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"What happened to Democrats supporting women," asked Katie Pavlich in The Hill recently, noting the antipathy demonstrated towards the inestimable Amy Coney Barrett upon her nomination for the Supreme Court. The compassionate left's tolerance for women, it became clear, was contingent not on their sex but their politics.
On the surface this seems anomalous, isn't feminism about empowering women? The answer to that question is a big fat no. Feminism is about empowering feminists. Sex, as a noun, is surplus to feminist requirements.
It's an easy mistake to make, considering feminism has a habit of hiding under broad egalitarian skirts to hide their profoundly nepotistic and politically chauvinist petticoats. Feminist "theory," alternative logic, or "woo" as it's sometimes called, has a habit of causing this kind of dissonance. It's a feature not a bug. It also doesn't mean it's any less compelling for some, just like astrology, or implicit bias testing.
Betty Friedan, the "mother of liberal feminism," ran into this problem back in 1972 when she defended her decision not to back "Battling Bella" Abzug when the latter lost her seat due to redistricting, and decided to challenge incumbent William Fitts Ryan, in a Democratic primary. Abzug didn't win, but Ryan died of throat cancer two months later and Abzug prevailed in a new contest against Ryan's widow.
Justifying her decision not to vote for freshman representative Abzug, Friedan said, "Only a female chauvinist would say that no matter how good a man's record—on peace, on women—women must support a female opponent just because she is a woman."
Friedan's feminism was not ideological but focused on a liberal policy of achieving equality before the law through reform not revolution. It didn't place men and women at odds with one another.
"I have always objected to the rhetoric that treats the women's movement as class warfare against men - women oppressed as a class by men, the oppressors," she wrote, "My definition of feminism is simply that women are people... who must be free to move in society with all the privileges, opportunities and responsibilities that are their American and human right. This does not mean class warfare against men, which denies our sexual and human bonds with men."
In her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, Friedan had talked about the "problem with no name" a malaise suffered by women who, like men, are profoundly social animals but who had become like provisioned apes in a gilded cage of isolated domesticity. Her goal was to liberate women from this maladaptive environment, not from the family itself.
By 1970 however, her liberal feminism was subsumed by radical, class conscious feminists, who came up with a name, and all encompassing just-so story for the problem: patriarchy! This was everything Friedan didn't believe, it was class warfare between men and women, it was a conscious structure invented by women, as being invented by men, to oppress the aforementioned women. Men didn't actually have to invent anything.
Friedan began to warn against the rise of "female chauvinism":
"The assumption that women have any moral or spiritual superiority as a class or that men share some brute insensitivity as a class—this is male chauvinism in reverse; it is female sexism. It is in fact female chauvinism, and those who preach or practice it seem to me to be corrupting our movement for equality and inviting a backlash that endangers the very real gains we have won these past few years."
Zip pan to today's cultural war of attrition, 50 years later, and we can see how prescient her words were. After decades of empowerment prattle such as Girl Power, The Future is Female and the ubiquitous L'Oreal slogan Because You're Worth It, who can blame women for starting to believe that they don't also have to earn it.
Women are not a special class of saintly human. They are just as corruptible by power, ego and vanity as men and as more women enter our institutions of power, it is essential we find out more about how these mechanisms manifest in culture, and not simply sweep them under the carpet.
Feminists regularly decry Twitter as a hotbed of misogyny, but studies show that just as much abuse aimed at females comes from other females. My own investigations of a UK government report on female harassment found the same thing. Ethnographic studies have found that in 90 percent of cultures, women are the primary target of other women's aggression. This is aggression which women generally express socially, via gossip, sexual derogation of character (slut shaming), verbal abuse, and ostracism. This isn't a trivial matter.
Women's gossip has even been found by anthropologists to create a climate in which the honour killing of young women in some cultures is "inevitable." There has lately been a huge cultural hue and cry about the issue of toxic masculinity, which undoubtedly does exist, but the conversation has completely neglected to even admit to the existence of toxic femininity. Well, let's have no more of that!
Because this is exactly what we are witnessing on social media broadly and and in the treatment of Amy Coney Barrett, specifically. Female, and more specifically, feminist chauvinism. Feminists, male and female, now patrol social media ready to "call out" and "cancel" people who deviate from approved discourse. Dictionary definitions are changed overnight. No one can be sure what is permissible one day to the next in the ever changing, ever decreasing circles of leftist "tolerance."
No reasonable person would disagree that Coney Barrett is a woman, as Lindsay Graham described her, as belonging to "category of excellence" completely in keeping with the office she is nominated for. The reasonable person standard has yet to be called out as an inherently racist and sexist construct, but give it a minute or two.
The Washington Post's Monica Hesse, while having the good grace to allow that Coney Barrett was a "strong" and "groundbreaking woman," could not go so far as to endorse her as a feminist icon. After all we've heard about feminism in this article, we hopefully now know why. If Barrett wore a knitted vagina on her head, demanded the state fiscally reimburse her for the emotional labour of loving and caring for her own children whilst prostrating herself before great patriarchal flying spaghetti monster in the sky, who knows, she might have made the feminist grade!
The most stunning example of this feminist chauvinism however came from a writer named Lauren Hough. Hough lowered the IQ of contemporary feminist discourse by an order of magnitude—some feat today—by channelling the worst of purile toxic teenage masculinity into her progressive twitter feed, making a "bucket vagina" joke at the expense of the mother of seven. Feminists sure do seem to save up the worst of their misogyny for non-single mothers who have successfully slept, supped and co-parented with the male enemy. Single mothers, on the other hand, are far more vulnerable and valuable cannon fodder, and so, must be wooed.
Hough coupled the insult with what she may have hoped was a learned reference to that favorite feminist trope, The Handmaid's Tale. This has as always struck me as deeply misguided. In any natalist culture, fertile women would be the queens not the workers. From the perspective of evolutionary logic, The Handmaids Tale is a feminist fantasy where one caste of elite, infertile women have control over a lesser caste of fertile women. It is a reverie of female dominance, not male dominance.
Oh, but we have more joys to come! On Saturday, feminists predictably flouted social distancing protocols during the pandemic and descended on Washington, DC, to protest Coney Barrett's nomination.
In an act of inspirational bravery, the Freedom Plaza was awash with woolly pink pudendum hats, each housing a brain belonging to a proud "nasty woman" who genuinely believed she was a serious representative of female empowerment to the watching world. And all this while thinking Trump is the buffoon.