Scared to Be a Feminist

The importance of speaking out, even though there are real repercussions

Femme Fatale

In the past, I have criticized some feminists for being too moderate, too conciliatory towards men. I have criticized white feminists like Emma Watson for promoting the idea that gender inequality only exists because women haven’t extended a “formal invitation” to men—and not because men benefit immensely from gender inequality. And I still believe that feminism should, at its core, be a revolutionary, intersectional, and unapologetic movement.

But being a feminist, even a watered-down feminist, comes with repercussions. Even Emma Watson’s conciliatory HeForShe speech, where she spends most of the time talking about all the ways in which men are oppressed, triggered intense backlash. Users on the online message board 4chan threatened to leak Emma Watson’s nude photographs in retaliation for her speech. Even though Emma Watson explicitly said things like “men don’t have the benefits of equality either,” her speech was considered threatening and offensive enough to provoke men to punish her.

Speaking out about gender inequality, even in the most conciliatory and moderate manner, is risky. But even the refusal to speak about sexism is dangerous. Gamer and actor Felicia Day made her first public statement about Gamergate, a group of anonymous people on the Internet, many of whom are presumably men, who have made it their life’s mission to harass women and female gamers online.

In the statement, Felicia Day explicitly says that she does not feel comfortable addressing Gamergate—she does not even retweet articles or tweet back at Gamergate’s victims, out of fear of being doxxed. Her public statement, therefore, does not even address the sexism and misogyny rampant in the Gamergate community—she only discusses how scared they make her feel for her privacy and safety, and how they have intimidated her into silence.

And yet, minutes after she posted her statement, Day’s personal details were posted all over the Internet. Even though she did not write any criticisms of Gamergate and was intentionally staying silent on the matter, she was still punished for daring to speak—about not speaking.

It’s scary to be a feminist, and it’s scary to speak out about gender inequality—but only, apparently, if you’re a woman. Speaking out against sexism does not inherently make you susceptible to having your naked photographs and personal information leaked. For example, former NFL star Chris Kluwe wrote an inflammatory piece against Gamergate, calling them a “blithering collection of wannabe Wikipedia philosophers” and “basement-dwelling, cheetos-huffing, poopsock-sniffing douchepistols.”

But, as he pointed out, none of the members of Gamergate tried to release his private information—even though he was far more critical and ruthless in his statement than Felicia Day was in hers. Gamergate didn’t target all the people who actually criticized and challenged and belittled them. Instead, they went after the women who spoke out against them.

White feminism is a real problem, and watered-down feminism that does not address structural power dynamics and intersectionality fails to have any real revolutionary potential. But sometimes, white feminism is the only form of feminism that is safe to peddle at all. Especially for women in high-profile public positions like Emma Watson, pushing for a more radical version of feminism could end their careers and potentially jeopardize their lives and safety.

To a much lesser degree, I have experienced this myself. When I first started writing this column, I was careful not to step on any toes. I wanted to be moderate and write articles that everyone would agree with. I wrote about slut-shaming, the stigma around periods, and rape culture. I thought that these topics would be relatively uncontroversial: don’t shame women for having sex, don’t make fun of women for menstruating, and don’t rape women.

And yet, I received horrible comments from men all over the Internet. They called me a man-hater, they told me to never reproduce, and they told me that no man would ever want to date a “feminazi” like me. Men from Harvard would sit down and argue with me about my articles, claiming that I was going too far and that “not all men” acted that way. I even heard through the grapevine that an all-male final club blacklisted me for my apparently “controversial” beliefs.

The worst comments I received were actually from my most innocuous article, back when I was fairly conservative and didn’t even really identify as a feminist, much less an intersectional feminist. Simply for writing that feminism means the “freedom to have as many sexual partners as I want without being looked down on,” I had my personal photos scrutinized by strange men online, I was called a slut, and I was accused of having sexually transmitted diseases.

So I can understand why women are scared to call themselves feminists, scared to call men out for their misogyny, scared to be more radical or intersectional or loud in their beliefs. It’s scary to be a feminist.

But, at the end of the day, it’s scary to even exist as a woman in this world. I am already afraid. I already live in fear when it’s late at night and a man is walking behind me closely, or when a car full of men drives by and they jeer at me and follow me down the street. Even when I am silent, I am afraid. Silence will not buy me safety.

I have nothing to lose, and I am not going to silence myself out of fear of harassment or violence. And while I understand the real risk that women take every time they speak out about gender inequality, I hope that it’s a risk that we are all willing to take.

Nian Hu ’18 is a Government concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

Tags