Feminism is a diverse movement. That is a strength. Whilst it is barely tangible what the word even means, feminists have a shield against criticism of their movement: “That’s not real feminism!!” Herein I hope to distil feminism into a coherent series of values shared across various times and perspectives.
Proto-feminism arose in the late Middle Ages. Queen consort of France and England, Eleanor of Acquitaine spearheaded a movement within her court to subvert the chivalric code (which had traditionally governed relations between knights and lords) to regulate the behaviour of men towards women. These women initiated a system of romantic feudalism wherein noble men were under irresistible pressure to identify a lady as midons (my lord) and to submit to her will and delicately accept any scorn that her midons saw fit to extend to him. Eleanor established "Courts of Love" in which she and her noble women would administer “justice” in romantic disputes. Not only may many men in particular recognise this state of gender relations, but the modus operandi that Eleanor and company used to achieve their supremacy is entirely familiar: generalizations about all men based on the poor behaviour of a minority, asserting that women need protection from men’s violations, and a narrative of women’s moral superiority justifying their dictatorship. Within 200 years, Eleanors’ ideas had spread and saturated throughout Europe and throughout the class system.
Féminisme was born in the revolutionary France of the late nineteenth century. In the pioneering Declaration of Sentiments from Seneca Falls in 1848 (generally taken as the seminal text of the First Wave of feminism) the claim was made that the "history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” Granted, the text highlights a series of injustices that women were subject to, however, such a claim remains myopic and misleading. Under coverture legislation for example, while husbands did become the legal owner of all family assets, in reality, this came with responsibilities and wives were not left entirely devoid of rights – their rights were simply different. Husbands could be criminalised for failure to keep their families as well as he could reasonably be expected, a wife's permission was required to sell any real estate owned by the family – and actually, if a member of a man’s household ran up debts, he was legally responsible for their repayment.
Yes, women deserved to be granted various rights – but men did not deserve the derision they received from First Wave feminists (including Christabel Pankhurst who notably explained in her 1913 book The Great Scourge, that men were “little more than carriers of venereal disease”). Furthermore, in his 1913 volume The Fraud of Feminism, Ernest Belfort Bax identified “two distinct sides” to feminism: an “articulate political and economic side embracing demands for so-called rights”, legitimately – and “a sentimental side which insists on an accentuation of privileges and immunities”. There is no mention in The Declaration of Sentiments (or any First Wave texts) of injustices faced by men.
Second Wave Feminism saw campaigns for equal pay and access to abortions as well as a concerted struggle, on the part of Radical Feminists, against pornography and sex work, and outpourings of misandry of a hitherto unprecedented magnitude. A host of extreme misandrists poured forth bile during this period, thinkers like:
Andrea Dworkin (“Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman.”)
Valerie Solanas (“maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples”)
Catherine Mackinnon (“Male sexuality is apparently activated by violence against women and expresses itself in violence against women to a significant extent.”)
Germaine Greer (“Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.”)
However, I think it’s well worth looking at the more benign representatives of the movement and unpacking what they had to say. In 1970, Irina Dunn coined the phrase:
"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, Referring to whom, I ask? To the countless generations of men who had endured the dirtiest, most dangerous and thankless labour to support their families? To their relatively recent male ancestors who fought for women’s suffrage (such as Jeremy Bentham and Henry Fawcett) and the elected representatives who would ensure such legislation passed (such as John Stuart Mill, whose male constituents elected him on a platform including female suffrage)? To their fathers who may well have participated in World War II to protect their societies and families? To their brothers? Lovers?
I believe Gloria Steinem had many of those – and was supported morally and financially by a number of them too. It may sound cute and catchy but it’s both abject (narcissistic) nonsense and reprehensibly offensive.
The Third Wave of feminism emerged in the 1990s. It is characterised by intersectionality. Rebecca Walker, one of the founders, explained that “Feminism, in order to stay relevant, had to become about more than gender equality.” In an effort to be more inclusive, Third Wavers have embraced the grievances of – well, anyone who will identify straight white men as the problem. Suzanna Danuta Walters asked “Why Can’t We Hate Men?... We have every right to hate you.”, a segment on ABC’S ‘Tonightly with Tom Ballard’ programme featured women sarcastically “thanking” men – in general – for drugging and raping women, Laurie Penny announced (in response to the "Capital Gazette Massacre") that “We must not allow our society to be held hostage to white male fragility any longer” and Barack Obama complained that “Men have been getting on my nerves lately... I just think brothers, what’s wrong with you guys? What’s wrong with us? I mean we’re violent, we’re bullying...”. Third Wave feminists like to cover their misandry with platitudes about wanting to liberate men from the toxic expectations society places on them. They live in this alternate reality wherein uninhibited male aggression and violence are pardoned by the mantra “boys will be boys” and wherein “violence as a means of defending [pride] is glamorized.”
Third Wave feminists are obsessed with focussing on the apex of male achievement to prove that men enjoy greater success than women (whilst ignoring the biological reasons that catapult a minority of men to the stratosphere) and by focussing on the acts of the most disreputable men to generalise their patterns of behaviour as emblematic of masculinity (whilst ignoring the fact that the very demographics that preoccupy them show that what is emblematic of masculinity is actually variability). Third Wave feminists are unconcerned with truth, their goal is power. The power to penalise the most successful men in order to privilege women (quotas and other forms of discrimination) and the power to demonise men collectively in order to defend and extend the ability of women to destroy men (professionally, personally, legally, totally).
There is no papal authority within feminism to define what feminism is. There are no undisputed values. Each wave of feminism has sought to differentiate itself from that prior, whilst holding onto some key elements: the rotten core. First Wave Feminism held onto the proto-feminist conviction that women are morally superior to men – but added in calls for identical rights. Second Wave Feminism critiqued the first wave call for equal rights with men, valuing a difference-centred approach that damned “male-dominated activities” as a threat to “the survival of the planet and the human race” and called for a revaluation of traditionally feminine values. Third Wavers criticised the Second Waves’ myopic concentration on sex and embraced an entire worldview (encompassing race, LGBTQ and immigrant rights, etc ad infinitum) “committed to completely deconstructing the ruling elite – the structure of our very culture – hyper-capitalism.” And now a new wave appears to be quickening, with a schism between older Third Wavers and a new generation. Rene Denfield writes that current feminists “promote a new status for women: that of the victim” while Naomi Wolf laments that "a substantial segment of modern feminism is devoted to victimhood".
Feminism is a slippery fish intellectually, it is possible to argue that it is many things – some more palatable than others. However, we can only hope to judge feminism based on its real-world applications. Feminism is a hate movement, feminism is a female supremacy movement, and with Third Wave Feminism it is, more than ever, a fraud – because the Thirs Wave's sole purpose, despite their protestations otherwise, is to oppose the equal rights, opportunities, treatment, and choices for men and women that they purport to want. All waves of feminism share: misandry, a twisted form of misogyny that displays itself in low expectations of women (who couldn’t possibly cope with equal treatment to men, according to feminists) and vitriolic hostility to out-group women – and the seeking of power without responsibilities or delineated end-point.
Feminists oppose equal rights for fathers.
Feminists oppose due process for men accused of sexual offences.
Feminists minimise male victims of female inter-personal violence, laugh at or even terrorise male victims of interpersonal violence at worst.
Feminists toxify gender relations.
Feminists limit women’s choices (by convincing them they ‘can’t’with tales of mythical ‘glass ceilings’ or by literally campaigning against their occupations).
To echo the sentiment of Eric Anderson: We do need a fourth wave of feminism...a wave goodbye.