Origins of Antifeminism

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

by Nicholas Mangold

There is a recent trend of women publicly taking their stance on feminism. Influential feminist Lininaz Evans stated she was "not a fan of men" causing a stir about how modern feminists operate. Conversely, on September 20th 2014 Emma Watson gave a speech on gender equality at the UN addressing the misguided beliefs of feminism. Evans' statement in particular caused journalist A. Ages to comment that statements like these have cast a shadow on how the mainstream views feminists. These, of course, are not the sole factors involved. Several influential actors and singers have publically taken a stance on feminism simply because their peers have done so. Comments came from stars such as Shailene Woodly who said "-I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work-" to Lady Gaga who said; "I’m not a feminist! I love men! I hail men!" Even as others such as Emma Watson and Taylor Swift proclaim their support of feminism the negative stigma continues to spread. The hesitancy of young women to identify as feminists demonstrates the effectiveness of anti-feminist movement and rhetoric, which dates back to the 1970s.

The sometimes violent nature of anti-feminist rhetoric shows the personal, emotional nature of discussions regarding gender roles. A recent example involves the struggles of Anita Sarkeesian, known for her series of videos on tropes of women in videogames. The series was meant to point out how women's roles in the medium can sometimes be sexist or misogynist, and then give advice on ways that developers can avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes. The last thing Sarkeesian expected was for her series to prompt death and rape threats.  She was moved under police protection for a time but continues to speak out against the harmful portrayal of women in media. On October 14th 2014 Sarkeesian canceled an appearance at Utah State University due to an anonymous message that a shooting massacre would be carried out if she went through with the event. Many of these threats are based in the ideals of "GamerGate", a movement that claims the press is corrupted because of leftists and feminist’s critiques, like the one offered by Sarkeesian. "GamerGate" is critical of the works of Sarkessian and other women in the videogame business. The debate over how women should or should not be portrayed in video games, as highlighted by the GamerGate scandal, sheds light on how feminists and feminism are viewed present-day. This view on women is not limited to the gaming industry, and has spread predominantly into several other facets of the entertainment industry. The intent behind these movements seems to focus on upholding women's "appropriate gender role", and shaming women who do not adhere to that role. But with this in mind, now we must ask from where does this deep-seeded negativity originate?

The Anti-Feminist movements of the 1970s, a reaction against the gains made by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, still influences how men and women view the term "feminism" in the present-day. Women were entering the paid workforce during the 1960s and gaining legal access to the birth-control pill. Opponents of such changes viewed them as a means to shatter the 1950s ideal of women staying at home with their children. Still, as Journalist Kenneth Walsh states, "One in 5 women with children under 6 and nearly one fourth of women whose children were over 16 held paid jobs in the Sixties." It appeared to feminists, among others, that the possibly that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), first proposed by Alice Paul in 1923, might finally become a reality.

In 1972 the most predominant anti-feminism group was formed by Phyllis Schlafly under the name of “Stop ERA”.  In 1975 the organization was renamed "Eagle Forum." The Equal Rights Amendment was an important prospect for feminists as it would provide constitutional support for gender equality, yet Schlafly’s movement successfully blocked ratification of ERA. Additionally, Eagle Forum helped create the anti-abortion movement, halted federally subsidized day-care, and stopped progression towards equal pay. Eagle Forum's success was a key factor in convincing the American public that feminism was dangerously radical and went against a pro-family, “traditional” culture.  Over time, the term "feminism" became associated with being anti-family.

Religion also played a large role in antifeminism and in creating the idea that feminism was anti-family, as scholar Seth Dowland notes. A group of evangelical ministers found great success around that time and developed a conservative political philosophy that tied the defense of a "traditional family" to the opposition of several factors including feminism, abortion, and gay rights. With this religious backing, it was easier for movements against the factors this philosophy opposed to form. These movements were in an effort to protect the "traditional family" and uphold the "Christian right".  Many believed that deviance from the "traditional family" and “Christian values” would lead to societal disorder, encouraging this viewpoint into the mainstream consciousness.

When presented with anti-feminism's roots it is clear how the negative view of feminism is so prevalent even today.  It was a long build of cultural change and opposition to that change. Now, with events like the GamerGate campaign and many influential actors and singers speaking against feminism, we can see how the anti-feminist movements of the 1970's snowballed into the views surrounding feminism now. In the end, the efforts to keep women in their past cultural roles has painted feminism as something that wants to upset balance and demean men. Even some people who call themselves feminists are operating under these misconceptions. The historical link between past and present anti-feminism should be a call to action. With any luck, the real meaning of feminism will come to light and disperse the negative stigma surrounding feminists and feminism for good.


Works Cited

Ages, A. "Beyond Gender." New Internationalist 476 (2014): 6. Academic Search Complete.                    Web. 31 Oct. 2014

Diamond, Sara. Roads to Dominion Right-wing Movements and Political Power in the United       States. New York: Guilford Publications, 1995. Google Book Search. Web. 29 Nov.    2014. 

Marcotte, Amanda. "A Short History Of  ‘Feminist’ Anti-Feminists." 8 Jun. 2010          Web. 27 Nov. 2014

Meltzer, Marissa. "Who is a Feminist Now?" New York Times 21 May 2014:n. pag. Web. 31 Oct.             2014.

Walsh, Kenneth. "The 1960s: A Decade of Change for Women." U.S. News 12 Mar. 2010 Web.   27 Nov. 2014

Wingfield, Nick. "Feminist Critics of Video Games Facing Threats in ‘GamerGate’ Campaign."    New York Times 14, Oct. 2014: Web. 31 Oct. 2014.    


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