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Stop Blaming Anti-Feminist Young Women For Feminism's Marketing Problems

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Teenage girls across the world are publicly rejecting feminism.

Now, excuse me one moment while I get inside my bomb shelter, but I can kind of see their point.

Yesterday, we reported on the most depressing site on the Internet. It's a Tumblr called Women Against Feminism, where girls - most of them barely out of puberty - share all the reasons they're not feminists.

It's galling stuff. Stuff that's prompted pained howls from all corners of the f-word wielding Internet. But I know where it comes from.

Signs that say: "I don't need feminism because the men in my life care about and respect me" make sense to me. They come from the same place as teenage blockbuster actress Shailene Woodley and popstar Katy Perry saying that they're not feminists.

They come from the fact that feminism has a marketing problem.

If you were raised with an awareness of feminism, then it might be incomprehensible that people don't get the basic "equal rights, safety and access regardless of gender" message of the movement.

Seeing people missing the basic point completely; missing the fact that "the men in my life care about and respect me" is feminism, probably makes you want to shout and throw things. It probably makes you want to shake your fists and scream "How could people still think this way?!"
So that's what you do. You shout, and throw things and scream "How could people still think this way?" And the people who still think that way look at you and say: " See, I told you they love to shout and throw things, those bitches are crazy."

Imagine for a moment, that you're Shailene Woodley. You've maybe heard the word feminism a couple of times before. You know enough to know it's controversial, but you've never really looked into it. Then a journalist - possibly looking for a gotcha moment - asks you if you're a feminist. You say no, because you're not really sure what it means.

The next day you're curious, so you Google feminism, and what you discover is 1500 feminist blogs calling you a fucking idiot for saying you're not one of them.

The girls calling you a fucking idiot? They are not the girls you want to sit with at lunch. So that's it, it's cemented. You're not a feminist.

If you're one of the hundreds of thousands of teenage girls who adore Shailene Woodley and had also never heard of feminism until that moment, you're probably not a feminist now either. Because now your idea of feminism is mean girls who yell at you for not Doing Woman right. Or yell at your boyfriend, who you love, for being a straight white dude texting.

Learning about feminism from the Internet is like learning about sex from porn. It's extreme, confusing, and there's a whole spectrum of stuff out there that will never be relevant to your life.

There's a solution to this problem. And don't worry, it's not that those of us who Doing Feminism online being nicer to each other. We can scream, shout, disagree and throw things as much as we like. Autonomy of opinion is, after-all, one of the things we're fighting for.

But coming to websites like Jezebel, or hell, even here, to learn about feminism for the first time ever? You're walking into a play in the third act, when the gun's just gone off and everyone is screaming. But you don't know why.

We're all born with an inherent desire for fairness. This desire can be our greatest strength in the fight for true equality, or it can be used as a weapon against it. Because becoming aware of how inequitable things are now is confronting. And sometimes that process of awareness raising can cause people to shut down.

Systemic inequality is horrible but, especially if you've fallen near the top of the pile, it's also possible to ignore. You can simply decide one day that people get what they deserve, that poor people are lazy, that girls who get raped were probably asking for it, and that women deserve to earn less, because they just don't deliver as much value to businesses as men can.

Online, it's easier to shut down. To ignore. To reject before you fully understand. Because it's loud online and no one seems to agree with each other.

It's much harder to do that in the real world.

It is in reality that consciousness raising should take place. We should be teaching our daughters that they deserve autonomy over their own bodies early and often. We should be teaching our sons ownership of domestic duties. The gender pay gap should be on the school curriculum and we should be making sure everyone who has privilege is acutely aware of it, so they wield it responsibly.

These are not easy conversations to have. They're difficult, and frustrating, and require a patience that the Internet just isn't capable of delivering.

Fortunately, plenty of people have already had these conversations. We're working with a big base of men and women who already get the point.

The trick is they have to pass that point along. Face to face. Having a gentle, caring explanation session is nowhere near as fun as having a rip-roaring pub argument, but it's much more necessary.

The web is where you go when you've already seen what has happened in the first two acts. When you understand what inequality means, and how it's hurting all of us. This is the place to thrash out the finer points of your own personal feminism. It's fine to have an argument about Photoshop, or whether #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen once you've already digested the message that we're not just fighting with each other, we're also fighting something bigger, and meaner and much more important.

You're not going to get that message from us. That's not what we're here for. You're going to get it from people you love and trust. From people who care enough to probe, and ask questions, and gently bring forth consciousness. You're going to get it from people who are willing to explain that it's okay to disagree, not from people who are literally disagreeing with you right now.
It's fine to write an article about how upsetting Women Against Feminism is. But when you do, you're preaching to the converted. The trick is to draw attention to sexism in your everyday life, not just online. To have the kind of conversations that mean that your niece, or your little brother's girlfriend, or your daughter will never end up on that website. The kind of conversations that mean their friends won't either.

Feminism has a marketing problem. But we can fix it. We can make sure that the first time someone encounters feminism, it's attached to a friendly, human face. When they're very, very young. We can make sure as many people as possible get to that third act with us. That they know why the gun went off.

That way, years later, when everyone is shouting, they'll remember that on some level, we're all shouting for the same outcome.

This post originally appeared on mamamia.com.au

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