How Can We Make Feminism More Accessible?

A few days ago, a friend of mine remarked that ‘why can’t everyone be feminists?’. She really does have a point. After all, feminism is about gender equality, and every civilized citizen of the modern world should support this. Including men. In fact, men in prominent positions have declared themselves feminists in recent years, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. So why can’t everyone agree with feminism, yet? Why is feminism still a controversial idea?

Some feminists berate anyone who says that feminism is anything other than gender equality. However, in any argument, barking against your opponents, no matter how illogical they may seem, never changes anything. Instead, we need to find out where those sceptical of our agenda stand, and attempt to change hearts and minds from there. Furthermore, many anti-feminists are, in fact, women, and it wouldn’t exactly make sense to pretend that they are male supremacists too. Therefore, I have spent a few years studying how feminism’s sceptics perceive feminism, and why they have that perception.

In turns out that most sceptics of feminism really don’t mind gender equality.

There are a few occasional people who are actually male supremacists, but they are decidedly in the minority, even in anti-feminist circles. Instead, the main concern our sceptics have is that they perceive feminism to have a political agenda, and one that is not even primarily about gender equality or the empowerment of women. They often provide their arguments in the form of anecdotes, of women who feel inadequately supported, or even alienated, by mainstream feminism.

Consider the story of the woman of color who fears upsetting her husband because she is afraid that he might divorce her. You might argue from Western, white feminism’s point of view that a woman shouldn’t feel that way. But people are not independent of their cultures, and from the point of view of intersectional feminism, her voice should be heard and respected equally. Feminism celebrating the success of no-fault divorce is something that she feels alienating. On the other hand, many mainstream feminists, wedded (pun intended) tightly to that ‘victory’, would not even listen to her story.

Or consider the story of the deeply religious woman. She feels that labelling herself a feminist would mean her friends at church would think of her as one of those ‘radicals’ who demand ‘abortion on demand, no ifs ands or buts’. While this is simply not true, her life circumstances are definitely true, and these circumstances are currently preventing her from joining the feminist movement. On the other hand, the actions of many in the feminist movement unfortunately serve to confirm her perception of feminism as being ‘for atheists only’, and her church friends’ perception that feminism is incompatible with any sort of pro-life view. The exclusion of pro-life groups from feminist marches is a good example of such confirmation.

The truth is, many people, including many women, are hesitant to declare themselves feminists because they feel that feminism is a specific ‘thing’, and they don’t feel comfortable supporting that specific ‘thing’, even if they do support gender equality. And in truth, feminism sometimes does feel like this specific ‘thing’. For example, it would be logical that feminism demands that women not be prosectued by law for making decisions about their own bodies. But feminism’s pro-choice party line extends well beyond this principle, in real life. Even people who are personally pro-life but legally pro-choice have a difficult time in the movement. I really can’t imagine a female version of Tim Kaine being embraced as a feminist leader by many sections of the feminist movement. Those with an attitude more similar to Lena Dunham’s, on the other hand, would find themselves much more welcome.

To a great extent, feminism can be said to be suffering from ‘alienation’ from the lives of many women out there, borrowing from a theory the Left should be familiar with. Many women feel that feminism, as it stands, does not cater for them or represent their values. They feel that feminism, while mouthing platitudes about fighting for their equality, actually makes their lives even harder and more complicated in some ways. They also feel that, no matter what they do, they cannot change it anyway. As a result, they simply choose to opt-out. And if women themselves don’t feel that good about feminism, why should the men in their lives even care about feminism?

Listening and respecting the diverse voices out there would not require us to oppose no-fault divorce or the legality of abortion politically. However, it would require feminism to be inclusive of all points of view, including ‘politically incorrect’ ones. Furthermore, being inclusive would require feminism to adjust its social attitudes to many things that the movement once took a black-and-white view of. After all, rather than simply black or white, many things in this world come in shades of gray.

I also believe that feminists should respect the free market of ideas, and adopt a similar ‘free market’ approach to disagreements within the feminist movement. In a free market of ideas, we all work on our own ideals, and the best will always eventually win out. If we have disagreements about our values, we can have a taboo-free open debate. If we still have to agree to disagree, time will eventually tell who was right. Therefore, if you are truly confident of your own values, you wouldn’t feel threatened by disagreement. In fact, you would just be encouraged to work harder to prove that your ideals are sound.

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