Thursday, July 31, 2014

Women Against Feminism: Documenting Feminism’s Pervading Relevance

While spending some quality time with one of my teen-aged nieces, she said something profoundly insightful and incredibly ironic, “Men need to change their point of view in order for society to change.” I had shown her Miss Representation, a documentary on the role of the media’s portrayal of women in the underrepresentation of women in positions of power. Her cool response to the documentary was disconcerting. She expressed her apathy and pessimism based on the dependency of the cause on the male perspective only after I explained that feminism is really about breaking down the barriers that prevent all people from having equal opportunity and freedom to choose their path. She, like the young women submitting to the blog Women Against Feminism, felt that the feminist movement was outdated, unnecessary and that feminists were mostly man-haters who believed in the superiority of women. 
The Women Against Feminism Tumblr page, which claims to denounce the feminist movement in favor of human rights and the equality of all people, sparked online debates which drew the attention of NBC’s TODAY Show in a segment titled “Is feminism still relevant? Some women posting why they don't need it.” Women posting on the blog end the phrase “I don’t need feminism because…” with statements that range from embracing traditional feminine roles to rejecting misandry and the portrayal of women as victims.
On the Today Show’s segment, journalist Soledad O’Brien and MSNBC anchor Abby Huntsman expressed their solidarity with the feminist movement but admitted understanding of anti-feminist sentiments. O’Brien expressed that she feels the word feminism has been “hijacked” and aligned with the actions of fringe-groups who do “things that are perceived to be bad.” Huntsman, on the other hand, said that feminists could do more to promote the movement in a positive and inclusive light, to be clear that it’s possible to be a stay-at-home mom, pro-life, and/or love men and also be a feminist. Also featured on the segment was Executive Editor Emily McCombs, who wrote a response article to the Tumblr page “I was a Woman Against Feminism, and I Get It (But Also Knock It Off)” in which she argues that anti-feminism is a “subconscious strategy for coping in a sexist society” and “based on an assumption that inequality is the way of the world”. Coming from her own experience she writes, “By gaining the approval of those in charge, I hoped to gain access to the perks and opportunities of masculinity.” In essence, the dialogue sparked by the Women Against Feminism as reflected on the Today Show is not one of whether or not feminism is still relevant, but rather why young women might not understand that it is.
The question then is why do young women have a negative perspective of feminism? The answer is wrapped up in the reason feminism is still necessary. Women who have succeeded in politics and industry are associated with their status as sex objects and with all the worst attributes of power by the media. Media is the primary tool by which young women in the United States learn about the world and they are learning that feminists are hateful. The feminist movement advocates for a level of equality which gives everyone, regardless of their gender identification, the opportunity to make lifestyle choices that align with their own conscience.  There is no denying that there have been groups whose anger and indignation inspired hateful discourse antithetical to the cause of feminism. However, seeking to paint the actions of a few as representative of the greater cause is no doubt the work of those who wish to maintain the status quo. Feminism if for no other reason is still relevant because young women are taught to think feminists and powerful women are bitchy man-haters.
Beyond misconceptions, feminism maintains its relevance because while much progress has been made in the fight for equality, women are still grossly underrepresented in positions of power. The Women Against Feminism Tumblr page proves that feminism has yet to accomplish much needed work. Anti-feminist speech reflects all the various ways in which women are held back from pursuing leadership roles by negative depictions of feminists and successful women. Whether young women identify as feminists or not, the feminist movement does the hard work that allows young women to choose their own paths, regardless if the dream job is stay-at-home mom or President.
In a world that teaches young women, like my niece, that society won’t change unless men want it to change, feminism empowers young women to take the fight for economic equality and equal representation into their own hands. We as a country need feminism because equal representation of all genders in positions of power is necessary in order to ensure that every citizen can enjoy the rights and liberties guaranteed to them. I need feminism because I want to live in a world where equal opportunity isn’t dependent on the male perspective.
-Allysha Roth