Feminism / Society

Women Against Themselves

by Marie Baleo

Dear “Women Against Feminism”, please allow me to debunk a few myths and guide you to the light

This is what a feminist looks like

This is what a feminist looks like

Unless you were hiding under a rock in 2014, you have probably heard of “Women Against Feminism”, a social media trend[1] hailing from the United States. This online phenomenon consists of predominantly young, white and American women posting pictures of themselves holding up placards explaining why they choose to reject feminism, a notion which, for the purposes of this article, will be defined dually, as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”, and “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests[2]

This article could theoretically stop right here, with the above unequivocal definition logically implying that these “Women Against Feminism” somehow believe they shouldn’t be treated equally to men and granted the same opportunities. One could chalk this up to ingrained misogyny[3], a product of growing up and coming of age in a society imbued with patriarchal norms, behaviors and expectations ; one could chalk it up to ignorance or temporary insanity. I could resume watching Girls and painting my fingernails. But I will not. Fear not, miladies, for I am here to point out the error of your ways and steer you back onto the right path.

Disclaimer: our world is deeply hostile to women.

The year is 2015; mankind is doing fairly well. In the past year, we have landed a spacecraft on a comet, worn Google Glasses, and generally continued evolving as a species, I guess. Good things happened! People stood up against racial discrimination and injustice in Ferguson, Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, Netflix gifted us with a second season of Orange Is The New Black. One would not be hard pressed to cite examples of mankind’s ability to think clearly and march ever forward. Except it appears to march more slowly in some areas than in others.

In 2013, American women were paid 78% of what their male counterparts earned for performing identical tasks, while in the European Union, the gender wage gap[4] amounted to 16.2%[5]. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization points out that “35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime”. This year, as always, droves of advertising executives and communications mavericks are sitting in an office near you opting to use a naked woman’s image to convince you to buy anything, and I mean, literally anything.

This is boring”, you object. “I feel like I read this feminist drivel in every corner of the Internet”. Fine, let’s try something different. Take a look at the following events, which all took place within the past 365 days:

  • In May, 22 year-old Elliot Rodger[6], who brutally murdered six people and injured another thirteen in Isla Vista (California), left behind a striking letter, his “manifesto”, lyrically describing his hatred of women and his frustration at their lack of interest in him, an interest he felt entitled to: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman”.

  • In June, Hobby Lobby, a landmark United States Supreme Court ruling, allowed its namesake, a chain of retail arts and crafts stores, to opt out of paying for health insurance for contraceptive coverage for its employees, creating a religious exemption from the applicability of federal law, and screwing women over in the process.

  • In October, 221 women and girls were raped by Sudanese armed forces in their homes in North Darfur in what Human Rights Watch has characterized as a crime against humanity.

  • In March, a survey conducted by FRA, the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, found that “violence against women is “an extensive human rights abuse” across Europe with one in three women reporting some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15 and 8% suffering abuse in the last 12 months[7]. These findings covered the entire continent and examined a sample of 42,000 individuals.

  • In August, the celebrity nude photography hack in the United States allowed famous women to be publicly shamed at length for private photographs taken within the confines of their homes, while few people dwelled on the absolute vileness of violating women’s privacy in that manner (well they did, but too little and too late).

  • In February 2014, women were “fetus hosts” for Republican Virginia State Senator Steve Martin (even though, as Steve pointed out, “some refer to them as mothers”; thank you, Steve).

  • …which, admittedly, is a welcome change from women being “penis homes”, a nickname so cute it should be sold as a cross stitch on Etsy.

These events are completely unrelated and differ greatly: some are dramatic, some are anecdotal and humorous, some take place in North America, others in Europe or Africa. But all are symptoms of societies that have never and still do not value or respect women as much as they value or respect men’s physical integrity and free will. I am going to stop here with this list for now, but please feel free to hit Google or even just open your eyes every day and make your own list, and I’ll be happy to meet up over coffee and cry over this sad state of affairs.

In spite of all this, certain blissfully ignorant women choose to self-identify as anti-feminists, bearing in mind, again, that feminism is the belief in equality between genders. What gives? I have gone on a fishing excursion for anti-feminists and delved (for you only, dear reader) into the darkest depths of the Internet. After reading dozens of these #WomenAgainstFeminism posts, I have acquired a raging headache, but also isolated a few select arguments brought up by a majority of these ladies.

Issue n°1: You think that gender equality has already been achieved, that the patriarchy no longer exists, and that rape culture is a figment of a few angry ladies’ imagination. Feminism is *so* 20th century.

Audre_Lorde_quoteThis argument is absolutely, inherently Western-centric. As much as it may appear as though Western societies have achieved some measure of gender equality (or a fairly convincing imitation thereof), the same is not true in many areas around the globe. Just consider India’s struggle with chronic sexual violence against women, or this enlightening excerpt of a Guardian article pertaining to laws biased against women across the world: “In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women must obey their husbands. In Cuba, girls can be married at 14, while boys have to be 16. In Japan, women are required to wait six months after a divorce before they can remarry, while men are not under such obligation. In Russia, women are not allowed to work in jobs considered too physical. And in Malta, the law allows a man to escape prosecution for abducting a woman if he later marries her[8]. To argue that the patriarchy is a thing of the past is not only proof of bloodcurdling ignorance and of a serious case of navel-gazing; it is also an intolerable insult to the millions of women suffering under various types of oppression linked directly to their gender (honor killings, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, just to name a few) in every corner of our world.

Issue n°2: Feminists are misandrists who believe in female superiority, not equality. / Right now, a group of unshaved, rowdy feminists are convening in a dark cellar, conspiring to castrate your boyfriend, brother and father in their sleep.

What it sounds like: I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist” (Madonna), or,“[I don’t consider myself a feminist] because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance” (Shailene Woodley).

Anti-feminist1If this is your understanding of feminism, you may have wanted to open a dictionary before you invaded the Internet and posed as a legitimate movement. Your view of feminism is inherently flawed; as Andi Seizler[9] once said, “that’s the Fox News version of feminism”.

Without getting into a heated debate about the usefulness of a men’s rights movement[10], it is worth noting that feminism is beneficial to both men and women, namely because it opposes the imposition of gender roles upon individuals of both sexes. As Laverne Cox so perfectly phrased it, “a lot of what feminism is about is moving outside of roles and moving outside of expectations of who and what you’re supposed to be to live a more authentic life”. This applies to all genders.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, feminism is the belief that genders are equal, as in, that neither is superior to the other. What may have caused you to be mistaken is that feminism strives for measures that will specifically empower women. That is because the gap between the situation of men and women is still so great that such measures are of vital importance if women are to catch up, be treated equally and granted the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

Issue n°3: You dislike / do not identify with the existing feminist movement. You believe you do not need a movement to speak for you.

What it sounds like: I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. (…) I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of dimensions. But I don’t, I think, have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that” (Marissa Mayer).
This might be the only acceptable concern voiced by Women Against Feminism.

Anti-feminist2I would argue that the #WomenAgainstFeminism who make this specific argument are actual feminists who have become unsatisfied or frustrated with what Third Wave Feminism has to offer, and who opt to use the anti-feminist label to reject the existing organized feminist movement, while embracing the concept of feminism as a belief in gender equality.

And truly, there are several very valid reasons to dislike what the feminist movement[11] has become: its disinterest in the rights of trans women, its wildly unchecked white privilege and disregard for intersectionality, its violent reactions to differing opinions and occasional refusal to engage in debate. These attitudes do not do feminism justice. They are not representative of what feminism should be. The emergence of #WomenAgainstFeminism is a symptom, a message to feminists: we need a new Communications Officer, because our confusing image is turning people away from us. Antifeminists are strongly benefiting from feminism’s internal dissensions and its public disagreements.

However, dear Women Against Feminism: the fact that the existing Third-Wave feminism is not for you does not allow you to go pout in a corner and ramble about being an anti-feminist. Instead, you should be out creating your own brand of feminism, your own voice, your own methods of promoting gender equality and freedom of choice for men and women. Feminism’s diversity is its strength, so do it your way: in the private sphere or in public, discretely or loudly. Speak up when you hear a misogynist joke; call people out on “slutshaming”. Feminism is an inclusive movement, so come on in. Be a feminist on your own terms, but please, please, do not fuel an irresponsible “Women Against Feminism” movement in an era where the words you publish on social media have an impact you cannot measure. You are leading younger readers to believe that feminism is a hatred-fueled campaign to drag men to hell and replace patriarchy with matriarchy. That is a lie.

Issue n°4: You think feminism frames women as victims and men as predators.

What it sounds like: “[I don’t identify as a feminist] because I think it would isolate me. I think it’s important to do positive stuff. It’s more important to be asking than complaining.” (Bjork); “The feminist movement taught women to see themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy … Self-imposed victimhood is not a recipe for happiness” (the one and only Phyllis Schlafly).

Men are objectified and their bodies commodified too; as is the case for women, their physical appearance is shamed and their self-confidence struck when they fail to fit the established socio-cultural norm. Gender roles are imposed upon men from childhood all through life, just like women. Just like women, men are sexually abused, a type of abuse which unfortunately goes particularly undetected, due to the strong social stigma attached to sexual and physical violence directed at males. The mere fact that being raped is even more shameful for a man that in it is for a woman is revealing of the damage inflicted by patriarchal societies upon men. Some men are victims, some women are predators. Some women are victims, some are predators. Some are neither. Feminism is capable of offering a more nuanced discourse regarding gender-based oppression and human behaviors than what you appear to think.

Issue n°5: You are feminine: you enjoy wearing high heels and makeup and doing your hair. You enjoy staying at home and making sandwiches. You believe this somehow precludes defining yourself as feminist.

What it sounds like: It’s about labeling. For me feminism is bra-burning lesbianism. It’s very unglamorous. I’d like to see it rebranded. We need to see a celebration of our femininity and softness.” (Geri Halliwell – yes, the Spice Girl; yes, I’m sorry).

For the millionth time, feminism is about women being free to choose what they do with their lives, their time, their bodies. This includes freedom to go work in an office or in a mine or in an aeroplane or stay at home and raise your children or stay at home and paper mache or do anything at all, really. This also includes freedom to choose the way you treat and present your body, to wear whatever type of clothes you like, from the bikini to the hijab, as long as you alone decide and are in charge. Feminism is freedom. Enjoy this freedom. It was brought to you, inter alia, by feminists of previous generations.

Before You Go, Take A Quick Test:

  • Do you believe you have a right to do what you want with your body, as it is yours only?

  • Do you believe you have a personal right to make your own choices regarding your life, as long as you do not harm others?

  • Do you believe individuals should have the same rights and be granted equal opportunities regardless of their gender?

If you answered YES to these questions, you believe in respect, in consent, in freedom. Congratulations, you are a feminist. Yes, that really is all there is to it.

Photo/Image Credits:

Image 1: http://womankind.org.uk

Images 2 and 3: http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

[1] Wikipedia tells us that “Women Against Feminism, also known as #WomenAgainstFeminism, is a Twitter hashtag, Tumblr blog, social media campaign on Facebook, Youtube, and other internet media in which women post pictures of themselves, some in “selfie” style, holding up handmade placards stating reasons why they disapprove of modern feminism”.

[2] Because the Merriam Webster Dictionary said so.

[3] Yes, women are misogynists too! Read Phyllis Chesler’s excellent book on the subject.

[4] Defined as the average difference in gross hourly earnings.

[5] A fun mental way of visualizing this data: women in the EU work for free 59 days a year. Read more: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-165_en.htm?locale=en

[6] In January of this year, England begot an Elliot Rodger of its own, moved by the same feeling of injustice fueled by women’s sexual indifference toward him: http://www.salon.com/2015/01/23/i_think_every_girl_is_a_type_of_slut_what_an_attempted_mass_murderers_words_reveal_about_our_sexual_culture/

[7] Excerpt from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/05/violence-against-women-eu

[8] Read the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/feb/14/governments-too-slow-to-scrap-laws-biased-against-women-report-says

[9] Founder of the magazine Bitch.

[10] On this topic, read Buzzfeed’s recent and enlightening profile of Paul Elam here.

[11] Speaking in very broad terms, as it is of course unrealistic to speak of one unified feminist movement.

Please contact us at nott.the.mag@gmail.com or contact Marie at marie.baleo@gmail.com if you would like additional information regarding our sources and references.

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