Feminism is For You, Whether You Want it or Not

A new tumblr recently caught a great deal of media attention by asking women to share why they do not need feminism.

In the wake of recent SCOTUS decisions placing the religious preferences of CEOs over the healthcare of women, continued refusal to adequately address victims of sexual assault on college campuses, and so many other daily examples of rampant gender inequality, this felt like a slap in the face to feminism.

We clearly suffer from a lack of clarity in our terminology. The word feminism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. The second definition listed is in support of women’s rights and interests, indicating that in order to achieve the aforementioned equal status, women’s rights and interests must be raised and supported. Feminism is not about hating men, punishing men, or putting women over men in a newly established matriarchal system. Many of the women who claim they do not need feminism say so because they see the new feminist movement as an attempt to do just that.

A quick scan will show you that many of the women on the site are not opposed to gender equality, but against a particular misconception of feminism as misandry or anti-femininity. Some posts take it further, accusing feminists of attempting to destroy society, hating sex, or simply “making trouble” for themselves. A cursory exploration of the site tells me that it’s almost exclusively women from the United States, most of the contributors are relatively young, and the majority of them are white. In other words, the site is largely made up of people who are able to delude themselves into thinking feminism has nothing to offer them because they are already reaping the rewards of the sweat, tears, and years of work by feminists who came before them. They are content with the  status quo and misunderstand or simply disregard the stakes and struggle for gender equality both in the United States and worldwide.

I would like to take this opportunity and push all of these posts and the women who wrote them under the rug and out of my sight.

Unfortunately, I can’t do that. I want to yell back “Feminism doesn’t need YOU!”, but that would be unfair and untrue. Feminism is about securing equality for everyone, not just those who are willing to stand up next to me and denounce systematic abuses. If nothing else comes from this, I hope it can make us question how the modern feminist movement in the United States could better exemplify openness and acceptance of all people and the choices they (freely) make. Its strong connections to human rights and total equality make it an essential part of my identity as a humanist, and I think in this case I need to draw on interfaith models of hospitality to improve how I live out my feminism.

I do not know anyone who works in an interreligious or community-building context who does not struggle with showing hospitality to those who do not want to be included or those who don’t want to include you back. There is no easy answer, and I am not gifted with the unending patience required to show relentless love and hospitality to those who actively engage in bigotry, hate, and the abuse of others. We can work on it person by person, though, and refuse to dismiss the experiences or beliefs of another. By writing off the women who say they don’t need feminism I would be failing as a feminist and a humanist. Everyone is equal. Everyone deserves to be heard, and educated, and treated with respect. Even people on Tumblr.

We also need to be conscious of where we are drawing boundaries around ourselves, potentially leaving out people who want to be invited in. To offer one heated example, in North America and Western Europe we often cry out on behalf of women who cover their heads and bodies. I’m not saying those cries are always in error – women should have the right to choose to cover themselves or not, and when they choose to do so we need to acknowledge that covering oneself is not betraying womankind. One Muslim student admitted to me that she does not consider herself a feminist because she does not feel that feminists respect her right to wear a hijab. “I don’t cover myself for the men around me,” she told me. “I cover myself before God. Modesty demonstrates devotion and love, not control, and not politics.” This same student is an active voice for gender equality, education rights for women worldwide, and other projects that are at the core of feminist work.

Feminism is about equality and empowerment, yet it can be difficult to express with hospitality. There are many parts of the world, including parts of the United States, where forceful strength is necessary to make real, radical, necessary changes to the treatment, education, health, and safety of women, and those needs can trump being sensitive to differences among ourselves. If these anti-feminists teach us anything, it’s that we are potentially leaving many women out of the inner circle. At the end of the day those of us who are fighting for equality are fighting for everyone’s equality, not just our own and not just those who agree with us. The ability to make our own choices and respect the choices of others is part of living in an equal society.

But, for the record, we do need feminism.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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One thought on “Feminism is For You, Whether You Want it or Not

  1. I agree. But I think this idea can be examined further. The discourse needs to focus on how to inform these “anti-feminist” what the word feminism really means? And rather than blaming the uninformed people, why don’t we blame the construction of the word “feminism” itself? Because the base on the word is ‘feminine,’ the rhetoric seems to imply femininity over masculinity which, according to the author’s argument, is exactly what feminism is not. Why don’t we change the way we talk about equality instead of getting mad at the people who misinterpret our flawed language? That way no women is left out of the inner circle.

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