How Feminism Got So Frivolous

by Ian Tuttle
Its arguments are increasingly tendentious, predictable, and silly.

Academic standards in women’s-studies departments have never been particularly ambitious, but a floor-to-ceiling audit might be necessary at Emory University. The Atlanta institution’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies is at least partly to blame for Samantha Leigh Allen, a doctoral fellow there, whose penetrating intellect was recently on display at The Daily Dot. Telling the tale of a Reddit user who recently discovered that said Redditor’s “nice, gentle” husband (and father of her in utero daughter) is a “really f[***]ing nasty” Internet troll, Allen draws the obvious conclusion:

Yes, cruel online messages are typically typed by fingers which are attached to human arms which are, in turn, attached to the human men that we all, unfortunately, must interact with at some point in our lives. . . . They’re the men that you work with, the men that you’re friends with, the men you’re related to and, yes, maybe even the man whose baby you are carrying. They know how to tie a tie and file an income tax return and that makes them even scarier.

No doubt Emory doctoral fellows are hard at work empirically verifying the causal link between male genitalia and cruel Internet comments. Alas, women sometimes enjoy “swap[ping] gametes” with these oft-vile creatures, so Allen has provided a quiz to help evaluate whether or not the man in one’s life is a keeper. If the answer is negative, “then #DTMFA”: That’s “Dump the Motherf***er Already” in the scholarly literature.

Allen’s piece is, of course, intended to be light and humorous, but it is permeated by the same tiresome self-righteousness that characterizes the feminist literature one ignores daily at places such as Salon or The Daily Beast (venues to which, no surprise, Allen is a regular contributor). Her point — exercise judgment before procreating — is agreeable enough. The problem is that she cannot make it with a light touch. She cannot help herself from turning an ecumenical observation into a tedious harangue.

Consider Question No. 3: “Which amendment in the Bill of Rights [does your boyfriend] think is the most important?”

Allen’s answer key:

Tenth: Your man is passionate about states’ rights. Racists and homophobes love states’ rights. Be afraid. . . .

Second: Run. Seriously, just run! Your man might not be an asshole to people on the Internet because he’s too busy being an open-carrying a[**]hole in real life. . . .

First: This could be a huge warning sign. Trolls cite the First Amendment as frequently as college application essays cite “The Road Not Taken.” They think that it gives them the right to verbally harass, stalk, and threaten whomever they want without any consequences. If your man picks the First Amendment, just ask him to explain what it means. If he thinks it means that “it’s a free country” and “people can say whatever they want,” tell him to go back to the playground he learned his politics from and find a new boyfriend.

Set aside the insinuations (“run” from the Second Amendment supporter) and the repulsive generalizations (“racists and homophobes”): The real crime of Allen’s piece is how predictable it is.

A feminist who, under the protection of the First Amendment, warns against those who respect the First Amendment; a quiz that begins by asking about a cartoon creator (Seth MacFarlane; cf. Question No. 1), then veers into an interrogation about constitutional philosophy — do we expect anything else anymore? The timbre of feminist journalism is all the same: self-righteous, self-assured, and unable to resist the temptation to show it off.

Which is why 21st-century feminism is a bore. Every twentysomething aspiring Girls star who writes about her abortion or the sexism in Assassin’s Creed or how the Internet crowdfunded her (originally “his”) artificial vagina is increasingly interchangeable. For all of its convention-flouting, glass-ceiling-shattering exhibitionism, contemporary feminism has not served to individuate and personalize; it has served to create a yattering mob of indistinguishable activists whose defining characteristic is their obsession with their own genitalia.

And now memorizing The Vagina Monologues and dismissing as “a**holes” males who watch Family Guy is the intellectual output of an advanced scholar at a major university.

Perhaps there really are members of the thinking public infuriated by OkCupid’s gender binary. But I have only so much outrage to go round, and I don’t plan to expend it on the dearth of available pronouns. Feminists have made feminism frivolous.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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