In Defence of Feminism, Yet Again

 | Wed 16 Jul 2014 22:12 ICT

As I expected, because this is always the case anytime the word “feminism” gets mentioned on the internet, my recent Citylife cover story brought the usual crop of anti-feminist webcrawlers (seriously, these guys must just have Google alerts set to “feminism” and systematically comment on each article with plugs for their various anti-feminist websites).

Usually I am content to leave commenters to fight it out amongst themselves, but in this case my passion for the subject won out and I ultimately decided to step in and respond. Not because I think it will change their minds – these kinds of people never change their minds (though they do offer you a plethora of “suggested reading” that consists of links to what are surely quite objective sites with names like dontneedfeminism.tumblr and

I guess I responded simply because I think it’s worth asking ourselves why the word itself has become so vehemently contested, when other similar movements for equality find at least a general sense of acceptance. This op-ed is an extended version of my original response.


Why, I wonder, do so many people put so much energy into fighting a movement that exists to make the world more equal? Is it because they really don’t want the world to be equal? Is it because they think it’s uncool? Is it because they feel threatened by women coming together? Is it because they have never read a history book? Is it because they can’t see past their own experiences to the very real oppression that most women around the world face? 

There is a particularly sad Facebook page that has recently caught media attention. It’s called Women Against Feminism and it’s made up of mostly young, naïve white women holding up an array of handwritten signs saying why they aren’t feminists. Things like, “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality NOT entitlements and supremacy!” (Yeah, Saudi Arabian women campaigning for the right to vote, stop being so goddamn entitled!) “I DON’T need something that tells me the actions of a slut are okay,” says another. (Right, because using the word “slut” is a great argument against feminism.)

Isn’t the fact that so many people feel angry about the very existence of feminism a sign of how much the movement is still needed?

Listen up, folks. First of all, being a feminist DOES NOT and I repeat DOES NOT mean that you hate men. Of course, some feminists do hate men (just like some men hate women), but to tar all feminists with the same man-hating brush is to miss the point entirely. For what it’s worth, I am a feminist and I love men. (Especially men who are self-secure enough to call themselves feminists without feeling like their “manhood” is being threatened.)

Secondly, for the millionth time, identifying as a feminist simply means you believe in equality between women and men. It really is that simple, and by calling yourself a feminist that’s the only thing you are signing onto. It means you believe your gender shouldn’t determine what rights you have. But the reason it’s called FEMinism is no accident, it’s because it is a movement against the dominant, patriarchal system. Of course feminists are humanists also, but by calling ourselves merely humanists, we are negating the equalising force, and ignoring the disenfranchised group which is trying to equalise. 

Of course, different feminists fight for different things and have different opinions, but equality is always the backbone. 

And, newsflash, gender is still determining what rights people have all around the world, so saying you’re not a feminist because you don’t feel oppressed or you don’t think your wife feels oppressed is a moot point. Good for you if you don’t feel oppressed! If that’s the case you’re very lucky, let the good times roll. But your experience does not negate the very real systematic oppression faced by others all around the world.

Let me be clear: the battle has not been won. Globally, women do not have equal rights. In Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive cars and are still not allowed to vote. In El Salvador, anti-abortion laws are so strict that women (only women, of course) can be charged with homicide for suffering a miscarriage. In Yemen, women are considered half a person in court (yes, for real; it takes the testimony of two women to equal the testimony of one man). In Iran, women who appear on public streets without a hijab are subject to public lashings. In Pakistan, “honour killings” specifically targeting women are ubiquitous. Even in America, where everyone seems to think equality has been officially reached, one in every six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, yet only three out of every 100 rapists ever serves time in prison. The list goes on. And on. And on. And guess who is tirelessly fighting to change these draconian laws and deep-set inequalities that most of the rest of the world ignores? Grassroots feminist groups. Women fighting for change within the confines of their own often highly oppressive societies.

As a global movement, feminism seeks not only to support those who are on the ground fighting, but work on all levels, from development justice to economic reform to anti-violence training, to level the playing field in all areas. It is an integrated movement that rebels against deeply ingrained, patriarchy-driven social inequalities not only between genders, but also between classes, races, abilities, and sexual orientations (because feminism includes all these other marginalised groups within it). Intersectionality is a huge component of feminism – we deal not only with individual issues faced by women, but oppression in its larger, highly multifarious context. No one is saying that men don’t suffer; patriarchy hurts them too.


Yes, of course, as a movement feminism has flaws and internal disconnects that need to be addressed. All movements do. But as I tried to make clear in my original article, the media’s focus on wealthy white western women as the poster children for feminism misses the point (as do many who rally against feminism for this reason). These women are only one small faction of a much larger global movement. This doesn’t mean their concerns and accomplishments are meaningless, it just means that they aren’t the sole representatives of the group at large and shouldn’t be taken as such.

If feminism’s detractors were able to approach the subject without blinders on, they might be able to see the very real and positive effects feminism, as both an idea and a movement, has had and continues to have on both first and third world women. In the west, the very real impact of feminists past is illustrated by the very fact that these #WomenAgainstFeminism feel as “NOT oppressed” as they apparently do (“Enjoy your right to vote, ladies,” says Susan B. Anthony). Of course there is still more work to be done, particularly for poor and minority women in the west, who often seem left out of the equation when anti-feminists are crowing about how equal we all are now (just FYI, the poverty rate for women is still significantly higher than the poverty rate for men in America, and even higher for minority women).

Meanwhile, in second and third world countries, the disparities are even more stark. But feminism in action is creating meaningful change. At the Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF) I wrote about in my article, I met activists from all over Asia who have found strength and solidarity in the feminist movement and used it to accomplish inspiring things, from passing acts against unsustainable mining practices in the Philippines to fighting laws banning interfaith marriage in Burma to finding a voice and a community for people with disabilities in Nepal to seeking justice against honour killings in Pakistan. These are women from some of the most oppressive countries in the world. One woman told me she can’t even go out on the street alone without fearing for her life. She fights for women’s rights anyway and felt supported for the first time when she came to APFF.

I met men also, allies who were warmly welcomed into the group. Feminism is not exclusive; the goal has never been to alienate men or to render their problems invalid. It is a movement that applauds cooperation, welcomes everyone and seeks to bring positive change to all areas, from the rights of refugees to the preservation of the environment. At least, that’s the kind of feminism I’m talking about, and the kind I found at APFF.

Movements are designed to unite people fighting for the same goals. In this case, the goal is equality, justice and a voice for all. Feminism gives marginalised women a sense of solidarity, a way to come together and share their experiences (and to learn from the experiences of others), a reason to keep on pushing forward, and a community where they can find support, appreciation and understanding.

Why would anyone want to take that away?