February 5, 2011

Thoughts on feminist activism

One of the things that I am enjoying most about college is the opportunity to be involved in a physical community of activists. Most of my exposure to activism (slacktivism?) in high school stemmed from internet communities, as well as my own autonomous attempts to correct injustice on a small scale when encountered. I think the internet is an amazing and powerful tool for activism, but having real-life friends to bounce ideas off of has been really enlightening.

Lately, I've been getting into a lot of discussions with people surrounding the question, What is the biggest challenge you face in furthering your cause? Something I've found interesting about these discussions is that nearly every other cause besides feminism cites the issue, People not believing in my issue. (i.e. Global warming isn't real, Animals don't deserve as many rights as people, Sweatshops aren't that bad, etc.)

In my experience with feminism, it is infrequent that I encounter someone who blatantly comes out and says Women don't deserve equal rights as men. Sure, I meet people all of the time who don't understand how something is sexist or offensive. As a whole, however, I don't routinely come across people who explicitly tout women as less than men. (I do meet them sometimes though! Hello asshole boy on my dorm floor!)

Weirdly, the biggest struggle that I face when talking to people about feminism is feminism itself. Some sample lines from conversations about feminism:
  • Feminists are militant.
  • Feminists just whine about things.
  • Feminists are overly sensitive.
  • Feminazi!
  • I support equal rights, but I'd never say I'm a feminist.
and of course, my favorite:
  • Shutup bitch.
It is really irritating that feminism has to face this extra issue on top of issues of sexism, homophobia, injustice, etc. I feel like it's indicative of the problem though. When people discount my opinion because I am a feminist, it really just reinforces the fact that there is still work to be done.

Sorry if this was sort of a downer. Just ruminating on the movement itself lately. Here's a pic of a cool feminist dude to counteract any negative vibes:


  1. I love your writing. It 's comforting to know that there are still young women who are thoughtful and articulate.

  2. I deal with the same thing all the time.
    Strangely enough, much of this belligerence comes from other women!
    When discussing feminist literary criticism in my English class, one girl raised her hand and said, "This is so stupid. Women are equal. Feminism is irrelevant and feminists need to stop whining."
    I was absolutely shocked. It's so frustrating that sometimes, even the women who would benefit from open discussions about gender write off feminism as "a bunch of ugly bitches."*

    *real quote from a girl in my Intro to Women's and Gender Studies class

  3. I love this post. You know, for a society that has done a relatively good job (NOT saying that the job is done, by any means!) bringing up the status of women, we sure have turned the word "feminism" into something dirty and terrible.

    Also, the comment above is absolutely horrifying. @Indigo, thanks for sharing that, even though it made me want to hack up my lunch =/

  4. This post is just what I needed. I have been dealing with this EXACT same thing on a daily basis. If I post anything on Facebook that involves equal rights for women I get comments like, "You're overanalyzing it," or "You're just a stupid feminist looking for something to bitch about." Even though I really wish we didn't have to put up with this crap, at least it's nice to know you feel the same as me.
    Keep on posting everyone, you're the inspiration that gets me through the day!

  5. I love this post as well

  6. Hey Jamie

    I've been following your post since the days of the Seventeen Magazine Project (awesome!) but this is the first time I've felt compelled to comment. As a liberal feminist sitting in the middle of conservative Alberta, Canada I have long shared your pain. What is with girls especially being un willing to call themselves feminists?! To answer this question I've received clearance from my professor to conduct a survey of undergrads at my school about such attitudes. If you're interested in bouncing off ideas email me at clairehimsl@gmail.com !

  7. I'm also pissed off! In multiple places I've worked I've been sexually harassed by customers and my managers never do anything about it. I worked at a hotel as a front desk receptionist. It didn't matter what I wore or how I looked men would always hit on me. I talked to my manager about this, and he told me I was crazy and that I am "a pretty girl" so I should take it as a compliment.

    Don't tell me woman are equal, faceless people that we are angry at for not supporting our cause.

  8. I couldn't agree more with this post.

    Unfortunately, i always hoped that leaving my catholic private school where the principal says "gay people are just wrong", moving out to a less conservative city, and FINNALY starting to attend college would allow me to have serious debates about feminism and gay rights and all those issues i had no one to talk about. Surprise, surprise: in my college, pretty much no one cares; it seems that hazing and crap like that is more important. I wish i could meet some real-life activists; so far, i'm disappointed.
    I guess i shouldn't be shocked at all. After all, i live in portugal, where gay marriage is accepted by law but not by people, and people use the "shut up, overreacting bitch" almost daily. Even our president says that women are great because, as wives and mothers, they take care of kids and manage tight family budgets. (he actually said that on campaign and no one seemed to notice; he was re-elected last month)

    Sorry about the story-of-my-miserable-life post. It was meant to show other perspective.

  9. You should hear what i get for being a feminist thats actively involved in the porn community.
    sex positive feminism is one of the few brands of feminism that even most feminists are against.

  10. While I should hope that few people say "I don't believe women should have the same rights as men," I would imagine that it's not an uncommon response for people to not believe in the issue, saying "I believe women already have the same rights as men."

    After all, that's what I myself believed for a long time.

    This was before I was turned onto the whole "combating gender normativity" angle. It sucks that women only on average get paid X percent of what men on average get paid, glass ceilings and all that. But the angle of saying that the idea that men and women have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, have to like certain things and dislike other things, that's really something I can understand, sympathize with, and get behind as a cause.

    When you talk about obstacles to the cause being that people don't believe in your cause, I think this is one many causes face too - not that a certain group doesn't deserve equality, but the idea, the belief, that they already have equality, and that therefore the problem's already been solved and there's no need for the cause.

  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8Fplq9MJ6k

    This is what they do with female activists in my country. It's a US colony and I bet none of you had seen this video. Yay.

  12. You give me hope for the future of feminism.

    I hate to tell you that women of all ages say "I believe in equal rights for women, but I'm not a feminist". It has always angered me.

    Basically, they are happy to enjoy the privileges granted to them by the past work of our grandmothers/mothers but not willing to honour it!

    Being accused of not having a sense of humour or nitpicking about everything is typical fare.

    Stick to your principals and keep speaking up!

    Good luck!

  13. This topic was brought up in one of my classes. It is extremely frustrating because I get the comment "you are reading too much into it". What I, and others, have noticed is that the male-identified feminists seem to have better luck getting the message across than do any of the female-identified feminists (as well as the genderqueer, gendervariant, etc. -identified feminists). I believe this ties into our society's power structure. This same principle applies to straight allies to the LGBTQ community, white allies to any of the communities of people of color, christian allies supporting religious tolerance/respect, etc. If you belong to the group that has the power, you have an easier time to change attitudes than do the people in the oppressed group. This feels like both a blessing and a curse.

  14. Nice post.

    I run into the same issues all the time - and I'm 55 LOL! We must never give up...

  15. I wore a t-shirt that says 'FEMINIST' to my private girls' school. Which, you would think, would support the idea of feminism and gender equality. But even here, I seems like a taboo topic of discussion -- several male teachers (and female teachers too!) rolled their eyes. And my headmistress, too.


  16. I think the same goes for many groups. There are always people who make you feel embarrassed to call yourself "x" for example Christians embarrassed to call themselves Christian because of the extreme American right.

    Unfortunately my experience with those who identify themselves as feminists have made me *not* want to identify myself with them, but on the bright side your articulate and level-headed posts are helping counteract those experiences!

    People should never discount your opinion just because you're a feminist, and I agree that most of the sample conversation lines are valid. However, I disagree that saying you're over-analyzing or over sensitive aren't necessarily against feminism as much as they're against your argument, which happens to be feminist.

    Like any other -ism, you* need to pick your battles and not speak as if your perspective is the only one, which I think relates to the "god you don't have to turn everything into a feminist issue". Sometimes a feminist perspective isn't terribly relevant, but again that's arguable and depends on what you're talking about, either party could be right. Causes of WWII? Probably over-analyzing if you're looking at it from a feminist perspective. Hooters uniforms? Perfectly fine to look at from a feminist perspective.

    As for picking your battles, if you* start kicking up a storm about something very trivial, like saying "female actor" instead of "actress" people are going to start seeing you as petty. If you argue that the sole cause of the wage gap is discrimination against women, people will see you as blind to the economic realities (uneven distribution of women in industries, affect that absence from the workforce has on a career).** But it's certainly unfair if you're discussing a serious issue to be lumped in with someone like that.

    As to those who say "shutup bitch", they either don't possess the maturity to participate in a discussion, or can't find a clever retort and figure if you stop arguing they've won. =)

    * I don't mean to blame you as in you personally doing these things, there's just no good pronoun in English!
    ** I don't mean to say that no gender discrimination exists, I'm just trying to illustrate that it's not a black and white problem, there are other factors.

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