I was a Teenage Anti-Feminist: The Myth of the Neutral Middle Ground in Feminism

I said a lot of shit when I was in my tender years that sounds disturbingly similar to the triumphant bleating of “religious freedom” enthusiasts in the wake of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling. The phrase, “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” probably featured on my MySpace page for a shameful amount of time. I have a vivid memory of a playground discussion in 8th grade, during which I defended myself to my crush as an anti-feminist because, as I said, I didn’t hate men, I just thought men and women were too different to be truly equal. I was trying to tell him that I loved him more than Nicole, my competition, ever would but the point never came across. I had the sense talked into me by more than a few patient people, but for most of my formative years, I was a teenage anti-feminist.

What is an anti-feminist? Is it the confused 13 year old trying to flirt with a classmate?  Is it the Supreme Court justice who votes against the protection of conception and body autonomy? Is it the abortion clinic picketer trying to save the existence of a cell clump by destroying the safety of the woman harboring it? Is it the nice couple down the street who tut over the morals of young women in short shorts?

The definition of anti-feminist is complex, and there are a lot of people who deserve the label as a result of their action or inaction against women’s rights and the protection thereof. It’s 2014, and anti-feminist should be a slur. It’s 2014, and to be an anti-feminist should be a point of great shame, not pride or religious fervor. It is unacceptable in 2014 to believe that women do not deserve body autonomy and absolute sexual freedom, to believe that women are not capable of or worthy of holding positions of economic, political, and religious power. It is unacceptable in 2014 to believe that men are helpless beasts when they encounter the mere existence of females. It is unacceptable in 2014 to believe that women do not have human rights that are as sacred and inalienable as those of men. 

You can deeply love and respect your mother, your wife, your sister, or some other woman with an ownership-referential title (i.e. your girlfriend, friend, lover, partner, grandmother, etc.) and still be an anti-feminist. You can believe in any god or no god and be an anti-feminist. You can support the LGBTQIA+ community and be an anti-feminist. You can be a woman identifying as a feminist who excludes trans* women from your protection, and you are still an anti-feminist. You can be a white person identifying as a feminist, but if you don’t see the critical necessity of feminism that specifically supports women of color, then you too are in fact an anti-feminist. If you have ever uttered the pernicious phrase, “of course I support women but…” or any of its possible derivations, then you are an anti-feminist.

Anti-feminism is not restricted to gender or the gender binary, to race, to physical ability, to class, to sexual orientation, to ethnicity, to education, or to income level. In my experience with Seattleites, anti-feminists are most often male, most often white, and most often heterosexual.

This is not always the caseNo aspect of someone’s identity gives them a free pass on feminism, because feminism, like any belief system is not inherent.

While it can be argued that people who are racially, sexually, or economically oppressed are in a better position to understand and empathize with the oppression of females, this empathy is not guaranteed by virtue of the experience of oppression. Everyone, regardless of literally any personal characteristic, situation, or circumstance, must work at feminism to deserve the identity of feminist.

Are you more likely to run into a white, heterosexual male anti-feminist? Probably, but the point still stands.

So what is worse, the passive feminist or the anti-feminist? The person who claims to be feminist without living a feminist practice, or the person who actively works against feminism?

Feminism is not passive. Feminism can never be passive when we live in a world that is still so patriarchal and so incredibly misogynistic. You cannot be a feminist if you fail to speak for feminism, or if you fail to act for feminism. There are too many people claiming neutrality or passive feminism in a time when the voice and action of everyone who identifies as a feminist is critical to the success of the movement.

The belief in the radical and absolute equality of women is not a quiet conviction– it is the real difference between actual oppression and potential liberation for billions of people. Feminism opposes centuries of patriarchal oppression, a functional eternity of men raping, murdering, exploiting, torturing and abusing women and it must be something that you live every single day.

Think of your feminist identity as a shark – if you stop “swimming,” stop speaking, stop learning, stop supporting, and stop fighting, your feminist identity drowns.

Feminism is exhausting, and an active commitment to feminism is not an easy one. There are always people who will tell you to calm down, who will tell you that you’re wrong, who will tell you to get back in the kitchen. There are always people who base their anti-feminist convictions on bad biology and simply inaccurate facts, on single, ancient religious texts, on passive and oppressive tradition. There is always another white man on Twitter waiting to call you a silly little girl when you stand up for your right to effective, affordable contraception.

The world will not be this way forever. Feminism will win.

This is the thankless period, the tired time. This is the age in which feminism fights not only patriarchal oppression, but ingrained, self-hate in the hearts of women. Feminism fights socially encouraged eating disorders as often as it fights people trying to take away birth control options. Feminism fights girl-on-girl hate, transphobia, and whitewashing just as often as it fights rapists, abusers, and female erasure. Feminism fought me, the budding anti-feminist who was more concerned about winning the affections of fellow teenagers than maintaining healthy eating habits or robust self esteem. Feminism fought me and feminism won.

I will thank every god you can think of for the gift of feminism. I will thank every mentor, every teacher, and every woman who continues to show me the way. I will thank every scholar be they living or dead, every socialite, every female CEO, and every housewife, who lit the pathway forward with their feminist praxis. Feminism fought me and my deeply held patriarchal values, and thank god, feminism won.

My transition from anti-feminist to feminist, and indeed, anyone’s transition, was not continuous. I went from an anti-feminist learning to be feminist, to a feminist learning to stay feminist. The middle ground between the two belief systems has never existed. As with many issues in this white, heterosexual man’s world, silence in the face of oppression is complicit in that oppression.

No one is neutral in the movement toward feminism. You don’t get a free pass for supporting feminists but not identifying as one yourself. You don’t get to claim to love the women in your life without supporting feminism: if you’re not with us, you’re against us, and you’re wrong.

There are those reading this article who may need to pause for a moment and angrily accost the comments section. Let it be known that all men say, “not all men,” that all white people say, “not all white people,” and that all heterosexual people say, “not all heterosexual people.” Should you feel so inclined as to post one or more of these phrases under this article, know that you will simply prove the point above even further.

So please, anti-feminists on the internet and in my community, tell me more about how it’s “unfeminist” to demand, as I do, that you live as a feminist. Tell me again that my radical point of view will scare off people thinking of becoming feminists, as though the depth of my conviction would ever scare off anyone seriously looking to treat women with full respect of their personhood. Prophesize for me that I will never find a husband or a lover and that I’ll die alone because of feminism. Give me your guarantee that wanting radically equal and completely protected rights makes me unlovable, irrational, and disgusting.

These threats are nothing new to me, or to any feminist facing opposition. These are the shrieks of threatened misogynists and anti-feminists, the people who want to shame you out of your true and abiding belief that you are equal, that you have inalienable rights to your body, and that you are full and protected person.

Take heart, feminists and future feminists alike. When best defense against feminism is that women and girls should abandon it for fear that they will never find a husband, the anti-feminists had better think again. When the anti-feminists you encounter call you silly, small, or ignorant, they had better think again.

Remember, you Supreme Court justices, you Hobby Lobby executives, you like-minded people in power. Remember you anti-feminists everywhere: Feminism is not afraid of you, feminism is not afraid of oppression.

Feminism is liberation – it is coming to fight you, and it is coming to win.

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