While mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr a few months ago, I was caught off guard by a photo of a girl with a sign read “I Need Feminism Because I’m Not A ‘Cunt’ Because I Don’t Want To Sleep With You.” Immediate reblog. I didn’t know the story behind this picture, all I knew was that the message was simple, real, and relatable. I needed feminism, too. After a little bit of research I discovered that it was part of an incredibly powerful blog, and movement, called Who Needs Feminism? Women and men from around the world submit photos sharing why feminism is so important. Sweet Lemon was lucky enough to interview one of the creators, Ivanna Gonzalez, to find out more about WNF.
Sweet Lemon: What inspired the 16 founders of Who Needs Feminism to create this blog?
Ivanna Gonzalez: The Who Needs Feminism campaign was the final project for a women’s studies class taught by Dr. Rachel Seidman at Duke University in the Spring of 2012. Throughout the course of the semester, it become obvious to us that our society was still very much a patriarchal one, despite all the victories of the women who came before us and the laws on the books that would indicate otherwise. We experienced sexism in our daily lives, we saw it on our campus, and we detected how we internalized it in the way we speak, make decisions, and think about our futures. We wanted to have conversations with our friends about these issues but found ourselves being shut down; feminism was a bad word and wouldn’t be tolerated in everyday conversation. We came up with the current format as a way to challenge people to think about the different ways that sexism and gender norms affect their lives, bringing them to the conclusion that we are still very much in need of an organized feminism movement. We decided that what we needed to do was reach out to as far a range of people as possible to strip the stereotypical image of what a feminist looks like. The project has become so much more than just a blog. Most of our work actually involves reaching out to students across the country and the world and encourage them to start a WNF campaign on their campus.
SL: What do you hope that WNF will accomplish? What type of change has it already created?
IG: As Bell Hooks says, “feminism is for everybody.” That’s the simplest way to say what this project is about. It’s a tool for people to engage their communities and an opportunity to talk about subjects that are considered too taboo for everyday conversation. We hope that individuals of all gender identities, sexual orientations, races, and nationalities will think about feminism as it applies to their unique lived experiences. Feminism doesn’t have to be just about gender. We hope that people are inspired to be vulnerable and open thinking about these things in their own lives. It can be painful but it can also be empowering to name the problem and call it out by name. It’s the first step towards demanding that things change. It’s hard to concretely assess the effect of a campaign like this. All we have are numbers about how far this campaign has gone: New Zealand, France, Kazakhstan, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, the U.K. New submissions come in to our Tumblr everyday adding to our collection of over 4,000 images at this point. We’ve never even tried to count the plain text submissions we’ve received. We get emails with stories of how much this campaign has meant to them. I have high hopes that WNF campus photo shoots are connecting individuals who can become a source of support. At the least, it gives people the opportunity to actually see how many others feel the same way, giving them the confidence to challenge what they’ve seen around them.
SL: Name a few of the most memorable “I Need Feminism Because” submissions you have received.
IG: That’s a big question because there are so many to choose from. Here are some from the original campaign at Duke: I need feminism because… …my sexy dress is not an invitation…equality doesn’t just happen…I shouldn’t have to justify my ambitions…too many people of my gender find sexual assault excusable on this campus…I want to be better than what society makes me out to be…the silence stops with me…challenging gender binaries energizes me…I believe the struggle makes you stronger…because I want to be strong without being “angry” (submission by an African-American Duke woman)…I’m not worth just 75 cents per dollar…I’m not just a dumb blonde…having a vagina should never determine who I am, where I go, and how I get there…mistress does not equal master…equality never goes out of fashion…”being a man” shouldn’t mean belittling women…I know I am not the only person trying to survive their gender…one person can’t fight gender bias alone…being black does not negate my womanhood…I’m tired of all the automatic “machista” perceptions of me…I am more than the sum of my parts…female NCAA athletes receive only 45% of college athletic scholarship dollars…it’s wrong that women pay more for health insurance…I contribute to rape culture without knowing it.
SL: What has been WNF’s reaction to some of the negative responses to the blog, such as the Twitter hashtag #INeedMasculismBecause?
IG: At first, we didn’t know what to do with the backlash but after almost a year and half doing this work, we’ve figured out that the best way to handle it to just let it be. To us, backlash is an indicator that we’re doing something right, that we’re upsetting the status quo enough to make those that benefit from it uncomfortable. There are handfuls of blogs with names like “We Don’t Need Feminism” or “You Don’t Need Feminism,” there’s the hashtag, we get emails occasionally. If we engaged with those folks, the work would never end and we’d rather dedicate our time to supporting the WNF campaigners.
SL: Other than sending in a photo explaining why “I Need Feminism” (which all SL readers should do!), what are some other ways to get involved with WNF?
IG: Interested individuals should download the Start Your Own Campaign Guide and organize a photo shoot on their campus or in their community. The guide lays out a basic outline for how to go about it and we’re always available via email to support their work. We ask that people send us their album from their community so that we can share it with the rest of the WNF online network. There is also a section on how to follow-up on a local photo shoot and move to action, inspired and guided by the issues that their participants raised. One of the things that we decided early on was that we wouldn’t be dictating to the WNF community on what is feminism or how to be a feminist. Feminist scholars often talk about “feminisms” which speaks to the diversity of feminist theory and practice. WNF is a tool and platform for people to think about and discuss what kind of feminism aligns with their values. WNF is meant to encourage people to think about these questions, name the way that gender norms and biases hurt them, and then be able to see that they are not alone. We want people to think globally and act locally! We hope that the sense of community that comes from organizing a campaign or seeing your school or community’s album become a part of an international movement will inspire people to challenge those damaging patterns of sexism in their daily lives and to identify allies to fight back with on a larger scale.
To read more WNF submissions or even send in your own (like to SL contributors above did!), go to WhoNeedsFeminism.tumblr.com.
By Sara Tardiff