You Don’t Hate Feminism. You Just Don’t Understand It.
It’s never a dull week for feminists, and now Women Against Feminism is the most recent ire du jour. The Tumblr photo collection of women holding signs explaining why they “don’t need feminism” is more annoying than frightening. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, like securing equal pay and ensuring women across the world can attend school without being kidnapped.
But Women Against Feminism is certainly getting plenty of attention. The Tumblr started in the summer of 2013. The Facebook group, which was created in January 2014, has 12,000 likes, suggesting it appeals to a not insignificant group of people.
Women Against Feminism is easy—too easy—to lambaste. Many of the reasons these women claim for not needing feminism are embarrassingly bad. One post that has made the rounds is “I don’t need feminism because I love masculine men like Christian Grey :-P.” Oy.
Feminists, read it and weep (emphasis on “weep”). It’s not the fact that there is criticism against feminism, but that the criticism is so inane, unintelligent, and useless. Aside from those who mistakenly think feminists want to kill Christian Grey (We don’t! We promise we love mommy porn!), many of the women who posted on the Tumblr accuse feminism of being things that it is not.
For example, one woman posted “I don’t need ‘feminism’ because I believe that men and women are EQUAL, not that women should belittle men.” Those posts hurt a bit more because they reveal how deeply misinterpreted feminism is.
I reached out to Women Against Feminism to learn about the origins of their campaign. Below is the email response I received:
Hi, thank you but we respectfully decline. We are familiar with the DB and it’s slant. We don’t expect to get fair treatment. The media has been pretty insulting (and childish) so far. So we’re just sticking to our own self-expression through social media. Thank you.
When I told "Mel" I wanted to give her organization a chance to share their story and motives, she wrote back "I think the photos speaks for themselves."
I could have argued with “Mel” six ways to Sunday about why she was wrong about both the feminist movement and our publication, but I realized there wasn’t a point. She was too turned off by the media and by a self-declared feminist to even talk about her organization. The response showed a weakness in the Women Against Feminism leadership, and it confirmed my suspicions that the movement was more gimmicky than substantive. But I don’t want to jump on the Women Against Feminism pile-on because that’s what drove women to it in the first.
There is no question that Women Against Feminism is utterly and completely misguided in its understanding of what feminism is. But they aren’t only the ones. Feminism gets a bad rap, and people perceive the movement as meaning something very narrow and specific—and negative.
An April 2013 poll found just 16 percent of men and 23 percent of women in America identify as feminists. The women behind Women Against Feminism aren’t exactly a minority. However, that same poll found 82 percent of all Americans agree with the statement “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” That’s the simplest and most accurate definition of feminism, but the movement has come to be seen as anti-men, liberal, radical, pro-choice, and many other things that it is not.
As the Women Against Feminism posts show, many of the declarations stem from a place that feminism conveys preferential for women at a loss to sons, brothers, fathers, and friends. That isn’t feminism, but many people falsely believe that is the effect of it.
Think of all the female celebrities who have gone out of their way to declare themselves not feminists and their reasons for doing so. Katy Perry had previously said, “I am not feminist, but I do believe in the power of women.” She recently changed her mind and declared she was a feminist because “it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.” While Perry was mocked for her admittedly space cadet-sounding response, she hit on a point that is often lost in the misperception of feminism: At its most core basic level, feminism is about equality between the sexes, not advancing one over the other.
People do not realize you can be a feminist and pro-life. You can be a feminist and a stay-at-home mom. You can be a feminist and disagree with the birth control mandate of Obamacare. You can be a feminist and not advocate drinking your own menstrual blood (Germaine Greer reference, y’all).
Unabashed feminist author Catlin Moran lampooned women who did not identify as feminists in her book, How To Be a Woman. But in her criticism, she stressed that women who don’t identify as feminists don’t realize what feminism implies, nor all that feminism has secured for them:
What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?
Feminism has a clear PR problem, but mocking Women Against Feminism isn’t the solution. Its campaign is an easy target, but painting these women as a bunch of ignorant, outrageous, self-hating women proves their point. Grace Chapman at Vagenda precisely articulated the problem of getting angry at Women Against Feminism. She compared it to her own experience fighting a woman who declared herself not a feminist. She recalled how the other woman’s face “hardened in quiet confidence that she had just been proven right. That we feminists were all the same. Shouty, elitist and actually a little bit mean. Men haters and blamers, women victimizers and blamers.”
Mocking Women Against Feminism validates their argument that they don’t belong in the movement and affirms their belief that feminism has no space for them. We—and by “we,” I mean feminists—need to be the bigger person in this battle. We need to make every effort to promote feminism as a big-tent movement, and we need to admit that it doesn’t always appear so welcoming. As Chapman writes, “In order for feminism to be truly powerful it needs to be accessible and engaging, to everyone, and at the moment it’s just not, not yet.”
Women Against Feminism and like-minded opponents try to distort the meaning of feminism by saddling the movement with unnecessary, limiting prerequisites. Feminists, we shouldn’t bite at their baiting. Instead, we should use Women Against Feminism constructively, but not as a legitimate criticism (which it is certainly not). It is a wakeup call for how poorly misunderstand our movement is.
Just as we need to continue to advocate for equality between the sexes, we also need to remind women and men what feminism entails, rather than let our opponents claim to define the movement for us.