I really thought I was done with the whole “Women Against Feminism” subject for now, but this piece from The Daily Beast, by Emily Shire, demonstrates the way feminists will completely abandon their own supposed ideology in the zeal to defend their supposed ideology. It also has the advantage of being typical of most of the response pieces to WAF that I’ve encountered, so I can tackle a lot of faulty arguments that are appearing all over the place at once.
Here is Shire’s piece, broken up with my responses:
You Don’t Hate Feminism. You Just Don’t Understand It.The latest anti-feminism campaign is a Tumblr called Women Against Feminism. But the participants aren’t against feminism, exactly. They just don’t get 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.
Actually Ms. Shire, you might be surprised how many people who don’t identify as feminists are very concerned with things like improving the status of women in the third-world; it’s called being a humanitarian, or alternately, “having a conscience.” Some feminists actually do devote effort to these causes, and more power to them, but that’s actually besides the point. Feminists who are on the ground in Pakistan getting shit done are not the target of WAF, and I think even the hardcore ideologues probably can sense that.
But Women Against Feminism is certainly getting plentyofattention. 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.
The hilarious thing about this is that it’s only a stupid “reason” taken out of context. There are many feminists who are in the business of policing women’s fantasy lives, and have said that being attracted to fictional men like the character from Fifty Shades is regressive at best, a sign of internalized misogyny at worst. For a woman to basically say “I’d like to be entitled to my own private fantasy life without being called a mindless sheep, thank you very fucking much,” is actually very much on topic. Granted, she could have said it a lot better, but hey– not everyone has the literary privilege of being a Daily Beast columnist, do they?
Of course, maybe Shire herself isn’t one of the feminists who take issue with the BDSM themes in Fifty Shades of Grey; maybe she’s totally cool with women being free to enjoy things in fantasy they avoid in real life. But plenty of feminists are assholes about it, and therein lies the problem.
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.
Again, YOU love ‘mommy porn.’ I once read a thread on Kboards where a feminist was complaining about the absolutely “disgusting misogynist message” in the book…which she admitted she hadn’t read, and would never read, because she wouldn’t knowingly read something misogynist. How can Shire say “we” here in good conscience? It seems like pretending she herself represents the “good” feminists, and the ones that have an issue with a dumb erotica book are the “bad” ones, who can be dismissed out of hand. If only life really worked like that.
Also, considering how many things people will say in the name of feminism, it’s kind of hard to accuse feminism of being something it’s not; no matter how crazy a claim you make, there will be some feminist that believes it somewhere. And who are you to tell her that she’s not “really” a feminist?
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.
If feminism is misinterpreted as belittling men, it’s because people often see feminists belittle men. Sure, feminism doesn’t call for belittling men in theory (well, some theories; depends who you read), but in practice, it often happens. Actions speak louder than words.
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.
Now this is the absolute best. When non-feminists, male or otherwise, want to confront feminists about their issues with the movement, the response is always that these critics need to “educate themselves,” because it’s not responsibility of feminists to educate people on what they should already know. Why does Shire think that the leaders of the WAF movement should have to “enact the labor” to explain their views to her? Why can’t she go out and educate herself on what critics of modern feminism have been saying for years now? I’d like to take credit for my blog being the only place where you can read reasonably rational criticism of modern feminism, but of course that’s not true; there’s plenty of stuff to read. There’s no reason why Shire can’t ‘educate herself’ here.
Instead, she has the chutzpah to demand time from the leaders of this organization– which, if you’ll excuse the term, absolutely reeks of privilege. Why does she think she’s entitled to their time? Why does she assume they care what she thinks, just because she writes for a website? Why doesn’t she take responsibility for her own education?
And the crowning achievement, the icing on top, is that she claims that the unwillingness of WAF to engage with her is indicative of “a weakness in WAF leadership.” Can you imagine if it was called “weakness” when feminist leaders refuse to enact the labor to explain their views to skeptical MRAs? Jezebel would literally explode.
But Shire is a feminist, so you know…it’s okay when she makes demands on people’s time, and judges them for not being willing to volunteer said time. It’s only bad when non-feminists do it.
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.
Yes, there is ‘no question’ that Women Against Feminism is utterly and completely misguided. Now, I’ve asked that question, but according to Shire, I must be a moron because dammit, there is no question. Thanks for belittling my personhood right there. Plus, the continued characterization of the movement as “misguided”– as though this a group that requires guidance– is actually a micro-aggression. She’s not coming out and calling the women of WAF stupid bitches who don’t know their asses from their elbows, but she’s sure as shit implying it.
It’s interesting that she thinks people perceive feminism as being “narrow”, though; I think it has the opposite problem. Feminist ideology includes a wide variety of things, some of which are mutually exclusive, and that’s a big part of the reason why WAF even exists. So, good job diagnosing feminism’s problem there, Ms. Shire. You’ve only got it completely backwards.
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.
You know, it doesn’t matter what the definition of Feminism is in the dictionary if that’s not what most people encounter. You just know that in the dictionaries printed by Orwell’s Party, The Ministry of Love is probably defined as “a place full of boundless love and happiness.” The definition doesn’t help the people being tortured there in the slightest.
Yes, the movement has come to be seen as anti-men, liberal, radical, pro-choice, and many other things because those descriptors apply to many, if not most, feminists that people tend to encounter. How can you categorically say the movement is “not” those things, when some of its adherents consider those things integral to their own vision of the movement? Who gets to decide which of the myriad people calling themselves feminists are the real thing, and which are the fringe groups that are giving the rest of them a bad name? I doubt Shire is qualified to make this distinction, but to be fair to her, I doubt anyone is.
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.
People “falsely” believe that is the effect of it because they’ve seen feminists prioritize women over men and then claim that it’s “right” to do so since women have gotten the ‘short end of the stick’ throughout history. A feminist told me this not two days ago, in fact. Are you telling people not to believe what they’re clearly seeing? Are you denying their “lived experience”?
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.
Many feminists seem to really go back and forth on this. It’s not supposed to be about advancing one gender over the other, yet feminists are often okay with elevating women over men in certain circumstances because, as pointed out before, women have gotten ‘the short end of the stick’ for too long. If you’re elevating women over men– even if you believe you’re doing it for the right reasons– you can’t say you don’t do that. I realize there’s been a retreat from the concept of anything being “binary” lately, but really, at some point either you do a thing or you don’t. And some feminists do seek to advance females over males; sometimes they think it’s temporary, just until things ‘balance out’ or whatever, but they’re never forthcoming with the mechanics of how that’s supposed to work. We’re always just supposed to trust that it’s the right thing to do.
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).
I realize all these things. I have other reasons for not being a feminist, like the fact that I don’t attach my name to political movements that have so many deeply hypocritical articles like this one defending them. Quite frankly, that’s probably the main reason I’m not a feminist; does anyone reading this blog really think I’m against women having rights or something? Someone probably thinks that. Oy.
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?
Moran’s criticism is very similar to “Not a Republican? I hope you like slavery!” or “Not a member of the Skeptic movement? That means you’re completely against rational thought, good luck dodging those lightning bolts from your imaginary sky gods!” In other words, it’s only effective if you see the world in black and white; as though, if you’re not a member of a movement, you MUST be 100% against everything it stands for and has ever stood for. Since when does life work this way?
It is entirely possible to not want to be a feminist due to some of the unsavory aspects of the movement without being against everything feminism stands for and has ever stood for. Besides, giving feminism full credit for women’s suffrage is kind of seedy, considering that the feminists of today wouldn’t be caught dead with the Suffragettes of 100 years ago. A lot of the most prominent Suffragettes pushed the female vote as a way to innoculate the country against the black male vote, which is what the establishment at the time was really scared of. But that’s a topic for another day.
More importantly, returning to the subject of things being binary, it’s interesting how a lot of feminism is about rejecting black/white classifications, especially in regard to gender, but support of feminism itself is presented as a black and white thing; as in, if you don’t call yourself a feminist, then you MUST be a stupid-as-fuck woman who doesn’t want any other rights other than the right to be barefoot and pregnant. Does Moran really see the world in such ridiculously simplistic terms? Does Shire?
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.
Well, thank you for proving their point. You’ve done it very effectively.
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.”
Okay, credit where credit is due; Shire has acknowledged that the way feminists treat non-feminists is a problem. *applauds*
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.”
Notice how Shire has been “the bigger person” in this article, by calling the WAF women misguided, repeatedly mocking their opinions, and calling their leadership weak. Well! If this is her being the bigger person, I’d really hate to see her when she decides to sink down to a lower level; I’m guessing cannibalism might be involved.
Oh, and a movement can’t be “accessible and engaging” to everyone, if it is that’s not a movement– that’s pandering for support. I give Chapman credit here for realizing that feminism has a problem (which too many feminists will never admit), but why this fantasy that they’ll be accepted by everyone? Okay, maybe it’s partially hyperbole, but it makes it sound like feminists can’t even conceive of an endpoint where not everyone agrees with them. They seem disengaged from reality.
Women Against Feminism and like-minded opponents try to distort the meaning of feminism by saddling the movement with unnecessary, limiting prerequisites.
How do you distort the meaning of something that already has a nigh-infinite number of meanings, many of which are contradictory? Opponents of feminists aren’t distorting the meaning of feminism; you can’t distort something that doesn’t have a clear essence in the first place. Opponents of feminism are often doing the opposite, which is asking what the fuck feminism is when the dictionary says “it means gender equality” yet the reality does not match.
Frankly, I don’t think opponents of feminism could distort feminism if they wanted to; some feminist has already beaten them to it, and probably written a book.
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.
Just one more reminder that WAF isn’t “legitimate,” because Shire is totally being the bigger person and acknowledging that, oh wait she’s not, she’s just being hugely dismissive. It’s cute that the whole article is about “not taking the bait” while she continually does exactly that.
Also, it’s an interesting idea that feminists need to “remind” people what feminism entails. If feminism really means gender equality, why do you need to remind people of two words? It sounds like the problem isn’t that people are forgetting; it sounds like they simply no longer believe you. Maybe they did once, but they don’t anymore.
So, here are the decidedly anti-feminist things this author has demonstrated in this article alone:
–Blindness to her own privilege
–Refusal to acknowledge that actions speak louder than words (related to the “Intent is not Magic” meme in feminist circles).
–The arrogant assumption that one is entitled to these women’s time/labor, even though she could be educating herself on the subject.
–Denial of others’ lived experience
–Repeated microagressions. I can already hear people yelling “Nonsense, you don’t know what a microaggression is!”, which is perfectly fair, so fine: go find me a definition of a microaggression. You’ll come back with 12, and at least one of them, and probably more like 10, will be consistent with my usage here. I’m sticking with it.
–Refusing to engage with quotes in their proper context, even when the context is clear to anyone who’s been following this subject in any depth whatsoever. Stripping away crucial context is often described as a function of ruthless, reductive “male” intelligence.
–Reliance on binary “You’re either one thing or the other” logic, even though that doesn’t represent reality at all, and flies in the face of the last 20-30 years of Women’s Studies and Gender Studies.
–Repeated attempts to define a term where the meaning is contentious (feminism) as though the definition that the writer is using is not only the only valid one, but as true in practice as it is in theory. This isn’t specifically a feminist thing, this is known as being a fucking liar, but I thought it deserved mention
Mansplaining Womansplaining, BIG TIME.
How could Shire write this piece and not be aware of all the massive Feminist “Do Nots” she was engaging in? Could it be that maybe a lot of feminists don’t truly believe in their own principles, and have rather adopted them because they’re convenient for stifling criticism? However, when they want to go on the attack, suddenly their supposedly deeply-felt principles become eminently malleable?
Ms. Shire, if you want to know why people don’t believe in your cause, take a good look at yourself. Because based on the things you choose to do in this article, I’m forced to believe you don’t really believe in feminism either. Because while I may not agree with many feminists, at least a real feminist will hold themselves to the same standards she holds everyone else to. You’re a hypocrite, and other women don’t want to be associated with your blatant hypocrisy.
That’s what you “just don’t understand.”