In kindergarten I got in trouble for kicking one little boy in my class when he told me that women couldn’t be president. I fervently believed that girls could do anything boys could do, and I was prepared to go down with my ship. Years later, I remember sitting in the hallway of my middle school and declaring loudly to my peers that feminism was stupid. My stance on the status and capability of women hadn’t changed, but somewhere along the way I had learned that “feminism” was a dirty word.
I can’t recall where I got this information, but the certainty with which I disavowed at the age of 11 something that now, at 26, I hold so near and dear to my heart, is palpable. The dissonance my young self demonstrated is indicative, I believe, of a mission to intentionally obfuscate the term, embarked upon by those who seek to gain from the maintenance of patriarchal structures. A fundamental misunderstanding of feminism, propagated by detractors, is a means to cloud the intention of it and therefore stunt its influence.
A quick Google image search for “I don’t need feminism because…” will lead you to a paradoxical place: a treasure trove of young women, holding up signs explaining their reasoning for rejecting an ideology which is inherently interested in empowering them. The misinformation they represent feels tired, predictable and bland. There is something tremendously sad about the whole thing.
One young woman holds a sign that says “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.” Another claims she doesn’t need it because, “I’m not a manipulative idiot playing victim!” and yet another says she rejects the label because, “I love men and value their human rights.”
The photos are also featured on Women Against Feminism’s Facebook and Tumblr. There are thousands of members. The consensus among most who identify with the group is that feminists are interested in dehumanizing men, playing the victim, and advocating not for gender equality, but for the supremacy of women.
Of course, these tropes play into a longstanding myth of the feminist boogeywoman: She’s a mean, selfish lesbian who hates men and blames them for all of her problems. And, oh yeah, she’s a complete fabrication.
Feminism is not concerned with any of the aforementioned stances. On its most basic and boiled down level, it is simply a philosophy that advocates for the equality of the sexes. It is not without its shortcomings. As a movement it has faced well-founded criticism for its repeated disregard for intersectionality; historically, white feminism has often failed to engage with true understanding and advocacy for the unique experiences of women of color. However, it’s certainly not a camp for the blanket abhorrence of men.
However, there are many who continue to propagate this false idea. Milo Yiannopoulos, a fallen angel of sorts for the alt-right, is one of the many talking heads who has launched a smear campaign against the philosophy. Among other things, he has called it a cancer.
During a public speaking event, Yiannopoulos responded to the question of a woman in the crowd, who asked if he supported the basic tenet of feminism which is equality of the sexes. He said, snidely, “It’s very convenient to treat men like shit, and then when people say they’re not a feminist to say ‘oh, well it’s about equality.’”
He went on: “Feminism is a mean, vindictive, spiteful, nasty, man-hating philosophy that has very little to do with the equality of the sexes, and a lot to do with man-hating.” He argued that his assessment was backed up by the rejection of the ideology by women themselves. “And the way that you know that is women are abandoning it in the millions.”
Although Yiannopoulos’ analysis of feminism is frankly full of shit, his claim that [some] women are speaking out against the phrase is not altogether unfounded. Outside of the Women Against Feminism, at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) there was a resounding cry of “feminism is not for me!”
During the conference, Kellyanne Conway made statements essentially reinforcing the fallacy that to be a feminist requires the presupposition that you despise men, stating, “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to me to be very anti-male.”
Another prominent conservative woman who has made similar claims is Megyn Kelley. Despite being the target of very public displays of misogyny and chauvinism by President Donald Trump during the campaign (remember “she had blood coming out of her wherever…”) Kelley has publicly rejected an association with feminism.
Why? Because she says that she doesn’t want the empowerment of her daughters to come at the expense of her sons.
The inherent misunderstanding in this statement is evident. True, egalitarianism feminism is not interested in flipping the script–in lifting women up while we subjugate men. It, in fact, is concerned with the eradication of oppression in all forms!
Emma Watson, an actress and vocal feminist activist, is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, and advocate for He For She, a gender equality organization. In a recent story for Vanity Fair, Watson said, “I used to be scared of words like ‘feminism,’ ‘patriarchy,’ ‘imperialist.’ But I’m not anymore.”
For this same cover story, Watson posed for a photograph with her breasts partially exposed; as a result, she was on the receiving end of vitriolic comments. There were scores of angry people calling her a hypocrite for advocating feminism and wearing revealing clothing at the same time.
In response, she said, “It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is.” She continued, “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality.”
The thing is, we all need feminism. Even, and perhaps especially, those of us who don’t quite understand it.