Recently I was surfing facebook, and as I lazily scrolled through different links to “The Fox” music video, and politically charged posts about Syria from all of my friends from college, I stumbled upon a meme which linked back to a page called, “Exposing Feminism”.
No good can come from this.
It was with foreboding that I clicked on the link and explored the page. I was immediately inundated with meme upon meme about the irrationality of feminists, the unfair prejudice they place on men, the triviality of their concerns, the myth of rape culture, etc, etc. “Exposing Feminism” also offered up links to countless other similar facebook pages. I decided (perhaps unwisely) to widen my search of anti-feminist memes. I scrolled through google images until it felt like my eyes would bleed, I searched for websites, I visited tumblr, I looked at the long list of disturbing comments left on all of those facebook pages.
It was enough to get anyone depressed. It’s enough to make me want to pull out my hair in frustration; it’s enough to (almost) make me dive into a long comment war, trying to explain to all the anti-feminists why these memes are so simplistic, ridiculous, implausible, and sometimes downright cruel.
Instead of doing any of those things I thought I would display some of the more disturbing memes, and explain, in my view, why they are false. This is going to seem pretty basic to all the other feminists out there, but I know a surprising amount of people who consider themselves on the fence about feminism. They avoid using the term because of stereotypes included in some of these memes, so it’s important to wipe the floor with this rubbish. Memes can be funny, they can be smart, but they can also take a complex issue and dilute it down to stereotypes that are misleading, and do not show the true complexity of issues. Let’s explore some of my favorites, shall we?
Meme#1: “Your concerns are trivial, so shut the hell up.”
Lets talk about perspective.
It is a good thing to be reminded that you are not the center of the universe, and that our personal problems are not so important in the grand scheme of things. The very popular “first world problems” meme is dedicated to the fact that people in first world countries often make a big to-do about problems that are incredibly trivial when looked at on a global scale. It’s pretty ridiculous to get mad that your latte from Starbucks isn’t hot enough when there is a civil war going on in Syria. One of the most famous (albeit probably false) stories about Marie Antoinette is her clueless response to the revelation that the French people were starving: “Let them eat cake”. Let me say again, it is a good thing to be reminded to think beyond our own personal problems, and our own community concerns.
This meme illustrates the, “American feminists have no perspective” anti-feminist argument. It’s taking the perspective argument and twisting it in a really awful way. Gender inequality in our own country is often dismissed by saying that we are making a big deal out of nothing when women abroad have it much worse. But don’t take my word for it, Richard Dawkins recently made a claim like this in response to Rebecca Watson, a female activist who described in an online video some discomfort she felt while being propositioned by a man in an elevator very late at night. Dawkins response follows:
“Stop whining will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and…yawn…don’t tell me again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery ,But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.”
This is a ridiculous argument for several reasons, the first one being this: It WOULD be wrong for a Feminist in a first world country to overlook the concerns of other women across the world. The thing is that the majority of us don’t. Nowhere in her video does Rebecca Watson shout, “I’m tired of hearing about all the women who don’t live in the first world, we only have time to discuss my problems!” Rebecca Watson, other feminist, and I all have the ability to care about many different issues at once. Just because I think that American women still face issues of gender discrimination does not mean that I trivialize Women’s rights all over the rest of the world. I can care about the fact that women are objectified in the American media AND the fact that women are suffering horrible genital mutilation if Africa. I can care about the fact that women still aren’t earning as much money as men in America, AND the fact that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. I can work to raise awareness on all of these issues. I can try to help women in many different circumstances. I don’t have to pick one thing. My brain is big enough to see both the small and the big pictures.
My second point is this: When it comes to Human rights issues, gaining different rights gradually and separately, over a long span of time does not make for instant equality. Telling a woman that she needs to stop complaining because America is good enough for women already would be like telling a black person in 1963, “Hey, you people have been free already for 100 years, what more do you want!?” It would be like telling a gay person seeking marriage equality, “Hey, at least homosexuality isn’t punishable by death in the United States.” These things are both true, they are things we should be thankful for, but they also shouldn’t signify that the work is done. Gaining the right to vote, freeing the slaves, granting property rights, passing laws that end segregation, these are all really obvious, splashy steps towards equality, but they are just that: Steps . The work gets harder and becomes less black and white the further you go. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation nobody shouted, “Hooray, drop the balloons, racism is over!” because it wasn’t. We are still dealing with racial discrimination to this day. Winning those big battles is awesome, but they open the door to a whole lot of other battles that are often more subtle, and harder to win. Women do not have full equality with men in America. We are doing really good compared to many other nations, and looking at those places I consider myself lucky to be born here, but there is still more we can do. There is no reason that I should stop working towards gaining full equality just because I already have SOME equality.
Lastly, on a slightly less serious note, perspective is a good thing, but using the “You need some perspective argument” all the time for everything would get pretty annoying don’t you think? If my best friend called me every once in a while, in frustrated tears because she had a bad day at work and my response was always a scathing, “Hey, at least you weren’t working in a sweatshop, alright!” I think she would be pretty taken aback. I don’t think she would want to have a discussion with a person who constantly used that argument, and neither do I.
Come back next time for meme#2: “Feminists are dirty hypocrites”.