In my interactions with individuals who are hostile to feminism, one phrase that I encounter repeatedly, either verbatim or in similar iterations, is
“The problem with modern feminism is…”
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately and very clearly there is a perception out there, however misinformed it may be, that “modern feminism” is something that is deviant from an idealized version of feminism that existed at some point in the past, where it was more legitimate (because in their minds equality has already been achieved) and that now those who proudly wear the feminist label are merely “too sensitive” about things or “take things to seriously” or are just “too radical”.
For those of us who actually have even a cursory knowledge of feminism, we know that such notions are silly, to put it kindly. Feminism as a movement has only become more aware of intersectionality and more mindful of inclusion as a goal over time, and the feminism of the past was severely lacking in that area – leading to necessary movements such as womanism springing forth to fill the gaps that first and second wave feminism left unfilled in their push for equality. This can only be a good thing. We need to include a diverse range of experiences in our push for equality in society if we wish to be able to tackle the broad systemic oppression that we face, which cuts across boundaries of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, and class.
Granted, there are some issues in modern feminism which are problematic, and there are spaces for legitimate criticism that we should address – the trans-exclusionary radical feminists (often called TERFs, who self-identify as radfems), the lack of respect and inclusion for sex workers, paternalistic, first-world centric attitudes, etc.
Feminists aren’t perfect, and they never claim to be. Similarly, like any social movement, feminism is one that has necessarily evolved over time as more and more individuals have identified with it and brought their experiences to the table. We all have blind spots and having people remind us of those is helpful in pushing the movement forward rather than having it remain stagnant and unable to take on evolving oppression.
I think at the root of this, partially, is a concept called the straw feminist. One of my heroes, Anita Sarkeesian, made a wonderful video analyzing what is not only a social conception that many unfortunately have of feminists and feminism, but it’s one that is a common cliché in popular forms of media, thus constantly reinforced and validated.
Like Anita points out, the straw feminist is not an accurate representation of feminism as a movement or feminists in general, but merely a means by which detractors of feminism are able to create a division between their idealized, toothless feminism that never really existed at all and a “straw man” feminist that is hyper-aggressive, tilts at windmills, and is altogether unnecessary in our age of equality.
Nevertheless, despite what they may think, we do not live in an age of equality, and women DO face oppression, even in the first world. Just with regard to some of the things that I’ve written about, Rape culture and sexual violence are at epidemic levels and the perpetrators are rarely charged, let alone convicted – and all the while blaming the victims for their assault is normalized. Access to reproductive health and contraception is under constant assault. Transgender women face even higher rates of violence, sexual or otherwise, than cisgender women, especially if they are trans women of color, and their oppression and lack of acceptance in society even extends to forcing them out of public restrooms.
Despite increases in earnings, the gender pay gap, which cannot be explained away by lack of ambition or biological determinism, persists. Women are underrepresented in tech jobs , gaming (both of which fields in which women are not only underrepresented but face severe, organized harassment campaigns for speaking out) , STEM fields, politics, and really any upper level positions across industries. This is the oft-referenced “glass ceiling”, which Hillary Clinton famously alluded to as recently as the 2008 elections.
Feminism is not a movement whose time has come and gone, it is a movement whose time is now, and the only thing that is “too radical” in our society is the broad, systemic, unrelenting oppression that women face across the globe. Identifying with feminism is an identification with the overall broad goal of an increasingly inclusive and mindful movement actively engaged in dismantling this system of oppression, and a milquetoast, toothless version of feminism that neither acknowledges nor is willing to aggressively confront this oppression is so pointless that if it ever existed, it would beg the question of why it even exists at all.
These critiques, which I hesitate to even refer to them as, are ignorant excuses to uphold the status quo and insulate their complicity in perpetuating it from receiving any criticism. Frankly, in my opinion, if these “critics” aren’t going to lead or follow, then it’s time they get out of our way. We’ve got work to do.