Dear Women Who Don’t Need Feminism,
I wonder if we could have a little heart-to-heart. I hope that you will take the time to read this post, and perhaps even respond – because I think it’s important that you are not written off by those looking in as simply ‘unreachable’. I also hope that you will not approach this letter with a closed, defensive mind or, far worse, immediately switch off and disengage because it is written by a self-declared feminist. It isn’t going to be an easy read – nor was it easy to write.
Since the phenomenon began on Tumblr, #WomenAgainstFeminism has gone viral and has been gaining increasing media attention. It has also caused quite a stir within feminist circles. We have sat back, collectively scratching our heads, wondering where we could have gone so wrong that young women like yourselves are so happily and publicly turning their backs on the very thing that actually ensured your right and ability to so freely express yourselves in this way.
But, at least personally, the most overwhelming reactions to these images is hurt and sadness.
Hurt, because those photos reveal how deeply misinterpreted feminism is. Sadness for these young women, who probably genuinely do not understand the harm they are doing to the movement that has fought so hard for them for so long. Sadness, because nearly every image posted under the #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag has reinforced how desperately feminism is needed.
At this point, it’s probably important for me to mention one thing; you are free to reject feminism. I will support and defend your right to do so, and to express your beliefs and opinions in whatever public forum you feel necessary – free of fear of violent retribution against you or your loved ones. The right to choose is a cornerstone of feminism, and one which I truly believe in.
But I will highlight that this freedom to express yourselves in such a way is a right won by feminism. Historically, women have been punished for voicing their opinions; there were torture devices created just to punish women who dared to speak up.
But don’t be fooled – such punishments and targeting aren’t consigned to the history books.
Just look at the two female activists imprisoned in Saudia Arabia for trying to help an abused woman. Or the new Afghanistan law to silence victims of violence against women. Too far away to feel ‘real’? Then how about the targeting of a 16 year old rape victim, who endured victim-blaming and shaming as well as rape and death threats for speaking out? The game developer who, along with her husband, had to leave her home after receiving death threats via Twitter. Then there’s the rape threat tweets directed at Jessica Ennis-Hill, after she took a stand against the potential reinstatement of convicted rapist Ched Evans. I could go on, but I hope you’re getting the picture – you are very, very lucky to have the privilege to speak out in such a manner. It has been a long battle, fought over two centuries, and one which continues today – to varying degrees, depending on who you are, and where you live.
Indeed, it’s no surprise that most of the women posting images supporting #WomenAgainstFeminism tend to be young, white and able-bodied.
It’s this fact, in part, which quells the anger I might otherwise have felt. Youth isn’t a crime, and nor is the ignorance that comes with it. Being white and able-bodied isn’t a crime either, and it’s certainly easy to fall into the trap of approaching issues blinkered by your own life experiences, unaware of the many privileges bestowed upon you by virtue of belonging to a group with great socio-economic and socio-political power.
But, as is so bluntly pointed out many times before, by virtue of being young, whiten and able-bodied:
…there are parts of the political experience of being a woman that you haven’t had yet experienced and parts that you might never experience. Being young isn’t a sin. Internalising sexism doesn’t make you a bad person, not until you decide to shit all over other women who are trying to build a freer, fairer world for all of us.
In my heart of hearts, I believe that you don’t hate feminism; you just don’t understand it.
For many, I worry that their understanding of feminism has been warped by a media that often equates feminism with man-hating, underarm hair-growing, bra-burning, whiny liberalism. So much of today’s online media thrives on click-bait driven churnalism which seemingly pits women against one another in a spectacle for all to point at and mock. I also understand that the idea of ever identifying as a feminist can seem scary; feminism is still seen as too radical, too uncomfortable, or simply unnecessary. You feel don’t want to alienate the men in your life; Mens Rights Activists and the media alike are constantly warning us about how unattractive it is to fight for women’s rights, to stand up, to be counted.
After all, it’s not like feminism is one perfect ideology, or that those of us who identify as feminists or feminist allies have it all figured out. Feminists argue among themselves and there are some real pieces of work out there who call themselves feminists, though who would perhaps be more fittingly titled ‘misandrists‘, ‘transphobes‘ and, extremists. But just as with religion and politics, extremists should never be allowed to tarnish an entire movement, and people shouldn’t feel they have to tip toe around for fear of angering the beast. In order for feminism to be truly powerful it needs to be accessible and engaging, understanding of the need for intersectionality and eager to constantly critically asses its own dogma.
It’s easy to lose sight of what feminism really is; the belief in equality between the sexes.
That’s really all there is to it.
Feminists come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and genders. There is likewise a wide range of political thought and ways of expressing feminism. Not all feminists think alike, but if you support the idea of respect and equality for women, then you are a feminist.
Dear women who don’t need feminism – if you’ve read this far, then I applaud you. You may be rethinking your stance on feminism (I am an optimist by nature). You may not. You may still be confused as to why we need the label ‘feminism’, and not just ‘humanism’. You may think that I’m a complete idiot. Whatever your reaction, I urge you to take a moment to read this page, and take some time to explore the links.
If you’re still not convinced, remember this – inequality and patriarchy hurts men and women both. It’s no coincidence that the most brutal and unstable societies on the planet are societies where women are uneducated, have no public role or presence, have no sexual or marital autonomy, have no control over their fertility, and are brutally punished for ‘disobeying’ the ‘laws’ of their family/community/society. It’s much easier to dominate a society if you render 1/2 of its population powerless.
You many not feel as though you live in such a society. You may be privileged enough not to have experienced any overt sexism (or, as I suspect, not to have noticed it). But there may come a time when you realise you need feminism.
If you ever get tired of working harder and longer hours for lower pay or for no pay, we’ll be here. If, as you get older and things begin to sag, you find yourself becoming invisible, almost as if you were only valuable as long as you were young and hot, we’ll be here to remind you of your worth. If you are ever raped, or beaten by your partner, and you suddenly realise how monstrous it is to be told to ‘take responsibility’ for violence that has been done to you, to be told that you asked for it, to be intimidated into silent smiles so you don’t upset the boys, we’ll be here. Whether you need a refuge to go to with your kids or a tumblr full of gifs to remind you you’re not alone, we’ll be here. If you need an abortion, or access to contraception, we’ll be here fighting for your right to the treatment you need and deserve, because we believe that you are a human being who ought to be able to decide what happens to her own body. We’ll be here, because that’s what we do. – Laurie, The Debrief.
Perhaps, in fact, it’s not a case of being a woman who thinks she doesn’t need feminism, but more a case of being a woman who thinks she doesn’t need feminism right now. If and when that changes, we will be there for you.