Freedom & Equality has no gender, and shouldn't have one. As long as no harm come to one another, people deserve to live their lives freely and equally. No strings attached.
This statement is one that every feminist could agree with - the political theory of feminism is a huge one and we frequently disagree with one another on a host of issues from pornography, prostitution, trans-inclusion to the implementation of quotas in businesses. Yet, most of us would agree with the above. But, this statement wasn't written by a feminist. It is one of many which appears on the Women Against Feminism tumblr and twitter accounts. Others include:
- I believe in equal rights for all!
- I believe that men and women should be EQUAL, not that women should belittle men.
- I don't need feminism because my boyfriend treats me right.
- #WomenAgainstFeminism bc feminists today are truly intolerant, incapable of debate & will attack anyone who challenges their agenda
- #WomenAgainstFeminism because I don't need to blame everything that happens on a man.
- Feminism has hurt men, women, and children to serve the few at the top who couldn't make it on their own. #WomenAgainstFeminism
And, my personal bugbear:
- I don't need feminism because I'm a humanist!
Nothing irritates me more than the misappropriation of humanism, which is a centuries old intellectual movement based on rationality and science. The term itself predates feminism by nearly a century so how humanism can be the response to feminism is beyond me. If you're going to complain about feminism, at least use equalism instead of co-opting an actual movement which many date to the Renaissance.
The tweets and posts on Women against Feminism demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding as to what feminism actually is: the liberation of women. Feminists absolutely disagree on how to get to liberation or what that will look like but no feminist has ever argued for women to be superior to men - although, since the majority of world problems like war, hunger and disease are the creation of male economic policies, a world where women are in charge might not be a bad thing. Yet, feminism has never argued for this: some argue for 50% representation of women in business and politics and others (like me) argue for the destruction of our current systems which are based on the slavery of women and othered men in order to build a new, equal society. But, feminists have never fought for men to be inferior to women.
These are the seven demands of the women's liberation movement of the 1970s:
- Equal pay now
- Equal education and job opportunities
- Free contraception and abortion on demand
- Free 24hr nurseries
- Financial and legal independence
- An end to all discrimination against lesbians and a woman's right to define her own sexuality
- Freedom from intimidation by threat or use of violence or sexual coercion, regardless of marital status and an end to all laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men's aggression towards women
These are the same rights women are fighting for now: with the demand for 24 hour nurseries recognising that many women have no choice but to work. These demands aren't for the superiority of women over men; it is a demand for women to be recognised as humans equal to men.
And, really, this is where the Women Against Feminism debate fails: there are absolutely valid criticisms to be had of the goals and inclusivity of the feminist movement -racism, classism and lesbophobia are still serious problems - but the Women Against Feminism movement aren't raising those concerns. A quick scroll through the tumblr shows pictures of mainly young, white middle class women. These women are arguing for respect for stay-at-home mothers and traditional families. The lack of understanding of the history of women's work and the refusal to acknowlede that the "traditional family" is a Victorian invention created for only white women is depressing. It is our capitalist economy which devalues the work of women within the home and engaged in childcare - not feminists.
Women Against Feminism fails because the women posting on it don't know the history of feminism and they don't know the history of women. They don't seem to know that it was feminists who fought for equal pay, or that equal pay still doesn't exist - or that Black women don't even have equal pay, education or opportunity with White women. Or, that it was feminists who fought for rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters. Or, that feminists were the ones who fought for rape in marriage to be classed as a crime; for women to have the right to attend schools and universities; for women to have custodial rights over their children; and for women to have the right to vote, drive a car and have their own bank account,.
There is a level of privilege in the Women Against Feminism movement, which abandons women of colour, working class women, women in poverty, lesbians, and women who have experienced male violence. Feminism has not done enough to ensure that they have included women who are not white or middle class, but denigrating the work that women have done to help other women demonstrates the true power of the Patriarchy in dividing women. Feminism has made great improvements in the lives of some women and needs to work much harder to help others. Ironically, it is the women in the Women Against Feminism movement who have made the most gains from feminism.
This is why I have been disappointed by the response of some feminists to the Women Against Feminist movement. The women on the tag have been remarkably unkind to other women, but the following statements are hardly any better:
- Still can't believe the #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag is real... I honestly can't believe the world has people that stupid. #shocked
- pointing out the stupid people on the #WomenAgainstFeminism tag how fun
Critiquing the Women Against Feminism tag doesn't require insulting the appearance & intelligence of the women posting on it. It doesn't require replicating misogynistic language or insults. It requires an evidence-based answer - such as those pointing out the battle for women's suffrage, rape laws, equal pay acts, maternity rights, and reproductive freedom. Feminism didn't achieve any of these goals by being obnoxious to other women.
Feminists should understand that systemic misogyny within the capitalist-patriarchy makes it very difficult for women to see the reality of their oppression. Even naming male violence as an oppression results in women being belittled, abused and harassed online and off. Our education system is designed to teach children to pass exams - not to question authority. Our media is owned and dominated by white men who have a vested interest in preventing women from accessing knowledge.
This isn't to say that the women who started this tag aren't causing harm to other women. Of course they are, but we don't need to replicate patriarchal patterns of silencing against women who are blinded by their privilege or too afraid to speak out. The capitalist-patriarchy depends on using the labour of women to silence and control other women. We can challenge these women with kindness or with anger, but we do not need to engage in abusive language.
Calling women ugly and stupid is exactly what men do to us every single day. We do not need to be doing this to other women - even if they are tweeting out messages which are harmful to women. We don't need to replicate the lowest common denominator. Instead of insulting the women who started the hashtag, let's start a real discussion as to why women see feminism as threatening. Let's start questioning their belief systems and pointing out the reality of the lives of women who do not have similar privileges.
We need to challenge the capitalist-patriarchy which depends on women's unpaid labour in the home in order to make a very small number of men rich. Calling each other stupid does not help anyone.
Follow Louise Pennington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeStewpot