It was with interest that I began reading an article recently about a woman who says that, after becoming a mother to two boys, she can’t and won’t support feminism.
She beings by saying she’s had it with feminism, and goes on to list the reasons why.
Given that the literal definition of feminism is giving women the same rights and privileges that men already enjoy, it’s fair to say I was pretty interested in seeing what it was about that she’s “had it” with. I’ve spent far too long perusing social media and reading placards held up by women of all ages proclaiming the reasons they don’t need feminism. Everything from wanting boys to like them to believing that feminism is simply another word for misandry.
In fact, I’ve yet to see an objection to feminism that actually relates to what feminism means!
This mother, Tara Kennedy-Kline, believes that feminism has turned into something ” degrading, offensive, accusatory” and is not aligned with the morals she is teaching her children. I’m not entirely sure how women attaining equal rights and opportunities does all that, exactly. She goes on to list the things she is raising her boys to do, like making eye contact and saying hello when they meet people. As a feminist, I have no issue with that. She wants them to be hard working and dedicated providers. Okay, no problem. I want my daughters to be hard working providers for their families, too. In whatever capacities they choose. She wants her sons to appreciate people for who they are and not what they are wearing or “how much skin is exposed”. Me too! I am trying to instill that same value in my kids, so that they don’t judge someone based on their appearance or the length of their skirt or whether or not they are wearing a tank top. So we are on the same wavelength, right? Except there’s one sentence- she says she is raising her sons to treat women as ‘princesses’. This is where we diverge- we are raising our children (3 girls and 1 boy between us) to treat women and men as equals. Women don’t need to be placed on pedestals or treated like royalty- the idea of feminism is that women are to be respected and valued the way that men already are.
Asking people on dates, paying for meals and not expecting things in return and telling women they are beautiful are not things forbidden for feminists. Buying gifts and giving spontaneous hugs to your mum or partner? Also not ruled out by the belief that women deserve the same rights, recognition and opportunities that men have.
Kennedy-Kline says the FCKH8 campaign is designed to make her sons feel bad for calling a girl pretty or reaching for her hand. But that isn’t even close to true. FCKH8 sells t-shirts. Awesome slogan t-shirts with important messages. Their store is divided into 3 sections: anti-sexism, anti-racism and LGTBQA & Equality. They made waves with a YouTube video ad featuring young girls swearing and asking us what was more offensive, little girls saying fuck or things like the gender wage gap, a society that places a woman’s worth in her appearance, a world where 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted and a world where women don’t have fundamental human rights? Her sons have nothing to fear from FCKH8. Calling someone pretty isn’t forbidden by feminism, but since she is raising them to appreciate people for who they are and not how they look, they should be fine, right? Besides, the “right” to complement someone’s looks or the desire to hold their hand? Those things are nowhere near as important as what FCKH8 is standing for.
Kennedy-Kline then references Hollaback and #YesAllWomen. She says Hollaback means her sons will be seen as predators for saying hello or making eye contact. Unless they accompany the eye contact or hello with catcalls, lewd comments, flashing or other inappropriate sexual harassment, I think they’ll be fine. You know, since that is what Hollaback is all about– not standing for street harassment any more. She says #YesAllWomen wants to make her sons aware that having a penis makes them a threat because it highlights the fact that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted. Here’s the thing, 1 in 5 women is too many. If you are raising decent young men, they will grow up and agree with that. Should little girls be raised to think all men are rapists? No, of course not. But should boys AND girls know how common is currently is? Absolutely. If we don’t talk about it, it won’t change. Young men and young women need to grow up knowing about consent and about what constitutes sexual assault.
The next on the hit-list is #FreeTheNipple which Kennedy-Kline says is designed to flip the “sluttiness” of the girls exposing their breasts and other bits of skin back on to the boys who look at them. What is she worried about, if she is raising boys to appreciate people for who they are and not how much skin they expose? In all seriousness, though, that isn’t what #FreeTheNipple is about. It was first a documentary and then a campaign aiming to draw attention to the censorship of the female body. Breasts in particular are hyper-sexualised to the point where mothers are regularly discriminated against for breastfeeding in public spaces, despite that being the primary function of the breast. It is meant to address the taboos around female toplessness that don’t exists for men, whose nipples have been free since, well, forever.
The article continues, criticising teens who challenge dress codes based on gender stereotypes and misrepresenting their position, because the author doesn’t want her sons shamed for looking at what is being “flaunted” in front of them, making it difficult for parents to steer their sons away from “easy” girls. Or…OR… Here’s a thought. We could teach our boys that looking at other people is okay, but talking to their breasts and not their faces (regardless of attire) or similar behaviour is disrespectful. We could teach our sons AND daughters that sex is a natural, healthy part of life and give them the tools to make good, safe decisions around it. We could teach them to seek active consent. We could even teach them that sometimes, girls get labelled as “easy” out of spite, jealousy or anger and not always out of truth. And even if it is based in truth, we could teach them that being a decent human being has nothing to do with the number of people we have had sex with. We could even point out to our kids that the label itself is a terrible double standard, where society says it’s okay for men but disgusting for women. She even says we shouldn’t forget there are plenty of “easy” girls out there- but no mention of all the “easy” boys? Presumably, these easy girls are sleeping with someone, right? Not terribly fair or equal, is it?
Kennedy-Kline says that she doesn’t have a problem with traditional gender roles and I don’t either, to an extent- so long as those roles are being chosen and not forced upon people. If women want to be stay at home mums, for example, I support their choice to do so. She then says she doesn’t want her sons mistreated by women in the name of feminism. I don’t either, because that is not what feminism is about. Feminism seeks to end things like gender-based violence and the wage gap; it’s not a word used to justify poor behaviour towards men.
To finish off, Kennedy-Kline says she values fairness for all but doesn’t support feminism because it suppresses masculinity and respect is earned, not demanded. She has used, as examples, a campaign against street harassment, a campaign seeking equal wages and rights for women, a campaign raising awareness of how common sexual assault against women… I could go on. But I’m sure you get the idea here. We can’t highlight sexual assault statistics because it suppresses masculinity? We can’t talk about women being denied fundamental human rights, because it suppresses masculinity? Women have not earned the right to a basic level of respect?
I can’t make anyone embrace feminism, but while people continue to misuse the word, I think it’s important to highlight that. This writer has redefined feminism to be some sort of activity in male persecution to suit her argument and parenting choices and that’s not okay, because we live in a society where women are not equally paid, are not equally represented and are being killed each week by men they’ve had relationships with. These things are just a few of the issues we women are faced with, just a few of the reasons we still need feminism.