‘Why I believe hashtag feminism is lazy’

Trailblazers: Women campaign in 1976 for the Equal Rights Amendment to be made to US law.
by Zoe Strimpel

She is a writer, journalist and blogger, commenting on lifestyle and cultural trends. Strimpel focuses on dating, gender and courtship culture — she wrote her PhD thesis on the pre-history of online dating.

Will #MeToo change anything? Thousands of women have posted on social media about sexual harassment, but Zoe Strimpel thinks today’s feminists are ineffective compared to earlier activists.

I was walking home from the station last night – lost in my phone – when… you can tell what’s coming, right? A tale of male predation, in which some bloke did something threatening/inappropriate/disgusting to me.

You’ve heard a lot of these stories since the Harvey Weinstein harassment claims hit the news. And you’re about to hear a lot more. Women the internet over have begun posting under the #MeToo hashtag. This "movement" is only gathering force.

“Me too” is intended to demonstrate just how widespread is the sexual harassment of women and to galvanise as many women as possible to “speak out”, to “tell their stories” – curiously dated phrases that echo the consciousness-raising lingo of feminist movement in the 1970s.

#MeToo is meant to shock by showing how widespread the problem is. The implication? Women are victims.

Except that unlike the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s, this is just hashtag feminism. It is full of grievance but utterly lacking in solutions or even ideas.

Whereas the likes of Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller were out tirelessly altering centuries-old structures of rank discrimination, women today just need to tell a personal sexual horror story tagged with a catchphrase plucked from an ever-shifting, ever-more-banal lexicon of “solidarity”.

I’m sick to death of hashtag feminism. It lacks the intellectual coherence put in place by our femininist foremothers in the 1970s and 80s. It doesn’t make the kind of arguments that would actually persuade those who most need the persuasion.

By contrast, men who read, for instance, Brownmiller’s scholarly yet gripping Against Our Will emerged with a whole new arsenal of ideas about gender and humankind at the end. No amount of divisive hashtagging will achieve this. It just validates and entrenches a bitter rhetoric that pits women against men in a way that seems to be merely regressive rather than effective.

Nor do I like the inescapable whiff oozing off all this that women are, fundamentally and essentially, victims. Post-Weinstein scandal, it feels as though women are embracing a notion of ourselves in which we are bound by our own biology and men’s biological drives to be perpetually on the receiving end.

#MeToo is meant to shock by showing how widespread the problem is. The implication? Women the world over are victims. But while sexual harassment and, far more seriously, sexual assault are hugely widespread, there is more to life, to womanhood, and to relationships between the sexes, than that.

I can’t help it. I just don’t like the way hashtag “movements” divide people into “Righteous and Aggrieved” and everyone else.

In this case, are women who strongly feel their lives have not been marred by sexual harassment allowed to speak?

What about the women who secretly enjoy unlooked-for attention – including catcalls? And what of the women who find it funny, and snicker, when a man does something sexually inappropriate?

What about women who just cannot remember the last time a man harassed them? What about those who, perhaps overweight, perhaps handicapped, perhaps just not attractive according to the norms of the day, feel painfully invisible, rather than preyed upon?

Are these women also allowed to “speak out”? I’m not sure.

Yes: too many men behave badly towards women because of sex. But hashtag feminism is not the answer. So, until we come up with something more substantive, I’m afraid it’ll be a “no thanks” from me.

This is an extract of a longer piece, reprinted with kind permission. For the full essay please see the link in Become An Expert.

You Decide

  1. Is “hashtag feminism” useful?


  1. Research one prominent feminist from the past 100 years and prepare a short presentation. Share your findings with the class.

Word Watch

Harvey Weinstein
Dozens of women have accused the film producer of sexual assault and rape over recent weeks.
More than 500,000 women tweeted the hashtag within 24 hours of its launch.
Women’s Liberation Movement
The WLM was born out of the Civil Rights movement in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s. The movement fought for issues like abortion rights and birth control.
Gloria Steinem
An American feminist who once went undercover to expose the realities of life as a Playboy bunny.
Susan Brownmiller
Feminist author of Against Our Will, which proposed that rape was used by men to keep women in a state of fear.

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