I am standing in line for the “family bathroom” at Southgate Mall, waiting to use the nursing chair. Although I am pretending to be relaxed—chatting with the mother of a one-month old son—I am in fact terrified. Are there any feminists about? I scan the crowd for the tell-tale signs of bra-less tits, angry fists raised in the air, and armpit hair. I hope they don’t find me in here, I think to myself. What if they imagine that I am a homemaker? Everyone knows that feminists hate domesticated women, and regularly ridicule them in public. I wish that I had worn an identification badge over my lactating breasts identifying me as a feminist because I increasingly fear that I no longer look like one, what with the diaper bag, mid-range stroller, and (worst of all) spawn that suckles at my zipple.
Let me explain. While keeping cool at the mall during this week’s heatwave, I was trying to imagine what it felt like to be one of those paranoid “Women Against Feminism.” You have probably heard about or seen this group’s tumbler pics. Mostly young mothers, these ladies (if I may) hold hand-written signs explaining why they are opposed to feminism. Now there are many ways to respond to this rather tiresome media event: dismissal, boredom, anger, disbelief. Many thoughtful reactions have already been penned, pointing out that these women know little to nothing about the feminist movement, crave the approval of right-wing men, and seem to be best friends with the likes of Rush Limbaugh. It is indeed important to stress the true history and goals of feminisms—for there is far more than one version—which have never been about hating men, forcing women to become men, attacking stay-at-home moms, or baby loathing. Some of the best replies have advocated in favour of female strength (see http://fitandfeminist.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/my-husband-is-more-to-me-than-a-living-jar-opener/), while others have been humourous (see “Confused Cats Against Feminism,” http://confusedcatsagainstfeminism.tumblr.com).
Logic and reason have nothing to do with anti-feminism. Reading through the bizarre representations of feminism on this site, I was struck by how closely the anti-feminist rhetoric resembles early modern European witch hunts. Not that the history of witch hunting is simplistic, as recent scholarship has indicated. About ten percent of those persecuted as witches were men. Yet the majority of those attacked and sometimes killed were older, single women who were perceived as threats. These widows were past their reproductive years and not tied to a man, at least not anymore. They might have inherited some goods or property, which gave them a little power, or they might have been quite poor, which made them want whatever was actually yours. See the link that I am making? Anti-feminists imagine that evil women with magical powers can somehow wreak havoc everywhere: destroying the military, the family, the very idea of love. These hateful women want to take everything that was naturally yours: privilege, economic prosperity, happiness.
The anti-feminists both over- and underestimate the impact of feminism. If they imagine that a powerful lobby group of man-hating lesbians is controlling the world, then they have missed the mark [sadly enough, because that would be an improvement]. These women nevertheless underestimate the lasting effects of feminist efforts, and the ways in which these efforts have shaped their own lives and identities. Some of them claim, for instance, that they “choose” to be mothers and homemakers, offering up their lifestyle as both defiant and radical. Yet the very language that they use (“choice”), and the fact that they can choose their lives instead of being forced to marry and reproduce stems from the influence of feminism. Let’s face it, the ability of these women to voice their opinions and boldly insist that those opinions are important—i.e. the very idea that they can talk and someone will give a flying fuck about what they have to say—makes them feminists, or at least indebted to feminists. The tenets of feminism have penetrated our culture so deeply that they seem like commonsense: men and women are equal (liberal feminism), women are human beings and must be treated as such, women’s amazing reproductive capacities must be respected, as should the labour of mothering (marxist or socialist feminism), difference should be celebrated and not erased (difference feminism) etc. etc.
Feminism is being used as a scapegoat to provide a focus for legitimate anxiety. When in doubt about the security of your future (and who isn’t?), blame the straw-woman called feminism.The young women posting pictures on “Women Against Feminism” are worried that they are not valued in our culture, that their efforts to parent as best they can are not appreciated. They are probably correct. But that has nothing to do with “feminists”; it is a result of ongoing sexism. I am tempted to direct all supposedly anti-feminist women toward an educational site, a kind of feminism for dummies (http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com). I think that they might be better off taking courses in macro-economics or corporatization. Those fields would help to explain the so-called “attack” on male (earning) power and the “decline” of masculinity. Plus I assume that anti-feminist women (and men) would refuse to read anything written by an actual feminist, including the definition of feminism in my glossary, for fear of losing the evil “other” that is so crucial to their own sense of self and superiority.