Self-proclaimed anti-feminist Suzanne Venker was scheduled to give a speech, titled “One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back: Why Feminism Fails,” at Williams College as part of its “Uncomfortable Learning” Speaker Series. Ironically, students at the college were so uncomfortable with the prospect (one student accused the student who invited her of “dipping [his] hands in the blood” of marginalized people) that the event was canceled. However, Venker later made the speech she planned to give available online. Curious, I looked into it, and, as absurd as it may seem, I think there is a lot that we self-proclaimed feminists have to learn from her.
What I learned was surprising. While Venker refuses to align herself with feminists and has been highly critical of feminist movements, there is nothing she says that is inherently “anti-feminist.” As such notable people as Aziz Ansari, Hillary Clinton, and Emma Watson have all reminded us, feminism, by definition, is the belief that women and men ought to have equal rights and opportunities. Therefore, as Watson says, “If you stand for equality, you are a feminist.” Interestingly, Venker’s opinions do not violate that definition.
Asked why she is not a feminist, Venker explained that she does not subscribe to the notions that (a) women in America are oppressed or (b) the only difference between men and women are their genitals. She may be wrong about whether women are oppressed, and we can argue about whether women and men are by their natures different, but—by our very own definition of feminism—those positions are not inconsistent with what feminism is.
Far be it for me to force someone into a movement they openly disavow, but it is worth pointing out that Venker does not disavow what equality feminists so desperately desire. Rather, she (harshly) criticizes the feminist movement for failing to truly obtain it. And if her accusations carry any weight, then they are accusations that any true feminist might want to take seriously…