Hate groups are similar to a virus. They spread to the next generation by throwing off the baggage of their old self, but at their core is the same disease. To understand them is to inoculate ourselves against the bigotry they advocate. A generation ago, feminists were demonized as the cause of a variety of social ills, and rural middle-class whites in America were encouraged to turn against poor, inner city blacks by the narrative of the ‘welfare queen’. Today, these well-worn scapegoats have been resurrected. Anti-feminists and the alt-right have dug their heels in against women, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ groups, and all people fighting discrimination, bigotry, and hatred.
Turning groups of working people against each other is one of the oldest tricks in the book to retain power. For many white men who face chronic poverty and unemployment, hearing statistics about women and people of color being underrepresented in the highest paying jobs, the glass ceiling, and the wage gap ring hollow. While they still benefit from privilege, they are blinded to it because this does not negate their class and the disadvantages of poverty. Racism and sexism are effective tools of oppression-a blindfold causing the working class to fight over the tiny slice of the pie they have rather than seizing the entire pie that is rightly theirs. Class consciousness can remove this blindfold and pins responsibility for inequality on those who benefit most from perpetuating it.
Beneath the surface, there is nothing truly novel about anti-feminism. As is typical to reactionary movements, anti-feminism oversimplifies complex problems by laying the blame on a scapegoat, and any examples or evidence to the contrary are brushed off as conspiracy. The scapegoats in this case are feminists and feminist allies, who are made into a straw man, and this caricature of feminism is attacked. Allowing anti-feminists to define feminism is about as logical as learning about evolution from a creationist. Yet the libel and slander against feminism has been effective enough that many people, to some extent, believe the ridiculous claims of anti-feminism, even in the far left.
Anti-feminists often claim they are for gender-equality but lament that feminism has been ruined by ‘social justice warriors’, ‘Tumblr feminazis’ or ‘radfems’; and insist upon calling themselves ‘equalists’, humanists, or basically anything other than feminists. The ‘equalist’ argument against feminism is suspiciously similar to the argument that displaying the Confederate flag isn’t racist. Whether or not flying the stars and bars is racist, those who do it tend to be pretty darn racist: and likewise, those who argue until they’re red in the face against feminism tend to be pretty darn sexist. And if you scratch the surface, you’ll find that they have no interest in ending systemic sexism but are concerned about a few issues solely pertaining to men rather than defeating the sexist stereotypes and systemic patriarchy that cause these issues to begin with. Statements from the so-called ‘men’s rights activist’ leaders echo this, though a more appropriate term might be ‘male supremacist’, or simply ‘patriarchist’.
Women have been oppressed, treated as second class citizens and forced into strict gender roles based on religious, social, or cultural traditions throughout human history. Yet in spite of the small steps towards gender equality feminism has achieved, we still live in a world where men control the vast majority of wealth and power, and women lack the basic right of bodily sovereignty. Some seek to keep it this way: anti-feminists have found a potpourri of means to preserve traditional gender roles, justify and maintain male privilege, deny or defend rape culture, and oppose feminists who want to tear down the walls of sexism and break the chains of gender discrimination.
Perhaps feminists have not done enough to counter things like toxic masculinity and haven’t fully addressed how sexist stereotypes hurt men in both subtle and tangible ways. Yet men have benefited immensely from the victories of feminism. Feminists have been on the forefront of fighting sexism at all levels. In addition to the ERA, which was opposed tooth-and-nail by anti-feminists, it was feminists that fought and won to change the FBI’s definition of rape to include male victims, and feminists continue to fight the stigma that surrounds men who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Likewise, it was a feminist organization that challenged the draft in front of the US Supreme Court on the grounds that it was gender discrimination, and feminists are the reason women are now able to officially serve in combat roles. Feminists fought against people being barred from professions based on their gender and continue to fight for pay equality and against sexual harassment. Feminists also championed of the idea of the stay at home dad, male nurses, and other professions men have been discouraged, mocked, or threatened for doing because of traditional gender roles. Feminism has a long, proud history of dismantling systemic sexism and countering restrictive gender roles.
Yet we are still a long way from genuine gender equality. Though we’ve made great strides in the past century, in the last few decades we have regressed in many ways. We have nothing to gain by dividing men and women, pigeonholing each other into sexist stereotypes, or fighting over rights as if the only way for one group to gain rights is for another to lose their rights. Equality is not a zero-sum game, equal rights means the loss of privileged statuses-but loss of privilege is not the same as the loss of basic human rights or systemic oppression. As feminists, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to ensure no one is limited by narrow-minded sexist stereotypes. Much like gender inequality, anti-feminism is a persistent problem, and if we remain silent on this matter, bigotry and prejudice will speak for us.
This was published in NY Tid in Swedish. The original is here: http://www.nytid.fi/2017/04/feminazis-och-social-justice-warriors/