Last summer, a Tumblr blog appeared called Women Against Feminism, spawning debate on Twitter as #womenagainstfeminism. It featured user-submitted images of women holding up signs explaining why they weren’t feminists.
“I’m not a feminist,” read a typical sign, “because I like being treated like a lady.”
“I don’t need feminism,” said another, “because I’m not oppressed.”
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened author and TheBloggess.com blogger Jenny Lawson had a measured response. In a post titled “Women Who Are Ambivalent About Women Against Women Against Feminism,” she provided a small defense for women who didn’t like all aspects of feminism while criticizing them for not seeing the big picture. “Some of the reasons they give for not needing feminism, including not wanting to grow out all their body hair to become equal with men,” she wrote, “almost seem like a parody and just make me wonder where in the world they got their definition of feminism. If you think men and women should have equal rights politically, socially, and economically, you’re probably a feminist.”
But for Chicago-based freelance writer David Futrelle, an online feminist crusader of sorts, there was only one way to respond to what he saw as the absurd arguments of Women Against Feminism—with more absurdity. So he started a parody blog starring cats, because “cats need a place where they can post pictures of themselves holding signs denouncing feminism for assorted weird reasons that don’t seem to have anything to do with what feminism is actually about.” So on July 24, ConfusedCatsAgainstFeminism was launched. Within days, it had almost 5,000 followers, more than 200 submissions of anti-feminist cats—mostly from women—and coverage in German and Italian newspapers.
These kinds of debates used to take place in cafés over cigarettes; now they are fought by proxy (pet proxies, no less) between warring cat memes and Twitter hashtags on the Internet.
The cute antifeminist cats of Confused Cats Against Feminism often stubbornly refuse to buy into feminism because it’s not directly in their best interests, echoing arguments of some of the Women Against Feminism. “I don’t need feminism because it’s not food,” reads the sign hanging around the neck of a reclining cat. “Is it food? Where’s my food?” Some clueless but contented cats make non sequitur arguments. In one instance, an oblivious cat doesn’t need feminism because it already has a “cool mustache.”
Four years ago, Futrelle started the blog We Hunted the Mammoth as a way of engaging with the toxic elements of what he calls the “manosphere” and “the new misogyny” online. There he wages digital war with Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), who argue that feminism hurts men; Involuntary Celibates (or “Incels,” as they call themselves), who resent women for being too picky to sleep with them; and “pickup artists,” a loosely organized cabal of men who practice, and sometimes teach, manipulative psychological strategies for getting women into bed.
“I stumbled into this,” Futrelle says, referring to his feminist crusading, “and started arguing with MRAs on Reddit because I thought their arguments were ridiculous. A lot of feminists on the Internet have found themselves getting into debates with anti-feminists and MRAs who show up virtually any time there’s any discussion about feminism online and just start spewing nonsense that has no relation to actual feminism.”
I asked Futrelle why his critique of Women Against Feminism was gentler than his verbal warfare against the MRAs in the “manosphere.” “When I argue with the MRAs,” he says, “I’m arguing with fairly dedicated ideologues who spend a fair amount of time thinking about it, and I’m not sure that’s the case with the women who were putting up the signs on WAF. They’re more like what I thought the MRAs were at first, people who were misguided and confused. People who were reachable in some way.”
His aim with Confused Cats Against Feminism, however, is not necessarily to change the minds of women who argue against feminism, but rather to provide some comic relief for feminists who have to deal with them and other anti-feminist diatribes online. Sometimes, he argues, a ridiculous argument doesn’t deserve a rebuttal.
Or maybe it deserves a rebuttal from cats.
Dodai Stewart, deputy editor of the feminist blog Jezebel, which helped release Confused Cats Against Feminism into the wilds of the Internet, thinks she knows why cats help the feminist cause. “For millennia, cats have been associated with women,” she says. “They’re mysterious familiars—domesticated, but not really. Of course confused cats would cheekily assist in dismantling the patriarchy!”
Futrelle, a cat lover, isn’t entirely sure why Confused Cats Against Feminism has gotten so big. “It’s resonated in some weird way that I don’t fully understand,” he says. “People keep sending pictures, and I’m posting them as fast as I can justify posting them. At this point, I probably have 200 I haven’t posted yet.”
Ironically, the cumulative message of the self-involved Confused Cats Against Feminism to the Women Against Feminism campaign seems to be a feminist one. Stand up for yourself, the cats proclaim. Be proud you don’t take any guff. And get that tuna.