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Feminism board should not be heavily censored


Melanie Lust ’19

The board placed outside the cafeteria on Monday inflamed an already controversial discussion about feminism in our school. The majority of the post-it notes completing “Feminism is…” said things like “empowering,” or “equality for everyone.” Others, however, said “unnecessary,” “terrorism,” and “a cult;” some even had swastikas and homophobic slurs.


A lot of the negative comments seemed to be  jokes – offered simply for the sake of being offensive, not intending to represent any ideas. Others offered genuine points about why they disliked feminism.


There is a clear line when disliking a movement shifts from harmless criticism to hate speech. A swastika, for example, is intended to be hateful and inflammatory and therefore is hate speech.  I am not condoning such hateful expressions, and do believe those statements should be removed.  However, believing that feminism is unnecessary is not hate speech and should not be censored.


Criticizing feminism raises legitimate issues that are worthy of debate. And yet, as I revisited the board again and again, I saw the same thing: people removing post-it notes that stated a negative opinion of feminism, sneering with smug faces, and calling the writers of critical perspectives stupid. Even teachers took down notes that called feminism obsolete and misguided. By Wednesday, not a single post-it note expressing something negative about feminism remained.


This is somewhat tragic, and, frankly, terrifying. When people feel the need to completely remove an opinion because they disagree with it, it sets a precedent for intolerance, censorship, and misunderstanding in the future. It seemed to be the consensus that disliking feminism, or not referring to oneself as a feminist, was being sexist.


The common misunderstanding between feminists, anti-feminists, and those in between is, in fact, the word “feminism” itself. Feminism is often attributed to the definition, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” In other words, the dictionary’s definition of feminism seems  linked with gender equality.


However, that is nothing more than a definition, and the definition is separate from the actions of the current feminist movement, at least according to many critics including myself. When someone says “feminism is unnecessary,” they are not usually necessarily attacking the concept of gender equality; they are most likely disagreeing with what they deem to be the regressive actions of many of today’s feminists.


What too often clouds sensible discussion surrounding the modern movement is the relentless defense of a definition; defending the meaning of a word is prioritized over defending the ideology and actions of the movement. It is indeed possible to believe in gender equality while not believing in contemporary feminist ideas.


Taking the time to listen to different perspectives is crucial to understanding this. There are many reasons why someone might be disinterested in modern feminism, or even outwardly against feminism. They range from skepticism about commonly used statistics concerning rape and the wage gap; feelings expressing that it is more necessary to concentrate equality advocacy in other areas of the world, such as the Middle East, China, and Africa; wanting distance from self-victimization and claims of oppression; and some even think feminism isn’t doing enough and tends to exclude minority groups.


Patricia Collins, an African-American sociology professor, describes intersectionality (or lack thereof) as a centerpiece of objection when it comes to modern feminism. An article in The Black Scholar illustrates how black women sometimes have no interest in working with a movement that was built on the ideas and goals of white women. “Many black women view feminism as a movement that at best, is exclusively for women and, at worst, dedicated to attacking or eliminating men,” she wrote.


On the other hand, Ben Shapiro, controversial Harvard law graduate and writer for The Daily Wire, sees modern feminism as undoing all the progress and victories earlier waves of feminism accomplished. He has also condemned Western feminists for “refusing” to address oppression in other nations. “Women who are actually oppressed have no feminist allies in the West. And that means they’re on their own, as those same feminists bow to their would-be oppressors,” he wrote in an article last February.


From what I’ve seen around Staples, the majority of feminist critics hold a simple distaste towards the frequently hostile attitude that has unfortunately come to characterize the feminist movement. No one is obligated to associate themselves with that hostility by taking on the label of “feminist.”


The stereotype of hostility is not unfounded. Back in the days when I described myself as a radical feminist, I had essentially been indoctrinated into a way of thought that taught me I was oppressed, I was a victim, and the world around me was sexist. I never even considered questioning that. If anyone presented to me some idea that contradicted with my own set of feminist beliefs, I would either refuse to listen to them, or assume that they were ignorant. This is the mindset so many people seem to have: feminism is perfect, feminism is untouchable, therefore anyone who says otherwise is sexist. But the truth is, there is nothing wrong with thinking differently.


Someone who believes in gender equality but does not passionately advocate it, and who does not use the label “feminist,” should not be judged. Similarly, someone who passionately advocates gender equality under the label “feminist” should not be judged either, as long as they do so while maintaining respect for other opinions.


Given that, go ahead and be a feminist; champion women’s rights how you see fit, there is nothing wrong with that. But remember that criticism does not always represent a deterioration of ideological purity or a mass deviation from the principle of gender equality. Sometimes, when caught up in the mob of like-minded politics, it is easy to forget the healthy self-reflection and doubt necessary to create a well-rounded perspective on everything: movements, ideas, political parties, and other groups should all be subjected to this criticism, even by their own members.


I know that feminism is largely responsible for the rights and privileges I have today. I have so much respect and admiration for the brave women who fought for my right to vote, for my independence and for my free thought. But that’s not what feminism is in the modern world. The inherent idea – the definition – is the same, but in the minds of many, the movement is distancing itself from that definition.
Uncritically subscribing to one idea or group can lead to exclusion, bigotry, and borderline cult-like behavior. It leads to censorship of dissenting opinions and attacking anyone who happens to not fit with an arbitrary moral standard. That is what the feminism board revealed.

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