I have kind of a love-hate relationship with the Internet, but one of the things I love about it is the scale of awareness it can bring to social causes. Although “liking” is not the same thing as helping, I think that being aware of social and political issues is better than being totally ignorant of them. Information can spread like wildfire on social networks and people tend to jump on bandwagons; if this tendency can be used for a good cause, then that’s fantastic.
In that vein, I love what the Internet is doing for feminism. I see articles about feminist issues circulating my feed on a daily basis. Campaigns like #YesAllWomen and The Everyday Sexism Project have made major roads in spreading awareness about issues and problems that women still face on a regular basis. I think all this information is doing a lot to dispel the myth that feminists are man haters, and it has done a good job of showing the world that we still have a long way to go as far as equality is concerned.
Still, despite all of the awareness, there are still a lot of people out there who seem to totally misunderstand what feminism is all about. The “Women Against Feminism” Tumblr/Facebook pages and Twitter tag makes that painfully clear. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a bunch of photos of women holding up signs that say why they don’t need feminism (like my pic above, but real). Most of them make statements that they need feminism because they respect all people regardless of gender, they don’t feel like victims, they feel more comfortable choosing traditional gender roles, they think we’ve achieved equality already, or they feel that feminism ignores the problems that men face. Of course, there is plenty of other statements on the pages, but most fall under one of those categories.
Now, there’s been a lot of backlash against “Women Against Feminism”, but I’m not going to join that tune right now.* However, I do want to say that it makes me sad, because these women totally miss the point about what feminism is and what the movement is fighting for.
The vast majority of feminists (myself included) believe that feminism is a quest for equality. That’s pretty much it. There are a lot of voices out there and a lot of differing opinions on what equality should look like and how to achieve it, but that’s pretty much the message at the heart of it.
To me (and to quite a few other feminists), the biggest reason we haven’t achieved equality yet stems from the fact that things that are traditionally considered “feminine” still play second fiddle in the public sphere. It’s sort of like saying, “Yeah, you can be equal players in our game, but you have to play our rules.” Women still face a pay gap, which is largely due to the time we take off to have children and to take care of them. Women are still less likely to rise to the top of the career ladder for the same reason. On top of that, there are issues like lingering discrimination at work, harassment, and violence against women. Contrary to the “Women Against Feminism” ladies, speaking against these issues is not about playing the victim; it’s about empowering ourselves to no longer be the “other” in society.
Many feminists feel inequality victimizes men as much as women, because it’s the sort of mentality that keeps them from being able to openly express their emotions, take parental leave, be active fathers, and that sort of jazz. There is a big focus on stressing the importance of men taking bigger roles at home so that everyone can actually “have it all.” These feminists tend to support parental leave, reduced working weeks, and more support for families. To say that feminism ignores men’s issues is largely false.
This isn’t about women’s interests taking precedence over men’s and it isn’t about dropping traditional gender roles entirely. It’s about breaking down the narrowly defined concepts of what women and men should do and, for that matter, what it means to be a woman or a man. Some women want to stay home with their children, and that’s totally fine, but some men do as well and they should be given that chance to do so. Some women want to spend a good chunk of their time and energy on their careers, just like men are expected to do, and that’s fine as well. Most people just want to balance their home and work lives to the best of their abilities.
I can’t speak for all feminists, because there are a lot of different types of feminists out there who think lots of different things. However, I can say that those of us who think this way are not a minority by a long shot. There are entire countries that think along these lines. These are not marginal opinions in the whole scheme of the wider movement.
These women might not feel that they need feminism, but I think they should think twice and do some reading before speaking out against a movement they don’t really understand.
*Correction: I don’t want to join that tune right now, but I guess that’s what I’m doing.