First of all, happy belated International Women’s Day and happy Women’s History Month! I hope you’re taking part in some way. I celebrated International Women’s Day (which was on March 8th, by the way) by absorbing internet content like the sponge I am.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I have a gift for you: an article about antifeminism! And no, I didn’t get a gift receipt.
There are wars in the comment sections of almost every social media site, with the two families being “Feminists” and “Antifeminists,” and the violent level to which these wars have raged, as a proud feminist, makes me extremely concerned for the movement. So, perhaps we should extend an olive branch and try to understand the other side? You know, instead of freaking out, cyberbullying, etc.
Despite popular belief, “antifeminism” is not a recent development. During the first (1848-1920) and second (1961-1983ish) waves of feminism, there were countermovements against feminist efforts made that historians have classified as “antifeminist.” These countermovements involved generally opposing the stances taken during these waves of feminism, such as women’s suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Like these brands of antifeminism reacted against the first and second waves of feminism, today’s antifeminism currently manifests in the form of social media to react against current third-wave feminism. One popular campaign in favor of antifeminism are posts such as these:
These Facebook photos are brought to you by “Women Against Feminism.” The “Women Against Feminism” movement originated in July of 2013 as a campaign against, at the time, just regular ol’ feminism. Recently, the feminism that this campaign runs against is specifically against most recent third-wave feminism, which began in 1990 and still continues today. They believe that current feminism, and feminism in general, alienates and demonizes women who choose to not identify as feminists. The reason we see these women claiming not to be feminists or rejecting feminism is, overwhelmingly, because that they, the anti-feminists, do not hate men. They appreciate the “differences” between men and women. Also, they see how feminism discriminates against men unfairly and how society has historically and perpetually made men inferior.
While I passionately disagree with this, I’m not judging them. I get that people have a predisposed understanding of what it means to be a feminist that may not agree with their lifestyle, and I respect that. However, I am confused, which is why I want to understand. Antifeminists, I seek to understand you. I, a hardcore feminist that doesn’t shave that much, seek to understand you. Not as a feminist examining an antifeminist, but as person seeking to understand another person. So, the rest of this article is to you, and I hope we can have a great conversation.
The crucial thing I’m learning about this countermovement is the difference between the actual definition of feminism and the perceived definition of feminism. When I say perceived definition of feminism, I mean that the actions of feminists one may have encountered or witnessed during their lifetime. While perusing the various posts, it seems many who identify as “antifeminist” do so because they experienced a negative side to feminism, in that women who identify as “feminist” have said cruel, horrible things to these women because they don’t agree with traditional “feminist” ideologies, such as pro-choice, equal wage, and other aspects of the movement. For example, this post from the “Women Against Feminism” campaign shows a clear example of bullying:
As you know, antifeminists, this is not acceptable. There are, without a doubt, people who identify as feminists that say and do things in the name of feminism that hurt the cause. Those who do so are not acting in the true name of feminism. These people are operating on their personal biases, and instead of engaging with your disagreement in an academic discussion to further understand your viewpoint, they’re reacting emotionally. You’ve probably realized that, but I would ask that you not let these experiences inform your entire decision in being an antifeminist. If you wish to seek out deeper discussion about feminism versus antifeminists, talk to any number of local CERTIFIED (as in they have a degree and/or certificate/training of some kind which justifies that they, indeed, have a deeper knowledge about the topic) gender studies experts and they will more than likely answer any questions you have. People that are also helpful include sociologists, cultural psychologists, and/or professional activists.
As for the accusation of misandry, I disagree with you. For those at home, “misandry” means hatred or prejudice of men. While I agree with you that sexism affects both men and women, “misandry” is not the main concern of the feminist movement. It’s not a concern at all, actually. The stereotype of “man-hating” and “domination of man” comes from as early as antifeminist campaigns against women’s suffrage.
Propaganda posters portrayed women fighting for suffrage as against the “natural order” of being wife and mother and with the intent to dominate men, among other things. When the first wave feminists challenged the “natural order” by fighting for the right to vote, the strategic media response was to portray these women as “man-hating” so that they would be taken less seriously. Therefore, something as simple as demanding the vote became an issue of “dismantling the order” because, by demanding their rights, these women challenged their predetermined roles of solely wife and mother without public opinion or voice. As Dr. Wade points out, the stereotypes of 200-year-old antifeminist campaigns are the ones we still believe, as shown by a 2013 study done by the University of Toronto.
So, this is the perceived definition of feminism. It is a culmination of individual experiences and anecdotes, 200 year-old lasting stereotypes, and actions of those who identify feminists that ultimately hurt the cause. It is this summation that currently defines feminism.
Let me tell you how I define feminism. At the basic, dictionary level, feminism means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes” or “the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” Feminism, at its core, is about equality, not about misandry. If we remove the minority of voices who actively and overtly hate men and have stated as such, the purpose of the actual movement is to achieve equality, and more importantly, equitability on these playing fields, an achievement which is yet to be reached (I’m looking at you, wage gap, political representation, reproductive rights, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera). I identify with feminism because, without it, I cannot vote, pursue my education, be taken seriously at my job let alone work at all, walk the free world unsupervised, and, among many other things, have a public voice. The work of feminists before me fought, starved, and died for the world we have now, a world where women are CEOs, politicians, scientists, doctors, writers, and they are all taken seriously in those professions. I am a feminist because I can’t understand how we live in that world and still have people operating on preconceived, oppressive notions of what women should be and do.
More importantly, feminism isn’t about bra-burning, Facebook posts, lack of makeup or partners. All of that stuff is based on the individual. Feminism as a movement is about ability to chose. I know from reading some posts on “Women Against Feminism” that there is concern over this argument, in that some of my fellow feminists claim you have the right to choose but then harass and bully when you don’t identify as “feminist.” Just so you know, people who say you have to identify as “feminist” to believe in feminism are mistaken. That is another individual choice that doesn’t speak for the whole of the movement. Like, it doesn’t really matter if you want to be a stay-at-home mom or if you want to be the president, or if you want to be both a mother and the president, or if you want to be monogamous or have nine thousand sexual partners. Or, more pointedly, if you are “antifeminist” or “feminist.” What you ultimately choose for yourself as an individual doesn’t matter. What matters is that these choices exist, and that they exist without the legal and social barriers that do. Not only that, it’s about doing so with respect not with hatred.