A short history of "feminist" anti-feminists.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
June 8 2010 10:00 AM

A Short History of "Feminist" Anti-Feminists

The early sisters of Sarah Palin.

(Continued from Page 1)

Classic quote: From Camille Paglia: "You have to accept the fact that part of the sizzle of sex comes from the danger of sex. You can be overpowered."

Motivation: In the '80s and '90s, the feminist movement kicked into high gear to fight sexual and domestic violence. Independent feminists saw touchstones such as the Take Back the Night rallies, the Clarence Thomas hearings, a rash of anti-sexual harassment policies, and the emergence of the phrase "date rape" as nothing more than feminists telling women that they were delicate flowers unable to handle the intimidating ribaldry and exciting hints of violence that mark  the true male spirit.

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Major victories: Maintaining a cultural and legal framework that made it difficult to prosecute rape; convincing the public that most acquaintance rapes were nothing but bad sex later regretted; turning Andrea Dworkin's name into a punchline.

Why they eventually faded: The emergence of third-wave feminists, pro-sex feminists, riot grrls singing "I like f*cking," and, eventually, hip, young feminist-bloggers made it hard for "independent" feminists to maintain the argument that feminism was a hairy-legged, anti-sex monolith that used sexual assault and harassment as a pretext to bash men. The indisputably sex-positive gay rights movement fell more in line with mainstream feminism. Camille Paglia's increasingly incoherent missives became an embarrassment.

Phase III:Co-opting Feminism Anti-Feminists

Iconic Leader: Sarah Palin

Other examples: Feminists for Life, Patricia Heaton, Caitlin Flanagan, Susan B. Anthony List, Laura Sessions Stepp

Basic argument: 19th century feminists who struggled for the vote and education did a great thing, but modern feminism only exists to trick women into thinking they want abortions, higher taxes, electric cars, and unfettered access to orgasmic experiences. 

Classic quote: From Caitlin Flanagan: "[T]he forces of feminism have worked relentlessly to erode the patriarchy—which, despite its manifold evils, held that providing for the sexual safety of young girls was among its primary reasons for existence."

Motivation: With the exception of Caitlin Flanagan, most of them have wised-up to the fact that it's hypocrisy to oppose professional careers for women while maintaining a professional career. They like feminist victories that make it possible for them to be taken seriously at their own jobs but object to feminist innovations that make it easier to for all women to delay or even avoid marriage and childbirth. The popularity of Sex and the City, while not written or endorsed by any major feminists, seems to have been what really set many of them off.

Major victories: Pushing abstinence-only education into schools; creating a whole new class of abortion restrictions based on the faulty premise that women who have abortions don't know what they're doing; inventing the term "hook-up culture" and convincing the public that young women are having a new, scary kind of sex; sowing confusion about where the suffragists stood on family planning.

Still going strong: Few Americans can remember what it was like in the days when abortion was illegal and shotgun marriages were the norm. It's easy for anti-feminists to exploit this to paint a rosy picture of how much better life was then, and much harder for feminists to convince the public of the necessity of these hard-won sexual rights.

Should feminists celebrate any aspect of Sarah Palin declaring herself a feminist? In a sense, yes. Every generation of anti-feminists concedes more ground to feminists, and sometimes feminist anti-feminist women switch sides to support policies like Title IX and the Lilly Ledbetter Act. But with women like Palin claiming they're the real feminists, the public might grow to think of "feminism" as a movement that only supports women if they're lucky enough to be independently wealthy, married mothers.

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