Earlier today, a friend of a friend posted a photo in response to the Who Needs Feminism? project, with the disclaimer that “As long as feminism means promoting the dignity and equality of women, I’m fine with it. But be careful with your definition of equality.”
It’s unfortunately clear that this girl, and many others, don’t understand what feminism is about at all. Now, I’ve made a couple other posts about this that pretty much say the same thing, but for those who have arrived from Facebook, here’s the rundown: Just like any movement, feminism’s core principles are subject to interpretation and implementation by individuals, which means that they span a wide spectrum. Hopefully, she and others like her don’t go about vilifying entire causes on the basis of individuals or extremists with whom they disagree. After all, it’s clear they don’t define Catholicism by those who use it in a hateful way or the few priests who have abused their positions of power.
To her credit, most feminists would ardently disagree with the pro-life stance, but it doesn’t mean that feminism as a whole, and all the other issues it addresses, should simply be swept under the rug. Furthermore, save for maybe a few radicals or old-schoolers, nobody in the mainstream modern feminist movement is telling people that equality means sameness in every way or that being a mother or wife, or being loving, caring, and “modest” is a crime, or shameful, or that is makes them any less of a woman, and THAT IS THE POINT. Feminism is about “championing” a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life- whether she chooses fishnets or floorlength skirts, wants to be a stay-at-home-mom, a software engineer, or a solider, subscribes to Christianity or atheism. It also, however, calls for social reflexivity- for women to be aware of the social structures and attitudes that have historically deprived women of agency in a myriad of ways.
In any case, the most glaring part of this well-intended Facebook post isn’t the ignorance it demonstrates, but the mentalities it espouses. The real problem is that responding to the Who Needs Feminism project by making a poster like this is insulting to all those who have participated, and minimizes their very REAL and PAINFUL experiences of being abused, taken advantage of, or not taken seriously because of their gender.
The poster depicted above and posted to Facebook was made by a student at the University of Notre Dame, a school at which a girl KILLED HERSELF because the administration did nothing when one of its athletes made her feel as though her choices, her feelings, and her body weren’t in her control.
3 weeks ago, 15 year old Amanda Todd committed suicide after she was lured by a stranger on the internet into exposing her breasts, and then pictures of this act were posted to Facebook, shared, mocked, and vilified by her friends, fellow students, and people she didn’t even know.
A month ago, 15 year old Ciara Pugsley, a popular girl who struggled with depression, committed suicide after being “bombarded with hate messages” on Ask.fm, which told her that “she was depressed to attract attention, that she was fat, and that she had no respect for herself.”
5 days ago, 13 year old Erin Gallagher committed suicide after being continually “taunted about her weight and looks” via similar Ask.fm messages.
Countless others are subject to this sort of harassment in silence.
If that’s not relevant enough, consider the girl who has one night stands or is promiscuous in the college scene because she feels guilty for saying no. Her environment conditions her to honestly believe that if a guy buys her a few drinks, if she makes out with somebody, or if a guy lets her crash at his place, she would be rude and disappointing if she didn’t follow through. That “not delivering” on something she’s “offered” (via her attire, flirtatiousness, and/or other sexual acts) makes her a bad person. That there’s a “point of no return” past which she cannot back out. She may not even be conscious of this mentality at work in her actions- I certainly wasn’t.
In the end, the internet user who convinces a young girl to flash the camera, the Facebook users who mock and slut-shame a teenager for her self-proclaimed mistake, the internet users who take it upon themselves to make young girls’ mental health and physical appearance their business, the administration that doesn’t take sexual assault claims seriously, the society which continually reinforces the notion that sexualization and objectification (at younger ages every year) are simply means to validation, appreciation, and self-worth, and those who ignore, minimize, or encourage a culture of female subjugation, all send one message loud and clear: Girls, you, your bodies, your choices, and your feelings are merely sideshows at a circus. You exist to be advertised, scrutinized, commodified, and judged. Fuck your agency. You are not an individual. You are a public spectacle.
These issues are real, and their effects are devastating. They aren’t going away. So when a girl makes a poster saying “I don’t need the kind of feminism you’re promoting,” this is what she’s standing against: