Workers at the St. John’s Women’s Centre are firing back at anti-feminism sentiments trending on social media sites under the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism, which features photos of women holding hand-written signs explaining why they don’t “need” feminism.
The Wikipedia entry for “Feminism” begins by explaining that feminism is “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending a state of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.” Though feminism might mean different things to different people, it is fundamentally based on the principle of equality for women.
The social media trend seems to have originated with a Tumblr post that went viral last month when hundreds of women began posting photos of themselves holding hand-written statements about why they oppose feminism. Some of the statements include: “I don’t need feminism because I am not a victim,” “I don’t need feminism because egalitarianism is better,” and “I don’t need feminism because my self-worth is not directly tied to my victim complex.”
On Tuesday the St. John’s Status of Women Council, which runs the St. John’s Women’s Centre, also known as Marguerite’s Place, published its response on Tumblr, featuring photos of women who work at the centre holding their own hand-written messages, like “I need feminism because we still teach women how not to get raped,” “I need feminism because I pre-dial 911 when I’m walking alone at night,” and “I need feminism because in Newfoundland and Labrador there has been 73 confirmed cases of women murdered by a man known to them.”
Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, said when she and her staff first saw the trend on social media sites they were “saddened and disheartened by the real lack of knowledge in what feminism is,” she told The Independent on Tuesday.
“And many of those Tumblr’s are done by very young women, and they seem to be very individualized — ‘…because I like to be looked at,’ ‘…because I like men,’ or ‘…because I have equal rights,’” she continued. “And so much of that is inaccurate and it’s not based in feminism.”
Wright said when she arrived at work one day recently everyone was talking about the #WomenAgainstFeminism trend. “There was a real sense of people being really saddened by it, and depressed, and not being able to find the words to really articulate their sadness around it,” she explained. “So we had a little bit of a talk about how we were feeling, and as we talked through it we started to become a little more angry, a little more righteous, and we just decided that as the Status of Women we had a role to talk about feminism and to respond to it.”
This is their Tumblr response.
Still fighting for women’s rights in NL
Another image on the Women’s Centre’s Tumblr page features one worker holding a sign that reads: “I need feminism because the current government AXED the Family Violence Intervention Court” (FVIC), referring to the Progressive Conservatives’ decision in 2013 to cut the innovative initiative it had invested time and money into researching, creating, and implementing, and which some of those involved said was effectively addressing the root causes of domestic violence in a way other projects and initiatives could not. Moreover, it had proven to significantly reduce the recidivism rate among male offenders of domestic violence who went through the court.
Despite widespread condemnation of the government’s decision, and public protest calling on the PCs to reinstate the FVIC — given the court, which sat once per week, cost only $520,000 per year and accounted for 0.2 per cent of the Department of Justice’s annual budget — former Justice Minister Darin King repeatedly said the government had no plans to bring the court back.
Another message in the Women’s Centre’s Tumblr response says, “I need feminism because the government still refuses to release the report on sexual exploitation in Newfoundland + Labrador and continues to silence the voices of the courageous people who came forward.”
Last fall the CBC obtained a leaked government-commissioned study about sexual exploitation in Newfoundland and Labrador. The resulting 2011 report, “It’s Nobody’s Mandate and Everyone’s Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in Newfoundland and Labrador,” was based on interviews with 100 informants, including sex workers, social workers, health care professionals, the police, victims of sexual exploitation and others. It identified key areas of concern for women working in the sex trade and made a number of recommendations to improve their safety and access to resources, but the government has withheld the entire 120-page report from the public after deeming its content “harmful to individual or public safety”.
Wright says the Status of Women Council has been advocating for the report’s release ever since, but to no avail.
“We’re looking at a situation where this is not just adults but young girls and young women who are sexually exploited in this province who are not being heard, who are not getting the support that they need,” she said.
The Women’s Centre is the only organization in the province running a sex worker outreach program. The pilot project was initiated last year and funded entirely by private donations. Wright said it has been a struggle trying to convince the government the program is a worthwhile investment.
“To this day the government will not fund the sex worker outreach program that we’re doing, so we do it all on our own,” she said. “So this is really the kind of structural barriers … that we’re still struggling with.
“We’re really still fighting to get the province to understand that this is a major issue here and that [sex workers] have the same human rights as everybody else for the basic supports around health care, safety, security.”
The individual struggles to provide support for vulnerable women in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere are indicative of a wider social phenomenon of gender inequality, hence the need for feminism and the Women’s Centre’s social media response to #WomenAgainstFeminism, Wright said.
“This movement has been going for a very, very long time and it’s still very much needed, and yet we’re still seeing this kind of response. And it kind of struck us that the conversations happening within feminism right now need to be a lot more complex and a lot more layered. They are ‘feminism is bad’ or ‘feminism is good’. It’s once again started to become polarized, and it’s starting to feel, for a lot of women — certainly for the feminist movement — that there’s a lot of backlash coming, especially for young women.”
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