I was a teenage non-feminist

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“Of course I believe in equality...but I’m certainly not a feminist.” 

Such was the catchcry of my late adolescence. Had the #womenagainstfeminism hashtag existed then, I’d be mortified to recall some of the ignorant things I spouted, my pouty lips posed behind a placard of falsehoods, photo attempt number 38 among 45 other discarded snapshots.  

But as a feminism denying adolescent, I was still interested in the disparate treatment of men and women. I bristled each time domestic chores were handed down to my sister and I while our brother was given leave to play and explore, our femaleness apparently carrying with it a greater capacity for cleaning things. On the streets and at school, I had grown aware of the lingering threat that circled girls. The men who yelled crude sexual taunts and those who simply stared, both executions resulting in the slow and steady shrinking in on oneself that begins at around age 12 and perhaps never truly goes away.

I also knew that atrocious things happened to women ‘out there’, some of them as young or younger than myself. (Later, I would realise just how much this suffering would be exploited to justify Western sexism as a benevolent entity, an annoying itch rather than a dangerous burn, and one that subsequently doesn’t deserve to be complained about.)

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Women suffered the world over, some more than others, and my heart throbbed quietly for us all.

Still, I did not call myself a feminist - because I wanted boys to like me. And knowing what I knew about how it felt to be a woman in the world, I was terrified at the kind of punishment that lay in wait if I took all the evidence of that collective oppression and laid it squarely at the feet of those who benefited from it, saying, “Look! Look! Can you see?”

Having long since resolved my hostility towards the label ‘feminist’, I’ve been thinking about the Women Against Feminism arguments in recent days. Amidst all the frustration and headdesking, I’ve realised there are three key things that encourage women to set themselves against a movement invested in their liberation and equality.   

1. Retribution

The mechanics of internalised misogyny are complicated, but they’re largely driven by fear of retribution. Feminism is perceived as a threat by some people, and the only recourse they have is to threaten it right back. For the girls and women who experience these threats on an ongoing basis, it’s understandable that they’d want to minimise exposure to them.

Forgive the overworked idiom, but if I had a dollar for every time someone had responded to my feminism by calling me fat, bitter, ugly, unrapeable (yes, that happens frequently), angry, stupid, opportunistic and - most recently - hypocritical for being paid to write about it, then I’d have enough to buy a substantial block of time with a decent therapist. When you add to that the very real risk of physical violence that looms over women who stand up for themselves or ‘shout back’, it makes sense that some women would seek to establish themselves as foot soldiers and enforcers in order to avoid this negative fall-out.

Sometimes, anti-feminism isn’t about women being unable to ‘think for themselves’ as the argument goes. It’s about an unconscious battle for self-preservation. Being a feminist isn’t easy - but being an outspoken one can be even more difficult.


2. Negotiation
 

That urge for self-preservation is very strong, and we see how it manifests with negotiation all the time. Consider the women who join in victim blaming narratives, reasoning that if she hadn’t done X then Y wouldn’t have happened. So women who willingly engage in X are ‘asking for it’.

Women consent to the limiting of their behaviour in an attempt to negotiate their own protection. The fact that none of this works is by the by. Accepting that and talking about it makes them a target, so instead they consent to being the enforcers of patriarchy and misogyny in order to carve out a small slice of symbolic power within those structures. Negotiation is not power - it’s compromise.

 

3. Wilful, selfish ignorance

Feminism argues that women are people too, and all people with privilege are susceptible to the kind of selfishness that keeps them indifferent to the struggles of others.

If you’re not forcing yourself to routinely interrogate the benefits you enjoy in society, it’s all too easy to tell yourself that other people are inventing their disadvantages. So people born into financial independence tell themselves that poor people need to work harder; people born into the relative utopia of Australia argue that refugees fleeing war-torn countries are ‘jumping the queue’; and some women favoured by the world’s preference for compliant, conservative ‘traditionalists’ understand and enjoy the benefit they think they get from being an ardent supporter of the status quo. Who cares about the grievances of angry, bitter women when your own situation is relatively comfortable?

Part of feminism’s core mission statement is to advocate for a world in which all women, not just some, are given equal opportunities and respect. That some women don’t yet understand this is a shame, but they may one day come to this realisation. That some women do but simply don’t care is an outrage.

I expect Women Against Feminism will flare briefly and then disappear into irrelevancy. It boasts a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism from the outset, and seems instead designed to support the conservative ideals that harm women rather than help them.

This is nothing new. The backlash has always attempted to push back against feminism’s success and it will keep trying. 

But the world has forged women into fighters. We’ll keep pushing right back, as we always have done and as we always will, until we create a world in which all women are treated with dignity and liberated from patriarchal oppression - even the ones who don’t believe it exists.

 

51 comments

  • At least you were for equality then.

    Commenter
    Sam
    Date and time
    July 29, 2014, 8:31AM
    • So Sam, in your opinion 'equality' was achieved by a young woman being too afraid to speak for what she believed in because she was scared men would hate her for it? An egalitarian utopia indeed.

      Commenter
      cass
      Date and time
      July 29, 2014, 11:33AM
    • Umm, have you looked up the meaning of equality recently? And more to the point, did you read the article?

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 29, 2014, 12:14PM
  • "Feminism is perceived as a threat by some people, and the only recourse they have is to threaten it right back."

    I wish this point was given more prominence and analysis in feminist commentary. It's critically important, and it's one of the prime reasons the 'anti-feminist' backlash even exists.

    It points to a fundamental misunderstanding of human psychology, and it has hamstrung modern feminism in western society, even if it doesn't realise it.

    Simply put, when people are accused of something, they automatically get defensive, regardless of whether they are guilty of it or not. We're all guilty of it, and young people are even more prone. Especially when that accusation is personalised, especially when it is contrary to a person's self-image, and especially when it is phrased in an adversarial manner. Our mammalian brain subconsciously reads it as a threat or an attack, and we either back down or respond with anger.

    Any psychologist will tell you that adversarial argument and debate almost never changes people's minds. If the goal is actually to alter viewpoints and change minds, you don't 'tell' people what they're doing wrong, because that implicitly positions the other person as inferior.

    Commenter
    DM
    Date and time
    July 29, 2014, 8:54AM
    • Here's the thing - feminism doesn't have to be angry. It doesn't need to inhabit an aggressive male vs female discourse. And I think that is what Clem and many others feminists don't understand. I'm a happy feminist. I probably reinforce the norms of the patriarchy every day - I love male attention, I like doing "girly" things, I exercise to be attractive to men as well as to be healthy, I want to get married and I love the differences between men and women. None of this compromises my feminist values. Feminism can be a joyful experience if you allow it to be.

      Commenter
      HappyFeminist
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 29, 2014, 9:29AM
      • I really like that you recognise that liking men does not cancel out your feminism, but the thing is, feminism does need angry advocates who are able to see and are willing to point out the everyday sexism that is directed at women. As long as female graduates are paid on average 10% less for entry level jobs, we need people who are willing to fight the fight. Sometimes that means being active and angry.

        Commenter
        Mads
        Date and time
        July 29, 2014, 12:07PM
      • If you think that "feminism doesn't have to be angry" you are eye-wateringly ignorant of the sheer scale and scope of issues faced by women in our society and pretty much every other all over the world. And saying that Clementine or other feminists (who?) are trying to strip you of your girly things or that their arguments boil down to "men bad! women good!" is a ridiculous oversimplification. Your comment is a perfect illustration of point #3 in the article.

        Commenter
        Louise
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 29, 2014, 12:13PM
      • Oh HappyFeminist, I wish I could see the pictures and hear the stories from around the world about how women are treated *without* being angry. But somehow, everything - from the disproportionate number of women living in poverty on the U.S. minimum wage to primary school girls being raped and murdered in South East Asia - just seems to rile me up for some reason.

        And I hope I stay angry, because I'm not going to effect any sort of worthwhile change by dancing up to world leaders and being pretty at them....

        Commenter
        andilee
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 29, 2014, 1:15PM
      • Mads,
        you've inadvertently shown one of the great problems with feminism, misuse of statistics.
        Female graduates are on average across all industries paid 10% less than men.

        However, once industry, sector, actual role and hours worked is taken into account, there is no difference between rates of pay. ie. equal pay for equal work.
        Feminism should be about equality of opportunity but far too often it is co-opted by people seeking equality of outcome.

        Of course this comment is unlikely to get published (again), highlighting another problem of some feminists and this article - the inability to logically argue their points with people that disagree.

        Commenter
        Freddie Frog
        Date and time
        July 29, 2014, 1:34PM
      • Agree entirely with you, HappyFeminist, and also with Mads.

        It does seem like a Catch 22 at times, where it's socially acceptable to be a feminist so long as you never actually, you know, talk about it, do anything about it, or appear to be annoyed or discontent with inequality. As Hurrow put it here yesterday, apparently we need to get on with the job of building an equal society, but with a lot less "complaining" by feminists. So... we need to work for solutions but never actually acknowledge the problem openly?

        Commenter
        Red Pony
        Date and time
        July 29, 2014, 1:40PM

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