The Worst Derailing of Feminism
by Kimberly Wolfie Roe
If you happen to bring up the word “feminism,” many varying opinions will probably rise to meet you. Some will respond in favor. Others with indifference. And still others will be quick to denounce the entire movement.
The feminist movement has gained much popularity in recent years. It went from an almost undiscussed topic in the mainstream media to a popular trivia question of the world’s premier celebrities. That said, though the usage of the word has increased, awareness of its definition has not, or at least not to the extent that one would have hoped.
A quick google search of the word feminism will bring about the following definition: “The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Yes, although it is celebrated and supported in many differing ways, feminism is, at its very core, a movement of equality between the sexes.
Why, then, do many people support groups created to oppose feminism?
An example is Women Against Feminism, which showcases pictures submitted by women with responses against feminism such as:
“I don’t need feminism because I am not a victim.”
“I don’t need feminism because I surround myself with the right kind of men.”
“I don’t need feminism because I like when men say compliments about my body.”
Assertations like these portray a very one-sided and inconsiderate view of feminism, implying that this movement shouldn’t exist because it does not personally affect them as individuals instead of acknowledging that, pertaining to these particular examples, some women are victims, some women cannot control who they are surrounded by, and some women are uncomfortable being complimented on (or harassed for) their bodies.*
The worst responses against feminism, however, are ones that denounce feminism because...well, feminism. Common expressions include: “I’m not a feminist because I think men and women should be equal” and “I’m not a feminist but I am a(n) [insert word that means virtually the same thing.]”
These declarations show a blatant misunderstanding of feminism.** When you say you are not a feminist, and immediately follow that statement with the definition of feminism—equality of the sexes—you are telling anyone who listens that feminism isn’t what it actually is. People hear “Feminism is something that does not mean ‘equality of the sexes,’” and word gets around.
What people are really saying when they say these things is “I don’t need feminism because I don’t actually know what feminism is.”
But no one would actually say that. It doesn’t have as good of a ring to it.
*It is important to note that many submissions on the Women Against Feminism tumblr linked above show cases in which submitters have been ostracized for making traditional choices and shunned for acknowledging double standards in feminist communities, among other things. Often, misconceptions about feminism can come from hostile, unfeminist behavior by self-proclaimed feminists. Women who choose to become stay at home moms are criticized for not furthering their career. The struggles of women of color are glossed over or just plainly ignored in favor of the “more pressing” concerns of more represented women. Trans women are discriminated against by transphobic feminist representatives. All of these actions performed by self-identifying feminists contribute to the negative reputation of the feminist movement. There are many problems within the feminist community that are painting our movement in a derogatory light. We need to address those problems, work to eradicate them, and push for an open, welcoming community if we want to combat stigmas against feminism.
**Some self-proclaimed humanists and egalitarians understand the definition of feminism but still choose those titles to purposefully downplay sexism and the much harder struggle for equality that women face. These are not the people this article discusses, but one should keep that in mind when potentially encountering anti-feminists such as these.