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What Happens When Women Like Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting Say They Don’t Need Feminism?

Kaley Cuoco, women against feminism

Art Credit: via Mad World News

Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting doesn’t consider herself a feminist.

"It's not really something I think about,” she toldRedbook. “Things are different now, and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around.” All the same, “I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that's because I've never really faced inequality."

Yet another vocal femme against feminism. What does it all mean?

Cuoco has since commented that her remarks were “taken out of context.” But it can’t help but remind me of this past year’s growing movement of anti-feminists on social media, #WomenAgainstFeminism. On their Tumblr page, we see hundreds of faces of savvy women, holding cards that explain why feminism is not for them. “This is what an anti-feminist looks like,” some read.

If we're going from the definition of feminism used by Emma Watson in her recent United Nations "HeForShe" Campaign—"the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities"—then I suspect many of the #WomenAgainstFeminism are not against feminism in this sense. So what’s the confusion? Some feel the movement’s focus on balancing the scales risks pushing an agenda that puts women above men instead of equal. Others disagree with certain policy positions of self-proclaimed feminists. Others agree with the equality aspect but (perhaps since they don’t see inequality in front of them) don’t feel the need to broadcast “women’s equality with men” as a part of their identity.

Many have deplored the #WomenAgainstFeminism movement, and others have simply mocked it claiming the women don’t know what they’re talking about. Others have said these ladies are worth hearing out if the movement wants to include them under the “big tent.” There are, after all, some thought-provoking reasons listed for their departure from the fold. “I don’t need feminism because it reinforces the men as agents/women as victims dichotomy,” one says. “I don’t need feminism because… egalitarianism is better!!” another reads.

There’s an interesting thing about this vein of anti-feminism. It features a multitude of women who look strong and sophisticated and say they don’t need a movement taking care of them. Doesn’t that sound almost… feminist? Self-reliant women making their voices heard?

I think, in a funny way, #WomenAgainstFeminism shows a victory (even if a small one) for feminism. If there’s a patriarchy oppressing women, wouldn’t the goal be that one day we’ll advance enough that it will not have its hold on women anymore? Clearly a contingent of women feel un-oppressed, and that’s a good thing.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t still important feminist causes worth our attention. Even if many women experience little apparent sexism in their lives, still others remain oppressed and mistreated—and, yes, even in our fair country. The sex trafficking of women remains a national scourge, for instance, and the media continues to portray exploitative imagery of women for the next generation of girls and boys to grow up on. Maybe some of the #WomenAgainstFeminism are a bit naïve to these challenges women face, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend embracing ignorance.

Is it possible some could be oppressed without knowing it? Sure, from the pornstar who feels her work is empowering but who is abused behind the scenes, to the career woman who’s subtly belittled by male peers in the office. But it’s one thing to be in denial of objectively measured abuses; it’s quite another to be so ignorant of attempts to belittle you that you don’t even notice it or let it slow you down. If a woman is thriving in an objective sense, then it’s probably fair to say it’s a feminist success.

If we are to acknowledge the advances in gender equality that have been made over the years—if we are to say they have made at least some difference for the better—then we have to acknowledge that some women may legitimately experience those benefits. There may in fact be a growing contingent of women who are not experiencing crippling inequality in their lives and are thriving in every objective sense—and that’s a good thing.

Perhaps this development is a sign we need a new, better feminism in the years to come. Either way, let’s call this growing group of women who, like Cuoco, say they don’t need feminism, what it is. It’s a group of women who don’t feel they need a movement to advocate for them. They don’t need us to pick up their check or hold the door for them. I’d say that’s a victory especially for us feminists.