is the conclusion: patriarchy, with its applied value judgments of "all men are abusers and all women are victims" reaches in the issue of domestic violence. This is just one example, but a highly telling one.

In fact, while feminism claims to be about equality, where has it taken a stand openly on issues where men are oppressed such as VAWA and primary aggressor laws, where police are trained to automatically arrest the man and not determine the perpetrator before making an arrest? The answer is nowhere, because it is only interested in helping women because under the notion of patriarchy, it assumes that only women will face inequality and men can never be victims of inequality.

Now, understand that I am far from saying that feminism is doomed to being an anachronistic and sexist ideology. However, it will require a radical paradigm shift to completely separate itself from the radical misandrists, comprehending the concept of hegemonic masculinities (John Tosh is an excellent source if anyone is interested) and understanding that men's oppression in society stems from their imposed expandability, and women's oppression stems from their imposed protectionism.

By anon220384 — On Oct 07, 2011

@Sunny. You can be a Feminist and still personally adhere to traditional gender roles. It's about having the freedom to choose those roles, instead of having them foisted on you.

By BambooForest — On Oct 03, 2011

@Moldova- I am a feminist and it saddens me that so many women allow themselves to be straw feminists and become caricatures of equality.

I call myself a feminist because I value equality for everyone, I just wish more people saw it that way- on so many issues, some women seem to be working for a new form of female supremacy.

As for your professor story, I had profs like that in college too; not necessarily with that topic, but who ignored or even rebuked differing opinions or even differing facts. The reality is that no one group of people are always right. I want equal chances for all groups, and hope to avoid ever looking like the straw characters who are a problem in feminism today.

By Moldova — On Oct 02, 2011

@Oasis11 - This reminds me of a class that I had in college. It was a women and law class which was essentially a women’s studies course that explored gender-based bias in many legal cases.

My professor was a radical feminist that really alienated the three men that were in the class. For example, there was a case that we were briefing in class that involved a child custody case.

The father in this case won full custody of his child because the women that he was divorcing was living in a one bedroom apartment with a man and he felt that it was inappropriate for his child to live in those conditions.

My professor went on to say how unfair custody cases are against women, when it reality most mothers easily get custody. There was a male student in the room that actually had visitation rights for his children and added that most of the time men are the ones that get the short end of the stick.

The professor became angry and railed against this student in front of the whole class which caused all of the male students to keep quiet. When you do not allow another point of view other than your own you run the risk of being stereotyped into a straw feminist.

It also weakens your position and takes the attention off of the issue that you are arguing about.

By oasis11 — On Oct 01, 2011

@Sunny27 - There are differences in gender roles and I think that is a good thing. For example, some women may feel that they can be artificially inseminated and have a child without a man and raise the child on their own.

While I don’t think that this is fair to the child, I realize that everyone has a right to live their life how they choose. I think that this idea is from the feminist movement because they feel that men are really not necessary which I think it is sad.

Men can enrich a women’s life just like a women can enrich a man’s life. I also know that many women feel that there are inequities in salary in the workplace, but sometimes those differences in salary are based on negotiations and not a gender bias. Men are traditionally more aggressive when negotiating salaries and maybe if a discrepancy exists it is because they did a better job negotiating their salary.

The company is going to try to make as much profit as possible so if you are willing to work for less that is not the company’s fault or the man’s fault.

By Sunny27 — On Oct 01, 2011

I think that there are radical feminists that make their point clearly and concisely that will make others take notice. Some women may not agree with the perception that this form of feminism ascribes to.

There are a lot of positive role models in this area but there are also critical feminists that disagree with everyone that does not see things the way they do. I think that people should express their opinions in a nonthreatening way and allow opposing points of view to be expressed.

Not every woman wants to be a feminist. Some women really like traditional gender roles. I mean it think that it is really nice when a man opens the door for me or that my husband supports me so that I can stay home with my children.

Some feminists might view this as a submissive role and dismiss the contribution that I am making to my family because I don’t have a career like many of these feminists do.

I think that women should band together and encourage each other to live the best life that they can without judgment.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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