March 28, 2015
(Cross-posted from Sian Fergs)
I’ve been reading many articles that deal with the idea of rebranding feminism as of late, but one which especially amused me was this article in TIME, entitled ‘Ironic Misandry: Why Feminists Pretending to Hate Men Isn’t Funny’.
For a second, let’s put aside the fact that the author assumes that misandry is a real thing (hating men occurs, but the institutional oppression of men does not), and that it’s at all equitable with the oppression of women.
This particular article interested me because it asserted that feminists pretending to be misandrists hurts feminism’s PR. Sara Begley writes, “What feminists really hate is the patriarchy—the web of institutions that systemically oppress women. And to tear it down, we need as many allies as we can get.” She later adds, “To get folks on your side, you need an appealing message.”
Discussions about ‘rebranding’ feminism aren’t new. Last year, Elle UK decided to launch a project in which ad companies were tasked with rebranding feminism, resulting in heated discussion about whether feminism needs rebranding or not.
Often, rebranding feminism is directed at convincing people to identify as feminists. Flowcharts and quizzes are created to convince everyone who supports equality is a feminist. Feminism is so much more than that – it is decades of academic theory, decades longer of praxis, and a diverse and dynamic movement. These flowcharts might inspire some people to educate themselves, but focussing on making feminism appealing rather than inclusive or informative doesn’t result in any real change. How does a person simply identifying as a feminist improve my movement, or my lived experience? Rebranding, I’ve come to realise, is oversimplification.
The capitalistic language (‘rebranding’, ‘PR’) reflects the increasing popularity of neoliberal feminism: feminism that focuses on the empowerment of women and not the destruction of systemic oppression. Contrast this feminism – as exemplified by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – to intersectional feminism, which demands the acknowledgement and abolition of the kyriarchy.
The increasing interest in rebranding feminism prompts me to ask: why are we marketing our movement to the oppressor? Last time I checked, feminism wasn’t a company and men were not our target market.
There are a number of useful, valid critiques of feminism. Feminism has traditionally excluded both trans women and women of colour; it has generally focussed on the needs of white, middle-class, educated, cisgender, heterosexual women and not people with fewer privileges. While many feminists – like the ones at Guerrilla Feminism – actively work to counter this, feminism still is exclusionary.
It interests me that TIME chose not to focus on the real, exclusionary, problematic aspects of feminism, but rather on a perception propagated by the patriarchal mass-media. It interests me that Sara Begley is concerned about feminism alienating men, and not actual oppressed groups. It interests me that many feminists are more intent on recruiting ‘allies’ than being ‘allies’ ourselves.
Feminism shouldn’t have to involve choosing between our supporters and the people we support. But the conundrum arises often: in the feminist spaces I’ve occupied, I have witnessed many people afraid of calling others out on their racism, transantagonism, ableism and heterosexism for fear of alienating a potential ‘ally’. We tone-police others in an attempt to gain more faux support. We value the quantity of our supporters over the quality of our support. This attitude implies that a privileged person’s support is more important than an oppressed person’s safety.
We seem more interested in appealing to men than supporting other women. By paying more attention to gaining the support of privileged people, we are perpetuating oppressive systems ourselves. Could it be more evident that we live in a kyriarchal world?
In the spaces I navigate, I have an obligation to ensure that they are as safe as possible for trans women, women of colour and disabled folk. As someone who has privilege over these – and other – groups of people, I have a responsibility to change feminism for the sake of the oppressed, not rebrand it for the sake of the privileged.
Just a South African Woman: An intersectional feminist blog tackling issues from a unique South African perspective. The posts attempt to explain and discuss some academic feminist theories in a simple manner, so as to make feminism accessible to more people. Follow me on Twitter at @sianfergs.