Dear Anti-Feminists on the Internet:
Hi. My name is Katherine. I hope this finds you well! I do, honestly. It was a beautiful day here, in the city where I live. There are dogs running around on leashes, kids drawing on the sidewalks with chalk, flowers blooming on trees. It made me feel peaceful and happy today, as I walked around and observed everything. I hope that some of this is true for you as well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you, Anti-Feminists, because you made me upset last week. In case you are reading this and you’re not sure what I’m talking about: remember that social media maelstrom #HowToSpotAFeminist?
In case you missed it, it’s a hashtag created by a conservative radio host. And to be honest, Anti-Feminists, you said some things in there that were angry, hurtful, or misguided. Some of them were sort of laughably dated — I don’t wear pantsuits, for one thing; they’d look pretty terrible on my figure. Some were downright puzzling: I don’t actually know ANYONE who uses the word “phallus” in daily conversation. Do you?
And some of the things you said were hurtful, and said only (as far as I can tell) for the sake of being aggressively mean.
Anti-Feminists out there, this was not surprising. This happens all the time. But it was upsetting, as it always is. This kind of thing happens frequently and I am, like many women out there, a bit numb to the experience due to the repeated exposure. But reading hateful things is unpleasant. It’s always going to be a little upsetting.
But I really have to tell you, it was particularly upsetting to see so many women with misguided assumptions about what feminism is and is not. So many women who seemed to think that the feminist movement was a personal threat to them — who seemed to think that by stating “I am a woman who HATES feminists!” they were taking a stand against a way of life that they viewed as oppressive to their own.
Anti-Feminist in that photo, I just wanted to give you a hug. I wanted to take you out for a coffee or a beer or a cocktail or a bite to eat, and sit down with you, and explain that we’re all on the same side. That of course men deserve rights, too.
I can’t do that, because that’s not how the internet works: I don’t know who you are or where you live or how I would invite you for a meal and a chat. So I wrote this for you instead. It’s for you, and for the angry or confused Anti-Feminists out there, and for anyone who seems to believe that feminists don’t believe in men’s rights, that we’re all militant and angry, that feminism is about wanting women to dominate over men. Those are harmful stereotypes, and that’s not what I believe, and that’s not what a lot of feminists believe.
I’m not asking you to change your mind overnight. But I am asking you to read, and to consider.
I’m writing this with love, my friend. I hope you can read it in the same spirit.
A Non-Comprehensive List of Some Things You Should Know About Feminism.
Feminism does not mean that you cannot wear skirts and dresses and high heels.
Feminism does not mean that you must avoid lipstick and eyeliner.
Feminism does not mean that you need not shave your legs and armpits.
Feminism means that you get to choose how you wish to present yourself to the world, and you support the choices of other women to dress in whatever ways they wish. Even if you wouldn’t personally make those choices.
Feminism does not mean you hate men.
Feminism does not mean that you should buy a mug with the caption “Male Tears.” My god, that’s not what feminism means. Feminism means understanding that gender roles are harmful to both men and women. Feminism requires an understanding that men are harmed by the implication that is not masculine to express emotion. Feminism means that you understand that both men and women are people. Feminism should be about encouraging men to cry when they need to let it out. We’re all people. People have emotions. Let’s just get on board with that.
Feminism does not mean that you should avoid salads, or dainty finger sandwiches, or tea. Feminism does not mean that you are not allowed to order a Cosmopolitan at a bar. Cranberry juice is hella good for UTI’s, ladies. Don’t knock it just because Sex and the City made it into a stereotype well over a decade ago. Likewise, feminism does not mean that you need to drink beer, win a chicken-wing-eating-competition, or fold an entire pizza in your mouth in order to prove that you are just “one of the guys.” That’s also a harmful stereotype, albeit a delicious one.
Feminism means that you have the choice to do any or none of those things. Feminism means eating what you want to eat, when you want to eat it.
Feminism does not mean that you behave unkindly towards women who are conventionally thin and attractive. Feminism does not mean using the phrase “skinny bitch.” Feminism is recognizing that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Feminism is about an awareness that our culture does not always uphold those values, and calling out bullshit – be it fat-shaming or skinny-shaming – when you see it.
Feminism is part of a larger movement of “-Isms.” Feminism requires a working knowledge that black people and Asian people and Hispanic people and all non-white people are treated differently than white people in our society. (It also requires an awareness that historically, white feminists have not done a very good job at listening to the needs of black feminists. White feminists should be aware of this, and think about what they can do to change that). Feminism requires an awareness that LGBTQ people are treated differently than straight people in our society. Feminism should be aware that all of this is really shitty, and that it’s unfair to treat people differently based on their gender or their race or their sexual preference. Feminism just wants to create an equal playing field.
Feminism does not require a joyless existence. Feminism includes being able to laugh at jokes, to appreciate entertainment, to consume media with a joyful spirit. But if you spend a lot of time learning about feminist ideas, it might mean that you start to notice many of the things in our culture that are not kind to women. That doesn’t mean that “Blurred Lines” isn’t insanely catchy, or that reality TV like “The Bachelorette” isn’t goddamned delicious. They are, in the way that eating a lot of candy is both amazing as well as terribly bad for you. Feminism just wants you to check your entertainment for its nutritional value. Feminism just thinks that there should be more stories featuring women, more writers and directors and producers in Hollywood who are women, who are interested in telling women’s stories. Feminism just thinks you should analyze the messages of what we consume.
Feminism does not mean you should be angry when someone holds a door open for you. That’s a kind thing to do. Hold the door open for the next person, of any gender, race, or age. Pay it forward.
Feminism is not perfect. But it’s why women are able to vote, and hold property, and open their own bank accounts, and have jobs. It’s why women are able to attend college, to decide whether or not they wish to have children, or decide whether or not they wish to pursue a career. Feminism is about supporting a woman’s right to choose: be that in the form of an abortion, a lunch order, an outfit, or a job opening. To paraphrase a famous quote: You may not agree with the choices of other women, but you must defend to the death their right to choose so.
Feminism is not there yet. We’ve got a long way to go. And we can only get there by trying our very best to be human: to accept the fact that we are imperfect and flawed creatures, while simultaneously striving for something better. Feminists make mistakes, because they are people. That’s ok. It happens. It’s part of the message of feminism: women are human, and need to be treated as such. Feminists could sometimes stand to be a little kinder to other feminists, when other feminists make mistakes: shit happens, especially when you put people on pedestals, because people aren’t perfect. If we all learn something and move on, that’s an important thing.
Feminism wants this complex, unwieldy, and unimaginably beautiful world to be better for everyone in it, not just for those who have all the power.
Let’s work on that together.
With love — and hopefully, some understanding,