The following comes from a July 28 story on TheFederalist.com.
Feminists say one thing, but do another, and pop feminism doesn’t have the intellectual grounding to notice.
If you Google “I’m not a feminist, but…,” you will find many articles with lists of famous disavowals of feminism, ranging from Katy Perry (who later recanted after her divorce) to Sandra Day O’Connor. But Google doesn’t do the longevity of the phrase justice. I’ve come across it in research back to the 80s when feminists were just as exasperated with movement defections as they are now.
For decades, this “but” has annoyed feminists because they see wildly successful women, who obviously benefited from feminist achievements in the workplace, shun the label. As the list of famous not-a-feminists grows, popular feminist reaction has moved from incredulity to anger to where it currently rests: instruction.
In the latest high-profile disavowal back in April, Shailene Woodley, the lead actress in the Divergent franchise and The Fault in Our Stars, declared feminists shamed her for not knowing what feminism is about. (See, for example, “Shailene Woodley’s Definition of Feminism is Really, Really Problematic” or the subtitle for another article: P.S. Feminists don’t hate men.) But the actresses are better-informed than the scolds, who usually quote one of the many versions of “feminism is the radical notion that women are people and people are equal.” Rachel Held Evans opened a recent post, “We Need Feminism…” with this inaccuracy. This is lovely sentiment, but actions speak louder than words.
In practice—and practice is what the refusers pick up on—contemporary feminism neither is nor was about simple equality. In practice, it is anti-domestic, anti-men, and frankly anti-woman. And if declared feminists bothered to look back and examine their own movement as critically as they do young starlets’ statements, they would find a history radically different from the notion that “women are people, too.”
I will start with anti-domesticity, because the story about how feminists can believe feminism isn’t anti-domesticity provides some illuminating background for other feminist confusion.
No professor ever assigned The Feminine Mystique to me, but I read it in my mid-20’s when I realized how poorly a BA had prepared me for American intellectual debate. (Some of that was my fault. I wasn’t always a motivated student.) The anti-domestic language of Friedan’s book turned me off so that I slammed it shut before reading the one decent chapter, the epilogue, “A New Life Plan for Women.” I reached for Simone de Beauvoir, which was worse. To be a feminist, it seemed, one couldn’t be a traditional woman and one had to act like man. Those did not appeal to me. (I spent the next few years as an Objectivist, but that is another story.)
For years afterward, I got incredulous and defensive every time someone claimed feminism was about choosing the life we wanted, even if it was a traditional life. Eventually, I honed my rebuttals, adding references to modern anti-domesticity scholars like Linda Hirshman of Get Back to Work fame, but I did not discover the source of the problem until feminist blogs celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique in early 2013.
I was reading Slate in bed, as one does. (No? Just me?) They ran a series by some of their more prolific female writers who admitted they had never read “The Feminine Mystique.” My husband noticed my agitation—it was hard to miss—and when I explained he asked, “Isn’t Friedan one of the foundational writers of modern feminism?” I sputtered, “One of?! Try THE foundational writer!”
Even if Friedan fell out of favor later—and she did, for arguing against the anti-motherhood and anti-male mood of the movement in the 70s, in fact—her book had such an impact on the women’s movement in the early 60s, the Second Wave, it should be required reading just to understand the mood and motivations of the movement. Surely some feminists were students of history and knew to study popular contemporaneous works to understand Something Past. I thought the Slate series had to be an anomaly. It wasn’t.
To read the entire story, click here.