#feminismisdead: Anti-feminism, then and now

⇾ Angela McRobbie; @oDTransform: Although anti-feminism is always changing its colours, it never goes away. As the writer and activist Susan Faludi documented in her important bookBacklash, an angry oppositional movement of ‘moral majority’ adherents arose almost concurrently with the rise of liberal and socialist feminism in the USA. In my own book The Aftermath of Feminism I traced a later complexification of this backlash which seemed to have a less invidious, more progressive or even pro-women dynamic.

This movement entailed a new form of championing of women, and especially young women, on condition that they abandoned feminism as old hat, anachronistic and deeply unattractive—as something associated with old and seemingly embittered women from a past era—in favour of a ‘go-for-it’ pathway of female individualisation. This was the post-feminism of ambitious and competitive ‘Alpha Girls’ who could easily achieve their goals in the new meritocracy without the help of feminism.

During the period of Tony Blair’s governments in the UK this ethos pervaded political and popular culture. Feminism was put into cold storage as women were expected to be smiling and compliant ‘Blair babes.’ I recall this time well, when even female students who were otherwise interested in questions of work, employment, gender and sexuality nevertheless repudiated feminism, feeling that they could do just as well without it. It was fashionable to affect a kind of ‘phallic femininity’ by acting like a young man, with a flask of whisky in the back pocket, happy to hang out in a lap-dancing club.

Nancy Fraser and others have accused some feminists of becoming complicit with the neoliberal order by advocating this kind of achievement-driven or ‘choice-based’ notion of female empowerment, a complex way of saying that they have sold out to capitalism by accepting a place in the sun that is offered to a select few. In the process, much of liberal feminism has morphed into a more overtly market-driven and competition-based idea of female success, though even this form of ‘neoliberal feminism’ may be anathema to the Trump worldview.

Anti-feminism, then and now