Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.
There's a new women's movement afoot: mostly young women taking a stand in social media, usually via photos with handwritten placards, to proclaim their rejection of feminism. Back to the kitchen? Not quite.
While some women whose declarations are featured on the Women Against Feminism blog believe that feminism demeans women's traditional roles, many others say they embrace gender equality and female empowerment -- but believe that modern Western feminism has betrayed these principles. Most feminists have dismissed them as naive, misguided and ignorant about what feminism really is. But in fact, many of the criticisms offered by the rebels are remarkably astute, and addressing them could be the key to a revitalized movement for equality.
Sure, some of the writers at Women Against Feminism (usually the younger ones) have silly complaints, saying they don't want feminism because they need a man to haul heavy things or open jars or because they like being able to shave their legs. But many others stress that they are not feminists because they believe in equal treatment and equal respect for both sexes. Typical signs proclaim: "I don't need feminism because my son shouldn't be made to feel less of a person simply because of his gender." "I don't need feminism because I'm not oppressed, I'm not a victim, and I don't need a movement's help." "I don't need feminism because equality includes men."
Are these women mistaken in their perception of modern feminism as a movement that tends to belittle men and treat women as perpetual victims? Unfortunately, far too much feminist rhetoric today does exactly that, from the collective anger at men in the recent #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag to claims that we live in a "rape culture" in which women's lives are ruled by fear of sexual violence. The words are matched by actions.
Anti-rape activism -- the most visible feminist cause today -- is, in theory, a noble cause that no sane woman or man could disagree with. In practice, it often turns into a presumption of guilt toward accused men and a blatant double standard under which an intoxicated woman who willingly has sex with an equally drunk man can be considered a victim while he is labeled a rapist.
When Women Against Feminism's writers assert that they don't need feminism because men and women in the United States in 2014 are already equal, many feminists respond by pointing to inequalities that still exist, from the gender gap in pay to the low percentage of women in Congress. While these disparities are largely the result of complex social factors, including voluntary choices, there is little doubt that discrimination still happens and that women and girls are sometimes held back by cultural attitudes.
A pro-equality movement should address those issues. But it also should recognize inequalities that affect men -- in family courts, in criminal sentencing where women tend to be treated more leniently, in social services where women tend to receive more support, and in resources and support for male victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Women Against Feminism should prompt the feminist movement to reexamine its prejudices. Instead, too many feminists have responded by mocking the dissenters as stupid, ignorant man-pleasers. Ironically, in doing so, they validate another complaint often heard from the new anti-feminists: that feminism claims to speak for all women and is intolerant of different opinions.
In the words of one opinionated young woman on the blog: "I don't need feminism because I can think for myself."