A friend from America sent me a link to the Buzzfeed article on Women Against Feminism, a piece which has reignited an already decidedly hot debate. Accusations have flown thick and fast, with Men’s Rights Activists playing white knights against an understandable amount of vitriol. Although it’s easy to overstate the issue, thanks to the first rule of the Internet – empty vessels make the most noise, the screeching of anti-feminist groups suggests a far more coordinated and dangerous opponent to equality than is apparent.
Twenty or so women holding up placards doth not a Phyllis Schlafly make, for starters, and though other women did come out and admit that they were also against feminism, the majority showed contempt. There are several reasons for this, one that struck me as particularly interesting. Reading through tweets on the subject, there was an argument that Women Against Feminism is an issue of privilege – that the women against feminism lived in homes and societies where women were not objectified or treated as second-class citizens. At best, this makes them naïve and fortunate – at worst, it bears a striking resemblance to an “I’m all right, Jack” mindset. I reconsidered the points again, and then I wondered what does Women Against Feminism really mean. Was it women standing against the abstract idea of feminism, of gender equality? Against the feminist organisation, whatever that means? Or was it a much more personal issue, was it women who simply felt that feminism was no longer applicable to them?
Some of the women against feminism.
Because feminism means so many different things, and these meanings vary wildly between proponents and opponents, to make a stand against the sort of wild-eyed misandry which is so often conjured up by anti-feminists is understandable, but it’s not making a stand against feminism – and the massive majority of feminists would agree that making threats against men or claiming that men were inferior to women is entirely wrong. I’m dubious as to whether any of the Women Against Feminism actively believe in reducing gender equality, but you could make an argument that feminism is redundant. It’s not one I believe in, but if you really do think that there is no pay-gap, that domestic violence statistics show an equivalence in terms of gender, and that women in non-Western nations are always treated with the utmost respect and dignity, then I suppose you could consistently class yourself against ‘meddling’ feminists. One of the members of the Women Against Feminism group was simply keen for a bit of good old-fashioned slut-shaming; another felt that modern feminists simply did not represent them. This is a spectrum of rviewpoints that share only the word feminism, hardly a unified meaning. At the heart of this debate lies the question of whether feminism can be given a single, non-controversial definition.
Online feminism is certainly not as revolutionary as imagined in the 90s. Australian hacker group VNS Matrix, in the decidedly NSFW Cyberfeminist Manifesto, discussed taking down “Big Daddy Mainframe”, wrestling for power in the masculine fields of the web and gaming. It is not surprising that compared to this, an internet filled with a mixture of cat pictures, porn, and vacuous social media is something of a disappointment – especially when you see the development of Men’s Rights Activism. It is tempting to see the net as little more than a space in which the patriarchy has reasserted its dominance, through a mixture of conservative ideology and new-wave, atavistic images of ‘masculinity’– but the very fact that we can be having this discussion is evidence to the contrary.
Women Against Feminism reveals nothing more than disparate voices shouting against the crowd. This is not STOP ERA – there are people with personal grievances in many cases, and certainly not standing against gender equality. There is major progress to be made – in the West as much as abroad – but the Internet is alive with those who struggle for gender equality. Groups like Everyday Sexism have brought issues to the forefront that have been swept aside for far too long, countering attempts by online misogynists to portray themselves as victims. Women Against Feminism has simply pointed out two things – that the majority of women are not against feminism, and more importantly, that the confusion about what exactly feminism means remains one of its greatest obstacles.
Sid Venkataramakrishnan is a Deputy Comment Editor, with an interest in further work in journalism. He has previous experience working at OxPolicy, the student think tank, and the OxStu. Find him on Twitter @SVR13.