Undead Sexist Cliche: Antifeminist women are special snowflakes

First, a quick definition. By “antifeminist” I mean someone who objects to feminism itself, or to the general principle that men and women should be judged by their worth, not the accident of their gender. Disagreeing with a specific point about women’s pay equity, sexual harassment or abortion doesn’t make someone an antifeminist, though that’s frequently how it turns out.
As Susan Faludi observed many years ago in Backlash, antifeminist women (men too, though that’s not who I’m focusing on here) are often a contradiction. Right-wing activist Phyliss Schaffly has been fighting against feminism and women’s equality for years (she also claims no virtuous woman is ever sexually harassed and marital rape is a myth). She fought against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and continues to tell women their primary if not sole obligation is marriage and family.
And in order to tell other women this, she’s spent 40 years as a professional right-wing activist, not a stay-at-home mom.
Her niece, Suzanne Venker (who imagines she’s daring and edgy for criticizing feminism) asserts the time-honored anti-feminist claim that women can’t have it all: “There’s no way to be a wife, a mother and a full-time employee and still create balance. But you can have balance by depending on a husband who works full-time and year-round.” Oh, and she implies it’s all the fault of feminists that not enough men will step up to the plate and be the Big Man.
Venker ignores the possibility there are other solutions, like better day-care policies. And she ignores that women can, in fact, raise families alone and that many families simply can’t afford to survive on one job.
But it’s equally significant that she discusses all this in terms of “women” rather than drawing on her life experience and discussing how she’s looking forward to finding a sugar daddy who can let her become a stay-at-home mom, instead of a Fox News commentator, columnist and political activist. Doesn’t she think her personal testimony about how she wants to reject her career would be more compelling? Of course, when she warned that successful women intimidate men, she didn’t discuss her personal experience either.
She and her auntie are part of a long tradition. Right-wing activist Beverly LaHaye preaches anti-feminism while running a multimillion dollar foundation. Writer Danielle Crittenden has claimed that any woman who doesn’t take her husband’s name isn’t totally committed to the marriage—but of course, keeping her own name for her writing career doesn’t count because she IS totally committed, so there. Or Caitlin Flanagan who employs a nanny while telling other women not to ever, ever do that.
And there are endless examples of lesser female pundits who insist that women are too stupid or weak to do this or that, while insisting that they shouldn’t be bound by the same standards. They’re smart. Driven. Why, they think like a man!
I can never quite decide how sincere these women are. On the one hand, if you’re young and you haven’t bumped into a glass ceiling yet, it’s probably easy to believe feminism hasn’t helped you. Nobody under 30 lived when it was legal to fire and hire based on gender, or a woman with her own income still had to get her husband to sign for it. Not that sexism is gone, but things have changed so much, I’m sure the assumption it’s all their own work seems believable.
Some of them, though, are probably lying through their teeth. After all, they get steady gigs as writers and speakers for spewing bullshit, and it’s unlikely they’ll ever be forced back to a prefeminist age, so why not sell out and cash the check?
And a few are probably employing that old devil cognitive dissonance. Just like some right-to-lifers can believe their abortion is Completely Different, some antifeminists probably do think they’re totally different and entitled not to play by the rules they recommend.
Whatever their reasons, they’re just as wrong either way.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

20 responses to “Undead Sexist Cliche: Antifeminist women are special snowflakes

  1. I can’t help but think of Serena Joy from The Handmaid’s Tale.

  2. It’s a book that gets depressingly more relevant.

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