Even if street harassment doesn’t bother you personally, your claiming to “not be a victim” doesn’t negate the right of women everywhere to feel safe.
“I don’t need feminism,” a woman haughtily types at her desk before swallowing her birth control pill with a swig of water, locking up the house she owns, and using her credit card to make purchases at the mall.
The great irony of Women Who Don’t Need Feminism, of course, is that so many of the things we all take for granted (see above) were fought for by the feminists of yesteryear. Women absolutely have the freedom to call ourselves whatever we want, but whenever I run into a self-proclaimed Woman Against Feminism, I invariably find that her position has been shaped by a misunderstanding of what feminist movements actually stand for, a failure to recognize that social progress lies on a continuum, and a personal fear of being seen as too…something.
“I don’t believe that women are better than men. I believe in equality.”
You believe in equality? That’s exactly what feminism fights for! “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better,” says Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “All of us, women and men, must do better.”
Feminism is not a movement that believes women are inherently “better” than men. Previous strains of women’s activism actually were rooted in biologically-based arguments for each sex’s strengths. The Daughters of the American Revolution, for instance, commissioned 12 statues commemorating pioneer women (called the Madonna of the Trail series) in the 1920s. These statues revered motherhood, piousness, and morality—in other words, qualities that the DAR felt were the innate strengths of women on the trail. Over time, women’s movements shifted from highlighting skills within prescribed gender roles to realizing that we could do anything that men had already been doing for centuries.
The fight for agency over our own bodies, access to sex-specific health care, and professional treatment at work is motivated by the belief that we should have the same opportunities men have always had. Feminist movements also fight for the inverse: men having access to more emotive, nurturing, and artistic pursuits that toxic masculinity bars them from.
“Feminism isn’t what it used to be.”
“The women that got us these rights would be shocked by what the movement has become,” a female friend said to me the other day while discussing today’s “wave” of feminism.
Yes, it’s difficult to imagine Ernestine Rose and Lucy Stone adorned with pink pussy hats and mailing menstruation-inspired art to the president and vice-president. Then again, I would like to think that these suffragist leaders would be just as outraged as the rest of us if they had to live under such a blatantly anti-woman administration, led by a man who spurns women’s anatomy as free for the grabbing, as “blood coming out of her wherever.”
Glorifying past movements while condemning current ones is deeply problematic—and demands nothing of you. It’s easier to look back on movements that occurred before you were born with rose colored glasses because you couldn’t have participated in them anyway. It’s easier to talk a good game about what you would have done to help the persecuted had you lived in Nazi Germany, rather than to act against the resurgence of white supremacy in the United States today.
By using 19th century suffragists to criticize today’s feminism or the more palatable aspects of Martin Luther King Jr. to ridicule Black Lives Matter, you not only selfishly let yourself off the hook from social justice causes. You deny that there is still work to be done. Movements don’t end once women have the vote or schools are desegregated. They necessarily evolve to address whatever needs and concerns arise in the future.
“I don’t want to be seen as a victim…or a feminazi.”
Not too long ago, I spoke publicly about the exploitation of adjunct professors in higher education. I explained that as it currently stands, the system generally does not allow adjuncts to substantially advance their careers or salary levels, no matter how many hours or jobs they work. “That’s a shame,” one commenter said. “But you don’t want to be a victim, do you?”
No one wants to be a victim. Especially not in America, where the bootstraps fallacy is practically a religion. But as nice as the thought may be that anything is possible with enough individual effort and perseverance, it is unrealistic. Just as workers will continue to be exploited if the system as a whole doesn’t change, women will continue to be harassed, demeaned, and stalked on the streets unless we work to change the culture. And even if street harassment doesn’t bother you personally, your claiming to “not be a victim” doesn’t negate the right of women everywhere to feel safe.
On the other side of the spectrum, to affix the word “Nazi” to the end of something is to write a cautionary tale. Don’t be too loud, too willful. Don’t be too off-putting to the people who would rather not hear that you left your career in STEM because the harassment you received as the only woman of color was too much, or that you’ve been accosted by the same man outside your preferred supermarket so much that you have to shop elsewhere. Adjust. Move on.
Nazis espouse a far-right ideology of believed racial superiority. The National Alliance, an American neo-Nazi organization active since the 1970s, calls “for the eradication of the Jews and other races and the creation of an all-white homeland.” When I think of actual “feminists” who mimicked this kind of violent extremism, I picture Mary Daly and Valerie Solanas, who advocated for the eradication of men and were widely condemned by their feminist philosopher peers.
For contrast’s sake, here is a short list of the things I desire as outcomes of feminist work—things that make me neither a victim nor a “feminazi.”
- Equal pay for equal work
- A partner who supports my career and other pursuits without trivializing or dismissing them
- To walk down streets, into bars, or appear in other public places without being harassed
- To write online without being threatened, stalked, or doxed
- To not be judged for my body, my clothes and makeup, my sex life, or the number of children I do or do not have
What would your list look like?
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.