“I don’t need feminism” : why misconceptions about the word are a threat to the movement and therefore women’s rights

Over the last months, I have spent quite a vast amount of time on social media, which I have constantly considered true ways of expressing ideas and feelings. It has enabled me to gather various reactions from all over the world. Of course, I also came across with stupidity at its finest, but it is part of freedom of thought and speech.

Feminism has always been a subject I find a lot of interests in. Therefore, when I came across the “I don’t need feminism” tendency, whether it was on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, I stopped by, took a deep breath, decided to go all out, and read as much as I could in order to genuinely understand the justifications for why people would express themselves through such a trend.

Of course it is absolutely up to these person to declare their opinions, and if they believe they don’t need feminism, everyone should respect such a point of view, which is something I do. However, my goal here is to discuss the reasons that made these persons to think so, and to demonstrate how such a belief often relies on prejudices, before finally extending the perception of feminism through this movement to the way it is seen by society.

        “I don’t need feminism because”

Carrying out many research and exploring the Internet, I have come to realize that the people expressing themselves through the “I don’t feminism” trend could be sorted into several categories. I will be refering to these people as “women” since they represent the vast majority of the persons.

        ● “I can vote, I can get an equal education, I am not catcalled, etc.”

The first categorie gathers women explaining how their lives are a farcry from the issues raised by feminism. “I don’t need feminism because my boyfriend don’t beat me, because I am not underpaid, because no one as ever catcalled me, because I have not underwent genital mutilation”, etc. To these women, I only have one thing to say. I am glad and happy that you are living such lives. Really. I wish there were more women having the same opportunities. In reality, how about the other 3.5 billion women all over the world ? They are not likely to be as lucky as you are. So, the first categorie simply is gathering people who have not experienced gender inequality.

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        ● “I can fight my own battles, think or fight for myself.”

Feminists are not your parents. They are not here to tell you what to do or what to think, or to make decisions for you. Politicians are, and nobody says anything. No matter what is said about them, it cannot be denied that they are well-educated people who can rule a country better than anyone else. Do you want another example of what is thinking for yourself ? Television and the vast majority of media, yet no one cares about expressing themselves through an “I don’t need television because” movement.

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        ● “I am not a victim.”

Regarding the third one, it seems important to reflect on the definition of feminism itself. I will not enter into too much details about this definition since it is the subject of the following part of this article, but let’s say that, basically, it means striving for equality between men and women in various realms. Such a definition relies on the principle that, nowadays, women globally have fewer rights than men, and that these rights are not respected as often as men’s rights.

I think it is fair, yet basic, to say that feminism implies women are, on average, inferior regarding several areas of their lives, and do not have as many opportunities as men.

The women using the “I am not a victim” argument cannot face the reality of this situation, and cannot stand the idea of being “inferior”. Once again, this is an average idea, and this categorie is related to both the previous one since “I don’t think I am inferior” means “I don’t live in a situation making me feel like I am”, or because they don’t think women in general are inferior to men, which is something feminists and everyone at least intelligent also agrees with.

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        ● “Feminism means man hating.”

I stopped counting how many times I have seen this written on white pieces of paper held by these women, “I don’t need feminism because I don’t hate men”.

Feminism is about social, economic, and political equality. And equality doesn’t have anything to do with hate. There is not so much to explain. Of course, I might be told that it is not the definition of feminism that is judged, but its actions which, apparently, are against men. I might be given the examples of how feminists are against parental custody granted to men more often. I might be given man hating quotes from so called feminists, but these persons only represent such a tiny percentage of all women that this argument stops being relevant.

Some individual feminists hate men, and are proud to present themselves as so, it is true, but it makes them more of misandrists than feminists.

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        ● “I need egalitarianism instead of feminism.”

This is the subject of the last part of this article that explains why they are different but overlapping notions. They remain close to each other, so why would needing egalitarianism instead of feminism be problematic ? It is true that since egalitarianism implies feminism, asking for egalitarianism means you look for feminism, but only if you know the definitions of both words and the differences between them.

Unfortunately, most of the persons expressing themselves by saying they want egalitarianism instead of feminism only do so because they believe feminism wants women to be of a higher rank, quality or importance. That is the problem.

        ● “Feminists told me I deserved to be raped, etc.”

All these women have been in touch with “bad feminists”. I have never said and I will never say that every feminist is a wonderful person doing his best to make the world a better place.

Why ? First of all, everybody, even the most racist person in the world, can pretend to be a feminist. All there is to do is say “I am a feminist, now let me tell you why all men are jerks who just want to have sex”. And there you go, you are now associating feminism with random and stupid ideas when in fact you have only just met a stupid person pretending to be a feminist without knowning anything about feminism.

It does not even have to be ideas, it could be actions, for instance being told by someone presenting themself as a feminist that you deserved to be raped by wearing short skirts, or launching #MenAreBastards from a profile containing the words “Proud feminist” in its description (yes, this is a reference to #KillAllMen), or even in the heart of feminist events such as in a Slutwalk where a woman said that feminism was not a men’s business.

Of course these are just examples, but you get the idea of how meeting wrong people labelling themselves as feminists participates into the misconceptions about it.

There is a tendency to consider every person saying “I am a feminist” as a representative of the whole movement. No one absolutely is. I am not representing feminism, so are not Inna Shevchenko, Emma Watson, Gloria Steinem or Michael Flood. The most accurate definition would be representatives of women’s rights. The difference is little, but primordial. I have always been amazed to see how feminists are supposed to be one single piece and entity and how actions and words from one feminist are considered to be emblematic of the entire movement. Feminism is about every human in the world. In a perfect situation, they would gather and fight around a common definition, but actually there is not one feminism but several feminisms. Most of feminist women often agree on the definition, but when it comes to the actions that have to be taken, this is where a gap develops. Women’s rights is such a large topic talking about feminism instead of feminisms is no longer relevant.

Media are just waiting and scanning every single sentence pronounced by feminists in order to find a weak point and extend it to the whole movement. They often are suffering from a toxic image in media and culture. Violent and aggresive are probably the words the most used in order to describe them. Establishing a good image in the eyes of people is absolutely not what feminism is about. It wants change and equality, and being aggressive, orally and not physically of course, is a good way of increasing its coverage.

Anger is a part of the message. It is justified by multiple abuses women are suffering from.

Ultimately, given that the message carried by feminism is uncomfortable as it wants to change our culture and how most of us behave towards women, therefore scaring people out of their comfort zone, feminism is not likely to improve its reputation.

        ● “There are other priorities in the world.”

They could be unrelated to women’s rights, like fighting terrorism, debt, child soldiers, undernutrition etc, or related to them, like forced marriage, war rapes, female genital mutilation etc.

Feminism is vast and has no borders. Yes, rape appears as a bigger deal than manspreading, but who said we were not allowed to fight both ?

Regarding huge deals such as terrorism or hunger, it is up to governments to take care of this, not feminist associations or feminist individuals.

Every single human being on Earth suffering from a problem is an issue we have to deal with nowadays, at the same time. You cannot establish hierarchy since there will always be something worse, and doing so is anything but pain elitism. There are other problems to end is probably the laziest excuse. If people are suffering from cancers, does it mean you will not cure your flu ?

        ● “Women already have the same rights as men.”

First of all, it is not true in every country in the world, and feminism has no boundaries. Let’s remain focused on Western countries in which it is quite right. Feminism is vast. Very vast. Having the same rights as men was the goal of the first wave, having new rights such as birth control or abortion was the subject of the second wave.

Do we have to stop just because women have enough rights ? Let’s talk about France. If movements striving for women’s rights had stopped after women were granted the right to vote in 1944, they would not have been allowed to work without their husband’s consent in 1965, or would not have been able to go on birth control in 1967, or to be authorized to have an abortion in 1975.

How about the third wave ? It is about making sure all of these rights are indeed implemented, since there is a huge gap between reality and theory. It is also about changing some aspects of the culture and making sure equality between men and women is always respected.

Underrepresentation of women in political sphere, the glass ceiling, the incredible number of rapes in the world, wage gap or the sharing of household chores are just examples of why we still need to fight.

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        ● “Feminists are lesbians with hairy armpits.”

Mean and stupid people are everywhere. Hopefully they don’t make the rule.

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There is no need to shame these women who are solely using their freedom of speech. Most of them have already opened a book about feminism or read its definition, and I am sure they agree with it. They often have a real problem with the way this definition is applied, and the actions of feminists.

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A large majority of these women are from United States, and to be honest, I don’t know well about feminists actions there since I am French. There is one thing that I know for sure, it is that the more extreme they are, the most exposed through media they become. Femen are not the only feminists in the world even though they surely are represented in newspapers, TV or the Internet quite often. This overrepresentation of a minority truly harms the feminism movement.

        A critical review of the arguments used

These are the main categories I have been able to distinguish. They somehow present all “bad” arguments used by all these women. If you want to, look for results for “I don’t need feminism” and try to put each argument into its categorie. If you cannot, that is probably a smart and good one, because yes, there are some I don’t have anything to oppose.

Of course the “I don’t need feminism” trend is only as small part of the anti-feminist movement, which includes vast arrays from true mysogyny to pure lack of knowledge. It is also quite funny to see that all these women claiming they don’t need feminism have been gathered in a single Facebook page called “Women Against Feminism”. I think we have to explain why it raises a problem. Not needing something absolutely does not mean you are against it. I don’t need pills in order to fall asleep, yet I am not against it, or against its use, by other people or by me if the day I need them was to come.

“I don’t need feminism” is basically a whole problem in itself because of one single word : “I”. As I said before, it is just a personal point of view given by people from all over the world.

There would not be any problem if the main goal solely was to give one’s opinion about feminism, like “I don’t need meat because I have learned to eat other sources of protein” or “because I don’t like the way animals are killed”.

However, since feminism has an enormous political dimension, explaining through vast arguments why you don’t need it can quickly become a way of shaming it.

Plus, media have made such a big deal of this trend, expanding its dimension to an exaggerating point, trying to show how so many women were part of it. Of course there is no way of knowing the exact number, but let’s say one hundred thousand people are concerned. It is not even close to represent 0,005% of women in the world. Shall we consider that it is a small part of the general anti-feminist movement which gathers more men and women, the percentage wouldn’t be higher enough to be a relevant representation of global thoughts about feminism. Let’s say millions of people are anti-feminist, willing to say it, willing to fight and enter amazing and smart conversations with human beings, feminists or not, we might reach 1%.

Of course, let’s not forget we have to account for people from all countries who do not care at all about feminism, anti-feminism or women’s rights because their lives are busy enough or they are simply not interested, just like absenteists in politics.

So, what about the reasons put forward by women to justify the fact they don’t need feminism ? Most of them are relying on misjudgments or preconceptions. There are some women with acceptable reasons, and I mean by that not prejudices about this movement (like “They tell me what to do, they are hypocritical, they are against men” are)

To every woman, whether its arguments are distorted or not, I only have one thing to say. Thank you for sharing your ideas with the world. Live your life, if you think you do not need feminism then go on and forget about it, do what you want to do, but do not try to influence other people using unsuitable arguments, or to criticize a movement you barely know, and leave us so that we can fight for women who do need it.

You might say that I used these pictures because they fitted my words. It is true. There are some women with interesting arguments I do not find anything consistent to oppose. The only question is, how many of them are there ? Hundred ? Thousand ? Just a water drop in the middle of the ocean. I am glad that you have arguments I cannot fight, and I wish you all the best in your life far away from feminism.

        What is exactly feminism ?

Why is feminism so associated with something vicious and toxic for both men and women ? Simply because it aims at changing society, whether it is its laws or common culture, and change is what human beings fear the most on this planet, so that only a few are truly willing to listen to feminists. Yes, it is often boring to have to explain approximately everything I am saying in this article to almost every new person you encounter, but it is worth the fight.

I would like to give my own definition of feminism, the one I have built mixing up the ones given on the French and English articles Féminisme and Feminism from Wikipedia, which I considered as the best on the Internet. I will define it that way : “Feminism is a range of political, philosophical and social movements and ideologies that share a common goal : to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, legal and social rights between men and women.”

Quite a long definition, and yet simple to understand. I think it is fair to say that feminism and fighting for women’s rights are synonymous. So, how can it be that “the more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating” ? (Emma Watson’s speech on gender equality for the launch of the HeForShe campaign)

Like Emma Watson, the more I have read and discussed about feminism, the more I have reached the same conclusion. So I asked people from various social backgrounds all around me what feminism meant for them, how they would define it and what they thought of feminists.

        ● Some told me that it was a movement trying to restrict and diminuish men’s rights. Well, technically, it would be a way to establish equality between men and women. If we think about these rights in the most simple way ever, which of course is absolutely unfaithful to reality, the current situation could be the following one : two differents levels of rights, one corresponding to women, the other for men, the last one being superior than the first. Let’s take an arbitraty scale on which women’s rights are ranked at 2 and men’s rights at 4.

Now, if we want to put men and women at the same level, we have three possibilities.

● Lowering men’s position to the same level as women (2)

● Increasing women’s position to the same level as men (4)

● Bringing both positions to an average one, between the two original. (3)

Actually, there are two other possibilites : equality on level 1 or 5, level 1 would be a terrible scenario and level 5 currently remains an utopia.

Can you guess which one feminism is refering to ? I would say, and probably a lot of people out there would agree that it is the second option. Feminism is certainly not the first one. It is about giving women the same privileges men have, absolutely not deprieving men from these advantages.

        ● Some told me it was too focused on women. Indeed, when we think about the name itself, how can it be that the movement striving for equality between men and women is called feminism ? Why could we not name it meninism ? If men and women are equal, there should be an equal right to define the movement aiming at gender equality as whether feminism or meninism.

Of course I know that meninism already exists, but its definition is somehow everchanging and quite difficult to understand, from a description of men opposed to sexism and fighting side by side with feminists to a movement promoting awareness of issues affecting men.

Would it be more fair to relate to the movement previously defined as egalitarianism or humanism instead of feminism ?

Let’s eliminate “humanism” and focus on egalitarianism. Humanism is a philosophical and cultural movement dealing with critical thinking about humans and launched in a quest for knowledge. Quoting Vicky Romanova, it is also “a Renaissance cultural movement that aimed to revive ancient Greek and Roman thoughts”. It has nothing to do with women’s rights or even human’s rights.

So the question becomes : Would it be more fair to replace feminism by egalitarianism ?

Since feminism and egalitarianism are not exactly the same concepts, no, even though they overlap. In a perfect world, the word would be replaced by another expressing the idea of equality without being specifically related to a gender. But here is something we have to account for. The world is not perfect, otherwise we will not even be trying to establish equal rights in the first place. Feminism is also called feminism for the same reasons gay rights are called gay rights instead of human rights, as it aims to bring the level of gay rights up to the level of standard human rights. We called it feminism since females (I do not necessarily approve the use of this term but I like the comparison drawn between both thanks to the first three common letters. It is more relevant in French where women is translated by “femmes”) are the ones whose rights have to be raised to men standards. Feminism also has its own history. The biggest fights for the most basic human rights to be granted to women were led in the name of feminism. Finally, feminism makes females visible.

When you consider all the problems and situations women are dealing with, the least we can do is not bother them with such a basic and useless issue. Yes, useless, because there is one last thing you should know about this. We don’t care. I will quote Emma Watson’s speech one more time since I consider it is a key reference for anyone a bit interested in the concept of women’s position in our society.

“[…] if you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.” (Emma Watson)

The word feminism is not important. Its definition is. It is quite sad to realize that a lot of us agree with the fact that we should be striving for equal rights between men and women (otherwise the person you are talking to is stupid or misogynist), yet to see their faces turn green when you say « Oh great so you are a feminist. »

So, moving on to the definition of feminism, we quickly realize there is no problem with it, but there is one regarding how it is understood by people. If the definition is not figured out in a proper way, its message cannot be conveyed.

What are the solutions ? I do not really see one except making people read the definition I gave previously, or any other one, and asking them « Do you agree with that ? Yes ? Congratulations, you are a feminist. You don’t like the word ? That’s not a problem, it’s just a word, get over it. »

So, asking people if they are feminists may appear to be no longer so relevant. Instead, asking them if they believe in gender equality and, most importantly, if they are willing to fight for it, because let’s remind everyone how actions speak louder than words, might be a better question.

Of course, I understand that asking “Are you a feminist ?” is a shortcut, a way of going faster, since believing in gender equality somehow looks like a simplified definition of feminism.

It is like asking people “Do you engage into sexual intercourse and romance relationships with people from your gender, the opposite gender or both ?” We do not do that, we simply say “What is your sexual orientation ?” It is faster and pertinent since the two questions are synonymous.

Unfortunately, feminism has lost its definition. Or maybe it has not met it yet. If we were to carry out a simple experience consisting in asking people to link words related to the field of gender equality, social and women rights, to their definitions, I am not sure that every participant will succeed into linking feminism to its definition. Asking random people to define feminism has already showed how far away they could be from reality.

Even worse, some people capable of giving an appropriate definition of feminism, and who agree with it, would still refuse to be called feminists. Why ? Out of fear for the word, fear of other people’s judgement, because they think it is political and not social. For all of this, let’s thank society for not fighting for giving the word its true definition, let’s thank media for constantly showing Femen’s actions in the foreground instead of any other one from the hundred of women’s organizations throughout the world, and therefore making people believe feminism is just a bunch of shirtless women using bare breasts, screams and a so called anger as tools for promoting their fights and ideas, and nothing else.

To conclude this part, here is an extract from a conversation with Emma Watson that beautifully sums up everything.

“You talked about this in your speech to the UN, about the term ‘feminism’, and I suppose making sure people understand what you mean by that, what you mean by the term feminism. What’s your understanding about it ? I think a lot of people don’t know what it necessarily means. I think you said something like, not a dirty word, but a word we are afraid of using, people are reluctant to use it. Why do you think that is ?”

“I think people associate it with hate, with man hate, and that’s really negative. And I don’t think that’s what feminism is about at all, I think it’s actually something incredibly positive. So I think that’s why women became very reluctant to use that word. But I think that’s changing, which is really cool. I’m aware of a lot more male feminist now than I was a few years ago, and it’s really heartening, and people have come back to what the actual definition means, which is equality politically, culturally, socially, economically. That’s it, it’s that simple.”

“I’m trying to remember when I was a fifteen-year-old boy, if someone said to you, ‘Are you a feminist ?’ Well, obviously not. But I think now it should be, if by that you mean I would like men and women to be paid the same, and all that kind of things, I would say yes, I am a feminist”

“I think men think it’s a women’s word, that is only for women, but it really just means you believe in equality, and if you stand for equality, then you are a feminist, sorry to tell you. You are a feminist, I’m sorry. You are a feminist.”

        Are feminism and egalitarianism the same ?

As I said earlier, some argue that feminism should be replaced by egalitarianism.

What about the definitions of these two words ? The true difference between both of them relies in the fact that feminism deals with equality between men and women, while egalitarianism strives for equality between all citizens, regardless of their religion, sexual orientation, gender or any kind of distinction. We are now beginning to see the slight difference there is. So, even though the definitions are pretty close, we cannot really tell that the words are synonymous.

Yet, it is possible to demonstrate that feminism implies egalitarianism, and egalitarianism implies feminism.

In mathematics terms, feminism ≠ egalitarianism.

However, feminism → egalitarianism and egalitarianism → feminism, which can be put in a nutshell as feminism ↔ egalitarianism.

Let’s start by egalitarianism implying feminism. If you think all citizens, no matter their caracteristics, are equal, then men and women are equal, since men and women is what citizens are made of. I am not talking of transgender or genderless people since I want to keep things as simple as possible, but obviously they are no different from men and women in terms of rights.

Now, about how feminism implies egalitarianism. Feminism aims at making women and men equals, it does not differenciate them in terms of religion, skin color or political orientation. Feminism is not about making black women equal to black men, or Christian women equal to Christian men. It does not care about any other thing than gender.

        Fighting for women’s rights or fighting for explaining what feminism truly is ?

What is the next step ? Should we be focusing on fighting sexual harrassement, the glass ceiling, female genital mutilation and so many other problems or do we have to place our efforts into giving feminism its definition back so that more people would be aware of what it doubtlessly is and could “join the movement” ?

In other words, should we fight with all the people knowing what feminism is, that is to say a minority, without really caring about haters, or should we try to make more and more people team up with feminists by making sure their perception of feminism is no longer based on prejudices and false ideas ?

We obviously can do both. You might say that we are actually doing both, but when you reflect on the evolution of women’s situation and the evolution of the way feminism has been perceived over the last century, you realize that women’s position has increased, but feminism has never been considered as something acceptable and valuable.

Even nowadays, with every single person agreeing on saying feminists from the first and second waves were absolutely right in their claims, you realize they were judged by pre-WWI society the same way feminists are judged in 2016.

It is not that we never tried, since the beginning of feminism, to make it seen as positive, it is just that we never succeeded. I don’t think we will ever do. As I said before, it wants change in our society, and people deeply are afraid of it, and therefore don’t want it. That is why so many people are against feminism. I will not explain why we are so afraid of change, there are a lot of articles online perfectly doing so.

It is absolutely utopian to think we could make every single person on Earth to agree on the definition of feminism and its actions. There will always be people who don’t care and don’t have any opinion about women’s rights, and that is something we should respect, just like the way we are not chasing and shaming people who never vote.

Emma Watson (yeah, again) asked : “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation ?” in order to make men feel they have a key role in gender equality issues.

I want to say, how can we effect change in the world when only so few people know what the fight for the rights of half its population exactly is, and when so few people are carrying out actions in that direction ?

It is amazing to see how most of what I have been saying can be synthesized into such a simple diagram.

o-FEMINIST-570

By Rebecca Searles

I hope this article and this simple image will convince people to answer the next time they will be asked if they are feminists, “Yes”. It will be an incredible first step, the second being “Now, what are you doing to do every day in order to improve women’s rights and opportunities ?”

Since actions speak louder than words, here is a reminder of all the small things we can do in that direction.

        ● Make it a habit to speak up when you see sexism happening. If you witness something that enrages you about the way women are being treated, tell the person being sexist they are doing so, because they are not likely to realize their actions and the consequences they could have. Also talk about it with your friends, your family, your coworkers. It could be jokes, ads on TV, personal remarks. Don’t laugh at sexist jokes, they are not funny, it is just oppresive humor.

        ● Stand up for women. How many times have I read stories about women getting catcalled, harrased, sexually assaulted or raped while there were other people present at the same time, people who did not react at all ? Of course breaking free of the bystander effect does not limitate to women, it concerns every single human.

        ● Stop refering to grown women as girls.

        ● Never tell anyone they cannot do something because of their gender. Or age, or religion, or skin color, or whatever.

        ● Get to know what rape culture, slutshaming, victim blaming and objectification are.

        ● Educate yourself. Read about feminism., its history, its theories. I am not necessarily talking about books, articles could just be fine. Realize how oppression of women happens in every day society. Read, think and talk. I don’t mean you should take part into Slutwalks, join feminist associations, and devote dozen of hours of your life every week to women’s rights, but becoming aware of the problems is a major stepping stone.

We all are feminists. Except stupid persons, but explaining why and how to turn them into intelligent people believing men and women should have equal rights would not take another article but a least a whole book, without being sure we will ever succeed.

We all are feminists. The real question is : Are you an active one ?

        Sources

HeForShe Conversation with Emma Watson on International Women’s Day 2015 [Full Q&A] – Official – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNi9Ypc0cg8

Emma Watson at the HeForShe Campaign 2014 – Official UN Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkjW9PZBRfk

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Féminisme

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-searles/how-to-tell-if-youre-a-feminist_b_4185742.html

http://thoughtcatalog.com/emma-reading/2015/01/its-time-we-talked-about-feminism-properly/

http://cafaitgenre.org/2013/09/02/arguments-anti-feministes-4-on-devrait-se-debarrasser-du-terme-feminisme/#more-2230

http://www.egalitariste.net/2013/02/25/deconstructions-des-cliches-les-plus-courants-au-sujet-du-feminisme/

http://radgeek.com/gt/2000/07/11/what_you/

https://twitter.com/THEBLACKWlDOW/status/607923007097569280?lang=fr

        Contact

http://twitter.com/Ronon_

Une réflexion sur ““I don’t need feminism” : why misconceptions about the word are a threat to the movement and therefore women’s rights

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