Though its achievements continue to bear wild and interesting fruit, feminism (as both a set of aspirations and an intellectual position) faces today a more vicious and well-organised opposition than at any time in its modern history (1). An inter-generational alliance of middle-aged white men and disgruntled millennials seeks to roll back the clock to a reactionary and wholly negative consensus; one that denies the right of women to design their own individual futures and live in a way that rewards their private aspirations.
Since it is the group with which I am most familiar (and to which I regretfully belong) I shall here offer an attempted analysis solely of the millennial generation and its unique relationship with feminist thought. Though the older generations are currently at the wheel of command, it is the actors of the future, men as well as women, who will prove decisive in the struggle for feminism’s survival as a viable movement.
Utopian and Irrelevant
Customary amongst millennial men is to consider feminism as an outgrowth of the hairy, unwashed and utopian family of ideas that were prevalent in the Sixties; the pleasant, childish sentiments that made for great sense in the context of blotter acid, but that wilted away to nothing under the hot lights of reason and the 1970s (2). To these people – perhaps they are now a slight majority – the ascendency of feminism correlates exactly with the decline of conservatism and established moral norms. It is also fundamentally secondary to it, a by-product; a taken advantage. Feminism began because men were away at war, fighting for those liberties over-privileged women were seeking to light-headedly extend and deform in their absence.
As to older history, while millennial men are generally willing to concede that the struggle for basic liberties (by the suffragettes for example) was sensible and justified, they typically regard those struggles as something that happened before feminism. Feminism, as they know it, began with the burning of the bra and developed only in eccentricity the further it progressed. Were the suffragettes reanimated today, they reason, the likes of Pankhurst would be mortified by the excess of their wayward benefactors.
The connection of feminism with left-wing and even totalitarian ideas proceeds organically from the 1960s-origin fallacy, making links (where there are none) between the self-liberation of women and opposition to the Vietnam War. Beginning from that error, the trajectory of thought can be (and is typically) further misdirected to allow for a fallacious link between modern feminism and Marxism.
It is true, and well-known, that many feminist luminaries were also Marxist, or socialist, or even Communist, but in any sensible analysis the ‘also’ is accentuated. The primordial truths of feminist theory can survive outside of their political or economic incubators, and it is precisely this fact that Millennials seem to be losing touch with.
The view of Feminism as rooted in the 60s and retentive of its character has become dominant of late largely because of the internet. Conservative websites and uncensored message-boards supply thousands of young men with uniformly outdated assumptions about feminist theory on a daily basis (3) Norwegian serial killer (and internet-addict) Anders Breivik, when writing about the perceived ills of Western civilisation, clearly displayed the influence of this climate by failing to make any clear distinction between Marxism and feminism, intimating throughout his manifesto that the two have enjoyed a co-dependent relationship from their beginnings.
The idea of a ‘Cultural Marxism’ – which in Conservative literature refers to the ideas of the Frankfurt School, and in particular the unleashed forces of ‘political correctness’ – is almost always conflated with feminism, and Breivik made a special effort to connect the two thought systems in his writing:
“The feminisation of European culture” he wrote “… moving rapidly since the 1960s (emphasis added) continues to intensify. Indeed, the present-day radical feminist assault through support for mass Muslim immigration has a political parallel to their (Marxist) anti-colonial efforts. This current assault is in part a continuation of a century-old effort to destroy traditional European structures, the very foundation of European culture” (4)
Breivik is here twice conforming to millennial type by positing a 1960s origin for Feminism and by linking it to Left-wing and Marxist causes. It would seem to matter little that there is no conceivable connection between Feminism and the decline of Western colonialism. For Breivik and the Millennials, the Marxist (anti-Western) nature of Feminism is beyond dispute and does not require proof. Marxists, Feminists, Communists, even Stalinists are all perceived to derive from the same set of ideas about the nature of man.
The adolescent mind, being a mind still in development, is of course primed to engage in this kind of pattern-seeking. While a more anchored observer might view any psycho-emotional link between the empowerment of women and the Gulags of Siberia as crazy, that does not in any way change the reality that a significant number of people believe in such a connection, mostly without even considering the possibility of an alternative reality.
On a deeper, less conscious level, the Marxist-Feminist conflation is likely rooted in the idea that women cannot initiate intellectual movements without a pre-existing foundation of male thought.
The internet and its subculture has served to facilitate some very troubling tendencies in the young, and on no phenomenon is its influence more apparent than on the developing culture of anti-female activism. The renaissance in ideological misogyny – represented in caricature by phenomena like the MRA/MGTOW subcultures – relies almost entirely on anonymity and stealth, advantages that were previously unavailable or else difficult to manufacture. Woman-haters in Indonesia can now freely congregate with woman-haters in Greece. All it takes is an internet connection and a basic command of English, and – however extreme or unsuited to the real world your sentiments may be – a global community is waiting and willing to embrace them. Misogyny has thus evolved from a quirk of individuals into a self-sustaining and organised force.
The word ‘manosphere’ is an imperfect but popular catch-all term for the blogs, networks and online organisations dedicated to counter-acting the progress (and reversing the prior gains) of modern feminism. Since the components of this sub-culture range from the innocent and reasonable to the murderous and extreme, it is difficult to offer a single analysis of the manosphere’s character.
“For some…” Mariah Blake writes in Mother Jones, “…the ‘manosphere’ offers a place to air real grievances about issues such as bias in family courts or sexual abuse suffered by men. But it also has spawned a network of activists and sites that take (it) in a disturbing direction. Men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol. Participants argue that false allegations of rape and domestic abuse are rampant, or that shelters for battered women are a financial scam. Others rail against women for being independent or sexually promiscuous…” (5)
No exaggeration is necessary – or even possible – of Blake’s concerns. Users of the manosphere’s open media have pushed the theme of female manipulators/wolf criers/sluts/traitors/inferiors as far as can be imagined. Indeed, so pronounced is this bias that it is increasingly rare to find an identifiably female voice on any of these sites. On the rare occasion one emerges, the voice is typically one of distress or protest.
While the manosphere is an inter-generational phenomenon, Millennial misogynists tend to dominate the anonymous forums, such as Reddit, 4chan and rooshv.com, and it is on these sites that the mask of respectability and reasonable debate most quickly and visibly slips.
On 4chan, women are discussed rather like computer games or iphones – disposable, interchangeable and insentient. On the site’s ‘Random’ board (to which users may upload any material barring only child pornography) threads are dominated by ‘upskirts’ and ‘creep-shots’ of women going about their day-to-day business. ‘Revenge porn’ (amateur sex-tapes of ex-girlfriends) is another speciality and causes unknowable distress to its subject matter. Non-pornographic photos of women are often uploaded only to be ‘rated’ 1-10 by other users in makeshift polls.
As any sociologist would expect, misogyny of this kind leads eventually to line-testing behaviours. One 4chan user, for example, began a thread with the query “How can I invest my genes in a healthy young White woman. No relationship or consent” – to which one reply was “Kidnap a bitch. Rape her until pregnant and then only release her after the birth of the kid.”
When interrogated, 4chan and manosphere misogynists offer a wide variety of excuses for their behaviour. A typical defence is offered in the following comment: “The world is so fucking politically correct these days. Women are not persecuted. They have all the advantages. You can hate men all day, but if men fire back, it’s game over. I say fuck women. Stop hating us and we’ll stop hating you.”
But while internet misogynists might prefer to offer rational explanations for their views, one cannot sensibly discount the influence of a generally defective mental poise on their part, especially since the reality (which they are surely aware of) is sharply in conflict with their stated beliefs.
The online universe is so acned with cruelty that a plea of ignorance can never really be accepted. Those who loudly dismiss the concept of a rape culture are almost certainly familiar with websites like FacialAbuse.com, a pornographic production company offering videos of young women being ‘face-fucked’ in a violent and degrading manner while the camera crew hurl racial and sexual insults. They are also likely to be aware of the get-rich-quick clickbait ads that wallpaper the margins of streaming websites, most of which advertise women as being part of the package deal of success, alongside Private Jets and Lamborghinis. While the bias-filter of an entrenched ideologue can block out many dissenting realities, no filter is surely strong enough to block out this general culture of dehumanisation.
Millennials are more aware of misogyny than any preceding generation. The evidence follows them wherever they click. Denial is a matter of perspective. The wood can obscure the trees, but only if you want it to.
For many in the rising generation, Feminism seems at best outdated and at worst irrelevant. The liberation of women has already occurred, and the ongoing campaigns of Feminism are simply ‘nit-picking’. Though it is bold to be so sweeping, I would say this opinion is now the dominant one.
Data collection studies on young Americans have confirmed a declining appetite for Feminism (or at least for self-identification as being a ‘Feminist’). As the manosphere site ‘A Voice for Men’ gleefully pointed out, the number of self-declared Feminists reporting to national surveys declined from 28% to 18% between the years 2013 and 2015.(6)
The ‘Feminist’ label is by-itself anathema to a growing proportion of young people. As related by Qz.com, the use of the word is diminishing in academic and popular literature, and was even nominated as a word to be abolished in a poll for Time Magazine (7). If one types the word ‘Feminist’ into Google images, the images returned are similar to those returned for ‘Crazy’ and ‘Rage’. Despite campaigns to suggest otherwise, Feminist/Feminism now brings to mind ugliness, irrationality and hatred and can stand in place of any of them. As Julie Bindel noted in the Guardian “Feminism, a great social movement, is in danger of becoming toxic” (8).
There is some truth to the argument that Feminists have proven occasionally petty in recent times. The tedious and stupid affair involving the shirt worn by a leading Space Scientist (a scandal exacerbated by his subsequent apology) played right into the hands of the proponents of a post-Feminist age. While episodes like this are not nearly as common as the MRA activists would have the world believe, they do not help.
My generation is the generation of YouTube, social media and instant fame. A dizzying range of archetypes are available for young women to embrace, from the dehumanised and exploited, to the human and aspirational. It would be rash and unfair to write off the prospect of a Millennial Feminism. As a body of thought, feminism still attracts an audience on college campuses and via media like Blogspot and Tumblr. Empowering archetypes like Anita Sarkeesian and Emma Watson are still making waves. And though they face immeasurably harder resistance and greater personal risk than previous generations, their bravery would as yet seem equal to the task.
- There is a lengthy treatment of this matter in Hitchens, P (1999) The Abolition of Britain.
David is a young English writer from Bristol, South-West England. I recently graduated from university and now live in Clapham, South-West London. At University, I developed a keen interest in Feminist theory and plan to write largely on this subject on my new blog. The blog is ‘Reflected in Milk’ – https://reflectedinmilk.wordpress.com