I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why women shun the feminist label and I think I’ve hit on yet another reason: they don’t want to see the world the way feminists see it. They don’t want to view men, themselves or society as negatively as it seems that feminists do.
They don’t want to see men as the enemy.
I can understand that. There are good men out there. Perhaps they feel that theirs is one of them. At the very least, they don’t want to write off all men because of those who are unfeeling, demanding and abusive. They have to coexist with the opposite sex. Many of them are dependent on men for their support. Men make it possible for them to have children (who also need men’s protection). And damn it, men can be irresistible. Most women are hardwired to desire them (and the ones who aren’t are considered “unnatural”). It’s uncomfortable, sometimes impossible, to be resentful of the very person you also love.
They don’t want to see themselves as victims.
When feminists critique male/female relationships all too often it sounds as if women themselves are part of the problem. They’re weak and compliant. They assent to their own second-class citizenship. But they resent being told that they are second-class citizens. After all, they don’t feel that they are. So they conclude that feminists are the only ones who think of them that way. (Because most men won’t openly admit that they see women that way.) So they resent feminists.
They don’t want to see society as a big conspiracy to put them down.
Many women avoid identifying as feminists because it makes them look and feel paranoid, as if there is a patriarchal bogeyman underneath every bed. They don’t see the difference between criticizing the social structure itself and criticizing the people who make up that structure. They think that feminists make it sound as if men sit around in smoke-filled rooms plotting how to shortchange and dominate women. They don’t understand how a whole society can be influenced by a few misogynistic men.
Feminists don’t have all the answers but they have enough awareness to know there is a problem and enough courage to question why. Sure, it’s easier sometimes to not rock the boat, to accept things the way they are, to stop expecting a perfect society. (Besides, no one agrees on what that perfect society would look like.) But feminists are not satisfied with the status quo. They see the big picture, not just the individual pieces. They are capable of imagining something that works better for everyone, not just for men.
All movements are fueled by visions of a better world. Feminists are not asking men and women to see themselves negatively. They are merely asking men and women to see the world as it could be if everyone was a winner. Some people cynically declare that such a world is impossible. But feminists are eternal optimists. They refuse to let go of their dreams. And they are willing to shake things up to make their dreams come true. All they’re asking is that people try to see the world as a place of possibilities instead of missed opportunities.
Feminists are not just trying to change the world. They’re trying to make it a better one.