Why People Reject Movements That Seek To Empower Them

Image courtesy of Jay Morrison via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

The Facebook page Women Against Feminism has over 32,000 likes, while thousands more have submitted photos explaining “I don’t need feminism because” on Tumblr.

This isn’t just an anomaly; there are many more women that are, if not overtly against feminism, at least unwilling to align themselves with the movement by name.

Depending on who you ask, this large-scale rejection is either completely irrational, or totally obvious. 

Rejected Movements

A movement is defined as a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. Created by people, for people, they are typically promoted to inspire change, often via empowering those perceived to be disadvantaged.

Criticism and pushback is par for the course for any type of social activism, but as with Women Against Feminism, what raises eyebrows is when the people movements are designed to help reject them completely. Is it a sign of ignorance, or deeper issues with modern activism?

Here are some pertinent examples:

  • Women rejecting feminism
  • Minorities rejecting Black Lives Matter
  • 99% rejecting Occupy Wall street
  • Animals rejecting animal rights (just kidding)

Technically speaking, these groups stand to gain from the principles of the movements they deny, and such rejections are often dismissed as ignorant, or worse, traitorous. But it could be a mistake to ignore and disregard them, if these efforts want to be truly effective.

Why it happens

So why do people reject movements that, in theory, seek to fight for their rights? There are many reasons, both personal and political, in which an individual might scoff at activists claiming to battle on their behalf. These include:

  • People aren’t homogeneous. Even demographically, opinions differ due to religion, morals, and upbringing
  • Sometimes it’s not the principle that’s being rejected, but the rhetoric or methodology of the movement
  • Outsiders see in modern movements a reactionary, web-based focus on victimhood and blame, instead of actual, physical empowerment
  • Radical voices appear to overpower moderate ones, making it difficult to find mutual footing
  • “Identity politics” is a divisive concept, especially to those that would prefer to assimilate

Case in point: A majority of Americans support gender equality, but only 18 percent identify as feminist. (FYI, supporting gender equality is actually the textbook definition of feminism.)

The skewed perception of feminists as self-victimizing, Anglo-centric bra-burners that demonize both men and women  is shockingly persistent.

submit your own picture at http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/submit

Posted by Women Against Feminism on Friday, January 9, 2015


You also have African American conservatives (the group for which has 156,000 likes on Facebook), rejecting the Black Lives Matter movement on similar grounds: that the rhetoric stirs up friction between races by casting blame.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement, which rallied for the 99%, was actually only supported by 22 – 59% of the US population at the time, depending on the poll, after which it dwindled even further.

Some of this criticism stems from misconceptions and ignorance; but it’s also an accurate representation of how such movements are perceived en masse.

Can social movements do better?

Just like people of various demographics can’t be generalized, those that support movements aren’t part of a hivemind, either. But since movements are more organized than the general populace, there are ways in which supporters can take criticism into stride.

Dismissing critics is at best unfair, and at worse a recipe for an insular community divorced from reality and public opinion. Movements might do better to engage with dissent rationally and humbly.

If interested, supporters can start by:

  • Not “move-splaining”: Claiming to represent an entire group’s opinion or interest assumes some voices and ideas matter more than others
  • Educate on Big Picture: Many people don’t understand that social movements seek to address huge systemic issues, and that the goal is equality, end stop. Core messages and goals can get lost in amidst divisive rhetoric, and are worth emphasizing again and again
  • Meeting in the middle: There’s room for opinions some consider radical, but also space for moderacy, dissent, and even better, conversation and respect between opponents
  • Using facts and feelings: Feelings without facts can fall short, as can the facts without feelings. Appealing to personal experience while also providing accurate support may spin the needle of understanding

This isn’t to say that activists always have to be polite — there’s room for anger and emotion when it comes to getting the wheels of change moving — or avoid controversial topics just because they ruffle feathers.

It’s simply that some situations may call for extra rounds of empathy, engagement, and self-reflection for maximum impact — especially towards those you want on your side.

We measure success by the amount of understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?

Jennifer Markert