Efforts to reclaim #HowToSpotAFeminist miss the point

This past week, the hashtag #HowToSpotAFeminist has been in full-bloom across the Twitterverse. Originated on The Blaze, a conservative radio show out of Los Angeles, the host aimed to make feminists the butt of misogynist jokes and was quickly latched onto by MRAs and anti-feminist men everywhere, who characterized feminists as hairy, smelly, hysterical, etc. You know the drill.

But what would you expect from a phrase that positions women as wild animals to be observed and men as the ones holding the binoculars? Shortly after the hashtag began to pick up steam, many women (and progressive, “nice guys”) took it upon themselves to turn the hashtag on its head, tweeting gems such as:


Rather than ignoring or decrying misogynistic insults, contemporary feminism tends, these days, to try to “reclaim” them (#SlutPride!).

Huffington Post said feminists were making the hashtag into an opportunity to “spread awareness” and “take down stereotypes about what a feminist looks and acts like.”

Brilliant. Because we all know that it’s negative stereotypes about what feminists look and act like that are holding back women’s liberation. If we all were just more pleasant to look at and be around, patriarchy would surely crumble, right? Let’s call Playboy and tell them we want to set up a photo shoot.

But wait! What about the men? Not to worry, the hashtag ensured men didn’t feel excluded. Some of the most popular #HowToSpotAFeminist tweets were the ones that pointed out that men can be feminists, too.

As a result, the most prominent theme that emerged from this conversation is the idea that anyone and everyone is a feminist. In fact, even if you claim not to be a feminist, if you believe in the vague idea of “equality,” you actually are one… No matter what you say or do.

The supposedly “glorious” reclamation of the #HowToSpotAFeminist hashtag actually did less to defend and celebrate feminists than it did to erode the category itself. I suppose it’s true that one cannot “spot” a feminist when anyone and everyone is a feminist. But if we ensure no one can mock us by saying we have hairy armpits, what does that achieve and at what cost?

The reclamation of #HowToSpotAFeminist unfolded much in the same way the #FeministsAreUgly hashtag did. Originally started by men, the hashtag played on the old anti-feminist idea that women only become feminists because they fail at being sexually attractive to men, and that’s why they’re so angry. Women (and dudes) responded to #FeministsAreUgly by posting pictures of celebrity “feminists,” such as BeyoncĂ©, Emma Watson, and Taylor Swift.

I was heartbroken to also see many young women posting selfies in bikinis and their underwear in an effort to prove the hashtag’s claim wrong.

In reality, unfortunately, being perceived as “hot,” “pleasant,” or “normal” (as defined by patriarchy) won’t advance the feminist cause a single bit. It is not our duty to make ourselves palatable to men. Feminism is a political practice that says women should be valued as people beyond their physical attractiveness or ability to properly perform femininity. Feminism allows a woman to have a voice instead of just a pretty face.

There are tons of feminists who aren’t conventionally attractive and who are angry, hairy, and unpleasant, and that’s okay! In fact, that’s the point. We don’t need a pretty poster-child for our movement. It’s not a brand to be bought or sold; nor is it a fashion statement. The principles of feminism can (and do) speak for themselves.

But what about men’s ability to understand it, some ask? Again, not the point. Feminism is a movement for women, by women. Though we seem to have lost sight of that in recent years… Making feminism palatable to men may be well-intended, but points us in the wrong direction.

A perfect example of this male-centric approach is the US government’s anti-rape campaign, “It’s On Us.” President Obama addressed the men of the nation, urging them to go online and take the pledge to not rape. “It’s on us,” he said. “All of us — to create a culture where violence isn’t tolerated.” The campaign operates under the idea that if the individual attitudes of men were to change, a large-scale cultural shift would follow. Similarly, contemporary feminism has taken the stance that we need to change men’s hearts and minds, one-by-one, eventually resulting in a change in our social systems.

By this logic, it indeed makes sense for feminists to be appealing and make use of sexy celebrity mascots in order to seduce individual men into allyship. But in reality, it’s more likely this tactic will just bury feminism in a mass of busy work till the end of time. Trying to change the minds of each man through individual education/seduction is like picking up the pieces of a broken vase and trying to glue them back together instead of stopping the elephants that are stampeding through the vase store and breaking them in the first place!

It’s the material institutions that maintain female oppression we need to identify and dismantle. If Obama is so concerned with the safety and well being of women and girls, why doesn’t he create some legislation to help them? Or he could just enforce the laws already in place, cracking down on child porn, for example. When men steal and post teenage girls’ sexually explicit photos online, they’re forced to claim them as their “Intellectual Property” in order to have any possibility of legal recourse. Why not make some small, material effort, instead of these bullshit attempts to “raise awareness”?

We don’t need to appease men. We don’t need to make the movement out to be a sexy club full of cool kids or convince men they will benefit from feminism. We actually don’t need men in our movement, because we’re half of the goddamn human population, and we’re crucial to the most basic functions that keep the world running.

In 1975, 90 per cent of the women in Iceland went on strike. The entire country fell to a standstill. Men were helpless without women. Feminists demanded tangible legislative change and, decades later, the country has some of the highest rates of gender equality in the world. History tells us that women’s liberation will not be won through the acquisition of male allies, but through female solidarity and material political action.

Similarly, feminism will never flourish though the forceful silencing of feminist voices that are unappealing to men. Engaging in witch-hunts and sacrificing a few women at the alter of mainstream, male-approved “feminism” will not benefit the greater whole.

Each woman, each opinion, each voice is a part of the feminist process. Every woman, by virtue of being one, has the capacity to gain a feminist consciousness, yet it often comes in increments through a long and tortuous process that involves changing one’s mind again and again. Women that are too “radical,” “unpleasant,” or disagreeable do not tarnish the face of feminism, because feminism should not be concerned with appearances. We may disagree, but those are conversations, critiques, and debates that should happen between women in a non-violent manner.

Let’s stop worrying about how we’re perceived by men and start making some plans amongst ourselves.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.