I am standing in line for the “family bathroom” at Southgate Mall, waiting to use the nursing chair. Although I am pretending to be relaxed—chatting with the mother of a one-month old son—I am in fact terrified. Are there any feminists about? I scan the crowd for the tell-tale signs of bra-less tits, angry fists raised in the air, and armpit hair. I hope they don’t find me in here, I think to myself. What if they imagine that I am a homemaker? Everyone knows that feminists hate domesticated women, and regularly ridicule them in public. I wish that I had worn an identification badge over my lactating breasts identifying me as a feminist because I increasingly fear that I no longer look like one, what with the diaper bag, mid-range stroller, and (worst of all) spawn that suckles at my zipple.
Let me explain. While keeping cool at the mall during this week’s heatwave, I was trying to imagine what it felt like to be one of those paranoid “Women Against Feminism.” You have probably heard about or seen this group’s tumbler pics. Mostly young mothers, these ladies (if I may) hold hand-written signs explaining why they are opposed to feminism. Now there are many ways to respond to this rather tiresome media event: dismissal, boredom, anger, disbelief. Many thoughtful reactions have already been penned, pointing out that these women know little to nothing about the feminist movement, crave the approval of right-wing men, and seem to be best friends with the likes of Rush Limbaugh. It is indeed important to stress the true history and goals of feminisms—for there is far more than one version—which have never been about hating men, forcing women to become men, attacking stay-at-home moms, or baby loathing. Some of the best replies have advocated in favour of female strength (see http://fitandfeminist.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/my-husband-is-more-to-me-than-a-living-jar-opener/), while others have been humourous (see “Confused Cats Against Feminism,” http://confusedcatsagainstfeminism.tumblr.com).
Logic and reason have nothing to do with anti-feminism. Reading through the bizarre representations of feminism on this site, I was struck by how closely the anti-feminist rhetoric resembles early modern European witch hunts. Not that the history of witch hunting is simplistic, as recent scholarship has indicated. About ten percent of those persecuted as witches were men. Yet the majority of those attacked and sometimes killed were older, single women who were perceived as threats. These widows were past their reproductive years and not tied to a man, at least not anymore. They might have inherited some goods or property, which gave them a little power, or they might have been quite poor, which made them want whatever was actually yours. See the link that I am making? Anti-feminists imagine that evil women with magical powers can somehow wreak havoc everywhere: destroying the military, the family, the very idea of love. These hateful women want to take everything that was naturally yours: privilege, economic prosperity, happiness.
The anti-feminists both over- and underestimate the impact of feminism. If they imagine that a powerful lobby group of man-hating lesbians is controlling the world, then they have missed the mark [sadly enough, because that would be an improvement]. These women nevertheless underestimate the lasting effects of feminist efforts, and the ways in which these efforts have shaped their own lives and identities. Some of them claim, for instance, that they “choose” to be mothers and homemakers, offering up their lifestyle as both defiant and radical. Yet the very language that they use (“choice”), and the fact that they can choose their lives instead of being forced to marry and reproduce stems from the influence of feminism. Let’s face it, the ability of these women to voice their opinions and boldly insist that those opinions are important—i.e. the very idea that they can talk and someone will give a flying fuck about what they have to say—makes them feminists, or at least indebted to feminists. The tenets of feminism have penetrated our culture so deeply that they seem like commonsense: men and women are equal (liberal feminism), women are human beings and must be treated as such, women’s amazing reproductive capacities must be respected, as should the labour of mothering (marxist or socialist feminism), difference should be celebrated and not erased (difference feminism) etc. etc.
Feminism is being used as a scapegoat to provide a focus for legitimate anxiety. When in doubt about the security of your future (and who isn’t?), blame the straw-woman called feminism.The young women posting pictures on “Women Against Feminism” are worried that they are not valued in our culture, that their efforts to parent as best they can are not appreciated. They are probably correct. But that has nothing to do with “feminists”; it is a result of ongoing sexism. I am tempted to direct all supposedly anti-feminist women toward an educational site, a kind of feminism for dummies (http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com). I think that they might be better off taking courses in macro-economics or corporatization. Those fields would help to explain the so-called “attack” on male (earning) power and the “decline” of masculinity. Plus I assume that anti-feminist women (and men) would refuse to read anything written by an actual feminist, including the definition of feminism in my glossary, for fear of losing the evil “other” that is so crucial to their own sense of self and superiority.
Love it! There’s no one type of feminism and it makes me sad that the word comes with so much baggage.
The return of the Divine Feminine is here. I view this anti- feminist trend as nothing more than fear rising up to be exchanged for truth.
Male and masculine supremacy is so ingrained in our society that we see it even within some feminist theory. Which is a complete bummer because all of us have both feminine and masculine tendencies and neither is superior to the other.
I went and looked at WAF, and the more I read, the less sure I was how to respond. What those women write bears little resemblance to what I know as reality. I was particularly struck by the assertions that women are “bullied” by feminism or feminists. That sounds like something that was fed to them by right-wind media, but I wonder how they’ve decided that they see this in their lives.
I have to admit that I understand the objections to “victimhood”, which is something that I, as a feminist, have observed in certain feminist circles. For example, I was unhappy that #yesallwomen purported to speak for me, because I don’t see myself in that light at all – but I didn’t decide to chuck the whole complicated philosophy of feminism because of it. Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve always seen feminism as a big tent, rather than a tiny, windowless room as the women of WAF seem to envision it.
I had the same reaction Terra. I simply could not believe that these “women against feminism” were ever publicly ridiculed by feminists for being mothers. Instead, I think that these women are incredibly defensive and FEEL attacked and under-appreciated. These days I spend a lot of time with my son in public, pushing a stroller, and I have never received a single negative reaction. In fact I am showered with large doses of social approval. People of all stripes smile at me and strike up conversations. Strangers seem to assume that I am a good person because I have a baby and devote much of my time to him. What crap! As for the yesallwomen campaign, I did not follow it to any degree, but I do think that all women have been negatively affected by sexism. Insisting that this is the case is not the same thing as asserting victimhood, at least not to me. Thankfully not all men are sexist, but a shocking number of them are (as are a shocking number of women who have internalized sexism). Overtly sexist men bother me less than the paternalistic types who seek to guide women and save them from themselves.
Yes, this defensiveness over being mothers is strange. I have never understood feminism to have a stake in the choice to reproduce either way, as long as it is freely chosen. I’m about your age, sans kiddos, and from this vantage point most of what I see is approbation for motherhood. I live in a very liberal (for the U.S.) place, so I don’t really get crap for not being a mother, but I’m certainly not getting praised for it, either. On Mother’s Day, if I venture out of the house, chances are someone will wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” simply because I’m a woman of a certain age. Even here, motherhood is the default. If those young women think there’s a big feminist cheering section supporting the child-free to the extent that the larger society upholds motherhood, they’re sadly mistaken.
Granted, in the U.S. a sizable amount of this positive regard for parenthood is lip service, and we aren’t giving parents adequate support in terms of workplace flexibility, family leave, etc. As you say, it’s unfair to blame feminists for that, considering that they’ve been on the front lines fighting for these very things for a long time.
I felt that #yesallwomen dwelled quite heavily on an extreme manifestation of sexism that a lot of us (in the first world, at least) are fortunate not to experience, and that looking at all women as victims or potential victims of sexual assault is not particularly helpful. I think it makes us more fearful and less powerful in the face of the many subtle and insidious ways in which we all experience sexism. I don’t think acknowledging that sexism exists and that we’re all negatively affected by it amounts to asserting victimhood. I do think that I tend to be pragmatic in my approach to dealing with it, though, and that probably makes me look like a bad feminist sometimes. Even so, I’ve always embraced the label, and if the current political climate is any indication, we absolutely need feminism now.
It’s true that the media representations of feminism never show those who are working in shelters for abused women and children, or arguing for subsidized day care and so forth. Media reports tend to focus on feminist critiques of golf courses that exclude female members or something like that (which is indeed a form of discrimination but this selectivity makes the feminist movement seem elitist). Many feminists have taken a strong stand in defense of motherhood, fighting for maternity leave, childcare, education etc. Many women who have decided not to have children have been strong advocates for the rights of mothers and children for hundreds of years…
As for #yesallwomen: I don’t think that sexual assault is very unusual. I do not know many (any?) women who have never been sexually groped, attacked, or raped. Maybe I am mistaken about that though. ???
Oh, so it’s not hating men that’s preventing my dyke self from ruling the world!!! Crap, I’ll have to get on that. However, while there are certain men I loathe (I’m looking at you Stephen Harper), I can’t say that this is my response to them as a group (most of the time).
(WordPress has been eating my comments, so if this ends up being a repeat, feel free to delete one….)
I’ve never been attacked/raped. I’ve experienced a few minor groping incidents that I found annoying rather than upsetting. I don’t know how many other women I know have experienced assault, because it’s not something we normally talk about. The stats suggest that a sizable minority of women do have such experiences, but not the majority, and certainly not all. I don’t mean to minimize women’s experiences here – any number of assaults is too many.
However, this issue has been given a great deal of attention by feminists lately, with the gain turned up quite high on the “women as victims” angle. Reading through #yesallwomen certainly gives the impression that the vast majority of women experience assault and harassment on a regular basis. It left me half wondering what’s wrong with me as a woman that I can walk around my city by myself on a daily basis without getting hassled. If this is the only facet of feminism that some women are consciously aware of, I can understand why they might feel inclined to reject it.