Where have all the feminists gone? or Why women's studies is making me depressed.


To those who don’t read my bio religiously, I have begun a graduate degree in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. And amongst the wonder and glory I experience during every moment in which I am not panicking and punching my ego in the gut every for NOT EVER being smart enough/hard working enough/organized enough/awake enough, lies a deep frustration and sadness that has grown ever-stronger over the course of the term. WHY THE HELL DOESN’T ANYONE CALL THEMSELVES FEMINIST ANYMORE?!

“Hey peeps!” I want to say, “we’re in a FEMINIST THEORY class! If there were anywhere where it might be appropriate/acceptable/normal to label yourself ‘feminist’, it would be here”. But no. Instead what I hear is: “Well, I’ve never identified as feminist” and then tiny explosions start going off in my brain as I melt into a puddle of tears next to my Masculinities reader.

Often, the older generation of second wavers will blame the apparent slow-down of the feminist movement on a sort of apathetic flu that has struck our third wave generation. A prof of mine pointed to an article in the Globe and Mail written on the lagging third wave that quotes Maureen McTeer as saying that she would assume “that the younger generation would want equality. Certainly by their actions they don’t seem to want equality. They somehow think that the superficial is sufficient”. I don’t agree.

While on one hand I feel sad that so many women, particularly those who understand what feminism is about and therefore may not feel the same fear of negative stereotyping around being labeled/labeling oneself a ‘feminist’ (eek!) that others might, refuse to align themselves with a movement that is so important and dear to my heart; on the other I do not agree that we live amongst a generation that just doesn’t care about anything or thinks that everything is just super as is. There seem to be all sorts of folks taking off their clothes for PETA and walking for the cure (the breast cancer cure, that is). Why is it that we can band together for some issues but not feminism? A movement that affects, get this, EVERYONE?!

I do not wish to disregard the very real and very valid criticisms that have been made around the feminist movement. We have a history of exclusivity that caused many women to feel put off by the whole thing. Racism and classism have run amuck, so it’s no wonder so many women felt their priorities were not in line with the movement. I get that. But this aversion, the ‘well-I-just-don’t-really-get-it’ or, even worse, the ‘we’re-all-equal-now-so-there’s-no-need’, really throws me for a loop. Have we really bought all that? While mainstream media may be very good at convincing us that we are, in fact, gender blind, race blind, class blind, etc. I think it is glaringly obvious that we are not. Rape statistics alone tell us otherwise, nevermind the fact that poverty and violence clearly does not affect all of the population equally and women and minorities continue to get the short end of the stick in a way that, one could argue very easily, is growing ever more powerful AND visible. Who is getting poorer and who is getting richer in this world? Who is being trafficked? WHO is working 3 part time jobs in order to barely support a family? WHO? And please, don’t tell me these aren’t feminist issues. They are and they will continue to be. And back to my original point – you fellow graduate students, you who read all the theory, write all the papers, know all about how systematic oppression works and how representation works and how ridiculous the counter-arguments are, why o why the fear of the f word? What scares you? Or is McTeer right? Do we think that we’ve won and that we can all just ‘go home’?

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • cri_shti

    One of my constant frustrations with a lot of my classmates, is that they never seem to get particualrly enraged about anything, or if they do, they feel they have to preface it with “I’m not really a feminist/into feminism, but….” In my program, we all have to take a “Theories of Folklore” course in our first semester, which includes a special guest lecture on feminism usually taught by the current head of the department who comes from the second wave. However, what she presents is such a dated and narrow view of feminism, it’s no wonder that women in my class become even more turned off feminism after she lectures. It’s also annoying to me because she seems to have no respect for the the 3rd wave of feminists (much like McTeer) who came up in the ’90s. Finally, I took a course last winter called Gender and Folklore, and oddly enough, the f word did not come up once. I’m not sure why it didn’t– I wonder if some students in that class might have felt threatened by it. Everything we discussed was essentially feminist, as was a great deal of what we read, so I don’t know why it escaped us. Fear I guess?
    This is getting long, so I will try to finish up. I call myself feminist because of the lack of a better word for my purposes. I am versed in the problematic history of feminism. However, I can’t help but feel at the end of the day that everyone comes down so hard on it because we are so fundamentally socialized that women are less than men.
    I could rant for hours, and I can’t even begin to touch the PETA ad because I really have to get back to my blasted thesis (about an Italian immigrant woman in Toronto, a group of women of which there is precious little written about), but I am glad you posted this. I guess I didn’t really answer any of your specific questions–just my irritation with academics and grad students–but suffice to say, we need feminism more than ever. The moment you think you’re “equal”–whatever that means–is when things start to slip backwards. Feminism isn’t just a “give women the power” movement, but addresses a whole slew of issues in a holistic way.

    Did any of that rambling make any kind of sense?

  • Meghan

    How frustrating! If anything Women’s Studies and Gender Studies should be deconstructing those stereotypes and ensuring that students understand what is actually happening in feminism today not reinforcing ye old fear of the f word. I’m just going to keep saying it over and over again until people start getting used to it. feminismfeminismfemismfeminism.

  • Miss Understood Nomore

    Sad to hear but doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve been depressed for years now about the self proclaimed ‘feminists’ in my community who refuse to walk their talk. Even more disturbing is the ‘feminist’ womens outreach society whose apparent goal is to educate community working to end violence against women and support women in crisis, who ran with their tail between their legs at the opportune chance to do exactly that. Nearly six years ago Women in my small community and in larger surrounding communities were being sexually assaulted by a local Chiropractor. This womens organization strongly suggested to one woman who approached them with this news, to report it to the police. This woman was afraid to but was assured they would support her all the way through. Which of course they did not. You see they received a letter from two other community women angry at the ‘accusation’ of this well known Chiropractor. Rather than jumping at the chance to do some real community education they dumped the only women brave enough in the community to come forward. Many women here were assaulted. The lack of support and public informing AND breaching this one womans confidentiality made sure no one else came forward. The deafening silence from this organization spoke volumes to the community. The effect severely compounded the assault on this woman. The speculation, rumors, questioning of her integrity, stares, glares, confrontations, lack of respect were harder to understand than the actual initial assault. The numerous opportunities to educate, inform, write articles, hold open discussions, update on the ongoing proceedings,(it took nearly five years to come to trial) aside from the support and debriefing that could have been provided this woman. So the point I’m making, I think is, one, that people are afraid. It’s risky to support women or feminist issues. Backlash, bullying and intimidation are effective tools of control. Secondly, there seems to be a personal integrity missing. They are more interested in being liked or accepted than doing the right thing. It’s easier to turn your back on someone or something you believe in than to risk your reputation or public standing. I don’t know what my point is really… Sometimes I think people are just cowardly selfish and purposely in denial……or perhaps I’m just really outrageously pissed off.

  • to cri_shti and anyone else…

    I’m one of second wave. I sort of lost touch during the 90s b/c I stopped affording feminist journals and magazines and/or they went out of publication (off our backs and womanist, for example, and Ms. changed so much) and I moved out of the city. Then in the 00s when I finally got high speed internet and went online seeking feminism, I was horrified at the absence, the lack, the gaping hole–all I found was Bust and Feministing and Feministe, and I thought THIS? This is what the 60s and 70s have become? This is what’s left?? It’s like the 60s and 70s smashed into a wall and evaporated. There was no continuity to anything I saw currently existing. On some sites, women were talking about stuff that Morgan and Millett and Daly etc etc had talked about thirty years ago, as if it were new. Etc. Eventually I found a few other sites and realized that I didn’t have the language; at the university I attended in the late 70s, there were no Women’s Studies courses (let alone Gender Studies) — I’m pretty self-taught. Even ‘feminist’ you surely know was ‘women’s lib’ back then.

    Anyway. My question to you is in what way did you find her view “dated and narrow”? I think it’s important for second wave and third wave to figure out why they have the relationship they do. I’ve tried to explain why I in particular do, but I’m not sure I’m representative. (Though surely I am, of those second wave feminists who don’t live in academia…)

    • Carrie

      ptittle I really think there is an over-emphasis on the “waves”. It sounds as if you and I might be about the same age so you know it’s not like everything just rolled over from one wave to the next seamlessly. I always identified myself as a hippie so when I got into WS and there was a lot of anger and frustration towards women of the 60’s for “not doing enough” and etc, etc, it just seemed like too much. I think you are more likely to find a rad fem in WS more than anywhere else but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of us old fems around too. I think a lot of rad fems use a lot of definitions they seem to believe as absolute truths where I think they should be up to interpretation. In my WS class that’s basically what it was about-interpreting and discussions with also a focus on how to solve problems. I really get the feeling that some rad fems are more into the “fight” than finding solutions.

  • Maya Pinyon

    Sadly opposition to calling oneself a feminist goes way back. In 1975, when I was a somewhat naive 14 year old fresh(wo)man attending a public high school in a rural Ohio town about 75 miles east of Cleveland, Title IX passed. In order to celebrate this, I decided to start an after school women’s lib group (that’s what we called feminists back in the day lol). Oh boy, did I get a lot of flack from the boys in the class as well as parents and teachers, but I did finally get one of the teacher to agree to be an advisor and the club was born. Well, the group grew to about 17 members in the first three weeks. I was quite excited about this. However, after that the numbers began to dwindle substantially. Why? Well, I noticed that the closer it got to time for the Homecoming Dance, the less interest was shown in the group. I asked around. Turned out, the girls who declined or quit were afraid that if they went into the “women’s libbers” group, they’d not get asked out to the dance, and to them having a boyfriend was more important than standing up for equal rights. I can remember feeling very disappointed and let down. My mother finally told me to you can’t change other’s opinions, and to forget about it and instead focus on my studies. So I did…and the group was never re-born. As you can see, I never ‘forgot’ about it. Sadly, not much has changed in over 40 years regarding the attitudes people have toward “the other F word” In fact it seems like the opposition to feminism has really gotten worse! Recently, I was advised by friends not to put that I am a feminist in a personals/dating ad because the guys will think you’re a man hater or a lesbian. Grrrr! To make things even worse? I am a woman who also considers herself a Christian, and some of the more conservative people in my religion see feminism as being straight from the Devil. Never mind Christ treated women with respect and equality. It’s a real shame people don’t get it. What I find interesting, though, is how some women distance themselves from feminism, but yet they don’t mind deriving the benefits of it. Hypocrites IMO.