I assumed as a green college freshman that as an intelligent woman with the hopes of pursuing a career, I was a feminist by default. I believed all there was to feminism was being anti-sexism and pro-choice. But after immersing myself in a liberal arts education at one of the most purportedly liberal campuses in the country, I discovered that the issues feminism grappled with were far more complex. I learned the word "feminism" was more of a catchall term that demonstrated how sexual and gender identities were expressed in various communities: queer, trangender, cisgender — to name a few. Words like genderqueer and heteronormative crept into my lexicon during my time at college. But after graduating, I realized that I would never drink the feminist Kool-Aid. Don't get me wrong — I know sexism is institutionalized, systemic, and validated in pop culture. I strongly believe in women's rights (including the right to choose) and women's equality. I also believe that no mater what your sexual or gender identity or expression, that you have a right to be treated with dignity and equality.
But I refuse to tout the feminist label, namely because of the following five concerns I've swept under the rug, until now.
1. Feminism alienates men from the conversation:
I acknowledge that there is a persistent double standard for men and women in both here and abroad, but demonizing men isn't going to resolve anything. I've had countless conversations with men who try to be chivalrous and catch flack from women who want to educate them for perpetrating misogyny, and instead of being enlightened, these men are confused and annoyed. In order to stop violence and injustice against women, women should encourage men's participation, not relegate them to the role of the archenemy. I've seen too many feminists have a Captain Ahab-like fixation on "the straight white male" as the sole reason for all the obstacles women face. Men need to be empowered along with women to understand how to stop rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment.
2. Women are still fighting for the same things they've been fighting for 40 years ago:
I hate to say it, but feminism has progressed little since we got the vote almost 100 years ago. Yes, I went there: women's rights today are in a sad state of affairs. With nearly every presidential election, women hold their breath to see if Roe will be overturned. By international standards, we have one of the lower male to female ratios in our Congress(the attached table puts us 77th of 139 countries). The pay gap between men and women is widening. Rapists are becoming more brash as their actions are broadcasted on social media and yet police "cannot find sufficient evidence" to bring them to justice, as recounted in a chillingly told article by fellow pundit Daniel Waugh. Fictional misogynist cads like Mad Men's Don Draper are staples of pop culture. For all of the well-intentioned work feminists have done, it feels as though the society we live in still reflects heterosexual male values.
3. Feminism lumps women's issues with the LGBTQ platform:
I mentioned earlier in this piece that the term feminism has become catchall term including those of gender and sexual identity and expression. My college has a major called FGSS, which stood for Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, implying that feminist issues and queer rights issues are presented together, but women's rights aren't necessarily appropriate for the LGBTQ political agenda. For example, straight women can legally marry their male partners, while female queer couples cannot marry theirs. Some women have uteruses that need care; some do not, but need care nonetheless. Assuming all women everywhere want the same things, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender expression runs the risk of painting distinct communities with the same brush. Different groups advocate for different things, and we need to listen to each voice across the spectrum, not assume that feminism automatically encapsulates the differing needs of various platforms.
4. Feminism's message comes across as patronizing and elitist:
While at college, I couldn't help but notice that the women who cried, "dDown with the patriarchy" the loudest were the women who came from the most privileged backgrounds. Poor women (and women who are members of the nearly extinct middle class) do not have the luxury of attending private schools, or even public ones, where they can receive the educational tools to overcome sexism. The result is that feminism —especially the liberal arts strain — is woefully out of touch with the needs of the women who need it the most. All women, no matter what socioeconomic background, need to be empowered in order for substantial and lasting social change to take place.
5. Women's rights are not a "feminist" issue — they are a human rights issue with enormous global ramifications:
One of the methods to eliminate global poverty is to educate women, as they constitute the majority of the world's poor. My classmate Kennedy Odede, founded the incredibly successful Kibera School for Girls in Kenya's largest slum. In my personal conversations with Kennedy, and in his graduation speech he delivered to our class, he has never referred to himself a feminist. I suspect it's because you don't have to be a feminist to understand women must be educated in order to lift their families out of destitution, have a say over how many children they want and when, and to secure a basic level of happiness. If women thrive, then communities and society prospers. It is in everyone's interest to place women front and center of the legislative agenda to fully equip them with the tools they need to succeed inside and outside the home.
The women's movement got women Roe v. Wade and much-needed, long-overdue legislation that protected women's basic rights. But it is only a start. We need what comes next after feminism. Gloria Steinem's declaration that women were equal was radical for its time — all the same, women's rights are still not the same as what men enjoy. Perhaps, women might be treated with the equality we deserve if women declare themselves superior to men?