2014 has been a mixed year for feminism. On the one hand, we have seen more and more feminist issues being put on the agenda, ranging from a normal-sized Barbie doll, the publicity surrounding UN Women's HeForShe campaign, and Facebook changing their policy to allow photos of breastfeeding women being posted to the social networking site. However, 2014 will perhaps also be remembered for several outburst of hostility against feminism, particularly from women themselves. The 2013/14 social media trend, Women Against Feminism, featured women of all ages holding up signs with the inscription "I don't need feminism because...", followed by their own statement. The Women Against Feminism Facebook page has more than 29,000 likes, making it a powerful illustration of the obstacles the feminist movement must be prepared to meet in the year to come.
As a woman who is proud to call herself a feminist, I embark on the new year with mixed feelings about the future of the movement to which I belong. There is no doubt in my mind that feminism is still an absolutely essential issue in today's society; however, I am torn in my views on how such issues should be approached.
In the last days of 2014, an article popped up in my Twitter news feed. Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, the actress best known for her role in the TV series The Big Bang Theory, stated in an interview with the US magazine Redbook that she does not identify as a feminist. A couple of days later, after receiving harsh criticism from social media users, Cuoco-Sweeting took to Instagram and apologised for her statement, saying that her comments had been taken out of context; "I'm completely blessed and grateful that strong women have paved the way for my success along with many others. I apologize if anyone was offended."
Now, having read the interview in question, I can sort of see why Cuoco-Sweeting would feel that her comments were taken out of context. She received the same sort of criticism as is normally directed towards anti-feminists, that is, persons who oppose feminist values of gender equality and who argue that feminism represents a negative force in society.
And to be fair, such criticisms aren't completely unjustified. She did say that, "I was never that feminist girl demanding equality" and that she "like[s] the idea of women taking care of their men". However, what becomes clear to me when reading the interview is that Cuoco-Sweeting isn't necessarily an anti-feminist; instead, she appears to be a relatively ordinary woman who doesn't find modern-day feminism relevant for the life she wants to lead.
That leaves us with a problem. There is no inherent contradiction between enjoying cooking for your husband and believing in gender equality. In fact, I would argue (and I sincerely hope that most feminists would agree) that these two states of affairs are complementary. I very much enjoy cooking for my partner; however, I also enjoy the fact that it is my choice to do so. Without claiming to know Cuoco-Sweeting's thoughts on this subject, I will assume for now that she would agree with this statement; because she enjoys taking care of her husband, she has chosen to do so.
The main problem with Cuoco-Sweeting's statement isn't that she embraces traditionalist and patriarchal values, as some of her critics have claimed. It is that she doesn't appear to see the inherent connection between the way she has chosen to live her life and the achievements of modern feminism. This is a link that appears natural to me, but that is yet to emerge for many of today's women. These women see feminism, not as a negative force at all, but as something that is not relevant to them.
Now, I might be wrong, but I do not necessarily think that the most constructive way of approaching women who hold this view is to attack them through social media. In fact, it may turn out to be counterproductive, as these women might feel even further alienated from the feminist cause and start to sympathise with the anti-feminist movement. Instead, we should work on making the link between feminism and choice more apparent, leaving aggression and spiteful comments behind. If some women don't find feminism relevant for their everyday lives, this may be an indication that we are not selling our cause properly. This is a shame, because it should be a pretty simple cause to sell. If you believe that men and women should have equal rights you are, by definition, a feminist. This should be the focus of the debate, and we must work towards ensuring that.
Perhaps that should be our New Year's resolution for 2015.