A Response to Anti-Feminism

“I’m an anti-feminist, actually.”

I’m standing outside of a doom metal show, hand on my patched jeans, the wind rustling the newly-shaved side of my head. I’ve just met a friend of a friend, Lauren, and we’ve been discussing the proportion of male metalheads to females (I had wagered roughly ten to one).

Then, inexplicably, Lauren expressed the above statement. I think my reaction, at first, was about as eloquent as “huuuuhhhhh?” I recovered quickly, though, and peppered her with the obvious questions:

“What is an anti-feminist?”

“What about the wage disparity between American men and women?”

“You just got back from a study abroad program that took you to the Masai tribes in Africa to rural India, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the mountains of New Zealand. In all those travels, certainly you saw that feminism is a world prerogative and is not limited to white American women?”

She said (I paraphrase) the following points: we live in a post-feminism country (similar to the post-racial argument bandied about by certain folks in regards to Barack Obama’s presidency). Women should not talk about getting CEO positions, earning equal pay or getting into politics but just do it. There’s no need to talk about feminism or to claim the title. We, as women, have the same opportunities as men and we should just claim them already.

To which I said (more eloquently now, I’m sure, given time to reflect and the absence of alcohol in my system):

It’s all well and good you say that, but you (like me) are a white, college-educated American female. We have white privilege, we have a foot up in many respects thanks to our college degrees, and we live in America, which, despite its many, varied flaws, has already experienced several waves of feminism and activism.

However, even in America all women and girls still face injustices — these injustices may be more aversive than outright, but they are pervasive, insidious and they exist. We can’t pretend they don’t, as nice as denial might feel. Similarly, wealth and education and opportunity and privilege can often blind a person to the plight others face daily and systematically. It’s short-sighted to assume that everyone walks the same path that you do. Furthermore, just because we can’t always understand where another person is coming from, that doesn’t make their experiences any less valid.

As such, feminism is very much relevant.

Why, too, choose the term “anti-feminist”? How can that be a beneficial stance? It’s one thing to not identify as a feminist (even though, ironically enough, most of the non-feminists I talk to agree that we should live in an egalitarian society, which is the main tenet of most branches of feminism). It’s an entirely different thing to reject the very concept of feminism and put down those who claim the title. I don’t think being an “anti-feminist” means exactly what these young, educated women think it does. The only difference between me and Lauren, for example, is that I call myself a feminist and she doesn’t. At the end of the day, after talking to Lauren more about her views (to give her some credit), it became clear that she is a feminist in everything but name.

This willful rejection of feminism is problematic and seems…a little immature. It’s giving off this vibe of “I just want to distance myself from those crazy radical chicks,” so that certain men don’t feel threatened by them or their views. That’s bullshit. Stop trying to appear “laid-back” and “rational” at the expense of effecting positive change. If more people claimed the title feminist, maybe the negative stereotypes (“crazy women,” “hysterical bitches,” “feminazis”) would fall away as more people realized that men and women alike are feminists if they believe that humans should all be equal and enjoy the same opportunities and respect. Is that so very crazy an idea?

I’ve decided I’m going to memorize this quote from Gloria Steinem to say to those who question feminism in my presence. While to most of my readers this quote may seem very obvious, and might spark you to say aloud, “well no shit!”, I think it is one of the most comprehensive, succinct descriptions of what feminism is, regardless of the schisms of thought within feminism, regardless of politics, economic background or nationality: this is what feminism is all about:

“Women are human beings first, with minor differences from men that apply largely to the single act of reproduction. We share the dreams, capabilities, and weaknesses of all human beings, but our occasional pregnancies and other visible differences have been used–even more pervasively, if less brutally than racial differences have been used–to create an “inferior” group and an elaborate division of labor. This division is continued for a clear if often unconscious reason: the economic and social profit of patriarchy males as a group.”

The antidote, I believe, to this “anti-feminism” nonsense is to recommend some good reading. If the person refuses to read any of your suggestions, then you know automatically the caliber of person you’re dealing with anyway. If ignorance is bliss, then let them have it, at the cost of your respect for their opinions. Tough shit.

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One thought on “A Response to Anti-Feminism

  1. I think this is why they say, “check your privileges”. I’m an upper-middle class black man, with a firm foothold in the corporate world. I am daily surrounded by people who are wary (if not terrified) of breaching any racial issue, for fear of irreparable damage to their careers. It has happened that I’ve seen a story about very real discrimination, where the victim is poor and poorly spoken, peppering their speech with slang. I cringe when this happens, and yes…I have an incredibly strong desire to disassociate myself from that victim – up to and including the dismissal of the racial issue which brought them to my attention. I am not proud of this, but it happens.

    When operating from a position of strength or privilege, it is easy to dismiss obstacles that would prove insuperable to our less privileged brethren, even while acknowledging that these obstacles shouldn’t exist. We don’t think male/female pay inequity is right, we just think it’s something you can overcome with “effort”. Of course this is just another form of victim-blaming.

    Empathy with those less privilege than us is a difficult thing. We don’t understand many of their challenges because we can’t – I’ll never lose a job because I couldn’t afford bus fare AND day care. Presumably the subject of your post will always have a rock-solid position from which to negotiate salary. She may never understand the anger borne of being helpless within a system, even while the system derides your helplessness. She may never understand women in that position.

    But you don’t have to be the victim – you don’t even have to like the victim. You just have to hate the crime.

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