Your “I’m not a feminist” phase


When I was in fifth grade, I demanded a classroom debate because my  (female) teacher wouldn’t allow girls to play football at recess. I had zero interest in playing football myself. I still haven’t bothered to learn how it works (though I will cop to getting teary-eyed at Dillon Panthers victories). But I was outraged at the idea that we couldn’t do something just because we were girls. Around that same time, our school was looking for a new name and accepted submissions from students. I got up in front of the school and gave my speech in favor of naming it Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary, after the first female doctor in the US.  

Despite those auspicious beginnings I, like many women, had a phase where I fell into some non-feminist patterns. I viewed other women warily and made friends mostly with men. I complained that the women in the college improv troupe I went to see loyally weren’t really funny. While it was still known that could you could bait me into a passionate debate by challenging women’s rights, I wouldn’t have wholeheartedly described myself as a feminist or embraced the label and the movement in the way I do now. I wasn’t tapped into any kind of vibrant, empowering feminist community of the kind that’s much more accessible these days no matter where you are, online at least. It’s embarrassing in retrospect, but also a not unusual part of the learning and growing process.

The label “feminist” in particular has long been contentious–sometimes based on dated, inaccurate stereotypes or misunderstandings of what feminism is, sometimes for more legitimate reasons of lack of inclusivity. Ann Friedman uses actress Shailene Woodley’s recent comments distancing herself from feminism to talk about her own “not a feminist” phase and take a sympathetic look at celebrities who reject the label. As she points out, the question is usually not intended as the opening of a meaningful conversation about feminism, but as some kind of trap.

Let’s stop and consider that maybe a brief interview withTime magazine is not the safest space for Woodley to explore complex ideas about gender, equality, and the pressure she feels to appeal to men — something that even proud feminists struggle to articulate. According to Time, “though many define feminism simply as equality between men and women politically, socially and economically, what constitutes the movement is up for debate among stars.” Actually, what constitutes the movement is up for debate among everyone, especially feminists. The difference is that stars often don’t have the luxury of having this debate in private.

It’s a privilege to feel secure enough to label yourself a feminist. I think of my shaky sense of self when I was in high school, and my conservative Catholic surroundings, and it makes total sense that I didn’t “come out” until I was nestled in the safe liberal bosom of college. I think of the countless women who have felt alienated by mainstream feminism’s race and class biases, and opted to reject the term altogether. I think of young celebrities like Shailene Woodley, who have more to lose by claiming feminism than they do by casually disavowing it. Correcting misconceptions about feminism is important, but implying these women are stupid or traitors for their decision not to embrace the term doesn’t make for a stronger feminist movement. It makes for fewer feminists.

My first instinct whenever I see anyone make comments like this that seem to demonstrate a lack of interest in really understanding feminism is to be annoyed and angry. Friedman’s piece is a good reminder to try to think of these moments as opportunities to engage, educate and build a stronger community.

Has anyone out there had an “I’m not a feminist phase,” or dealt with someone who was going through one? Share in the comments.


Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

24 thoughts on “Your “I’m not a feminist” phase”

    1. Well, I am definitely one of those women who believes that feminism includes access to the full range of reproductive care, including abortion. Without control of their own reproduction, women can’t truly be equal and determine their own best paths. I don’t think many feminists would characterize themselves as “in favor of abortion” but rather in favor of access to it for every woman who wants to make that decision.


    2. You can be a feminist and still be pro-life. There is an entire organization of pro-life feminists/political activists:

      I understand what makes feminists in favor of free access to all birth control options; women should be able to make their own choices and determine their own destiny. Being able to choose your own path is crucial to gender equality. However, I believe abortion is morally wrong, your right to choose should not take away someone else’s right to live. Being a feminist and being pro-life is not contradictory. Feminists want men and women to have the same rights and to be treated equally. Meanwhile, pro-lifers want all human beings to have the basic right to live – no matter how small, or how developed, or how independent, and without consideration their geographical location inside the womb. Both feminists and pro-lifers are concerned about rights.


      1. I appreciate that there are areas where people who identify as feminists can come together and agree and promote an equality agenda whether they identify as pro-life or pro-choice. However, while I respect people’s individual choice when it comes to abortion, I believe in a view of feminism that lets women have control over their own reproduction and lets each woman choose whether abortion is an appropriate choice for herself.


  1. I’ve seen a fair few YouTube videos of women in their late teens and early 20s, explicitly rejecting feminism. The theme that runs through all of them is “we don’t need it any more – everything’s fixed”. I think the reality for very young white women is that they really don’t need feminism. They’re doing well at school and university, and while they get groped frequently, they don’t get negative messages about their basic right to do what they want. When they go into the workforce they’re praised for their smarts and their diligence.

    What happens when they hit 30 is that suddenly they’re not the bright young thing any more and the reality of entrenched sexism becomes much more obvious. The reward for their diligence is having a heavier workload dumped on them, while their male colleagues are rewarded and promoted for being likeable. If they start demanding more money or more prestige, they’re put in their place very firmly, because they become threatening. And as looks fade and they become less attractive, it becomes clearer how much they were being valued for their attractiveness, rather than the attributes they imagined they were being valued for (smarts, knowledge, competence). And that’s not even mentioning the issue of wanting children and a career. All of this can come as a terrible shock. At this point, a lot of women I’ve known have revised their opinions on the need for feminism.


    1. Very interesting points. It’s always a challenge now as blatant racism/sexism/etc. has become less acceptable (not to say it’s gone or people can’t get away with it). People don’t necessarily recognize oppression in its more subtle forms, especially if they’re getting a message that feminism achieved all it was supposed to achieve. It’s interest to combine that dynamic with this report that showed that young women viewed sexual assault as just the way things are:


    2. This is one of the most insightful comments I have read on this topic. It is true. Young women reject Feminism because they see it as unnecessary and ‘old fashioned’. Young feminists find their stance gets them labelled as troublemakers or worse, and they don’t yet have the confidence to stand up against patriarchal pressures to conform. Then they get older …


    3. Wow, this is just what I was saying. I’ve identified as feminist since college, and was particularly concerned with what I saw happening with women of color, poor women, queer women. I felt…a bit maligned as a young, straight-passing, white woman, condescended to slightly, and was sexually assaulted. But the vast majority of my interactions I felt I was being treated mostly equally, and I was able to overcome a lot of condescension by being very serious and showcasing my intelligence. So it wasn’t that I didn’t feel it was important any more, but just not quite as important anymore for me specifically. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized just how relevant feminism still was for me – not just other women, but me. Seems like other mothers know what I mean, even those who have never considered themselves feminist.


      1. Thanks for sharing. It’s interesting to see what brings people back around to a stronger bond with feminism. For me, it was definitely moving out to the Bay Area and being surrounded by amazing activists who were really interested in examining these issues.


  2. I’ve definitely had a “I’m not a feminist” phase- especially because of the reactions around me when the word was mentioned in any context. I started to identify myself more as a “gender egalitarian” so I wouldn’t be thrown in with the bra-burning slip-slashing radical feminists, until I started to research more and read more and I realized any faction has its radicals- and I wasn’t a radical feminist. I was simply a person who wished women (and men) wouldn’t be judged on their gender and that stereotypes would be placed aside for the individual. And that’s my definition of feminism; that’s what I fight for now, and that’s what I call myself.


    1. Thanks for sharing. It shows how well people have branded feminist in a negative way, which seems to be exactly what Shailene Woodley was responding to when she associated it with man-hating.


  3. I think that young celebrities are a somewhat isolated group to study. Their livelihood depends on people liking, idolizing, and identifying with them. I do think its a shame or a waste when they don’t use their status stand up as a leader for other young women- but that is a lot of pressure to take on. It seems that third wave has fizzled- maybe these ladies will constitute a fourth wave that will renounce labels and just act through behavior.


    1. It’s true, they’re likely to be even more sensitive to identifying with a movement that some see as controversial or have negative associations with. But it also does seem to line up with a trend that extends to other women who may back off of associating with feminism for similar reasons. But there are celebrities of both genders who embrace feminism, which is encouraging and can sometimes influence the culture.


  4. My “I’m not a feminist phase” was during college. I think mostly because in the late teens/early 20’s is when the pressure is highest about catching a man and being pleasing to them. I actually wasn’t comfortable “coming out” publicly and proudly as a feminist until I was engaged and “safe” from appearing aggressive and unattractive because of stereotypes.


    1. I imagine that’s pretty common. That was when my most pronounced phase was as well, then I got into political activism full-time and spent a lot of time with interesting, thoughtful people who got me back on board with fully embracing the feminist label.


  5. Though late to the thread, I wanted to mention that it was actually my Republican father from the Midwest who yanked me out of my I’m-not-a-feminist-phase. He was a single dad, raising an adopted girl from South Korea (my parents divorced shortly after they adopted me). We lived 20 miles south of the Florida/Georgia line. Echoing Good ‘Ole Boy rhetoric was a survival instinct for me. But when the Anita Hill trial started and my dad heard me criticizing feminism, he corrected me almost instantly. He told me that feminism is about equality and once it’s denied to one person it can be taken away from everyone. And he said it isn’t just a woman’s fight, it’s his too. I’m now almost 40 years old and live in San Francisco. My dad teases me because I’m not a registered Republican but we absolutely agree on feminism. My dad was the first feminist in my life. Thanks Dad.


  6. I can’t say I’ve ever not been a feminist. Even growing up in a pretty conservative home, I had enough exposure to what feminism actually is through the public school system to understand that feminism is important.

    I have even been known to occasionally refer to “my inner feminazi” to describe my desire to tear misogynist jerks a new one. Kinda fun to watch certain people quake in fear when I do that.


  7. Actually they’re not misunderstanding feminism in the slightest. They’re seeing what you are unable to see as perhaps you’re too close to the problem to see it accurately or maybe you just can’t bear to face an unpleasant truth. But you’re not going to convince anyone worth convincing by simply pointing to the dictionary definition of feminism then folding your arms smugly like you just proved something. The problem is that there is an enormous gulf between the THEORY of what feminism is allegedly about (the dictionary definition) and the PRACTICE of what feminism really is and does in reality.

    It is quite easy to demonstrate what I mean. You see, when your movement claims that it is simply fighting for equality with men, not special privileges above and beyond what men have, no silly, just equality, then your movement needs to explain why it still exists in the western world now that women have had all the same rights as men for quite some time now in addition to some female-specific special privileges on top of that which no man will ever have. Point me towards even ONE law in the U.S. for example which discriminates against women in favor of men. I hear crickets chirping. When you have already achieved all the same rights as men yet you still keep on playing the victim card to try to milk further gender-specific concessions out of society, guess what? You’re making it pretty damned obvious to anyone with more than 2 brain cells to rub together that equality isn’t nearly good enough for you, that you’re a female supremacist movement unconvincingly dressed up as one that’s “fighting for equality”. (For crying out loud, even the movement’s very NAME gives away its purpose. If it was fighting for equality it would be called egalitarianism or humanitarianism or something quite a bit less narrowly gender-specific.)

    If feminism TRULY was about fighting for equality rather than being a one-sided gynocentric superiority movement then ask yourselves why it constantly pooh-poohs any problems or injustices that aren’t 100% exclusively about women. Ask yourself why it makes no effort at all to redress any of the imbalances that favor women over men.

    For example, where is the feminist activity on the issue of women being sentenced to 60% less prison time for the same crimes as a man? Why isn’t feminism demanding that women be held to the same standard of adult responsibility as a man who committed the same crime? Why is your movement content with such an egregious disparity in sentencing? Oh yeah, because it is a disparity that favors women over men, whereas if the situation was reversed with men getting let off with 60% less prison time than a female you bet your ass it would be a feminist priority.

    Where is feminism’s activism about the issue of women getting awarded custody in about 90% of child custody cases? To the extent that the woman would have to just about be a practicing prostitute or a heroin addict in order for the man to be given custody. Funny but this doesn’t seem to make it onto feminists’ radar either, I wonder why…

    Why has feminism remained silent about the huge discrepancy in funding for male homeless shelters versus female homeless shelters? When the overwhelming majority of homeless people are men rather than women, why on earth should men’s shelters get short shrift compared to female shelters? This clearly isn’t a problem for your imaginary “patriarchial” government which routinely ignores men’s issues in favor of women’s issues so why isn’t feminism, the movement you never tire of telling us is not gynocentric but all-inclusive, fighting for equality not female supremacy, doing a damned thing to bring this to society’s attention? You can bet any amount of money if the situation was reversed with the homeless population being mostly female it would be a crisis of Biblical proportions, worthy of the government declaring a “war on homelessness” to solve it. Why is the feminist movement just as disinterested in this matter as the government?

    Why is feminism content with men still having to pay alimony in 2014? Aren’t you the same ladies who constantly tell us how women are just as good as men, just as capable and just as independent? Then why the hell should a man have the responsibility of paying for the upkeep and lifestyle of his former spouse on an indefinite basis? Why did this issue only make it onto feminists’ radar (in Florida) when the infinitesimally small amount of women paying alimony to THEIR former spouses inched up a tiny bit while still remaining a mouse fart compared to men’s alimony payments? Where is feminism’s indignation that these supposedly liberated, independent women are entitled to being supported by a man that isn’t even living with them any longer? Why don’t you see this as an enormous insult and indignation? Oh yeah, because I suppose the convenience of getting a monthly check in the mail assuages your little feelings of shame and dependency, right? So long as it works in women’s favor instead of men’s it’s perfectly OK with the feminist movement.

    Where is feminism’s concern with the issue of men committing suicide at rates astronomically higher than women? You know if the numbers were reversed there would be a colossal shitstorm until we got the numbers of women killing themselves back down to acceptable levels but yet with the numbers being what they are this, unsurprisingly, isn’t an issue feminists will lift a finger to work on.

    And I have yet to hear a single feminist push for women having to register for the draft. Why does a man have to register at age 18 or else he isn’t entitled to any of the benefits of society, can’t vote, can’t collect Social Security when he’s old etc. yet no woman has to register for the draft in order to enjoy any of that? Why are feminists content to let women avoid adult responsibilities that men can never avoid? Oh yeah, because it isn’t a movement about equality at all but rather female supremacy, the same reason why the KKK never pushes for anything aside from matters that affect white people. As despicable as they are at least they’re honest enough to not pretend to be fighting for racial equality.

    Or what about the biggest double standard on the face of the earth? By this I mean the elective abortion/mandatory child support issue. Let’s say a woman gets pregnant accidentally, neither her nor her partner intended for it to happen. If the man wants to be a daddy to that unexpected kid but the woman doesn’t want any parts of it she’s going to go to the abortion clinic and get that unborn human dismembered and sucked out of her uterus without having broken a single law in the process. That man will now be the proud daddy to a bloody little pile of severed arms and legs. But if the situation is reversed and the woman wants to keep the baby but the dad doesn’t want any parts of being a daddy? Tough tittie, he’s on the hook for 18 years of child support payments for a kid he will never see. The law simply doesn’t allow him to act like an irresponsible piece of shit at least not without facing the penalty of jail time for his irresponsibility. The law holds that man to his responsibility, forces him to act like a grown adult and take responsibility for his actions. Whereas the law makes no effort whatsoever to force the woman to act like an adult and take responsibility for HER actions, no, instead it lets her dance away from the consequences of her actions without a care in the world. When the man’s irresponsibility results in the woman not getting a monthly check in the mail and that’s illegal yet the woman’s irresponsibility results in the death of another human being (the unborn human) and yet THAT is LEGAL?? Are you effing kidding me?? This has to be the most horrific double standard the world has ever seen, yet I guarantee you that if anyone was to start pushing for ending mandatory child support payments or tying the continuance of legal abortion to the ending of mandatory child support it would be the feminitwits who would be leading the charge to make sure things remain as one-sided as they are now. When the woman is allowed to act like a magical sparkly princess with no more responsibility than a child even though her irresponsibility and immaturity results in a human being’s death and the man isn’t even allowed to skip out on child support payments for a kid he never sees, clearly this abortion/child support situation can be called nothing less than overt female supremacy. Not equality between the sexes. Not egalitarianism. Overt, in-your-face female supremacy and nothing less. Feminism seems perfectly content to let this terrible double standard remain in place and any comment made about ending elective abortion is immediately met with a lecture about how it would somehow be “oppressing women” to hold them to the same standard of responsibility a man is held to, how it would be “chaining them to the stove” or ensuring they are “barefoot and pregnant” or whatever other feminist propaganda bullshit they can come up with. Because this is one of the many double standards that feminists embrace, those which favor women over men. Another reason why few people aside from feminists themselves take feminists seriously.

    So you want to “prove” your movement really is about equality and not female supremacy and special gender-specific privileges? Great, come out against elective abortion. Demand that it be abolished, demand that women are held to the same standard of responsibility that a man is held to, demand that women receive no preferential treatment in the court system etc. etc. Basically it comes down to a realization that not everything in life is a right or a privilege, that there are some things in adult life that are called “responsibilities”. If feminism wasn’t all about milking society for more benefits, more gender-specific set-asides, more quotas, more gynocentric advantages and actually grew the hell up enough to see that there are such things as RESPONSIBILITIES as well then maybe more people would take feminism seriously. As it stands right now only about 23% of American women identify as feminists meaning no less than 77% of women wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole the movement that is supposed to be designed around their interests. That is a spectacular failure so amazing words can’t describe it. Perhaps women are getting tired of being constantly told they’re weak, helpless little victims who can’t do anything for themselves without a movement behind them to keep them pointed in the right direction and protected from this cruel world. I suspect your average woman is quite a bit stronger than that and doesn’t appreciate being talked down to. But whatever it is, your movement is dying and I say good riddance. Let it be replaced with something that doesn’t try to drive an unnecessary wedge between working class men and working class women. Let it be replaced with something far more mature, grown up, sensible and realistic. In other words let it be replaced with something that is GENUINELY about equal rights for the sexes.


  8. fantastic article !! So happy to read I’m not the only one who went through the I’m not a feminist phase !! It’s a startling thing to realize when you snap out of it . Everyone is an equal. Thanks for posting


    1. Thank you. I’m lucky that I met a lot of great feminists and was exposed to feminism in a way that turned that around. I think people have access to a lot more information about feminism than when I was in college, so I hope that trend will change some.


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