Are you, as a young woman who lives in rich country, privileged enough to “not need feminism”? Good for you. But what about the countless women elsewhere who still desperately need it?
So all the media hullaballoo surrounding the Women Against Feminism Facebook and Tumblr pages is rather worrying, isn’t? The wave of snarky responses, ranging from @NoToFeminism to Confused Cats Against Feminism, has done little to quell my own unease at seeing a wave of young women publicly disavowing a movement that just a century ago Emily Davison flung herself under a racehorse and died to draw attention to.
I’ve examined before the cases of several high-profile women on the right, like Sarah Palin or Phyllis Schlafly, and the left, like Susan Sarandon, who’ve either shirked the label “feminist” in favor of “humanist” or something like it, or who actively campaign against women’s rights. But the objections of the young members of Women Against Feminism seem less concerned with a perceived need for a more palatable repackaging of the principles of equality, like Sarandon. Nor do they in most cases seem to have bought into Schlafly’s patriarchal premise, that is, the idea that women’s ambitions are best served by sublimating them through the phalluses in their life.
No, it seems like what we’re looking at here is a significant segment of a generation of young women rebelling against what they see as older women’s insistence on their own helplessness.
This is not the first time young women have fought back against their mother’s feminism. For instance, in the 2013 film Admission, where Tina Fey plays the lead role in screenwriter Karen Croner’s script, Fey’s thirtysomething character Portia seems baffled and frustrated by her Second Wave mother’s constant stream of feminist vitriol. (In one not-very-subtle scene, her mother invites her daughter to gleefully join her in pounding sausages into mince.)
This generational disconnect also appeared to be the motivator of leading French feminist Elisabeth Badinter’s attack on what she sees as feminism’s preoccupation with victimization over empowerment in her 2006 book Dead-End Feminism, a broad-ranging assault on several tenets of the modern movement, including the theory surrounding enthusiastic consent and sexual harassment. “Has the rhetoric of victimhood not played itself out in the wrong direction?” she writes, arguing that to retain its relevance to the next generation of women, feminism must acknowledge the real legal and social progress that has already been achieved. She dedicates the book to her daughter.
I’m happy that the gender equality movement in rich countries has now reached a level that girls can publicly break with the women whose activism laid the groundwork for their own opportunities. But I confess that their contention that gendered violence and vulnerability are relics of a forgotten past strikes me as revealing a certain tunnel vision of privilege, a distinct lack of a sense of global citizenship and sisterhood.
I live in a country—just three hours away from the U.S. by plane—where women suffer the highest rate of acid attacks in the Western hemisphere, where the recent response of a prominent restauranteur to the rape of a woman on his premises was to blame the incident on the girl’s mini-skirt. Having lived here for two years, I can count on one hand the number of Colombian women I’ve met here who openly espouse feminism. Thus there would seem to be little correlation between how likely women are to call themselves feminists and how much they actually need the movement.
So my response to the girls in rich countries who earnestly believe, like French supermodel/ex-first lady Carla Bruni, that their generation “doesn’t need feminism” is simply: How very wonderful for you.
But the world is much smaller than it was during the Second Wave, and our interconnectedness intensifies our responsibilities to each other. Billions of our global sisters are still confined into social, legal, and economic structures that keep them dependent upon and vulnerable to men. This makes it a very bad idea indeed to openly call themselves feminists, given the very real risk of the label antagonizing those on whom their well-being and financial security depends.
Are you, as a young woman who lives in rich country, privileged enough to “not need feminism”? Excellent. Now please join me in trying to spread some of that privilege amongst women who need it a bit more than you do.
Let’s do Emily Davison proud.
Samantha Eyler is a freelance American writer, editor, and translator based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.