The Future Isn’t Female Anymore

When the country swung to the right in the 1980s, wrote Faludi, the media defaced the poster girls it had created. Astonishingly, even Ms. magazine backed away from the term “feminist.” Faludi quotes an article in Ms. by Shana Alexander: “As for the women’s movement, I often think we may have opened Pandora’s box. We wanted to be equal,” but forgot “that we are different from men; we are other.”

Recently I emailed Faludi to ask how this moment of backlash compares to the one she chronicled more than three decades ago. In part, she replied, there’s more raw misogyny now. You can see it in the number of accused — and, in the case of the Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, admitted — domestic abusers whom Republicans have nominated, and the wave of new abortion bans that lack exemptions for rape, incest and the health of the woman.

The “triumphal right,” said Faludi, “has taken the gloves off and is pursuing a scorched-earth campaign against women’s most fundamental rights. No more faux hand-wringing about saving women from spinsterhood or ‘post-abortion syndrome.’ This is just ‘Lock her up!’”

At the same time, Faludi, who is working on a new book about the headwinds feminism is facing, suggested that the movement itself has grown sectarian and insular. She described a “disputatious feminist factionalism, with so many feminists aiming their ire at other feminists over everything from neoliberal co-option to identitarian pecking orders.” These critiques aren’t necessarily wrong, she said, and “introspection behooves a movement,” but not at the price of “leaving its gains unachieved and undefended.”

Obviously, the second-wave feminism of the ’60s and ’70s could be pretty factional as well; there were vicious internal fights over issues like lesbianism and pornography, as well as over white feminists’ blind spots about race. As the activist Ti-Grace Atkinson put it: “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”

Social media, though, strengthens the forces of entropy. It magnifies anger, rewards trolls, and encourages conflicts to spiral. Second-wave feminism was, of necessity, based on face-to-face organizing. In her forthcoming book “Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure and an Unfinished Revolution,” Nona Willis Aronowitz writes that her mother, the great second-wave writer Ellen Willis, met with the same women’s group for 15 years. Such groups can keep people tied to a movement, and to one another, through disagreements and lulls in political action. Without them, activism becomes more evanescent; people gather during emergencies and then disperse.


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