Earlier this year YouGov ran an international poll on feminism. The shocking discovery was that in select Western democracies only about a third of people of all genders said they identify as feminists, ranging from 15% in Germany to 48% in Spain.
Then, they took the dictionary definition of feminism and asked: do you think that men and women should have equal rights and status in society, and be treated equally in every way?
Now around 85% said yes, ranging from 74% in Denmark to 91% in Italy.
What is going on here?!
This can happen to any political movement, any social cause, any business. People misunderstand what you stand for, or worse — they understand and even agree, they just don’t want to be associated with you.
This means you have a PR problem.
You don’t communicate your goals well. You’ve got a bad name. You’re seen in a negative light. Others badmouth you. You come across as annoying, uncool, and unlikable. You’re not the sort of crowd others want to hang out with.
This is exactly what’s happening to feminism right now.
We can ignore this and keep doing what we’re doing because people are clearly stupid, evil, deceived, obstructionist, and it’s all the fault of anti-feminist propaganda. Or we can look closer and ask:
What could we do to clear this up?
I think these are common-sense. If you disagree, you might not agree with my conclusions.
We need the numbers
Feminism won’t succeed any time soon if we only have 33% of people on board (and that’s in some of the most progressive countries in the world!). We need more. More women, but mainly more men.
It doesn’t matter that you’re right if nobody likes you
Sorry. You can be the rightest of right and sit on the highest horse making the strongest arguments. People won’t listen and you’ll achieve nothing. That’s just basic human psychology, go complain to Mother Nature if you want.
To succeed, we need to do some work.
I know you’re tired. You can’t believe you still need to explain the obvious. You’re sick of doing people’s work for them.
But if we really care, we need to be willing to do something. Maybe not all of us. Maybe not all the things. But we are where we are and this work is clearly not doing itself, so if we want it done, we need to step up.
If the list below seems like a lot, do just half. Do a quarter. A tenth. Doing something is better than nothing.
Improving the Feminist PR
Use non-violent communication
If you want people to listen and consider what you are saying, you need to say it in a way that doesn’t make them feel attacked and defensive. NVC techniques you’d use in a relationship are perfectly applicable in discussions with non-feminists.
Just as with NVC in a relationship, this does not mean you compromise on what you say, need to be nice, or make yourself amenable and easier to ignore. It only means adopting a language that will encourage the other to listen rather than fight.
Naturally, this only applies to discussing with people who are non-violent. If you’re talking with the Andrew Tates of this world, all moves allowed.
Use positive narratives
Anti-feminists say they feel constantly attacked and vilified. Do many of them deserve it? Of course. But many don’t. And nobody wants to feel evil by default, guilty of being a man, toxic from birth.
Those narratives can be changed. Here are examples from the many consent workshops I took part in. Some pretty much say:
We want to have a nice event here, and since we can’t put all the men in a cage, we’ll try to train them to stop thinking with their dicks for a minute and hammer some basic human decency into their thick skulls. Let me start with some rape statistics…
But others start from:
Did you know that your brain is like a muscle you can train? Let’s play a game where one person asks the other for something silly and the other says ‘no’. This way, you train your brain that you can say ‘no’, and that rejection is not a big deal. Later, in real life, those neural pathways will be easier to activate and feel more natural.’
Guess which one will get guys to shut down and see feminism as oppressive, and which might actually teach them something and show feminism as worth engaging with.
Encourage good speakers
We all had that teammate at work, at school, in sports. They might be quite smart and have their heart in the right place, yet when they go to negotiate a deal, talk with the other team, or ask the boss for something, you just know it’s going to end in a disaster.
There will be drama, offense, and you won’t get what you wanted. Your teammate just has a talent for antagonising people.
Sadly, Team Feminism has quite a few of those. I know there are good reasons for that and obviously, we mustn’t just silence them. That would be absolutely unacceptable and besides, they often have very smart things to say.
But maybe we could encourage them to express themselves in mediums they can use more effectively? To channel their energies into something more aligned with their talents. To speak to audiences who are on their wavelength. Maybe give them some rhetoric advice.
Meanwhile, other people have a great talent for debate and seem to always know what to say to get people on board. Pass them the mic! Put them up on podcasts, give them columns to write, like and share their content!
Women = good, men = bad.
Women = victims, men = abusers.
Feminists = right, everybody else = wrong.
Every time, in every way, always.
It sounds ridiculous, but this narrative comes up all the time. I regularly talk with feminists who sit firmly on a very high moral horse, insist that women are perfect, and imply that if only they were in charge, we would all live in a utopia.
Please. I’ve met many women in my life and I assure you, they have faults. And I met men and they aren’t all that bad.
So, sure, #NotAllMen misses the point and tries to obscure valid points. But it does that precisely because the narrative is so black-and-white, obviously wrong and unfair. It’s bound to cause a backlash. By using it, you literally ask people to disagree with you.
Stop asking men to apologise they exist
An average man is as responsible for the patriarchy as the average US citizen is for Trumpism, structural racism, neo-imperialism, and mass shootings.
Are we all complicit in some sense? Of course. Have some of us directly contributed to it? Sadly yes. Have we done enough to fight it? You tell me.
But would you like me if I kept following you and repeating ad nauseam that being born in the US makes you complicit in all that, demanded you fix your country right now, and reminded you how afraid I am you might pull your gun on me at any moment? What a way to make friends, right?
When a confused soul of any gender, but particularly a man, shows up on the feminist doorstep, welcome them in. Do not say:
I can’t believe the ignorant questions you’re asking, why am I wasting my time on you?! If you really want to be an ally, go read those twenty books and show you really feel the pain. Then maaaaybe I’ll get off my high moral horse to exchange a few words with you.
Wow, these are questions people have been debating for years. Check out this and this author, you won’t believe what they came up with!
I’m sure many won’t engage. But some will cross that doorstep to join House Feminism. Maybe not a half, but maybe a quarter. A tenth. Better than nothing.
Treat them as potential allies
When such a person shows up with their stupid questions and annoying points, immediately place them on your side. Don’t treat them as ‘one of them’, one of those you need to fight against. Treat them as ‘one of us’. Say:
Yeah, I’ve heard such arguments as well, can you believe other people actually think that? Not you and I though, right? We’ve seen right through it. You’ve read this revocation of those arguments as well, right? No? Wow, you’re missing out, let me throw you a link. Want to pop in for tea next week?
Allow them to save face
This is the number one rule in any negotiations book. You can’t force the person you negotiate with to go home in shame, because that makes them hate you and brews problems in the future.
Don’t rub people’s faces in the dirt quite so hard. By all means, show them they’re wrong, but in a way that makes them feel they’ve got at least something right. That they’re not a complete idiot.
If you will only accept unconditional capitulation, they’ve got nothing to lose and will fight to the last drop.
I call for Precision Feminism. We need to act strategically: cut out opposition mercilessly, but leave healthy tissue intact. Patriarchy and misogyny are cancers of our society. But you don’t fight cancer with a baseball bat. You fight it with a scalpel.
Feminism is a political and social movement, and as such it needs the numbers. We can’t keep pushing people away with our poor PR. We need to work on our public image so that more people want to associate with us.
I’m not saying we all must do all of the things I suggested. But maybe some of us do some of them or find other ways to restore feminism’s good name.