Are young women afraid of feminism?

Jamaican literary scholar Carolyn Cooper recently shared her experiences with drumming up excitement for a course in African/Diaspora Women’s Narrative by designing a sexually provocative poster which saw the course go from in danger of being cancelled to doubling its numbers in a week.  She remembered

In the 1980s when feminism was still a hot topic, that course on fiction written by African, African-American and Caribbean women routinely attracted well over a hundred students.  These days, many young women are afraid of feminism.  They think that being feminist means they won’t get a man.

I threw out the question on CODE RED’s facebook, twitter and tumblr: Are Caribbean young women afraid of feminism because they think it means they won’t get a man?

Below are some of the responses:

  •  well, to the worried women, i say, better alone than in bad company! to men i say, get right or gtfo. no fucks are given.
  • haha lol clearly dis is about caribn women living in the US or caribn women excluding Trinidad , here women beat men not that thats feminism but it shows deres definitely no fear= we r equal hell Kamla is our PM (she is a she)
  • It’s a mix of both “Afraid of feminism because of gendered/cultural reasons” and “Feminism has been really white/cis/ablebodied/heterosexual/imperialist/statist/Western/generally shitty”
  • I ain’t. Once the mind has been opened, it cannot go back. Fall in line, or stand to the side!
  •  I suspect so, especially in Jamaica. That hyphenated last name is much sought-after you know. Since most of the young women who I know are happily feminist and getting laid regularly (gender not relevant), I will continue to believe that the non-feminists are losing out on more than they imagine.
Responses were varied, pointing out that not all young Caribbean women are interested in “getting a man” anyway, that feminism itself has been characterised (rightly or wrongly) as white, imperial and Western and produced its own exclusions based on ability, heterosexuality and gender identity conformity.   One even made reference to a recent case of intimate partner violence in Trinidad & Tobago, where a man sought an order of protection from his girlfriend as evidence that Caribbean women living in the region were not afraid, least of all of feminism. Yet another expressed the opinion that getting married is still a very powerful desire of many young women and an important status marker.

Young feminist women in the Caribbean are not a majority. There was never a time in the region when the majority of women identified with feminism. CODE RED is still trying to reach out to more women and men (regardless of age) but I am pleased with the work we have been doing and the diverse group of people who have join our conversations.  I think that beyond the fear of feminism it has become very, very difficult to publicly articulate the specific harms which women face.  Discourses of equality and individualism make talking about vulnerability a lot more difficult.  Also,the 1990s saw the rise of the male marginalisation thesis in the Caribbean and with it the belief that young Caribbean men face gender-based discrimination in the region and live in societies deeply hostile toward masculinity.  Of course, they are many dangers and harms facing young men but what the discourse of male marginalisation did was to name women as the winners of a zero-sum gender game and to blame them for the problems men face.  It also, in many ways silenced women, or at least attempted to do so.

One place where many young women and men learn the relevance of feminism and have an opportunity to reject the myths about what it supposedly is is in the classroom.  Yet as Cooper’s article pointed out these spaces are shrinking.  Once the mind has been opened, it cannot go back.  Our young people need spaces where they can hone the critical thinking skills and social consciousness which Caribbean feminist pedagogy nurtures.  Perhaps then, there will be less fear of feminism and more of an appreciation of its relevance.

What do you think? Are young women afraid of feminism? If so, why?