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One of the favorite talking points — trolling points? — of Men’s Rights Activists and other antifeminists is that feminism is little more than a frivolous hobby for wealthy Western white women obsessed with their own trivial problems and caring not a whit for the truly oppressed women of the world.
Or at least that’s a favorite talking point amongst MRAs who are willing to admit that women are actually oppressed anywhere in the world.
I found the “meme” below on the Facebook page of something called Anti-Feminism Australia, one of the few “serious” memes there, buried in a jumble of rape jokes and fat jokes and digs at Anita Sarkeesian.
Just how wrong is this little meme? Let me count the ways.
First, and perhaps most basic, the graphic seems to imply that feminism is entirely a phenomenon of Western (and presumably white) women, thus erasing the very girls it pretends to champion.
I hate to have to tell you this, MRAs, but there are feminists in Ethiopia. Really. And not just visiting white ladies either.
These actual real existing feminists blog. They write, speak, research the lives of rural Ethiopian schoolgirls and work for NGOs. They make music and appear in radio dramas. They hold conferences and forums to discuss and coordinate their activism on issues ranging from family planning to international development.
In fact, MRAs, there are feminists all over Africa. There are feminists all over the world. And when we eventually get around to colonizing Mars, there will no doubt be feminists there too.
But let’s just set aside the actual real existing feminists who actually really live in Ethiopia for a moment. Because the antifeminist meme I posted above is clearly directed at Western (and presumably white) feminists , in an attempt to shame them for not fixing the educational system in Ethiopia with the magic elixir of money.
This too is wrong, wrong, wrong.
First, let’s just note that complex problems in developing countries halfway across the world can’t actually be solved by white-skinned angels flying in from abroad on giant clouds of money.
The issue here isn’t just the patronizing colonialism inherent in this idea; it’s that you can’t solve any intractable problem anywhere just by throwing money at it.
Men’s Rights Activists, allergic to anything that smacks of real world activism, seem to think that they can fix anything (and win some Good Guy points to boot) by donating a few bucks to this or that Men’s Rights cause.
But in order for the money to help, whether here or abroad, you have to have organizations in place that will be able to do something useful with this money.
MRAs and other antifeminists don’t, and so they have wasted literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on causes and projects and people that have pissed away their money without accomplishing anything of value, from A Voice for Men to The Sarkeesian Effect.
Feminists, by contrast, have set up a wide assortment of organizations in the west designed to help women, from national foundations to local shelters.
And, yes, they have built or helped to build organizations to help women and girls in the developing world as well — including some in Ethiopia.
While no Western interventions in the developing world, even charitable ones, can be entirely free of the taint of colonialism and colonialist assumptions, Western feminists today try to challenge their own assumptions and to treat the girls and women they try to help as the authors of their own stories and the heroes of their own lives.
In the process, western feminists have learned that the problems faced by girls trying to get educations in Ethiopia — and elsewhere in the developing world — can’t be solved merely by buying school supplies or providing cheap computers. It also involves fighting against sexual violence and child marriage.
And, as odd as this may sound to most well-off Westerners, for sanitary products. One UK feminist who recently spent several months volunteering first in Ethiopia and then Kenya, wrote later about the surprise she felt when she discovered that one big reason that Ethiopian girls miss much more school than boys is that they cannot afford the sanitary pads that would enable them to attend school during their periods.
That’s why a group called Femme International, working in East Africa, devotes itself not just to educating girls about hygiene but also providing them with menstrual cups so that they will be able to attend schools are regularly as their brothers. (And in case any MRAs are wondering “what about the boyz,” the group also runs a Boys Health Management Program.)
Tellingly, when western feminists have tried to raise awareness in the west about this issue, they’ve found themselves ridiculed, and even harassed, by uncomprehending MRAs and other antifeminists who apparently think that any talk about women’s periods is inherently risible.
When feminist writer and Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti wrote a column pointing out that “sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being and full participation of women and girls across the globe,” she faced a torrent of abuse on Twitter, of which the following Tweet was sadly typical:
Ironically, one of the nastiest Tweets — suggesting that Valenti needed “oversized” tampons “for her giant gaping vagina” — came from a fellow named Adam McPhee, who (as I pointed out at the time) just happened to be the official spokesperson for the Men’s Rights group called Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE).
Or maybe this wasn’t so ironic, as it’s fairly typical of the MRA reaction whenever they encounter evidence of Western feminists trying to reach out to girls and women in the developing world. Or, for that matter, trying to reach out to men.
You may recall the gigantic wave of hostility, largely from MRAs and other antifeminists, that greeted actress and activist Emma Watson after she spoke at the United Nations on behalf of HeForShe, an international initiative to encourage men to help fight for gender equality.
The attacks on Watson have died down, but the HeForShe initiative continues on around the world. Indeed, at an event earlier this year in Nairobi, Kenya, a number of influential African cultural leaders signed on as supporters of the initiative.
The hostility faced by Watson, Valenti and other western feminists whenever they stand up for poor and disenfranchised women around the world makes pretty clear that when MRAs and other antifeminists criticize western feminists for allegedly “not giving a shit” about anyone but their First World selves, they are doing so in bad faith.
Indeed, MRAs and other antifeminists would prefer it if women around the world were never touched by feminism at all.
Pickup artists fetishise women in parts of the world that have been less influenced by feminism than the West, and complain bitterly whenever they discover that some of these women have more feminism in them than they did even a few years ago. Indeed, repugnant pickup guru and rape legalization proponent Roosh Valizadeh has chronicled his sad and hopeless quest for the unfeminist Eastern European “Poosy Paradise” of his dreams on his blog and in an ebook.
Meanwhile, MRAs and GamerGaters and other antifeminists have reacted with outrage to the news that the Swedish government will be providing every 16-year-old in the country with a copy of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED-talk-turned-booklet We Should All Be Feminists. (Note: If you buy her book through that link I get a teensy cut.)
The antifeminists don’t just hate Western women speaking up for their non-Western sisters; they also hate non-Western women who speak up for themselves.
This is sadly even the case when it comes to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who famously survived being shot in the face by a would-be assassin unhappy about her advocacy of education for girls.
After Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her bravery in continuing on with her campaign, a writer for A Voice for Men patronizingly declared her a “dupe of [a] deeply bigoted and socially dangerous ideology” — yes, they mean feminism — who may end up becoming “even more dangerous to world peace than Osama Bin Laden ever was … .”
Meanwhile, fantasy author, Manosphere agitator and all around nasty piece of work Vox Day has gone further, offering what can only be seen as a qualified endorsement of the Taliban’s attempt on Malala’s life. As he put it in one recent blog post (discussed here):
[I]n light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.
This is, sadly, not the first time Vox has suggested that violence may be the most “rational” response to women and girls demanding the same educational opportunities as boys and men. In an earlier post (discussed here), Vox asserted that
[F]emale independence is strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills. Using the utilitarian metric favored by most atheists, a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability.
When antifeminists attack Western feminists for allegedly ignoring the injustices faced by women and girls in the developing world, it’s worth remembering that more than a few in the antifeminist army would prefer that these injustices remain unchallenged, whether by Western feminists, by Malala Yousafzai, or by the girls in Ethiopia’s Yegna.