Special to The Telegram
One week and 40,000 hits later, a St. John’s feminist organization’s foray into a social media debate on the importance of feminism has garnered a lot of attention.
Natalie Martin displays a message she wrote as part of the St. John’s Status of Women Council’s
#WhyINeedFeminism campaign. — Photo courtesy of the St. John’s Status of Women Council
Following a popular anti-feminism campaign by Women Against Feminism on Tumblr, the St. John’s Status of Women Council released its own #WhyINeedFeminism social media campaign on Aug. 5, posting pictures of its employees holding signs explaining why they feel feminism is important.
In the pictures, women at the St. John’s Women’s Centre held messages such as “I need feminism because between 1855 and 2014 we have only had one female head of government” and “I need feminism because we still teach women how not to get raped.”
St. John’s Status of Women Council executive director Jenny Wright said since launching the campaign on Tumblr, the council’s Facebook page has received more than 40,000 hits. She said public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and she has received responses from people as far away as Banff, Alta., and England.
Wright said at its root, feminism is about equality and a just society, but Women Against Feminism’s Tumblr posts “represent a kind of dumbing down of feminism.”
“What we really wanted to achieve was an alternative message and an alternative voice for people who felt they couldn’t do it,” she said.
Memorial University’s gender studies department head, Patricia Dold, said the Women Against Feminism campaign and the reactions it prompted from groups like the women’s council have helped spur a conversation on feminism and how it is being misunderstood.
“Some of the characteristics (of the Women Against Feminism campaign), to my mind, represent a misunderstanding, a skewed perception … that feminism is about hating men, that it’s about denying men their human rights,” she said.
“It makes me wonder where that’s coming from. When did we get to a place where there are people out there that think feminism means women hating men?”
Dold said many people are picking up on the disjunction between how Women Against Feminism and other groups and organizations like the St. John’s Status for Women Council define feminism. She said it’s important for groups like the council to address the issue head on and clarify what feminism means.
“The worry is that the kinds of skewed definitions, very unfamiliar definitions of feminism by Women Against Feminism, would reinforce misunderstandings of feminism,” she said.
“It’s really important that feminists speak up and say, ‘Listen, what you’re talking about is not what I understand feminism to be.’ ”
But Dold also said feminists have listened to criticism from groups like Women Against Feminism, particularly from women who say feminists bullied them because of their beliefs, and has evolved as a result.
“Feminism, on the whole, as it’s moved into current times, has really rethought what it’s doing in response to people that were criticizing,” Dold said.
“I think that there are some criticisms in the Women Against Feminism posts that feminists are looking at and (they) will look for ways to correct misunderstandings or adjust their own practices.”
According to Wright, the underlying problem remains that many people, especially young women, simply don’t understand why feminism still matters.
“Unfortunately, I think there are some people that think that women have reached equality,” Wright said.
“I think there needs to be a larger, broader understanding of where those inequalities still exist and how it’s important for men and women to work towards a just society.”
Wright said an important lesson from the Women Against Feminism campaign is that many women feel alienated from feminism.
“It’s an important message. … In many ways, it’s kind of a call to arms for us to find more engaging ways to help them understand what feminism means, its history, who it is it’s working for and how it’s relevant to their lives.”