Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Straw Feminists in the Closet

I tend to avoid writing any in-depth political or social commentary on this blog, simply because there are plenty of people with a lot more expertise who do a much better job of it. If I can’t really say anything new, I don’t see much point in writing.

But there are a few social /political issues that I know a few things about. Like feminism.

Being a humanities grad student allows you to live in a sort of echo chamber where certain things are understood and rarely debated. Of course everyone–or almost everyone, male and female–is a feminist. It’d be weird not to be. People’s stances vary on particular feminist issues (gay marriage, hate crimes legislation, gender and the body, race / class divisions within the feminist movement). But identifying yourself as a feminist isn’t radical at all.

Not so in the outside world, where, according to recent polls, only 29% of Americans identify as feminists. This hit home for me as soon as I left the comfort of my academic circles. Maybe it was the time that a guy non-jokingly asked me, “You’re not a feminist, right?” (I was so baffled by the question that I don’t remember how I responded.) Or the number of times that I heard people preface their statements with “I’m not a feminist, but…” Sort of like they were saying “I’m not a racist” or “I’m not in favor of killing kittens.”

For me, feminism is simply defined as a belief that men and women are equal. Sure, we can debate the details of exactly what it MEANS to be equal (equal salary? being able to run for office without people focusing on your clothes?), but I’d imagine that all feminists could agree on that basic definition. Men and women are equal.

So yeah, I find it really weird when people treat feminism as some sort of radical cult.

As I spent more time outside the academic world, I started to hear descriptions of feminism and feminists that struck me as utterly bizarre, and that didn’t sound at all like the real-life feminists who were my friends and colleagues. I heard that feminists hated men. Feminists blamed the patriarchy for everything and took no responsibility for their own mistakes. Feminists didn’t want equality, they wanted to oppress men. The feminist movement was responsible for all the problems that contemporary men were facing. Feminists believed women were inherently better people than men. Feminists got angry if anyone talked about how men and women were different from each other. Feminists were plotting to wrest all power from men through anti-sexual harassment and anti-domestic violence legislation.

I’d never believed or wanted any of these things, and I’d never met a feminist who did. I really wondered where this image was coming from–who were these mysterious femi-monsters who made everyone afraid of identifying themselves with the f-word?

Thank God for Kate Beaton, because she has summed it up for me so beautifully that I want to cry. Seriously, take a look at this. It’ll only take about a minute.

THAT’s where they come from. They live in the closet, or under the bed, or they’re hissing just outside the window when some random newspaper wants a quote that will further the “feminists are dick-chopping, bra-burning harpies” narrative.

“Straw feminist” is my new favorite word. It’s so perfect.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize there are people out there who identify as feminists who believe some extreme shit (though again, I have yet to meet any feminists who even vaguely resemble the “straw feminists”). But condemning feminism based on the words or deeds of a tiny number of its adherents is a bit like condemning all Christians based on the words and deeds of the Westboro Baptist Church.

There’s nothing radical about calling yourself a feminist. There’s nothing radical about believing that men and women are equal. We can debate the finer points of what it means to be a feminist–and they’re definitely worth debating–but we shouldn’t have trouble agreeing on the whole equality thing. Right?

Straw feminists, get back in the closet or under the bed. And stop talking to the goddamn newspapers.


P.S.–I wrote a couple of days ago that I was beginning to doubt the power of words. Thank you, Kate Beaton, for restoring my faith.


4 comments on “Straw Feminists in the Closet

  1. toranosuke
    August 9, 2012

    I think the key thing is that most people outside of academia haven’t read anything about feminism, and are going based on just sort of rumors, or popular discourse. Spending a session on feminism seems a fairly standard element in mandatory Theory seminars that people take in grad school in the humanities (or at least it was in my experience, in an Art History Theory & Methodology class), and I think that having everyone take a session like that in undergrad would be a wonderful thing towards clearing up these misconceptions.

  2. gradland
    August 9, 2012

    Toranosuke, definitely. I feel like so much anti-feminist rhetoric is basing its knowledge on 80s movies and random Rush Limbaugh quotes–or a blatant and willful misinterpretation of what actual feminists have said.

  3. Bid
    August 28, 2012

    Read Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman for a great explanation of feminism… its so funny, I now routinely ask my friends her two questions…

  4. gradland
    August 28, 2012

    Thanks Bid, getting it on Kindle soon!

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Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

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