A companion post shows photos of women holding signs indicating their reasons for not being feminists. A Google search leads to reactions against this Women Against Feminism movement. This post critiques some of those reactions.
One such reaction comes from Lynsi Freitag at the Huffington Post. Freitag makes several noteworthy statements:
[This “women against feminism” group is important, in part,] because it so clearly demonstrates that we have done a mediocre job at explaining what feminism is, its tenets and its purpose. Not only that but we have done a mediocre job of communicating to … to … women of all people. We really need to clear this up. We need a clear message with explicit definitions, along with a number of principles we can all agree on and then a few measurable goals in place.
In those words, Freitag has identified many of the things that those Women Against Feminism (along with many men) are saying. Freitag repeatedly emphasizes that feminism is, “by definition,” the search for equality. But what those women are saying is that feminism really is not simply about equality. It is, in many ways, palpably abusive.
Freitag’s own words demonstrate the extent of the problem. At first, she says the problem is that “we have done a mediocre job of explaining what feminism is.” That sounds like a mere issue of communication. But then she admits that it is much more than that — that there is a fundamental need for definitions, principles, and goals. That sounds like a movement in crisis.
Since its birth in the 1960s and 1970s, second-wave feminism has always courted this crisis. There has never been agreement among all women — not even among all who agreed with various aspects of feminism. For a long time, however, feminists’ disagreements on definitions, principles, and goals were secondary. There were too many things on which they did agree, too many things in society that needed to change.
They were successful in achieving most of the changes that most of them sought. New generations of young men and women arrived, born into an altered reality. Society adapted. People moved on.
Eventually, it became necessary for founders of the women’s movement, and their followers, to recognize that times had changed. Some of those people came to see that we are in a new world. Some die-hards didn’t.
Feminism is now burdened with a struggle between dinosaurs (and their followers) who are still caught up in the last war and fresh thinkers who are trying to work within contemporary reality. There are still those who want to perpetuate the generalized hatred of men that was always an element within second-wave feminism; but, increasingly, there are others who recognize that such hatred is no longer even understandable.
Such hatred appears in, for instance, the reaction against Women Against Feminism (WAF) shown on a site called Total Sorority Move (TSM). That site displays its own photos, offered in response to the WAF photos. In the first pairing, TSM responds to the WAF photo of a woman holding a sign saying, “The men in my life care about and respect me,” with a sign reading, “You ≠ every other woman.” In the second pairing, TSM responds to a sign that says, “I don’t ignore the fact men have issues too!” with a sign reading, “Trust me, I know men have issues. Just look at my ex-boyfriend.” These responses say more about the responders than about the realities. There have always been those whose concept of feminism is not primarily about equality but, rather, about the disparagement of men. This sort of divergent objective is why Freitag (above) recognizes that feminists do not presently share common principles and goals.
Meanwhile, a number of reactions against WAF display what I have called the thinking of dinosaurs and die-hards. For instance, on Daily Life, Ruby Hamad sighs that these WAF women “seem so very young.” Hamad points out that “feminism was instrumental in opening up the military to women in the 1970s (along with, you know, all the other workplaces where they were not permitted).” No doubt about it. Kudos. But the point expressed by WAF is that we are no longer in the 1970s. Those battles are over. Not completely over: there is (there may always be) work yet to do. But let us not confuse honoring the historical memory with addressing the current reality.
Another illustration of this outdated thinking appears in another of Hamad’s arguments. She says the WAF people “have no idea what ‘patriarchy’ means, even as they inadvertently perpetuate it.” This is the argument from superiority: you are ignorant, but I will educate you. This, from someone who claims to be protecting women from those who would tell them how to think. In support, Hamad ticks off the points on which women still need feminism — and in so doing, she misses another thing that the WAF women are trying to tell her. You have your points, Ruby Hamad, but your very approach is part of the problem. All you can do is list the negatives. You are not accurately representing our lives, in which there are many positives as well: good men, good opportunities, very good employment prospects compared to men, freedom to be what you wanted us to be, and also to be what you did not want us to be.
These remarks do not begin to span the range of views on both sides of the Women Against Feminism movement. But they suffice to highlight the question of whether Freitag’s vision is even feasible: whether the dinosaurs and the man-haters can adapt to a third-wave or post-feminism that recognizes the full spectrum of women’s current realities — or whether they are instead destined to spend the rest of their lives selecting and distorting narrow issues and perpetuating old hostilities.