Jessica Valenti and the Wacky World of Anti-Feminism

I don’t know how old this article is, but is it a real doozy. You can tell it’s a doozy because it’s making me actually use the phrase ‘real doozy’ like it’s something people say. I’m just going to dive right into this one. There is just . . . there is just too much to cover already without rambling on first.


Punching Gloria Steinem: inside the bizarre world of anti-feminist women

Off to an awesome start. Can you say clickbait!

Tagline: How do you make sense of women who think the Hobby Lobby decision is ‘great’, college rape is ‘inflated’ and pay gaps don’t exist? Just don’t let ’em stop you.

Well, I was actually on the feminists’ side with the Hobby Lobby ordeal; college rape statistics are inflated (here’s a link to the FBI’s national crime stats page that goes into that more) since college aged women are the largest percentage of rape victims but college campuses are actually safer in that regard, and even the overall rape statistic is nowhere near the “1 in 6” quote; and the pay gap exists for reasons other than sexism with the very small unexplained earnings disparity left afterwards being much less significant that the “seventy-five cents to the dollar,” so even if sexism is what causes that disparity, which isn’t the reason just because you say it is, feminism isn’t tackling the actual issue but an inflated shadow of the issue.

Under the photo: Between the last presidential election and the next one, it’s one of the most exciting times for feminism in decades. Yet here we have female anti-feminists – emboldened by Sarah Palin’s faux-feminist movement – raining on our progress parade.

Sarah Palin is a goddamn moron. The only thing good coming out of her being in the public eye was an Epic Rap Battle and a Ben Folds song about her daughter’s baby-daddy. Also, how the fuck do you know what anti-feminists were emboldened by?

Every so often, one woman engages with me on Twitter who is against women’s suffrage.

Okay, this is literally the first sentence, and I’m gonna have to stop you. What? Just what? What about being an anti-feminist makes me against women’s suffrage? Yeah, I have some issues with how the women’s suffrage movement worked (namely–excluding poor and/or minority women, and asking for the right to vote without having to sign up for the draft, which was the only reason the majority of men could vote), but I’m not against women having rights. I’m a woman, you know. Way to straw man the opponent immediately. I’m sure with this clearly respectful and unbiased attitude, these Twitter engagements led to fruitful, intelligent conversations. Surely.

That’s right – she believes women shouldn’t have the right to vote. I always hoped it was a fake account, but no – this anti-suffrage enthusiast runs a blog where she writes about religion alongside recipes. It seems the only thing we have in common is a love of beets.

Well. If you can consistently use the phrase “Not all feminists are like that” as an excuse to say how people shouldn’t judge your movement, I guess I can say “Not all anti-feminists are like that” and have it be just as valid. I’m going to go the extra step that many a feminist won’t do and actually condemn and distance myself from this woman for being an extremist. She is dumb. She’s an anti-feminist because she calls herself one. But she is dumb, and she by no means represents “the world” of female anti-feminists, the majority of whom seem to applaud the early days of feminism which gained women the right to vote. They just don’t like feminism now.

When men are against feminism, it’s frustrating, if ultimately predictable – groups with power have always been loathe to give it up. But when women come out against gender justice, it feels worse: no matter how fringe, the rise of the anti-feminist woman is not just baffling but a betrayal.

Because there’s no way a man can be against feminism for reasons. That would be dumb. It’s better to assume he’s just a sexist ass and listen to nothing he has to say. Actually, female anti-feminists aren’t really all that fringe. Well, I guess I should reword that: The majority of women do not call themselves feminists. While that doesn’t make them overtly anti-feminists either, not as many women are feminists as you seem to think there are. Recent polls show 20% of women identify with the movement. “Everyone” is not on your side. That’s not to say they’re not for gender equality (the overwhelming majority of men and women are), it’s just that the majority do not think they need the label of feminism for that and/or actively do not associate feminism with gender equality, and for good reason, in my opinion.

Also, it’s good to know I’m a gender traitor. That’s . . . that’s a good argument you got there. Real good: “But, but you’re a woman.” Do I have to turn in my Team *Woman Symbol* letter jacket?

Obviously “women” aren’t a monolith, and neither are the issues that they care about or believe in. But anti-feminist organizing is based on a deep hypocrisy and selfishness – an ideology built to assure conservative women that as long as they are doing just fine, other women will make do. And they’re putting up roadblocks to progress right in the middle of a renewed feminist awakening, with retrograde sexism that’s ultimately not too different than that of their male counterparts.

At least you recognize that women can *gasp* have their own opinions. Everything else just immediately went off the rails though, seeing as how you say “women aren’t a monolith” and then not-so-subtly imply that the reason these women aren’t agreeing with you isn’t because “people have different opinions on things” but because they’re a bunch of selfish, actively malicious bitches with no empathy or proper education on the issues. Yeah, way to be the moderate, Jessica: “I’m not saying that people can’t have different opinions from me. All I’m saying is that the ones who do are evil sociopaths.”

There are just so many things wrong with this. 1.) I’m not conservative, like, at all. I’m pretty much a socialist, which is as left-wing as you can get. 2.) I’m almost every minority you can think of, so just using this woman’s almost assuredly identity-politics-following logic, I’m not “doing just fine.” 3.) I think the “bootstraps” argument is dumb. 4.) How am I putting up roadblocks to progress when all I want is a little acknowledgement that feminism is ultimately an ideology and should not be held up as right and perfect and the end-all-be-all for social movements? How am I setting up roadblocks to progress when all I want is for a movement that has set itself up as the moral arbitrator and has huge sway in the media to use statistics that are actually accurate?

Last week, for example, the US supreme court’s Hobby Lobby decision left most women’s groups livid. Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, called it “a shocking disregard for women’s health and lives.” The co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, Marcia Greenberger, said the ruling gave companies “a license to harm their female employees in the name of religion.”

I agree. I think religion is a dumb reason to do anything, especially anything that actively affects other people. And I think that it’s better to have a variety of birth control options available rather than unavailable for the women to choose what they use. Seeing as how birth control is no different from any other prescription drug and company medical insurance covers prescription drugs, I see no reason why the company shouldn’t cover it. It’d be like Wal-Mart saying, “We cover everyone’s prescription costs, except the people with prescription psoriasis medication. Oh shut up, you don’t need it! You just want it to make your skin look better, you selfish ass. God doesn’t like vanity.”

But the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) – a conservative women’s group withat least a quarter-million dollars in financial ties to Rush Limbaugh – called the decision “undoubtedly good news”. The group’s director of cultural programs, Charlotte Hays, told a crowd outside the court, “This is a great day,” and called the ruling a victory “for anyone who believes in freedom of conscience.” This from the same woman who has written that women shouldn’t be astronauts and that rape culture on college campuses is all “inflated numbers” and “hysteria”.

I feel like I would hate all of those women. While I would agree that rape culture is a dumb idea (seriously, feminists, even RAINN has spoken out against all the “rape culture” talk at this point) and that rape rhetoric on college campus is leading to academic hysteria, the rest of that is dumb. Hays says dumb things sometimes.

This latest crop of female anti-feminists – powerful, Washington-based organizations like IWF and Concerned Women for America – want to repeal the Violence Against Women Act and argue that pay inequity doesn’t exist. These organizations, along with a handful of popular writers and authors, want to convince women that it’s men who are the underserved sex. They want to convince you that inequality is just a trade-off.

Hey, I just talked about this! The Violence Against Women Act is sexist. It acts like violence against a woman is an inherently more terrible crime and should therefore be punished more harshly for no other reason than the victim of the violence being a woman, and that is not fair. Women are already protected under the general laws of physical harassment and assault; they don’t need their own, as that just creates a larger rift between the genders in a world where you’re supposedly trying to remove that distance. It also doesn’t cover trans women, which you’d think a feminist would care about. I already talked about pay, but calling it inequity is fucking creepy–you’re not going to have pay equity unless you start paying women more just for being women. It’s either that or force men to work less, or force women to work more.

No, I do not want to convince people that it’s men who are the underserved sex. I want to convince people that men have problems and women have problems, and to act like the problems that face men are so much less important or worth less of your time is dumb. I want to convince people that women have privileges when men do not, and, yes, that men have privileges when women do not. I don’t like the framing that feminism uses when speaking of gender roles that talks like men come out on top all the time when that’s just objectively not the case. I think that if we’re going to talk about gender equality, we need to address that both genders have benefits and problems without demonizing one of them as the perpetual aggressor or the perpetually privileged and without infantalizing the other as the perpetually abused.

I don’t think men in America have it worse than women. I also don’t think women in America have it worse than men. There are pros and cons to each gender, and it really just depends on what you subjectively think the more desirable set of gender pros and cons are. The closest thing feminist get to acknowledging that men don’t have it good all the time is just saying “the patriarchy hurts men too,” but you’re hard pressed to see them actually deal with any of the major issues men face even though they keep insisting that feminism is for all genders, not just women. And you’re also hard pressed to see them mention men at all in situations that aren’t gendered, like domestic violence, where men make up almost half the victims, but you wouldn’t glean that at all from how feminists usually frame the issue.

And as much as feminists are accused of obsessing over women’s sexuality – as if by putting so much effort into abortion and birth control, we’re reducing women’s issues to those below the belt – it is the well-funded, poorly researched anti-feminists who can’t seem to get their minds off sex.

I already talked about how feminism is confusing as fuck as far as a woman’s sexuality goes. It seems to hold completely opposite ideas at once about it like “revealing clothing isn’t inherently sexual when I wear it, but it’s totally inherently sexual when [enter X group here] wears it, and that’s sexist.” I personally give no fucks who you fuck as long as you’re doing it safely and respect your sexual partners. But I’m just one of those big mean anti-feminist here to ruin your fun.

The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, for example, had a campaign to “bring back the hope chest”, and published a short booklet for college women calledSense and Sexuality, which doles out advice – in pink cursive writing – like this: “The rectum is an exit, not an entrance.” (As you can imagine, neither of these campaigns went viral.)

That book sounds fucking hilarious. Do you think they made that one rule to explicitly counteract the “fuck me in the ass ’cause I love Jesus” thing that fundamentalist Christian teenage girls do? I’m getting a strong feeling that that was their reasoning. Also, nothing’s wrong with pink cursive writing. Also . . . again . . . I don’t see there being much wrong with these people existing. I’m all for women having options available to them. If a woman feels like being sexually conservative, there’s nothing wrong with that, and having a group for it isn’t inherently bad. The issue is not that a group for this kind of thing exists. The issue is that it exists and attempts to enforce its will on other people who want nothing to do with it. If women want to go to the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute for advice on sex, that’s her decision. Just like if a woman wants to go to her liberal arts college women’s center for advice on sex, that’s her decision. Promoting a conservative mentality when it comes to sex is fine, just don’t shove it down people’s throats. And that sentence is hilarious and I’m not editing it at all. Enjoy the sex pun. I tend to have an issue with institutions like that not because encouraging conservative behavior is bad but just because they oftentimes paint said “conservative behavior” as morally right: Prematerial sex is for whores, yadayadaydada. And anytime an institution claims to have “morals” on it’s side, you should be wary. But, once again, the mere existence of this mentality and there being an institution for it is not the worst thing ever.

And IWF, a group that claims not to take a stance on social issues, runs a campus program dedicated to shutting down performances of the Vagina Monologues and funds research into how “hooking up” hurts women.

Well, I’m not a fan of the Vagina Monologues personally, but that’s censorship, so booo IWF on that count. As for the second thing, maybe it does. Hook up culture is a relatively new thing that’s only just started being heavily researched. We don’t really know how it affects people yet. From a scientific standpoint, these people may be total hacks just looking for stuff to confirm their pre-existing bias. But there are also plenty of gender studies minor/psych majors who go into studies of hook up culture looking to confirm their pre-existing bias that hook up culture has no negative effects at all. The mere idea of them having the hypothesis that “hooking up hurts women” is fine, it really just depends on how much they let that hypothesis effect their research and ultimate conclusion, which I don’t really know about and therefore can’t make any judgement on. I’d personally be disinclined to trust it just based on the source, but, then again, I’d also be disinclined to trust an overtly feminist source on the same topic as well.

Ronnee Schreiber, author of Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics, thinks the anti-feminist focus on sexuality is a throwback to the issue of “respect”. “The idea is that men will treat women better if we present ourselves respectfully,” Schreiber tells me. In fact, much of the anti-feminist work – new and old – has been based on the idea that if women aren’t on a pedestal – sexual and otherwise – then men will act out.

Well, I don’t really care what men do. Men blaming their own actions on vague “women” is just as nonsensical as women blaming their own actions on vague “men.” If men “act out” because women don’t behave respectfully enough, those men are little more than oversized children. If anyone legitimately uses the “But men will act out” excuse, they’re dumb. I’m all for respectful sexual encounters, though. I think slut shaming is fine when people are shaming an actual slut: “Sluts,” at least by my definition, are not men or women who sleep around a lot. Liking sex and having a lot of it is fine. Sluts are men or women who sleep around a lot . . . with absolutely no regard for the safety of their sexual partners and/or no mutual respect for their sexual partners. So the people who spread STIs and don’t really care and then go on to treat the people they have sex with like shit? They’re sluts.

As for all those rights won by so many feminists on behalf of so many more American women, the sad truth is that they fought other women every step of the way. Indeed, we live in a country with a long history of anti-feminist women: Before we had women like Christina Hoff Sommers and Katie Roiphe arguing that feminism was hurting men and that date rape wasn’t real, respectively, womenwere leaders in in the anti-suffrage movement of the early 1900s. And it was a woman – Phyllis Schlafly – who led the charge against the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’70s. Schreiber points out that some of the debates against the ERA were about “masculinity run amok”: “Phyllis Schlafly said if we were are treated as equals, then men will shirk their responsibilities,” she notes.

Remind me: Who are the man-haters again?

A feminism says that women are perpetual victims shaking in their boots and jumping at every loud noise who, nevertheless should not go through any means of trying to protect themselves from the attackers they are so constantly afraid of. Who are the woman-haters again? Christina Hoff Sommers isn’t an anti-feminist. I would agree with her that feminism, as it is now in 2015, is not beneficial to men (or women, for that matter). It’s weird that you have her put right alongside date rape deniers and people who actively opposed laws that were actually still needed just because she doesn’t like you and your movement. Not agreeing that you’re helpful is apparently commensurate with actively trying to deny women rights. I don’t know or care who Katie Roiphe is. If she said date rape wasn’t real, she’s an idiot. That’s about it. Phyllis Schlafly also seems pretty idiotic. Next.

Between the last presidential election and the next one, between the feminist social media explosion and even Beyoncé coming out in our corner, right now is one of the most exciting times for feminism in decades. Yet here we have female anti-feminists – emboldened by Sarah Palin’s faux-feminist movement – raining on our progress parade. And it is especially irritating given that they’re using their gender as part of their organizing strategy. “It’s an identity politics angle that they criticize but often invoke,” Schreiber says.

Am I the only one who fucking hates Beyonce? She hasn’t made a good song in years; her “empowering” song that samples a feminist TedTalk “so it must be deep” was, in reality, only about how awesome she was; she made that terrible “If I Was a Boy” song that would be called misogynistic if you change one word but since it’s about guys, it’s fine; and she props herself up as some feminist icon all while continually perpetuating this terrible culture of female objectification we have with her music videos. Rant over.

Yeah, it’s one of the most exciting times for feminists. And one of the most terrifying times for anyone )like me) whose afraid of a dogmatic ideology taking over public discourse and appointing itself the moral arbitrator of art and media. For the record, the only reason I work the identity politics angle is because feminism has made it so that I have to. If I don’t bring up that I’m a black woman every now and again, I’m guaranteed to get a feminist who dismisses what I have to say because, since I think what I think, I must be a privileged white man. Because only the evil straight white male could have this easily disregarded and rooted in privilege opinion. I deplore identity politics. I invoke them not because I agree with their usage or don’t acknolwedge the use as hypocritical (it is), but because invoking them helps me prove the point that identity politics are dumb. According to identity politics, my opinion should matter more because I’m a black woman, which is hard for people on the left who disagree with me to reconcile. It points out the flaws of identity politics for me to invoke them, even if I don’t like them.

Women stopping the progress of other women – especially those who don’t have the power and prestige to work for DC think-tanks or pen anti-feminist books – stings much more than when men do it. That may be a double standard, or naive – I don’t believe in an all-encompassing sisterhood, after all – though it does remind me of how powerful feminists really are: we’ve taken on not just the men in our way, but the women as well.

Oh, fuck you, you ego-stroking bitch.

Too harsh? Okay, I’ll start over. Not agreeing with you on what constitutes progress does not mean that anti-feminist women are against progress. I am personally of the opinion that modern feminism is holding back progress in America because it constantly views things by drawing a gender line in the sand and further dividing people based around what’s in between their legs even when it’s not necessary. I think feminism is holding back progress because it says that a person’s opinion only matters as much as their gender, and those with bad opinions just need to stfu. Because that’s a way to make it seem like we should all be equals. I think modern feminism is holding women back because, even though it insists that women are strong, it also insists on treating women like fragile flowers that can only flourish under perfect conditions and must be guarded from even the gentlest of winds less they faint from the trauma.

And yes, it is a double standard. It is once again dividing people along gender lines when it is not necessary. Way to prove my point. It’s a very good example of a feminist judging someone based not on what they think, but what’s in between their legs while they think it. If anti-feminism is bad, it’s bad. The gender of the anti-feminist shouldn’t matter. I still think Jessica here is stroking her own ego, though. Some of the examples of 19th and 20th century anti-feminism and the people who believe things that just aren’t accurate is one thing, but Jessica Valenti says that she’s “inside the world of anti-feminism,” when what it seems like what she should have said was “inside the world of far right religiously motivated anti-feminists.” And even then, that isn’t all encompassing.

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