An Open Letter to Shailene Woodley on Feminism, Respect and the Big Picture

Dear Shailene Woodley,

After reading your interview in which you discussed why you were not a feminist, I had a very similar reaction to many other people around the web: Wait, what?

You and I are the same age but have very different life experiences. I too was told that feminists want to subvert men and make women the dominant sex, to crush the patriarchy to build a matriarchy. I have learned that this is not the case and this definition is both inaccurate and damaging. I like to think you'd agree.

Feminism does not, and should never, fight to raise women up while putting men down. It aims to make us all equal, in all aspects of life. This means eliminating pay disparity between the sexes for the same job, no matter the industry. This means the inclusion of changing rooms in men's bathrooms because men are parents too. This means making sure that women are not immediately blamed in the event of a rape, told they shouldn't have worn that outfit or had that drink or been to that party. This means teaching men not to be ashamed to come forth to talk about their rape experiences because it's not true that "only women get raped" and that "men always enjoy sex." This means creating a world where women are no longer objectified in all forms of visual media. This means ending the trope of "clueless" husbands who only serve as a demeaning marketing ploy. This means girls feeling free to dress up like male superheroes and play with action figures and build toys. This means boys not getting ridiculed for playing with dolls, dressing in pink, or for wanting to go into a "feminine" occupation.

Feminism loves men; it wants to improve their lives just as much as it does for women. Feminism is anti-oppression, period.

The idea that feminists hate men is also incorrect. Feminists are wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, and while there are some who do claim to be angry at or hate men, they are the minority. After all, why would feminists attempt to make everyone equal if they did not want to include men? What they do hate is the patriarchy, which hurts men as well as women with rigid rules and social structures. The patriarchy dictates what men "should" say, think, or do in order to be "real men" in the same way it teaches women that femininity comes with frilly skirts and submissive behavior.

As for how women treat each other, you are right. Women are often pitted against each other, spitting vitriol at each other over stupid things, from a very young age. And yet, why does this happen? Women are taught that our enemy isn't the force that is keeping us down, it's each other. We consistently see women fighting each other on TV and in movies, often competing for male attention.

However, when it comes to competition with men, women are taught that being too loud, too competitive or too opinionated makes us ugly and undesirable; we should back down or be totally undate-able. The question you should be asking, Shailene, isn't "How can we expect men to respect us when we can't respect each other?" but rather "How can we respect each other when we are being manipulated at every turn to hate each other?" I, and many others, don't see other women as competition or as the ruler to which we measure our self-worth, but as a sisterhood, just as you say. Feminism doesn't want to build walls or "us versus them" narratives, it wants to break them down.

There is no shame in having been exposed to a rather narrow and inaccurate definition of feminism. None of us are born knowing what means feminism means.

From your previous discussions of the big issues, it is clear you are a thoughtful and intelligent woman. But like me, you are still relatively young and we've both got a lot to learn. I encourage you to go out and explore more, take a tip from Beyonce and watch feminist videos or keep exploring feminist writing, and talk to men and women who believe in feminism. After that, if you reject the label of feminism, that's your choice. I only hope that you -- and others -- will take a look at the whole picture, and not just the part we've all been told to focus on.


A Feminist.