Anti Feminism: A Brief History


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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Last month, fueled by a supposed "assault on men," Australian YouTuber Sydney Watson launched a March for Men to be held in Melbourne, Australia later this month. "March For Men is about showing the men in our lives that they matter and their issues matter," she wrote on Twitter. "As far as I can see, society is unlikely to be functional if we continue to put down one entire gender in order to prop up the other," she said in a YouTube video. 
They've been called many things: misogynists, woman-haters, misanthropes, male chauvinists...but no matter what your stance is, there's no denying that anti-feminists have made their mark on society.
In a world where feminism has almost emerged from the confines of being considered a dirty word, many men and women alike still consider the women's movement and women's empowerment pesky, at least, and dangerous, at worst. President Trump, for instance, declared to Piers Morgan, “I wouldn’t say I'm a feminist”—just one of the many antifeminists who shies away from the feminist movement.

What is anti-feminism?

Anti-feminism is an opposition to the principles and an idea of feminism. Over the course of history, it has taken several shapes and forms, often in response to demands for equal rights from women. Antifeminists may oppose feminism for a variety of reasons, such as claiming it ignores biological differences between men and women and promotes hostility toward men. 
Women and men alike can be anti-feminists; in fact, some of the most prominent anti-feminists have been female.

The history of anti-feminism in the United States

Antifeminism is nothing new. While Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—along with many other first-wave feminists—were demanding women's suffrage rights, a counter movement, one that saw giving equality—or even broaching the topic of equality—as threatening to the current way of life and unnatural, emerged. (Interestingly, much of the same rhetoric is used by anti-marriage equality enthusiasts today.) By around 1870, a euphemistically named pro-family movement sought to uphold "traditional" family values by rallying against divorce. The National League for the Protection of the Family, previously called the Divorce Reform League, was an early antifeminist establishment.
The movement included both men and women as participants. Many anti-suffrage movement female participants feared that gaining the right to vote would force them to align with political parties, as well as diminish their ability to perform social and civic duties.
In response to second-wave feminism, antifeminism saw a revival. Much of the countermovement came as a response to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which sought to legally grant women civil rights. One prominent antifeminist and Republican, Phyllis Schlafly, organized a "STOP ERA" campaign (Stop Taking Our Privileges), arguing that the Equal Rights Amendment would bring an end to the privileges women enjoyed on the basis of their gender, such as "dependent wife" benefits under Social Security and exemption from the draft. Schlafly appears to be instrumental in the ERA's narrow defeat since five states rescinded their ratification of the amendment after she became involved in the countermovement.
Many antifeminist practices emerged with the rise of the religious right. The backlash against Roe v. Wade, which granted women the right to have an abortion, drew some participants to the cause.

Anti-feminism today

Today, the feminist movement continues to face a backlash from opponents. Men's rights activists, who branched off from the men's liberation movement, have seen an upsurge as of late, touting messages against modern feminism and claiming that women's empowerment belittles men.
Online, grassroots anti-women's movements have also become gained traction. In the Women Against Feminism (#womenagainstfeminism) campaign, anti-feminist women post pictures of themselves holding cards stating why they disapprove of modern feminism. The hashtag #antifeminism frequently trends on Twitter, with many self-proclaimed antifeminists declaring that victims of rape "often cry wolf," and others calling themselves men's rights activists.

Anti-feminism in world leadership

Anti-feminist rhetoric and attitudes have made their way into mainstream politics around the world. President Trump, for example, has made numerous antifeminist statements reducing women to their appearances, joking about sexual assault, and outright rejecting the concept of feminism. 
The Washington Post compiled a portrait of other world leaders who have espoused antifeminist views. For instance, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey claimed that the correct position for women is motherhood, adding, "You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”
Meanwhile, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who has been criticized for numerous human rights abuses, has filled numerous federal positions with female anti-feminists to promote a patriarchal society and staunchly conservative agenda.

The anti-feminist movement

Of course, we live in a free society where individuals enjoy freedom of speech. However, antifeminism movements can lead to substantial negative consequences, since many proponents advocate (or at least turn a blind eye and see no problem with) issues like domestic violence, rape culture, and other gender-based violence against women. As the movement grows, it becomes imperative for women and men alike to continue the feminist movement and promote gender equality in all areas of life.