Feminism Needs to Rediscover Flexibility

Kay Robinson looks at the recent “Women Against Feminism” trend and discusses how feminism can be more effective.

For every person that identifies themselves as such, there seems to be another who has an interpretation of the label so radically different to that of the feminist, the term is almost completely ambiguous. You only need to look as far as the #WomenAgainstFeminism on social media to see that many people strongly associate the label with negativity and division.

Some attribute this simply to misunderstanding and miseducation surrounding the term, with those such as Caitlin Moran doing her best to promote the term ‘feminist’ as purely someone who believes men and women should have equal rights. However, defining the term to everyone’s satisfaction is not only impossible but an impossibly political task.

This is becoming only more difficult in the modern era, where the label  feminist has been unfortunately appropriated by a percentage of women with extreme, intolerant and unrepresentative views, or used to redefine womanhood in a way that is both inflexible and exclusive. I include in this group those women who believe that men cannot act as feminist voices or speak on women’s issues. Personally, I would choose to express my beliefs about gender equality by using more than one word, rather than risk having my views defined by another through misinterpretation. And I still think that #YesAllWomen was an incredibly problematic trend.

The idea, however, pushed by the “Women Against Feminism” Tumblr and Twitter accounts, that the world no longer needs feminism is both alarming and sad. Here, followers send in pictures of themselves holding a piece of paper with the words: “I don’t need feminism because” followed by their reasoning. The logic they attach to the prompt varies from the very daft (see: “without my husband I wouldn’t have the joy of raising my children”, as obviously feminists wish to destroy both the male race and in fact procreation itself) to the highly reasonable (see: ‘feminists don’t represent me’).

Each post is entirely personal, but a common theme seems to be that some women feel like their choices – to be a stay-at-home wife/mother, for example, or to wear clothing such as religious garments that cover a large proportion of their bodies – are criticised and attacked. This attack, they say, comes not from a patriarchy, but from feminists who seek to aggressively assert their interpretations of ‘rights’ onto other women. Some Women Against Feminism contributors also address matters of geography and race, asserting that feminism is no longer needed in the west; that it ‘is only necessary in third-world countries’ and that it wrongly promotes the idea that ‘only white men are capable of sexism’.

Yes, the use of the term ‘third world’ is politically awkward. Yes, these women requesting that feminists check their privilege are often, ironically, white, middle class, and basing their analysis of gender-relations solely on their experience as a privileged female. And yes, some of these women even think that feminism is spelt ‘femenism’.

But pointing and laughing is not helping the feminist cause. Cries of ‘uneducated’ and ‘use a dictionary’ or even politely explaining that these women have understood the term in a far different manner to the way in which you understand it yourself, is not helping the cause.

There is no way to undo the unfortunate interactions with intolerant, aggressive so-called feminism that many of these women appear to have had.  But perhaps a little revisionand diversification of the markers that feminism provides women with which to identify themselves would not go amiss.

Fungai Machirori, author of ‘Her Zimbabwe’, says that ‘feminism is about finding the right language.’ I love her interpretation. If feminism doesn’t appeal to you as a term, don’t use it as a personal label. If you can’t identify any of its causes as any of your own and find it unrepresentative, don’t let it represent you. But let it be an identifier for those who feel they would benefit from its support.

Feminism needs to re-discover its flexibility, its appeal and its openness to discussion, and retranslate into something that, with consent, can fight for every type of woman experiencing every type of challenge.  Ideas of intersectionality have a lot to contribute along these lines. As a movement, it still has incredible contributions to make to societies all over the world, so long as feminists remember one thing:‘you have to do more listening before you start talking.’


By Kay Robinson

[Image credit: Kayla Sawyer]


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