Writing in The Atlantic recently, Conor Friedersdorf claimed: “Feminism has actual enemies. Fabricating more is perverse.”
Perish the thought. Friedersdorf wrote these words after finding himself on the wrong end of the feminist ire squad: having written an even-handed article defending George Will from the excesses of feminist vanity and left-wing outraged indignation, Friedersdorf was treated to a terrific example of feminsm’s insatiable ability to “fabricate enemies.” Jessica Valenti singled Friedersdorf out for a scolding, claiming that writers like Will are experiencing “their last gasp of relevance” as part of “the old guard pumping out deliberately regressive ideas about women while they still can.”
Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the bit about the ancien régime before, to say nothing of where it leads. With all due respect to Friedersdorf, who characterizes himself as a feminist “by some definitions,” the modern feminist movement specializes in “fabricating enemies,” if only because modern feminism is a largely totalitarian movement, in style if not in substance, and enemy fabrication is one of the chief methods by which totalitarian regimes sustain themselves. Soviet Russia had the kulaks and the wreckers upon which to heap its failures and grievances, and today’s feminists are no less adroit at manufacturing a successive series of mystical antagonists in order to advance their causes.
Forget The Law—We’ve Got Grievances
Unsurprisingly, many if not most feminist rage-ganging is to be found on college campuses. Campus illiberalism is as well-established and well-documented a phenomenon as any, and modern feminism is more than at home in an environment so hostile to rational inquiry and measured debate. A couple of months ago at Portland State University (PSU), a group of feminists descended upon a “panel on anarchy” in order to protest a speaker, Kristian Williams. Williams had had the temerity to point out that the testimony of sexual assault and domestic violence victims is often invested with an inordinate amount of confidence, and that unquestioned faith in someone’s declaration isn’t always the most productive approach to divining the truth.
Having clearly enunciated one of the core, indispensable tenets of the Anglo-Saxon legal system upon which our courts are based, Williams was declared persona non grata in the eyes of PSU’s frothing feminist cadre: “Shut Down Kristian Williams!” a Facebook group declared, and a mob of apparent psychopaths arrived at the speaking event demanding that Williams “be accountable” for making people feel “unsafe.” One person announced, “It’s not OK, and you shouldn’t be given the space to speak.” Williams, according to the group, had “targeted” “survivors” in making his utterly uncontroversial and intelligent claims.
Hey, whatever works. At one point, it was considered reasonable that we take criminal allegations with a grain of salt, at least until definitive evidence could corroborate the competing claims one way or the other; it’s just a minor principle that, uh, forms the backbone of our judicial framework, no big deal. If you advocate for such a reasonable position in either the civil or juridical spheres these days, be prepared to have a boiling horde of feminists attempt to “shut you down.”
March In Mental Lockstep
And yet it’s not only a reactive intransigence that defines modern feminism: the movement also takes a proactive approach at insulating itself from any ideologies that may taint the minds of its followers. A while back, Katherine Timpf of Campus Reform showed up at the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference to do some reporting. The response from the assembled feminists was not simply to “shut her down,” but rather to pretend she didn’t exist in the first place. Timpf was part of “a group that’s conservative,” according to one attendant, which meant she was a bad person, of course. “You guys aren’t wanted here,” someone else told Timpf. “You should know,” a person told one of Timpf’s interviewees, “if you’re doing this interview, that they’re a conservative organization.” Another organizer openly “warned” an attendee of Timpf’s dreaded political leanings. After all, why not? It could be disastrous if the burgeoning feminist generation were exposed to, you know, alternative viewpoints.
It’s not merely the feminist foot soldiers out in the gender fields that are prime examples of the new feminist lockstep. You see it in the theory end of the business, as well, the sincere striving for what Gandhi called “complete harmony of thought and word and deed.” Recently, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, wrote an article for The Guardian in which she asked, “Can a woman who’s fought for equality and respect, against sexism and misogyny, become a bride?” Bates laments that the ritual of marriage “is riddled with patriarchal symbolism;” she notes with approval the wedding of some feminist friends in which, concerning the bridal party, “nobody’s role is dictated by their gender;” she lambasts the “sexist undertones” to be found in the traditional throwing of the bouquet; and sums up “The great name conundrum” by declaring that “changing her name erases [the bride’s] identity as a separate individual.” If you want to make a wedding even more exhausting and harried than it already is, go Full Feminist on it.
As entertaining as these little vignettes may be, they’re also indicative of a more dispiriting and concerning philosophy that has overtaken a great many young people, both men and women, at the beginning of the 21st century. The early Western feminist movements generally possessed a nobility and righteousness that rendered the ideology both powerful and admirable. It is no small feat, after all, to reverse several millennia’s worth of systematic oppression and discrimination, and the women’s rights campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries are some of the crown jewels of Western civilization. Emmeline Pankhurst may have been a bit radical here and there, but at least she was right. Nowadays among the ranks of feminism you’re less likely to find a principled zealot like Pankhurst and more likely to find a repellant, theory-drenched curmudgeon like Andrea Dworkin.
There is a word that embodies the kind of single-minded fanaticism of modern feminism: a cult. Theodore Dalrymple has written of the cult-like churches that exist in England today, headed as they are by “self-proclaimed authorities who rush in to fill the moral vacuum.” Having joined such churches, the vulnerable are brainwashed into accepting not the Gospel of the Lord but the gospel of the church in question, creating a situation in which, as Dalrymple writes, “the meaninglessness of pre-cult existence was replaced by the equally dispiriting deep meaningfulness of the most trivial of desires and actions.” Thus, too, does a fun, lighthearted event such as tossing a bouquet of flowers become a fraught self-examination of whether or not one is supporting and indulging The Patriarchy.
It’s fashionable these days for feminists to try and convince others of their own latent feminism; “You’re a feminist,” they claim, “if you believe in equality between the sexes.” Political and social equality between the sexes is one of the most worthwhile and noble goals to which a society can aspire, but as we’ve seen, modern feminism is about so much more than that: it’s a neurotic, insular, self-aggrandizing, and paranoid ideology that aims to spread fear, small-mindedness and agonistic self-criticism and self-doubt over even an uncomplicated and enjoyable idea such as the bouquet toss. Is it any surprise that many prominent young women are rejecting the label altogether? “Feminism has actual enemies,” Friedersdorf wrote. It’s doing a damn good job of manufacturing them, too.