An Open Letter To The "Women Who Don't Need Feminism". Here's A Clue: You Do
The Debrief: The Women Against Feminism Facebook group has got nearly 8,000 likes in only six months. Writer Laurie Penny, author of Unspeakable Things, responds to the women trying to end feminism for good.
A group of women calling themselves the 'Women Against Feminism' hit the headlines this week after their Facebook group, designed to rile up against modern feminism and its 'toxic culture' which they believe is destroying the lives of girls all over the world, went viral.
Users of the group have been posting pictures of themselves holding posters with statements like: 'I don't need feminism because I want men to look [at my breasts],' 'I don't need feminism because I believe in earning things for myself' and 'I don't need feminism because I don't need to grow out my body hair to show I'm equal to men' since January, but it's clear the movement is now gathering pace. At the time of writing 7,775 are signed up – an indication that, while feminist writers like Caitlin Moran are calling for a feminist revolution, there's a corner of the internet fiercely in backlash.
So what are the group rallying against? And how come they've garnered so much support? One member is Lucy, a 27-year-old stay-at-home mum from Iowa, who has been an active member of the Women Against Feminism Facebook group for a couple of months and believes that 'shouty feminists' are determined to advocate women's rights over and above all men. 'The clue is in the name – FEMinism obviously values female rights over and above males,' she explains to The Debrief. 'What about my son? I don’t want him to grow up in a world where a minority of shouty women are affecting attitudes and laws that will make his life worse. He’s now three and there are women at his nursery who are constantly ratty and exhausted because they work a full shift and then come home to do all the housework and don’t have enough energy to properly look after the men in their husbands. Why is that option better? Why do you feel the need to make me feel bad about making a different choice?'
Lucy also believes that feminists are not only hurting themselves, but other women as well. 'I think the reason there are so many unhappy single women in their 30s is because feminism told them it was okay to sleep around and demand too much of men,' she explains. 'Men don’t expect anywhere near as much from us – what makes us so special? And, unlike feminists, I don’t think it’s degrading when a man looks me up and down and compliments me – it’s a compliment! I know feminists say feminism is about equality, but then why can’t we just call is egalitarianism? It doesn’t have any of the negative connotations does it? I think it’s obvious why.’
The group is another example of how divisive the battle for feminism has become – and, arguably, how misunderstood the actual term is. Here, Laurie Penny, contributing editor of the New Statesman and author of Unspeakable Things, explains why women – including those who believe they don't – really need feminism. And why all feminism is actually about is social, economic and political equality of the sexes. (And who can argue with that?)
Dear Women Who Don't Need Feminism,
I've noticed your hand-drawn signs about how you don't need feminism because you respect your husbands and don't feel 'like a victim' posted around my feeds this week. Some of them were hard to read. I found them hard to read because pink curly handwriting hurts my brain, and so do logical fallacies, but I've been trying, and I wondered if we could have a little chat.
First, let's be clear, you are totally free to reject feminism. You are so, so free to do that. I support your right to hold your specious opinions and express them in whatever public forum you deem appropriate. This is relatively recent phenomenon in the long story of Western society, which has historically punished women for being too lippy, and still does – as I imagine you are finding out this week. I support your right to express your opinions without fearing for your safety. That's what two centuries of feminism won for us all. Thank goodness for feminism, but never mind, I guess you don't need it.
You are free to reject feminism. You are free to do so without understanding anything about what that word actually means, because somebody told you that feminists were all attention-seeking sluts who wanted special treatment and hated men. I don't know who that somebody was, and it would be too easy just to point out how you seem to be parroting the language of so-called 'men's rights' activists, the ones who hang out on forums talking about raping and beating up women. I'm not going to suggest that you've adopted this language in order to make the men in your lives feel less threatened. Instead, I'm going to consider the notion that you came up with your bizarre definition of women's liberation all on your own. I'm glad I'm part of a movement that respects the agency of all women, that doesn't dismiss opinions written in pink pens in curly girly handwriting, a movement that considers all of us humans first, however deluded. That movement is called feminism. I guess you don't need it. But I know I do.
If you ever find you do need feminism, give us a call. If you ever get tired of working harder and longer hours for lower pay or for no pay, we'll be here
Dear Women Who Don't Need Feminism: Most of you appear to be young, white, classically attractive and able-bodied. That means that there are parts of the political experience of being a woman that you haven't had yet experienced and parts that you might never experience. Being young isn't a sin. Internalising sexism doesn't make you a bad person, not until you decide to shit all over other women who are trying to build a freer, fairer world for all of us. Let's just check back in 10 years, and I'll tell you how the struggle's going, and you can let me know how anti-feminism is working out for you.
In the meantime, if you ever find you do need feminism, give us a call. If you ever get tired of working harder and longer hours for lower pay or for no pay, we'll be here. If, as you get older and things begin to sag, you find yourself becoming invisible, almost as if you were only valuable as long as you were young and hot, we'll be here to remind you of your worth. If you are ever raped, or beaten by your partner, and you suddenly realise how monstrous it is to be told to 'take responsibility' for violence that has been done to you, to be told that you asked for it, to be intimidated into silent smiles so you don't upset the boys, we'll be here. Whether you need a refuge to go to with your kids or a tumblr full of gifs to remind you you're not alone, we'll be here. If you need an abortion, or access to contraception, we'll be here fighting for your right to the treatment you need and deserve, because we believe that you are a human being who ought to be able to decide what happens to her own body. We'll be here, because that's what we do. You don't feel like you need feminism right now, but I do, and so do billions of women around the world, and I hope you respect that, just as I respect your right to broadcast your bewilderment all over the internet. There's a place at our table for you whenever you're ready. You can even bring your pink pens.
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