Laura Woodhouse // 3 October 2012
Last week, 16-year-old Alice Dunn wrote a blog for the Independent asking “Can feminism survive the next generation?”. It’s fab that Alice is a feminist at such a young age and I really don’t want to criticise her personally at all, but I do want to address her core argument, which is that feminism has an “image problem”:
It is an image that prevents the movement being much larger than it already is; an image that is pushing the date of total equality further and further into the faraway future.
This image is, of course, that feminists are man haters, and “the vast majority of teenage girls just aren’t going to sign up to a movement if their perception is that it involves hating men”.
Well of course they’re not. As we grow up, women learn that we need to please men. We must seek validation from men by being constantly attractive, by laughing at their jokes, by shutting up and listening when they speak, by getting their attention in whatever way we can. This is further complicated by the fact that many women are sexually attracted to men and want to have relationships with them. And if getting the man you fancy means putting up with sexism rather than challenging male privilege, feminism is not initially going to seem like a very attractive option.
Feminists have always been accused of hating men because it is a very effective way of silencing a very threatening movement. In a society where women’s value is based on our ability to please men, and where men hold almost all the cards, the worst possible thing we can do is hate them. So when feminists point out and object to the oppression, abuse and discrimination perpetuated by men against women, this is framed as man hating in an attempt to silence us, in an attempt to ensure that we are vilified and ignored by the rest of society, so that male oppression of women and male privilege can continue unchecked.
No matter how we frame our arguments and no matter what kind of image we seek to project, as long as we highlight, object to and fight misogyny, feminists are going to be called man haters.
So I’m not going to waste my time trying to prove that I’m not.
Instead, I’m going to continue to highlight, object and fight, and trust that once Alice’s peers come into contact with feminists and feminist thinking, they will be able to recognise for themselves that there is a clear difference between hating misogyny, oppression and inequality and hating half the human race.
Feminism is not, as Alice states, in crisis. In the last decade, a wealth of new feminist groups and organisations have sprung up all over the country as a mass of new activists have discovered feminism, very often online. It’s true that we still have a lot of work to do – so let’s focus on that work, and let’s not allow our debates and our activism to be moulded by patriarchal propaganda.
Feminism doesn’t have an image problem; society has a misogyny problem. The idea that we feminists hate all men is just a distraction.