I have engaged in my fair share of fights with “anti-feminists.” These are the people who believe that feminism is outdated, or too loud, and too victimizing. There’s a legitimate reason to push past the sorts of boundaries and assumptions that those dissenters place on feminism. But that doesn’t mean feminism is flawless, nor does it mean that feminism is for everyone.
That’s right: feminism isn’t for everyone. Those listicles that loudly announce: 39 REASONS EVERYONE SHOULD BE A FEMINIST aren’t the authority on the subject, nor do they give the full picture. Because while feminism has done incredible, wonderful, amazing things for women- the movement has largely focused on only a certain kind of woman. Feminism, as a movement, predominately serves white, cis, heterosexual women. And it always has.
For a historical perspective: the first wave of feminism began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention – in which women and men came together to discuss the “social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” While the convention featured both black abolitionists and white first wave feminists, the organizers of the convention were not very concerned with the rights of black women, and the specific needs of black women were thus ignored. In the fight for women’s suffrage, spearheaded largely by Alice Paul, black women were told not to march alongside the white women in the 1913 parade, but to march in the back instead. Ida B. Wells ignored their narrow-minded demand and leapt into the march anyhow, but once again the mainstream feminist movement ignored the needs and will of black women. Unfortunately this trend continued into the second and third waves, with some exceptions, and mainstream feminist dialogue continues to center on the issues affecting white women.
Black women aren’t the only group the feminist movement has disenfranchised. Sex workers are isolated from the movement as many within the movement, including prominent leaders, insist on trying to regulate and condemn the bodies and actions of sex workers. Trans women also find themselves excluded as mainstream feminism equates the uterus and all of its companions with womanhood. So if feminism doesn’t represent the needs of trans women, sex workers, black women, and other disenfranchised women – how can anyone expect them to claim the label? Until the feminist movement addresses the needs and concerns of all women, individuals in the movement cannot expect everyone to embrace the label equally. It is not the fault of those who refute the label, it is the fault of the individuals in the movement who continue to create barriers to success for other women.
So no, not everyone has to be a feminist.