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?


6 thoughts on “Are young women afraid of feminism?

  1. Sade Stewart says:

    I don’t think C’bean women are afraid of feminism. I think feminism has lost its appeal. One school of thought is that young females were born when “things were good” and opportunities for women were almost equal to those for men. Second-wave feminists, for example, believe that the struggle ended with them and now the younger generation have reaped all the benefits and have become complacent.

    I agree with one of the comments listed above that C’bean feminism(s) has its own exclusions and biases. It tends to be very classist and heterosexist and that is a huge turn off for me. Personally, I’m not interested in men so I need not be afraid of feminism for reason that I “won’t get a man”.

    I was really interested in feminism when I was ungrad. I actually loved the new face/ideologies of feminism in that it claimed to speak out for justice for all. However, since of late, I’ve come to realise that feminism’s claim to speak out for all is only in theory. C’bean feminism doesn’t speak out against injustices for all and that is what made me lose interest in the ‘movement’. I hope one day C’bean feminism will start appealing to me again; I hope one day they will start living up to their claim that they speak out against injustices and truly begin to support justice for all.


  2. yaari says:

    This is an important question and it is even more so today. Thank you. I teach and I do believe that there is fear of rejection on many levels.


  3. i really hope they’re not afraid! i think one thing feminists have to do is to constantly reiterate the gains of feminism for certain kinds of women (albeit not all women have the same kinds of access to some things) and make palatable connections that they can relate to. it’s the angle i take with some of my friends, for instance, one my my girl friends is doing a PhD in engineering and moans about how it’s oftentimes a problematic, sexist, male dominated space etc. in one breath but then whines about how she doesn’t get feminism, and aren’t we always making ourselves ‘the victim’ in another conversation! and as soon as i painstakingly went about drawing connections to where she is today (in a US university on fellowship) to the work of western feminists and how some of the very lived experiences she was going through was linked to the feminist movement and what feminists work towards–she kind of got it a tad more. some people need to see relevant dots connected and hopefully, if they’re open-minded enough to receiving the ideas, they will learn not to be afraid of the big, bad “F” word!


  4. jawnee says:

    Men are not afraid of woman at all.

    We are not afraid of relationships.

    We are deathly afraid of maternal presumption in divorce courts.Alimony,child support and a 60 to 70 percent chance a woman will use liberal no fault divorce to steal mens wealth and initiate divorce.

    There is no reason,incentive or beneifit any longer in dating or marrying an american woman whos domestic skills,maternal instinct and negative entitlement attitudes have all been gutted by feminism.

    All feminsim did was turn woman into men.I dont want to date woman covered in tattoos,who smokes,drinks,does drugs,cusses,fights.


  5. Feminism is mainstream now, it’s a marker of status. Young women are still in the phase of their lives when they are free to experiment with rebellious ideas outside the mainstream, older women with established careers are the ones that find feminism most appealing because corporate culture provides advantages for feminist women not availible to non-feminist women (both in a diffuse way through social approval and more directly through clubs and groups within the workplace).

    There is never going to be anything cool about feminism so long as it is a shibboleth for corporate status.


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