There are some things that insomnia is really helpful for. If you love not sleeping and spending your days like some kind of high-functioning zombie, it is the disorder for you. If you enjoy lying awake until all hours going over the minutiae of every personal interaction you’ve ever had, thinking about what you should have said instead of the obviously mortifying thing you went with at the time, it’s perfect! But in 2014, insomnia inadvertently influenced my life in another, more positive way.
At the time I was a freelance writer, and in the fortunate position of being able to go with the insomnia flow a little bit, able to use the time I was supposed to be sleeping to work into the small hours. This also meant that I was on the internet a lot more at times when the other side of the world was awake. As I follow a lot of feminists and their ilk on social media, I started seeing references to a new Tumblr that had popped up, called ‘Women Against Feminism’. A visit to the site showed photo after photo of women of all kinds, holding up signs that all began with ‘I don’t need feminism because…’
Scrolling through, it soon became clear that the majority of reasons these particular women didn’t like the concept of feminism, or didn’t believe they needed it, were rooted in the clichéd and misguided arguments people have historically used to discredit feminism. Over the months I’ve read the group’s Tumblr and Facebook, the themes that appear again and again are things like ‘I don’t need feminism because I love the men in my life’ (as if feminists do not like men), ‘I don’t need feminism because I like wearing makeup and I like when men find me attractive’ (the myth that feminists are all lesbians is, sadly for me, untrue), and ‘I don’t need feminism because I like being a stay-at-home mother’ (feminists just want you to have the choice). It also often strays into denigrating ‘sluts’ or women who have casual sex with men and/or want access to abortion and birth control, and also into claiming that because they are not oppressed and they have never had a bad experience with the effects of the patriarchy, feminism is no longer needed, everything is totally fine, oh hello President Trump.
When I first saw the page, I went in with an open mind. There are plenty of reasons that some women might not want to identify as a feminist. There are plenty of women that the feminist movement, such as it is, has completely failed. If this page were full of women of colour, or trans women, or sex workers, it would make complete sense as a statement. But it wasn’t. There are some women who perhaps feel as though the feminist movement does not represent them fully because of their conservative beliefs or because they are anti-abortion and feel as though feminism is single-issue focused, or because they have had bad personal experiences, or because they have heard the anti-feminist talking points from vocal (often male-oriented) groups. But the majority of reasons the women on the page gave, combined with the infiltration of super cool and definitely not women-hating MRA-types throughout the comments on the Facebook group, led me to believe that the site is misguided.
I think there is always something confronting about seeing women be so vocally anti-feminist for reasons that don’t seem particularly valid, as it seems as though they are fighting against their own interests. And so, this ‘movement’ provoked a big reaction at the time. Not only did it get referenced by individuals on Twitter and Facebook, but then websites started to write stories about it. For me, I just felt a bit sad that it existed, and also knew that once people had reached this stage of vocal anti-feminism, attempts at serious discussion and debate would probably have no impact except to potentially reinforce their beliefs. And so, to make myself feel better, I decided to do what I always do and try to write about it, in a (hopefully) funny way.
But I was so tired, from all the insomnia. So instead of writing, I decided to start my very first parody Twitter account. By this point I was spending a lot of time on Twitter (as I still do to this day), and was familiar with all the machinations, and had a feeling I could create something funny. I wanted to create a single character that I could use to parody the movement, and so I came up ‘Woman Against Feminism’, with the handle @NoToFeminism. I tried a few different formats for the joke, but settled on starting each tweet with ‘I don’t need feminism because…’ so it would be clear precisely what I was parodying. Taking a leaf out of the book of Weird Twitter, I would spell everything correctly except the word ‘feminism’ – I thought it would be a through-line joke that would also make it immediately obvious that it was a parody (this has not worked – I just get men tweeting me to correct my spelling, including one who was concerned we had published a book without noticing the typo).
I wanted the account to play off the absurdity of some of the reasons the women claimed not to need feminism. The first tweet was this very dumb joke:
I don't need femisnim because i love shaving my leg but just one leg
— WomanAgainstFeminism (@NoToFeminism) August 6, 2014
I expected to do a few tweets, have no response and give up, as I always do if I’m not great at something straight away. But it seemed to hit a nerve – because there is so much serious discussion and discourse around feminism, it’s a relief to be able to make dumb jokes or be silly and laugh about things, while still making a point.
The account has since evolved to a point where I try to focus more on why we obviously do need feminism, not simply on attacking the women who identify as anti-feminists. I also have tried to acknowledge that there are valid reasons for some people to not want to identify as a feminist – but it’s quite difficult to tweet about feminism’s legitimate failings in the voice of an anti-feminist parody character. To help address this, I have tried to follow a diverse group of people with different perspectives, and signal boost some of the very important things that other much smarter women say.
While a Twitter account won’t stop misogyny or the patriarchy, I am glad I’ve kept it going. Some people in feminism and also comedy who I highly respect have followed the account, and at the moment it has nearly 170,000 followers, from all over the world. Every time I have wondered if momentum was dwindling, or if I should wrap @NoToFeminism up, something terrible would happen which would give me all the more reason to tweet. Thanks misogyny? I guess?
At some point my friend Fury, a Melbourne writer, poet, artist and illustrator, sent me some illustrations they’d done for fun of a couple of my tweets – they were hilarious and I loved them. A few months later, Affirm Press contacted me about the idea of perhaps doing a little comedy book based on the popularity of the Twitter account, and my own public writing profile of my own. They suggested that perhaps it would work best as a small gift-type book, in which some of the tweets would be illustrated in amusing ways. I didn’t actually say ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier!’, but I could have. We got Fury on board, and they did the hard work creating excellent and funny illustrations of the tweets I had selected for the book.
And now here we are – I can no longer spell feminism correctly on the first go, and I have just published a book based on a parody anti-feminist Twitter account (a sentence that was extremely difficult to explain to my grandmother). All because we need a laugh in a world that sometimes makes it extremely difficult to do so.
And because of insomnia.
We have 5 copies of No To Feminism to give away to KYD Members, thanks to Affirm Press. To enter, send your name and mailing address to [email protected] with the subject line ‘No To Feminism’ before 5pm AEDT Friday 9 December.
No To Feminism: 70 reasons why femismn is bad for you is available now at Readings.