The feminists need to calm down

Elsa Maishman 7 April 2015

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told to 'calm down' when condemning sexist language or behaviour. Sometimes I deserve it, but most of the time I am in fact already calm, but just failing to realise that every single reaction to sexism must be, of course, ‘female hysteria.’ Women who complain about sexist language are dismissed because their feminist views are too 'hardcore', women who take issue with sexual harassment are accused of 'overreaction', and women who take a stand against sexist facebook posts are laughed at.

Ridicule is one of the most effective ways to undermine an opinion, and it's a fantastic tool for keeping uppity women in their place, afraid of speaking out for fear of being branded a crazy bitch feminist. The title photo of this article has been posted on social media many times as a 'joke' – a hilarious jest about how 'feminism' can be homogenised into a single group of people, 'the feminists', and how you'd better watch out because they're all crazy, angry bitches, coming to hunt you down.

Feminism is not a single campaign, and it is not represented by a particular group of people who share the same views about everything. The only definitive thing you can say about a feminist is that they advocate women's rights.

I have in the past been dismissed as 'taking feminism too seriously'. Sexist discrimination has been woven into the very fabric of our society, to a point where it seems jarringly unnatural to even imagine a world in which women are treated equally and with respect (women take their husbands' names, it's weird for women but not for men to walk around topless, women are members of mankind… we live in a patriarchy, I could go on). Personally, I think that's a pretty serious issue.

This deep-seated sexism manifests itself in bold and obvious ways, like the gender pay gap, but perhaps more dangerously, in minor actions or sleights of language, which alone do not seem overly important but ultimately sum up to the systematic oppression of women. And that oppression is merely reaffirmed every time a feminist is laughed at for being ‘pedantic’ or just ‘looking for an argument.’

I admit that some women do overreact, and see sexism where it is not present. I'm not calling for reverse discrimination – for the right of women to say and do things that would be unacceptable if coming from men. Hate must not be associated with an equal rights campaign, and I do not support 'feminists' who use the movement as a mere veneer to justify hate-fuelled violence or personal attacks. But anger is not hate. Anger, at the way women are treated, at the way our society accepts this so readily that women are being laughed at for 'overreaction' when they express even the slightest opposition to oppression, is actually quite understandable.

Feminists have a duty to support and promote women's rights and equality. We do not have a responsibility to 'rebrand' feminism into something more palatable, something easier for the average well-meaning, 'I really want equal rights for women but goodness there's no need to get so upset about it' supporter of feminism to swallow. Yes, some feminists are loud, angry and hate-fuelled. But that doesn't mean that the rest of us should have to balance them out, to watch our every word so as not to 'overreact' and discredit the cause. So engage with feminists. Take us seriously. Disagree with us, argue with us, but don't dismiss us.