If Gen X women were raised to believe they could “have it all,” millennial women were the first generation to reach for it on a broad scale. Today, more women attend and graduate from college than men, female breadwinners are gradually becoming the norm, and feminist ideals have become the ruler by which we judge all areas of pop culture, from fashion magazines to award shows.
These are all feminist triumphs, but if you ask Leah, a 22-year old Independent, the movement that brought us such progress has now gone off the rails. “Why do I not consider myself a feminist? This is a complicated answer because although, as a woman, I do want us to be societally equal, I feel like the movement has been largely taken over by far-left wing activists that make it nearly impossible for me to identify with.”
Leah is not alone in her disillusionment with feminism. In new poll from Refinery29 and CBS News, 54% of young women said they’re with Leah: They do not identify as “feminist.”
I feel like the movement has been largely taken over by far-left wing activists that make it nearly impossible for me to identify with.
These are surprising results for a period when feminism seems to be more en vogue than ever — brands market t-shirts with feminist slogans emblazoned on the front, Beyoncé iconically performed in front of screen with the word “FEMINIST” on it, even men call themselves feminists now. Not to mention all that has followed the first female major-party nominee for president’s devastating loss in 2016: the Women’s March, the “resistance” (which is largely women-led) and #MeToo.
Overall, younger women are still more likely than older women to identify as feminists — just 34% of American women 36 and older call themselves feminists. And yet, in a two-year period that looks like a revived women’s movement, many poll respondents told Refinery29 in follow-up interviews that they see no real need for the movement anymore.
“Most feminists that I’ve read deny any negative emotional backlash or health risks for women having an abortion, which is extremely disingenuous in my view,” Leah said. “Although not all women suffer emotionally or physically after an abortion, many do, and their stories are ignored by mainstream feminism because it doesn’t fit the narrative of abortion being a good thing for women.”
Stephanie, a 25-year-old Republican, believes there really isn’t a need for the current feminist movement at all. “I don’t think women in the modern western world are oppressed,” she said. “Women are doing just fine. I think modern feminists try to create a boogeyman out of what they call the patriarchy and hunt it down, but it’s not necessary.”
She added: “Men and women are equal, but different. Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging that is not sexist.”
Views on feminism are also highly influenced by partisanship: 63% of Democrats polled consider themselves feminists compared to 29% of Republicans and 48% of Independents. But, across party lines, young women had similar reasons for why they choose not to call themselves feminists: they simply don’t see themselves reflected in the current movement.
I don’t think women in the modern western world are oppressed.
Republican women said that modern feminism is too much in conflict with other deeply held conservative values: “I associate feminism with a ‘women’s health’ movement that strongly pushes for the right to abortion, birth control, etc. which are not issues I identify strongly with,” one 27-year-old Republican woman told Refinery29. “Also, sometimes feminist groups lead events like ‘slut walks’ that promote what I feel is inappropriate dress and behavior. I see the point — yes, how a woman dresses is not an excuse for abuse — but that doesn’t mean we should promote indecency.”
One 31-year-old Independent said the feminist movement has devolved from a movement fighting for women’s rights, to one that instead is about making men inferior to women. “I do consider myself for women’s rights, equal rights,” she told Refinery29. “I don’t want to seem anti-feminist. I’m not — I’m anti-man bashing. If we lower ourselves as women, just to say men can’t do things or they shouldn’t or the man should work harder for the same goals women have … how is that equal?”
For Malina, a 34-year-old Latina and Democrat, feminism today focuses too much on nitpicking “over the tiniest politically incorrect commentary” and not enough on America’s lack of family policies. She also believes that the current wave of feminism still overlooks issues that affect women of color. “I find that feminists are typically white women, and I am not that and therefore I do not feel included and cannot relate,” Malina told Refinery29. “As a woman of color, I deal with racism way more than any gender discrimination issues.” Malina’s experience might explain why young white women are slightly more likely (48%) to identify as feminist than women of color (44%).
As a woman of color, I deal with racism way more than any gender discrimination issues.
How this will translate at the ballot box this November is anyone’s guess. Will we see a repudiation of progressive ideals that are often championed by feminist activists? Or will women simply vote on policy, rather than identity politics?
If one thing is clear, it’s that millennial women’s views on the feminist movement cannot be summed up with pink hats and trendy tees.
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