“What are you laughing at?” my friend Dave asks as I put my phone back down on the table. “Oh, it’s just some feminists trolling me on Twitter again,” I tell him. “Yesterday I was getting abuse for being too feminist, today it’s that I’m not feminist enough”. I laugh, but in all honesty it hurts more than I let on. Not that I’m personally offended by the hysterical rants directed at me online. I just feel so frustrated by the damage these people (predominantly women) are doing to the feminist cause. Ostensibly we’re all working for the same ideals, but with all the infighting, bitchiness and outright bullying, it’s little wonder that the feminist cause gets a bad rep.
Two seats along a woman turns to me and says “I’m not a feminist”. I glance at my boyfriend, on the other side of the table, and he gives me a knowing look. It says, ‘Don’t get worked up, don’t let her get to you’. It says, ‘Take a breath, stay calm’. He knows my heart rate has increased and I can feel my blood starting to boil. Under the table my hands have automatically clenched into tight fists. “I believe in equality, but I’m not a feminist,” she says, “I don’t think women should have equality over men”. My body tenses up.
I think back to the book I was reading on the train this morning, on Dr Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement. Half the battle for him, it seems to me, was not convincing people of the ethics of equality, but instead was pure PR. He had to persuade his campaigners not to rise to the bait of the vicious racists who would use the slightest excuse to discredit the movement. No matter that the Ku Klux Klan were bombing churches or that white racists were beating up, even setting fire to, black people. That got almost no coverage. But if just one black person fought back, that would make the press. That would set back the campaign and give the undecideds a reason not to support it. It’s a harsh reality when you’re the underdog.
It seems to me that when an intelligent, professional woman takes a stand and says “I’m not a feminist” that the movement needs to take a step back and learn from successful campaigns in history. One strong, unifying leader, I feel, could certainly help. What would also help is for all feminists to realise that to achieve our ideals we do, unfortunately, have to consider PR. When the online trolls berate me for being too feminist/ not feminist enough, they are shooting themselves in the foot. They are tarnishing the movement, further smearing the word ‘feminist’ and giving the undecideds a reason not to support a common sense campaign in favour of equality, irrespective of sex and gender.
Back to the present, I take a deep breath, smile, and in my calmest, most patient voice, begin to bring the woman around to the idea that she might, unknowingly, be a feminist. It’s a small victory, for today. So this is a call to action. I ask you, will you join me on a positive PR campaign for feminism? All you need to do is stay calm, smile and be the reason that people want to call themselves a feminist. Let’s stand together, sisters.
Annabel Lenton has been a writer and feminist for as long as she can remember. Her blog, #FullFrontalFeminism, is devoted to challenging the negative image of feminism in society and the media. She recently worked on the successful ‘No More Page 3’ campaign. A communications guru by day, Annabel uses her skills in copywriting, marketing and social media to convince businesses to put people and the planet on a par with profit.
She blogs at: https://thewritinghalf.wordpress.com/
And you can follow her on twitter: @thewritinghalf