While feminist movements across the globe are gaining media attention, another movement has also gained attention: anti-feminism. Just 1 in 7 women describe themselves as a “feminist,” one UK study found. This same study found that feminism is markedly less popular among younger women; only 9% of women aged 25-29 indentify as a feminist, while 25% of women aged 45-50 do. So why the sudden change in feminist attitudes? A look the history and evolution of the movement may provide insight.
To begin, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Feminism is often described as occurring in three separate waves. The first-wave refers to the period between the late 1800s and early 1900s when women focused on obtaining legal equality with men, which was highlighted in the women’s suffrage movement. Second-wave feminism was the period between the 1960s and 1980s, which focused on a wide-range of issues. Some of the second-wave’s accomplishments include female reproductive rights, drawing attention to domestic violence and marital rape, and the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment guaranteed equal rights for both sexes. Third-wave feminism began in the 1990s and sought to include more than just the white middle class women of the first two waves. This wave hoped to involve minority women in their movement to change the stereotypes and perceptions of women. If third-wave feminism was supposed to broaden their audience, why is it that only 9% of young women identify as feminist? A look into the feminist countermovement may provide insight.
During the summer of 2014, a movement called Women Against Feminism gained national attention. Here women describe why they feel that modern feminism does not speak for or to them. Many feminists have spoken out against this movement stating that these women do not fully understand the definition of feminism. However in Cathy Young’s piece for Time Magazine, she explains that the Women Against Feminism movement fully acknowledges the past accomplishments of feminism and the need for feminism in other parts of the world, but that they criticize Western modern feminists whose actions fail to meet the very definition they invoke. In fact she states that “modern Western feminism has become a divisive and sometimes hateful force, a movement that dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems, stifles dissenting views, and dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs.”
Some of modern Western feminism’s movements may explain Cathy Young’s criticisms. One example is the #YesAllWomen movement. This movement began on Twitter as a response to the Santa Barbara shooting where the shooter, Elliot Rodger, blamed his actions on women in the past who turned him down. While this movement began as a way to highlight the twisted thought process of a man who believed he should be entitled to women, it soon spiraled out of control. Women began to describe the male population in terms of candy. One popular meme stated, “You say not all men are monsters? Imagine a bowl of M&Ms, 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead. Eat a handful. Not all M&Ms are poison.” Ideas such as this not only create a division between men and women, it stereotypes all men as potentially harmful, stereotypes in which the third-wave movement claims they wish to destroy.
Modern Western feminists have also worked to highlight and educate about the prevalence of rape in America. 1 in 6 women will experience an attempted or completed rape sometime in her life. Everyday Feminism attributes this high prevalence to America’s “rape culture,” in which rape has become a societal norm. In order to combat such a societal norm, these feminists insist that men need to be taught not to rape. Such an effort and focus on female rape victims completely ignores male victims of sexual assault. A recent article by Slate reveals that men are victims of sexual assault almost as often as women. In fact, 38% of sexual assault victims are male, and of the males who were sexually assaulted 46% had a female perpetrator. So modern feminism’s movement of teaching men not rape, not only ostracizes 38% of victims, it completely ignores that 46% of male assault perpetrators are women!
The opinions of average women towards feminism seem to support Cathy Young’s criticisms of modern western feminism. Around 25% of women believe that feminism has become “too aggressive” towards men. Ms. Young states that modern western feminism has become a “divisive and sometimes hateful force…[that] dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs” This attitude is highlighted in the #YesAllWomen movement which stereotyped all men as potentially harmful because of the actions of a few. Young continues by saying that feminism “dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems,” which can be seen in the rape culture movement, which completely ignores male victims of sexual assault and female perpetrators. So why is it that only 9% of young women identify as feminists? 1 in 6 women believe that feminism has gone too far, is this trend toward “anti-feminism” ideals going to be the newest wave of feminism? Only time will tell.