Brilliantly, the last few years has brought in a new wave of mainstream feminism. Greater focus has been placed on women’s issues and on furthering gender equality. Many mainstream celebrities, both men and women, have “come out” as feminists. This has been extremely welcome for most people who want the voices of their sisters, mothers and wives to be finally listened to. It surely must be a much more peaceful time to be a teenage girl, being able to grow up knowing that you are worth far more than just your physical appearance. However, there has also been a significant, reactionary backlash against the renewed feminist movement. Why is this?
The other day I posted a comment on a mainstream left of centre newspaper on an article that concerned a story of a campus rape in America. I posted a very benign comment that was relatively free from my deeper anger regarding the issue of campus rape; offering my sympathies to the victim and praising her bravery in speaking out candidly about the attack. I came away from social media for a while and got on with my day; worked on a few articles and went out to grab some dinner with friends. I didn’t give my comment a second thought. I’m a fairly active commentator to the point where its become something of an addiction; I can’t really keep up the various sentences that I fling out into the world. When I returned I was shocked to see that my quietly sympathetic little comment had been torn this way and that by what felt like an angry internet hoard.
I was described by one person (who had put his job title as Pokemon Master) as an “idiot feminist”. This was despite me giving no mention of feminism within my comment. Indeed, I wasn’t aware that sympathy for a rape victim directly correlated with being a feminist. Many of the angry comments appeared to be quite aggressively opposed to the notion of women’s rights. Looking at their facebook profiles, these men appeared to have quite strong opinions against the feminist movement; sharing video and content that pointed towards strange conspiracies regarding a feminist movement that would make you think that there is a secret underground bunker somewhere where Gertrude Stein and bell hooks are planning the worldwide genocide of all men. It quickly became apparent that these men were not arguing against me, they were arguing against a boogeywoman lefty stereotype that they wished to tear down. They argued against points that I hadn’t made and it was a strangely fascinating process to watch.
Anti Feminists latch on the more cliched aspects of feminism and treat these as representative of the whole movement. Feminism is one of the most diverse movements, rife with debate; with activists and writers taking various and strongly opposed viewpoints. However, this diversity is not always reflected in anti-feminist debate. For example, the amount of times that I’ve seen a dated and extreme Andrea Dworkin quote dredged up out of context as “proof” that feminism is illogical, aggressive and irrelevant. I am a feminist. I also personally don’t feel that certain radical thinkers such as Andrea Dworkin represent me and that is okay. Just as many men might find fault with the views of certain philosophers who also may share some of their core values. There are certain fights within the feminist movement that I am completely behind and others that I find problematic. For example, I am personally against the opinion that pornography automatically degrades women, which is a view held by some prominent feminists. There is no one size fits all feminism, and like all movements, it is far better this way.
Bizarrely, there are many women who identify as being strongly anti-feminist. Could it be that in a world where everybody identifies as a feminist, seeking an alternative identity is somewhat of a means of being counter cultural for many young women? I still meet women every day who shudder at the thought of being labelled a feminist. I met a girl not so long ago who expressed the view that she couldn’t support feminism because feminists took things “too far”. She gave a rather confused example of more women getting jobs simply because they are women. This is a strange and very narrow perspective to take and ignores the significant disadvantages that women can and do face in the workplace.
However, such views are not uncommon. Last year a hashtag trended entitled “I don’t need feminism because”. Over 3,400 women tweeted pictures of themselves holding placards with staggeringly ahistorical reasons written as to why feminism isn’t relevant to their lives. Many of these women were young and perhaps without extensive research it is difficult to see how the history of feminists fighting for their basic human rights has shaped the lives of women and girls forever. Modern girls have feminists of previous generations to thank for the reproductive, voting and economic rights that we take for granted today.
Moreover, many of the reasons given for why women don’t need feminism seem to be grounded in the notion that we have now reached a stage in society where men and women are equal in a way that means that feminists are now irrelevant and “bang on about nothing”. Although it true that great strides in terms of gender equality have been made in recent years, women all over the world are still facing significant discriminatory barriers that are restricting them in many areas of their life due to the nature of their sex. We as a global society still face pressing women’s issues such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. There are still a lack of female representation in industries such as politics, science and technology.
There are some groups of men who fear feminism, viewing it as a direct attack on their masculinity. They wrongly view all feminists as being man hating and sexist. There are many things wrong with this stance. First of all, it is extremely problematic to talk about sexism in relation to men as being comparable to sexism against women. This isn’t to say that you can’t be sexist towards a man. However, men have not been systematically oppressed due to their sex over many years and therefore male directed sexism is a different issue entirely. Feminism is about working towards the equality of both sexes and is certainly not about championing women over men. I for one care deeply about many of the issues that particularly affect men such as more flexible paternity leave, unreported male domestic abuse and the disproportionately high suicide rate amongst young men. Just as women are under pressure to be feminine, men are under pressure to be masculine and I can appreciate that there are difficulties involved for each sex respectively.
It is therefore a shame that many men’s rights organisations don’t recognise that many feminist are sympathetic to and actively support male orientated issues. As Journalist Suzanne Moore once argued, it is as if some men’s rights activists “don’t seem to realise that feminists not only have relationships with men, but sons too”. The Men’s Rights Movement, for instance, was built with the specific aim of countering feminism and casting doubt and ridicule on the significant social changes brought about by the feminist movement. They run highly offensive campaigns such as the scaremongering Don’t Be That Girl campaign, that accuses women of fabricating rape allegations on a large scale. This is despite false rape allegations being at such low level that this is pretty much a non existent issue. Members of The Men’s Rights Movement also turn up to feminist demonstrations and events and use bullying and harassment to intimidate feminist women who they openly see as the source of their problems.
Writer Anne Theriault has spoken out brilliantly about the need for men’s rights activists to stop scapegoating feminists and to address the roots of so many of male based problems. For example, the marginalizing issues such as race and class. Theriault has also suggested that the patriarchal forces that make life difficult for women also make things hard for men. She argues that perceived social norms regarding masculinity mean that it is often more difficult for a man to speak up if he is suffering from depression or experiencing domestic violence. I sincerely believe that hatred against the feminist movement comes from a mixture of misinformation and misdirected anger. Feminism is about equality and fairness for everyone and both men and women need to understand this before they can make a sound judgement.