Right now women – at their liberty and own discretion – are rushing to the internet to explain why they are not feminists. Their reasons vary from status quo misconceptions (…because I don’t hate men!), to more insidious assertions (…because I do make equal pay, or, …because I am not a target for violence).
The responses to this have been sharp and fierce. And while they may be accurate, many of the responses have been academic, inaccessible and angry. It isn’t difficult to spot the logic that fails in so many of these earnest “don’t need feminism” posts, but it may be a lost cause to try to “school” these women into understanding why their points fall short.
And I say this because I know first hand that it is a very hard, heartbreaking reality to accept.
I’ll never forget the English class I took in my first year of university with a female professor who taught the curriculum through a feminist perspective. Or, at least, she tried to. But we didn’t want to see it that way. We would go through classes resisting her ideas.
At one point she stopped in the middle of class, cheeks blazing, and asked how many of us would call ourselves feminists. I wasn’t even 19 yet, my hand sure didn’t go up. She was stunned. She couldn’t understand why, in a class mixed with men and women presumably from all backgrounds, so few would identify as feminists.
I remember thinking that I just didn’t need feminism. It didn’t apply to me. I grew up being told I could be an astronaut, or a CEO, or the Prime Minister – and damn it if someone was going to stand up and tell me I couldn’t be.
I look back, thinking of her utter despair at our apathy, and can’t even imagine the experiences she recalled as she looked at our smug faces, sure feminism wasn’t for our generation. And so, years after we left this poor professor to wonder at the future of human kind, I look at these women and feel empathy.
Accepting feminism is one of the most difficult things that anyone can do. It means acknowledging that you, as a woman, probably are not making equal pay, or that you’ll have to jump through extra hurdles to be the token woman who does. It means knowing that you, as a man, face unfair expectations of what masculinity should look like today.
But feminism also means more than accepting the challenges you may encounter on your own path. It means caring about the experiences of other people. This means understanding and acknowledging the unfair systematic advantages you possess – and wanting to contribute to a system not governed by them.
If the goal is to effect change, then angry exchanges are probably not the answer. Angry responses breed even angrier ones. And to be clear, the anger is justified. The spread of these anti-feminist lies is harmful and we should in no way be patting any woman on the back for any idea she can come up with.
But perhaps we need to think back to a time before feminism clicked for us on an individual level. Maybe our privilege was blinding us, or maybe it was fear of the obstacles we would face. Maybe the status quo was too good to challenge. Whatever the reason, it probably took life experience and time to deconstruct the larger systematic picture that illustrates why feminism matters.
And it took empathy.
They say that with any controversial topic 20% of people will already be fervently on your side, 20% will never see it your way, and 60% need more information to determine their position. When it comes to feminism, we should bond with our 20, stop fighting with the 20 who will never see beyond their limited scope, and speak with patience and empathy to the 60 who want to know more.