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Feminist and Antifeminist Everyday Activism: Tactical Choices, Emotions, and ‘Humor’

Abstract

Taking inspiration from responses in focus groups and an on-line survey in which feminists shared their experiences about antifeminism in their daily life, this paper demonstrates that everyday activism involves two protagonists confronting each other, in this case a feminist and an antifeminist. Focusing on feminists’ perceptions, emotions and tactical reactions, this paper also shows how these confrontations are not necessarily limited to one or two attacks and counterattacks and how they can be influenced by the presence of a ‘third party’ (other men or women, other feminists or antifeminists). In order to shed light on these conflictual dynamics, the question of antifeminist ‘humor’ and its effects on feminists is discussed more in depth. Finally, we show that there is a significant relation between public or organized activism and everyday activism, for both the social movement and its countermovement.

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Notes

  1. Feminists are not the only people interested in how activism intersects with everyday life. Environmentalism, for instance, claims that every individual can save the planet with small everyday acts and veganism rejects the use of animal products in meals, clothing and beauty products, etc. The LGBTQI movement has also a variety of publications on the subject, including Everyday Activism: A Handbook for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People and Their Allies ([58]. Hyers [38], p 541) talks about “activism on the interpersonal front” in her study on the choices made by gay and bisexual men to keep silent or to respond assertively when they “feel wronged by incidents of everyday heterosexism” (see also [64], with regard to trans people who practice digital storytelling). Finally, Essed [22] studied “everyday racism” in the United States and warns against the temptation of proposing a strict dichotomy between “institutional racism” (macro level) in the public sphere and “individual racism” (micro level) in the private sphere (see also [14]: 19, [39]: 81, [21]).

  2. In studies published in French, authors often use the term militantisme au quotidien (everyday activism) not to discuss activism in personal relationships, but instead union and grassroot association members’ involvement on the ground (Cultiaux and Vendramin [13]). In October 2016, a one-day workshop on everyday activism was organized by Montserrat Emperador Badimon and Marcos Ancelovici at the Université Lyon 2 (entitled “‘Sous les pavés, le quotidien!’: regards croisés sur l’imbrication entre vie quotidienne et militantisme”). The large majority of presentations discussed how individuals commit to supporting activist public organizations or mobilizations. Also in French, Henry [33] has published a short book on daily chauvinism. Finally, the online project Sexisme ordinaire (ordinary sexism) provides a platform for women to “collect cases of sexism they experience in their everyday lives. […] By sharing your story, you can show the world that sexism really does exist, that women experience it every day, and that it’s a legitimate problem to be discussed.” [http://francais.everydaysexism.com] In English, another study used the term everyday activism to describe the experience of the daughters of feminist mothers [57].

  3. Although quite similar, everyday activism as discussed by Mansbridge is nevertheless distinct from the speech and practices of subaltern individuals (slaves, for instance) studied by James Scott. In the latter case, the subaltern individual avoids triggering a direct conflict with the dominant group (slave-masters, for instance), but keeps alive their rebellious spirit against structural injustice by quietly sharing and spreading a “hidden transcript” of stories, legends, rumours, jokes and songs [55]. In Mansbridge’s definition, the ‘everyday activist’ seeks open conflict with her or his political opponent.

  4. One limit of the survey is that it provided only two choices, and no reference to a third position, such as being ‘non-feminist’ (see Nelson et al. [51]).

  5. The expression mansplaining refers to men who explain things to women (events and situations, ideas, theories, etc.) that have to do with women’ lived experiences (and that often the man doesn’t know about at all) [56].

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Acknowledgements

This text was written as part of a research project initiated by L’R des Centres de femmes du Québec (L’R of the women's centres of Quebec), in partnership with the Institut de recherches et d’études féministes (IREF) (Institute of feminist studies) and the Réseau québécois en études féministes (RéQEF) (Quebec network of feminist studies), as well as with the Protocole/Relais-femme (Protocol with women) under UQAM’s service to the communities (SAC-UQAM). The research team includes, in addition to the two authors, Odile Boisclair (L’R), Lyne Kurtzman and Ève-Marie Lampron (SAC-UQAM), as well as a research assistant participating at the planning meetings, Marie Soleil Chrétien. This work was initiated with the financial help of the Fonds de recherche Société et Culture Québec (FRQSC), through the Réseau québécois en études féministes (RéQEF), and supported by a grant from the Protocole/Relais-femme (SAC-UQAM). The text has been translated from a French unpublished version, by Elle Warkentin.

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Correspondence to Mélissa Blais.

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Blais, M., Dupuis-Déri, F. Feminist and Antifeminist Everyday Activism: Tactical Choices, Emotions, and ‘Humor’. Gend. Issues 39, 275–290 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-021-09290-7

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Keywords

  • Feminism
  • Antifeminism
  • Social movements
  • Counter-movements
  • Backlash
  • Everyday activism