From Rebecca Traister’s word processor to the Goddess’ ears:
The image of the feminist as a mirthless, hirsute, sex-averse succubus is a friendly-fire casualty of the Republican “war on women.” It’s a grave loss to conservatives, who have used this faithful foot soldier as a comfortably grotesque stand-in for the real people whose liberties they have sought to conscribe: women….
Painting those with a commitment to gender equality as brutish killers of buzzes and babies has been a useful tactic, not only in distracting the public from anti-feminist policy, but in sending messages to young people. Generations of kids, including my own 1990s cohort, have prefaced feminist statements with, “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played girl-power icon Buffy Summers, once told a reporter that she hated the word “feminist” because it “brings up such horrible connotations and makes you think of women who don’t shave their legs.”
In activism, an image problem becomes a structural problem: Twisted but resonant stereotypes make women hesitant to identify with the movement to expand their rights. And if women won’t organize and advocate on their own behalf, the work of anti-feminists is done.
But the recent Republican incursions against women’s rights have been extreme enough to make women finally see beyond the wraith, to recognize that this battle is in fact about them. As presidential candidates sparred over birth control and state legislatures enacted punishing restrictions on reproductive rights and opposed equal-pay protections, newly vocal feminists resisted publicly. By doing so, they transformed the stereotype, putting youth, sex and humor on the side of the long-denigrated women’s movement. Conservatives such as Limbaugh, Foster Friess and Rick Santorum, dealing in sexual censoriousness and musty utterances, suddenly looked like the sexless relics of a bygone era, while the women shouting back at them presented a new, cool model of feminism — young, funny, socially nimble and appealing….
I don’t grok all her examples, but then, as an Old Person (second wave feminists, represent!), I know that I am not her target audience, either. I just hope she’s right that the caricature has finally passed its sell-by date.
The Ugly Humorless Anti-Sex(Yet-Secretly-Sexually-Voracious) Suffragette has been a media trope since at least the 1850s, when that generation’s version of the Responsible Liberal used it as a political weapon to undercut the call for civil rights from both women and African-Americans by playing one group against the other. It’s popped up every time women seemed to be making progress — in the 1870s during ‘Reconstruction’, again in the ‘Progressive’ Era (those ‘mill girls’), during the 1920s (flappers vs. old-fashioned bluestockings), after WWII when Rosie the Riveter was supposed to turn herself into June Cleaver, and of course in the 1970s. If you read the WaPo‘s “Top Comments”, those evergreen perennials “But what about individual rights, isn’t it also sexist to ignore the men?” and “Islamic women in the Middle East and victims of mass rape in the Congo have it really bad, therefore American women have no right to bitch about their little inconveniences” remain as popular as they were in the Stone/Stanton era, sad to say. You’d think the troglodytes would get tired of recycling the same tired whinges…