Politics & Policy

Anti-Feminists Baffle Feminists

Woman Against Feminism vs. feminists: Who's actually confused?

A Tumblr hashtag campaign called Women Against Feminism is predictably causing an internet furor.

The Tumblr site features women holding handmade signs advertising their reasons for opposing feminism in its current incarnation. The movement explains its position to make clear that members are focused on extreme versions of feminism (and possibly to limit the backlash they receive from women — nearly 40 percent of whom still consider themselves feminists):

I don’t think “Anti-Feminism” is some kind of rigid ideology, creed, religion, or doctrine, even a real “ism.” I think it’s just an umbrella term for people who think there is something seriously wrong with the actions of people acting in the name of “feminism.” . . . Based on its overall actions, [feminism] is about socially engineering society to give special privileges to women and special punishments to men. That’s not equality. That’s not respecting genders. Once again, I don’t give a crap about your dictionary definition. It’s the actions that turned me against feminism. The actions don’t match the rhetoric.

This explanation is getting some hostile reactions, with thinkers including Ellen Page and Lena Dunham dismissing women who refuse to fight against the patriarchy for equality and human rights. Because the Internet and cats, there is even a Confused Cats Against Feminism Tumblr page.

According to outlets such as Bustle.com, Vice.com, and Cosmopolitan, it is the campaign’s supporters who are confused. In response to the campaign, several Twitter users have tweeted some variation of this statement: “The only thing #WomenAgainstFeminism has taught me is that there are lots of women who have no idea what feminism is.”

Well, what is it then? The popular conception holds that the movement has gone through three distinct stages in the past century.

First-wave feminism (from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries) was characterized primarily by the fight for women’s suffrage. The sexual revolution and abortion rights came during the second wave, in the 1960s and 1970s. Contemporary feminism, the third wave (from the 1990s to the present), has incorporated post-colonial and post-modern thinking, treating what used to be considered biological facts or innate tendencies as arbitrary social constructs.

Some have also noted that while the distinction between the first and third waves is categorical, the second and third waves run on more of a continuum and are sometimes indistinguishable. The deconstruction of traditional sexual morality beginning in the 1960s separated “ought” from “is” regarding sex. By the 1990s, some feminists began to deny even objective biological and social facts if they interfered with ideology. The Exposing Feminism blog has debunked many of these myths, including those about campus rape statistics and the so-called wage gap.

Critics berate the anti-feminist movement for confusing the different waves of feminism. These same critics then respond to complaints against the distinctly third-wave incarnation by invoking the accomplishments of the first wave — pointing out, correctly, that the right of women to vote was a hard-won victory over strong opposition. But this is a straw man reply to the Women Against Feminism movement.

The women who send pictures to the Women Against Feminism Tumblr page may not know or care to study all the nuances of feminism through the ages. What they do experience is the culture that contemporary feminists are in actuality trying to create for all the members of their sex. Most women today support aspects of traditional feminism, but that support does not mean blanket support for all of contemporary feminism’s agenda.

Feminists seem upset by this selective support, or simply deny altogether that it is possible. If one doesn’t affirm the notion of rape culture or the necessity of feminist biology, then according to feminists, neither does she appreciate laws against marital rape or universal suffrage. They would prefer that women deny their own common sense in order to support implausible ideas such as the belief that drawing any distinctions between humans threatens justice, or that a woman can behave with any degree of sexual license and not expect men to interpret her behavior as they naturally do. Ultimately, feminist biology might be a nice idea, but when you’re visiting the doctor you’re better off with accurate biology.

In 1994, Katie Roiphe wrote about the feminist crusade against campus rape culture: “These feminists are endorsing their own utopian vision of sexual relations: sex without struggle, sex without power, sex without persuasion, sex without pursuit. If verbal coercion constitutes rape, then the word rape itself expands to include any kind of sex a woman experiences as negative.” Remaking sex into something it isn’t — a consumerist transaction that is fundamentally the same for both parties — doesn’t address the horror of rape.

Several people tweeted that they need feminism because women “need self-agency.” Actually, women don’t need self-agency (or simply “agency”), as if it were an external good; they possess it intrinsically because they are human beings.

A failure to respect women is, in fact, a failure to respect all humans as equally human. Feminism won’t solve rape or domestic abuse or misogyny because it doesn’t address the actual cause of these problems. Ultimately, Women Against Feminism condemns contemporary feminism because for any legitimate issues it raises, feminism cites gender itself — rather than evil human behavior — as the cause.

— Celina Durgin is a Franklin Center intern at National Review Online.

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