This week my attention was drawn to a Facebook group that made me so angry I had to listen to loud music and punch a cushion to prevent all of the crockery in the flat being smashed to bits and my fist going through my laptop screen.
The Facebook group in question was Woman Against Feminism. Yes, women who are against feminism. They have all sorts of reasons for being against feminism.
They don’t need feminism because “I don’t need to grow out my body hair to prove I am equal to men” (to which I would respond, you are right! you can shave, or not. I often chose not to, but wear shorts anyway, because I don’t need to have hair free legs to feel beautiful. Sometimes I do shave if I feel like it. But don’t feel I have to. Because Feminism.)
They don’t need feminism because “My children are not a punishment, cooking for my husband is not oppression, I don’t whine hysterically until people buy me stuff” (to which I would respond that’s awesome that your children bring you joy and you like cooking for your family! It would also be awesome if you wanted to go to work, or if your husband wanted to cook for you. And you should totally have the right to do either. Or both. Without judgement. And in some countries, you can. Because Feminism. Um. you’ve kind of lost me on the buying stuff bit though. I am not sure what that has to do with feminism. But well done on not whining until people buy you stuff. I guess.)
They don’t need feminism because “Being a stay at home wife is my choice, [...] oppression doesn’t exist in my country (Australia)” (To which I would respond choices are cool. I love that modern women can make these choices in countries like Australia. Because Feminism. Also, there’s no oppression in Australia? Amazing! I also hear it’s completely free of poisonous fauna.)
I assume that the majority of my readers are fully able to appreciate the irony of young women rejecting feminism because they are “free“.
As I read through the posts on this group I became increasingly confused. It was clear that many of the women on this page actually were feminists – in the literal sense of the word. They all seem to hold the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way.
What I realised, as I scrolled through this community (which currently has almost 10k likes), is that these women aren’t against the literal meaning of Feminism. They aren’t against equality, or even the fight for equality. What they are is confused about what feminism means in a wider context. Perhaps confused isn’t even the right word – maybe misled would be better. The common thread through the posts on the community is a powerful narrative that feminists want women to be unfemine, to reject men, to oppress men, and that feminists want to tell other women what to think.
The first rebuttal piece I read about this community was written by Laurie Penny – a writer that I admire very much, who I count amongst my inspirations, I usually enjoy her writing, usually agree with her politics, and usually think she puts her point across very well. However I found her open letter, entitled “Dear Women Who Don’t Need Feminism” almost more frustrating than the community itself. It was a very passionate piece, which did make some good points, and I could hear her anger and frustration, and I could almost feel her sense of rejection. I understand it too; when you’ve spent much of your life devoted to furthering the cause of women in an unequal society and receiving abuse from all sides and then you find a community of young women rejecting that? Ouch.
And yet, I could also see a younger me in those comments on the community. A younger me who had misunderstood the meaning of the term ‘feminist’, who had actually said out loud that she was not a feminist but an “equalist”, who had made a joke about feminist being bitter man haters, who burned bras and didn’t shave and sang protest songs naked in the park. A younger woman who’d believed that women were equal, but that feminists were all man hating crazy people. That was me. Yes, I had an epiphany after one too many times being cat called and groped in public, but it took a lot of time and a lot of kind and patient friends who encouraged me to learn more about feminism. An impassioned cry as Penny’s open letter is, it’s also passive aggressive and incendiary, and to young women who think feminists are angry women who want to tell them what to think all it’s going to do is push them to reject feminism further.
One of the posts on the community caugt my eye in particular:
They don’t need feminism because “feminism has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny“
The association of “Feminism” with “man hating” is problematic, and not new. But I would suggest that when a word starts being used in a negative way, it’s more important to re-appropriate that word than to reject the entire concept. See also gay, queer, tree-hugger, dork.
Feminism has a long history of backlash. 30 years ago some claimed that we were ‘post feminism’ – women had jobs and the vote and choices and birth control. WHAT MORE DID THEY WANT? Well, the clue is in the definition. Feminists want equality. And the interesting thing about the rejection of feminism is that there have been waves of rejection of feminism – and there’s a common theme to these waves. Each time there’s a wave of backlash, it tends to precedes a sea change – a significant shift in the freedoms and rights of women. Susan Faludi, who wrote a book all about this exact subject in 1991 argued that “the anti-feminist backlash has been set off not by women’s achievement of full equality but by the increased possibility that they might win it. It is a pre-emptive strike that stops women long before they reach the finish line.” This is where terms such as ‘feminazi‘ arise from; they arise from fear that actually, we might have a point, and we might actually be having an impact. And the best way to derail that is to be dismissive, critical, and paint feminism as something unhelpful and harmful – or as ineffective and irrelavant. The best counter-attack to this is to be clear what feminism is, and isn’t.
Feminism isn’t a political party with a manifesto. It’s not a religion, with a clearly defined set of beliefs. It’s a movement, an ever-changing and enormous movement, made up of millions and millions of people with different beliefs, backgrounds, goals and agendas. Some feminists have opinions I profoundly disagree with. Some feminists are risking their lives for standing up for equality. Some feminists are men. Not all feminists are intersectional, but they should be. One feminist doesn’t, and shouldn’t, speak for all feminists, or for all women. The one thing that all feminists have in common is that they ALL believe that everyone is equal, and deserves to be treated in the same way, and that right now women are not equal to men.
Feminism will always have to battle on two sides. Feminism will have to battle a society which is demonstrably unequal. Feminism will also have to battle misunderstandings of what feminism is. But I take heart from Faludi’s words, that the greater the volume of the backlash the closer we are to a result.
I am not overly concerned about the ‘women against feminism’ Facebook. 10k likes isn’t that large, when you compare it to, say, a stop violence against women page which has 37k likes. Or Dogs against Romney which has 100k. It’s also clear, when you start reading the comments, that there are an awful lot of men on there promoting MRA groups, and that immediately makes me suspicious and doubtful. It’s also clear that the women on there are largely young, relatively financially secure, mainly white, attractive, able bodied and straight. When you have this many advantages it can be harder to see why feminism may be relevant.
To those women I say – awesome. You are lucky. And you have freedom to reject feminism.By all means reject feminism because it’s not relevant to you. But don’t ever think that means that it is irrelevant. And if you want to know more about why most of the reasons you think you don’t need feminism are actually excellent reasons why you do, then I’ll be here, happy to discuss it with you, just as I had kind patient people prepared to discuss it with me in 2007, even though I had, at the time, implied that they were bitter man hating penis oppressing harpies.
I can’t respect your choice to reject feminism, but I uphold your right to do so (because feminism). But what you don’t get to do is tell other women (and men) who DO need feminism that they are wrong to do so. Because to deny those women (and men) their choice to continue to fight for equality that makes you just as bad as the feminists you are rejecting.