No One Needs Feminism Anymore
Right now, the Internet is giving a lot of attention to a tumblr called Women Against Feminism. It’s basically photos of women with signs explaining why they don’t need feminism, for excellent reasons which I’ve edited just slightly (in italics) to complete their trains of thought:
“I don’t need feminism because I love to cook and clearly feminists never need to make food; they subsist solely on rage against the patriarchy.“
“I don’t need feminism because the pay gap is women’s choice, not sexism because obviously women enjoy bringing home 23% less than men. It gives them real incentive to DIY everything!!!“
OK, OK, all snark aside, I want to talk specifically about the woman in this photo:
You sound like a wonderful person, smiling lady, and I really like the way you think in the middle eight lines of your message. But I wish we could sit down and talk about why you think feminists don’t believe in those things. (Also, I could tell you about some handy tools for opening jars, because I hate to think you’ll starve if your husband ever goes on vacation.)
If you and I could grab a cup of coffee together, I like to imagine we’d start here, with a quote by the feminist/humanist/awesomest 80-year-old ever, Gloria Steinham:
The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.
In the spirit of unlearning, let’s both admit that the word feminist is problematic. To you, it implies some ball-busting harpy; to me, it represents a socially conscious person who wants both genders to be equal. You’d probably reply that you already feel equal, to which I’d say, “That’s wonderful, and I’mma let you finish, but what about all the women who don’t live that reality? Ever think about them?”
I always wonder when people such as yourself decided feminists were something to be feared or despised. Maybe you read Jezebel and the commentors harshed your vibe because you didn’t correctly parse every nuance of the third-wave movement. Maybe someone told you feminists aren’t supposed to shave their legs and you were all, “I live at the beach. Homey don’t play stubble!” Or maybe some self-declared feminist really did get in your face and try to shame you for not feeling the exact same way they felt about rape culture, stay-at-home moms, and forcing little girls to play with Tonka Trucks. If that was the case, I sincerely apologize for that individual. Because (keep that “unlearning” tip in mind):
That person doesn’t represent the feminist movement any more than Westboro Baptist Church represents Christianity.
So, grrl, let’s dig into two things while we drink our imaginary lattes. First, there’s this common question from anti-feminists: Why do women still feel the need to identify as feminists when – let’s be honest – most of us, at least in developed countries, can:
1) earn a living wage,
2) control our reproductive processes, and
3) generally party like it’s our birthday whenever we want?
In my experience, we keep this word around because:
1) We still make, on average, only 77 cents to the dollar for the same work as men. Not trying to improve the statistic is flat-out admitting we’re less valuable.
2) Our right to handle our own reproductive beeswax is under constant attack, and we have this bizarre fixation on controlling our own bodies. So, we stand against the other side, lest they gain too much ground.
3) We do party. Like rock stars. This is undeniable. But some of us wish we didn’t have to think quite so hard about how short our skirts should be and how carefully we guard our drink every. Single. Time. we go out.
And, to holler back at all those women who can’t open jars and worry feminists want to leave them pickle-less, let me turn to a stellar article by Allegra Ringo. She addresses why most feminists are more concerned with supporting women in non-traditional roles than making stay-at-home moms feel empowered:
A common theme […] is that women don’t need feminism because they believe in living traditionally. […] On its surface, it’s pretty easy to understand where they’re coming from—you don’t hear a lot about feminists fighting for a woman’s right to cook for her family. But that’s because the option to cook for your family was always on the table (so to speak). Our feminist predecessors had that option, and they wanted more options—like to have job opportunities and to vote. You don’t give up one right when you gain another. The option to be a stay-at-home mom has always been there. […] You’ve heard about suffragettes fighting for the right to vote because it was a big deal. You haven’t heard about suffragettes fighting for the right to be stay-at-home mothers, not because it’s frowned upon but because there wasn’t a need to vocalize support for the status quo. If someone tells you “your only meal option is beans,” you don’t need to stand up and demand beans. The beans are right there, beaning around in front of you.
Now let’s examine the other primary complaint of most anti-feminists: They worry that feminists are trying to reverse gender roles by elevating women and subjugating men.
PLEASE STOP, IN THE NAME OF GLORIA, BEFORE YOU BREAK MY BRAIN.
I’ve never heard a feminist say they want men to earn less than women. What we want is equal pay. Feminists definitely talk about how exciting it will be when we have our first female President, but we don’t clamor that we should never have a male POTUS again. And I’ve never seen feminists crusading for all women to work while all men handle childcare… although they do want that to be a possibility for any given couple. Can you really disagree with the idea that both genders should have as many options as possible?
For a few more examples of feminists supporting traditional gender roles and advocating for men’s rights (Surprise!), let’s turn again to Allegra’s article:
If you want to talk about a group that has historically voiced support for families, and specifically mothers, of all types—including, yes, stay-at-home moms—we must, I’m sorry to say, talk about feminists. Here’s an incomplete list of mother or family-related issues that feminists have fought for: maternity leave, incarcerated women’s right to give birth without being in shackles, and basic rights for domestic workers. Women Against Feminism would point out that feminists don’t work toward the same rights for men. Well, feminists do actually work toward things like paid paternity leave, for one thing. But similar to the point made by my incredibly insightful bean metaphor, men already, uh, have a lot of rights. That’s why you don’t hear about feminists pursuing them.
In the end, there isn’t one kind of feminist, just like there isn’t one type of woman. I won’t deny that some who support the cause are extreme, but perfection really is the enemy of good. And the good done by feminists? It’s pretty great.
Because of feminism, women are able to own property, vote, and combat domestic violence. And, lest you think all the big fights are in the past, modern feminists are still working to make sure women have rights like planning their families so they can best care for their children, trying to change language so the go-to insult for a woman isn’t “whore,” and making efforts to ensure that being a gay woman or a woman of color isn’t a greater struggle than being a straight, white woman.
When you look at it that way, it seems pretty obvious that we do still need feminism. However, if certain people (like you, *ahem*) will stop standing in the way; if feminism can accomplish all it has set out to do; there will come a day when it will be obsolete. We’ll all just be humanists, and find new issues to argue about. (I think florals versus animal prints is always an excellent topic.) Until we reach that tipping point, here’s the interim good news:
No one is stopping you from being a feminist and a humanist, right now.
You can support women and support all people.
To illustrate this concept, maybe we can tell your fellow tumbler submitter – the one who’s worried that the feminist agenda will require her to carry a refrigerator up six flights of stairs alone – that she doesn’t need to stress. See, the great majority of feminists realize that NO ONE can carry a refrigerator alone.
I think what most feminists would suggest is that this woman call her friends, or meet her new neighbors — male and female! Then they can bond over moving that damn appliance together before they head out for a cold beer.