Sorry Feminists—NOT!

A good internet meme may last but a day, but the concerns it addresses are often perennial. So it was with the Twitter hashtag #sorryfeminists, which was born, matured, and perished within the span of a workday, as chronicled at the Atlantic Wire. But while the meme got boring fast, the problem it addressed remains. Why do stereotypes of feminists as anti-fun, unsexy, and humorless persist? Generation after generation, going all the way back to the suffragists, feminists have tried to crush these tropes by proving their "pants on fire" status. Every time we believe we’ve suffocated the stereotype with miniskirted beauties with pro-choice signage and Emmy-laden feminist comedians, someone pulls the “feminists are so grim” card to score an easy point, and we’re reminded that we’ll never really be rid of this cheap but disturbingly effective attack.

The latest kerfuffle began when the editor of T Magazine, Deborah Needleman, lived up to her surname by tweeting, “The sexy (sorry, feminists), smart, sassy Katie Roiphe live on stage @nypl on Wednesday night.” No matter how you looked at it, the joke didn’t really make sense. If she was being directly insulting to feminists, it missed the mark, because Roiphe’s feminist critics don’t have an opinion on her sexiness one way or another. If she was ironically mocking the negative stereotype of feminists, the joke also falls flat, because it’s being applied to a woman who got famous for rejecting feminism. Either way, not a high crime; anyone who has watched Saturday Night Live after the “Weekend Update” segment knows that even professional funny people frequently miss the mark.

No matter the intent behind the joke, online feminists seized it as an opportunity to make fun of these baseless stereotypes with a bit of reductio ad absurdum-type humor by starting the #sorryfeminists hashtag on Twitter. Feminists faux-apologized for everything from thinking babies are cute to being happy with good hair days. The point, simply put, was to tell people promoting anti-feminist stereotypes, “This is how silly you sound.”

Not that any participants expect this action to work. Negative stereotypes of feminists have so far proven impervious to reason, humor, excessive amounts of counterevidence, and even paradox. It is not uncommon for anti-feminists to accuse feminists in one breath of being humorless prudes, and then turn around and denounce them for being frivolous sluts. Sometimes, you even get treated to being told feminists are man-hating lesbians who demand gallons of contraception to deal with their overexposure to penis.

Anti-feminists wield these stereotypes because they work, and not just on people who are already convinced they hate feminism. These images, for instance, have done a great deal to scare women away from labeling themselves as feminists, or to even organize for women’s rights, all because they fear being painted as harridans (or sluts, depending on what’s more useful in the moment).

And when you get to the heart of it, these anti-feminist tropes resonate because they draw on misogynist myths applied to women as a whole. Two of the ugliest feminist stereotype synecdoches are the "women just aren't funny" line, and the belief that women merely tolerate sex as a means to get the wedding rings and fancy strollers that they really want. These nasty views of women are amplified when applied to feminists. Where women are characterized as unfunny, feminists are characterized as overtly anti-humor. Where women are characterized as uninterested in sex, feminists are framed as actively hating it.

To add injury to insult, if a woman rejects the view of her gender as humorless and sexless, she often faces serious social consequences. Funny women are often viewed as ball-busting, bitchy, and unable to get romantic attention from men. (Indeed, Christopher Hitchens stated in his infamous essay denying that women are funny that the exceptions to the rule were invariably just such women.)  Needless to say, women who display enthusiasm for sex in and of itself, and not just as a means to get romance, get slurred with one of the nastiest words in the English language: slut. Unsurprisingly, feminists get a more intense form of abuse for these inverted stereotypes. Sandra Fluke learned this lesson the hard way when her mild and completely impersonal support for insurance coverage of birth control was used by anti-feminists as an excuse to paint her as the Whore of Babylon. 

If you’re starting to suspect that the system is built so that women lose no matter what they do, watch out. Thoughts like that may be rational responses to the world how it actually is, but they also lead one down the dark path towards admitting that you are, in fact, a feminist. Once you go there, it means a lifetime of having to explain, over and over again, that your fondness for humor doesn’t preclude wanting an end to misogyny and nor does your avid support for reproductive rights mean that you’ve started to believe that sex is gross and degrading.

Comments

Actually, people think of feminists as humorless because of articles like this. That and people they know who bore the crap out of them every time someone else tells a joke that even slightly reinforces gender stereotypes.

ACTUALLY the article was great. Women get damned no matter what we do. God forbid we like sex and the right to be pregnant when we want, and the right to choose partners as well as determine what we think is actually funny.

You DO have the right to decide what you think is funny... for YOU! For some reason many feminists think they get to decide what is funny for everyone.

And they are not very good at it.

Just couldn't wait to read through this horribly humorless boring article so you could get to the bottom and complain about feminists, huh?

You know, there are other articles on this web site that aren't funny either. You don't seem to be complaining about that in the comment sections of the other articles. I wonder why that is? It's almost like you were trying hard to find a reason to complain about something that you already hate, but don't even know why. It must suck to be that thoroughly programmed... at least Pavlov's dogs got treats out of it. In your case, you hear the word feminists and begin ravening.

Damned no matter what we do? Disagree. With Obamacare we have the right to prevent unwanted pregnancy, which is great, but what about the women who want to have kids? None of the feminists are speaking up about that right. For the first time in my life I have to buy private insurance and cannot get maternity coverage without handing over 50 percent of my monthly paycheck. Never mind that I have payed into the insurance system for thirty years with nothing more than checkups here and there. If feminists want to be viewed differently they should fight for every woman, not just their own agenda of carefree lifestyle. And don't get me wrong...I've been on birth control, but there is another side to the coin of women's right's.

> None of the feminists are speaking up about that right. For the first time in my life I have to buy private insurance and cannot get maternity coverage without handing over 50 percent of my monthly paycheck.

Um... you do realize that this will become illegal in 2014, under Obamacare, right? And that that was one of the big benefits touted by Obamacare supporters? (No discrimination on the basis gender, or risk.) And that feminists were indeed on the forefront of that battle?

No offense, but before getting really mad that you didn't get any benefits out of the health care laws, you should, you know, maybe look to see whether you got any benefits out of it?

A synecdoche is a rhetorical figure in which part of something is used figuratively to refer to the whole, as in "Washington" to refer to the U.S. government. How are women's not being funny and their tolerating sex synecdoches? Please explain or refrain from using pretentious language! Thanks. :)

There is a nugget of truth to each of the comments to this article. It’s a complex thing, feminism and its responses. Even the word, feminism, I don’t think means the same thing to everyone. Personally, I became disenchanted after realizing that feminism seems to consider a stay-at-home mother “unemployed”, boring, not meeting her potential, or anything but her choice of career.

Would those who think feminism is NOT humorless, please give an example?

As the handle suggests, I'm in my late 20s and live and grew up in the liberal bastion that is Washington DC (to provide some context). Forgetting for a moment the gender gap existent in the highest elected posts and on executive boards (however, I realize this is the point), the age I’ve grown up in has seen a rise in the marginalization of men- commercials on television consistently position my gender’s default setting to be that of a dolt. Men too, see Magic Mike, and all the shirtless beasts on MTV reality television, are objectified quite a lot. Furthermore, displays of masculinity are often seen as necessarily base and reprehensible. This really reflects a huge potential problem in our society, and I’m no sociologist, but it seems we’ve raised women only to lower men. Isn’t that missing the point? True equality means just that, we cannot lift one side only to lower the other, or at the very least, if we all can treat each other like crap, at least that would be being consistent. And, I think that’s the real issue here, feminism, in its many forms is often aggressively on the defensive as soon as a question is asked, be it an honest one, or an idiotic one. And with men too on the defensive as we are more-and-more looked at as necessarily primitive, conflict will continue to rise. I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country, or really what it’s like to grow up in a household other than the one I did- one with a strong women- so, my world may be a bit myopic as far as the true plight of women and equality. But, I’m worried, since now-a-days, when I try to meet women, I’m supposed to be masculine, but only up to a certain point, nothing more, as well as readily feminine, also only up to a certain point, also nothing more- or I’m deemed unacceptable. I’m exaggerating, but this is not far off from the confusion I’m beginning to read about. To round this out, if we’re all in this together, then let’s be in it together, and not at odds with one-another.

This is the usual wall of text that any article on feminism calls out of the woodwork. It's obvious from the most casual glance at our society that there isn't even the beginnings of equality between genders, and also that any attempt to work towards equality, as it always has been in the past, will be met with the cry that women are already equal, and that men are being made inferior, and blah blah blah. To be honest, this argument deserves no refutation; it's been refuted so many times, so thoroughly, that no one who truly wanted to engage in a real discussion could use it honestly, because thirty seconds with google would serve to demolish it. Instead, it is simply used as a rhetorical device, to sow confusion and create sympathy among those who, well, aren't willing to spend thirty seconds with google.

But I do want to point out one part of your post that I do think deserves note. You say you feel like you're supposed to 'act masculine' and 'act feminine', as if these were even meaningful concepts. Hint: they're not, and the fact that you feel that they are means that you're part of the problem.

But I understand the issue that you're talking about, and it's a real one: up until 40 years ago or so, there was an obvious code of behavior that men were supposed to follow at all times, and as long as they followed that code of behavior they could never be faulted for what they did. It served as a near-perfect substitute for thinking about other people and communicating with them. And now there's much less of that, and you have to try to figure out what your potential partner expects of you by actually talking with her, and by spending actual time and will trying to understand her. In short, it is no longer possible to court someone while not actually paying any real attention to her. There are certainly people who find this a severe blow, but I think you'll find it's not quite as bad as you think it is.

Fri, 2012-11-23 11:23 janetcamp opined "[F]eminism seems to consider a stay-at-home mother “unemployed”, boring, not meeting her potential, or anything but her choice of career." The poster also asked, "Would those who think feminism is NOT humorless, please give an example?"

My mother was a feminist and "stay-at-home mother" who deliberately chose the career she called "homemaker." She spent the better part of 30 years raising four children; loving her husband; caring for her brothers, parents, grandparents and other family members; fulfilling many responsibilities in our local community; and making the delicious meals for which she was rightfully renowned. She was proud of her profession and I never heard her criticized within our community--mostly feminist or sympathetic to feminism--for her choice.

My three sisters and I disagree in many of our social, political and economic views. But our mother's strong, consistent and loving example led us all to know that women and men--though delightfully different in many respects--are by right absolute equals in society, politics and the economy. That, of course, is the essence of feminism.

My mother also recognized that she was a creature of her upbringing--she was raised in a culturally conservative family and came of age in the early 1950's--and in that found plenty to laugh about. She was very flat-chested and I remember and still delight at her comment on bra burning: "I'd do it but who would notice?"

Like anybody, we feminists--I count myself at least a member of the men's auxiliary--are who we are and who we choose to be.

There are a few feminists who do criticize women for staying home with the kids. I do think it's somewhat warranted — there is almost never a discussion of which parent will take the child care duties, even in feminist households, which seems like sexism to me — but at the same time, the ones who are judgmental about it are a tiny minority. But there are enough of them to use to paint the entire feminist movement as 'bad people', if you have a big enough megaphone... and the entrenched power elite, by and large anti-feminist, certainly have that in spades.

Internet memes tend to be unfair. However, you really can't call it unfair that feminists get attacked from all angles. "Feminism" has been so eager to expand its base in the past 30 years that no complaint is too petty for inclusion. I offer just a few examples:

Guy goes out and gets job and the woman stays home = PATRIARCHY!
Guy has no job and woman makes the money = LAZY DEADBEAT!

Couple waits until marriage to have sex = Oh my God, how old fashioned!
Two people get drunk and have sex on first date = OMG DATE RAPE!!!!!

If feminism is dying it might be because it deserves to die. It's no longer an ideology, it's a justification for cranky women (and sometimes men) to take their frustration out on others. Feminism is no longer consistent about what it means anymore and too often feminists say things that are completely thoughtless. Sure, some unenlightened cretins have slandered feminists. But internal debates have fractured the movement as well.

I know this probably sounds terrible to a lot of people out there. But let's be constructive and honest. Women, as a group, still have a long way to go to achieve equality. There needs to be less biased academic jibberish and more evidence based political advocacy. In other words, it's time to grow up. How about equal pay? How about reigniting the ERA debate?

Give less crap and maybe you'll take less.

#sorryfeminists

Whoa, that is some straw man you made there. Or straw feminist, as it were.

You say feminism has been eager to expand its base. Well of course. Feminism is wanting equality for all men and women, not just some. Because it it not possible for some people to be equal and not others. Men and women should all have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities, and that can't be achieved unless what you call "the base" (as if it was some kind of political party or club) encompasses everybody. And if you don't want women to be equal to men, if you think I should have less opportunities than you, I will critizise you, of course.

I am amazed that you describe the complaint of date rape as something petty. But then of course, the definition of date rape that you offer is "couple having sex the first night". To say that feminists would consider that rape is ridiculous and I think you know that. If both parties are willing and eager, it's not rape whether it happens on the first date or the thirty-first.

Waiting until marriage is not really old fashioned, considering that in our grandparents generation 90% had had sex before marriage. Today, its 95%. So, pretty much the same numbers. People should have sex when they want to, and if they want to wait, fine. The problem feminists have with abstinence is most often with the ideology of virginity, that sex somehow makes women dirty, used or broken, or that a woman who wants sex is a whore. And that many women abstain because of these damaging myths, because they can't just embrace their sexuality for fear of being judged, and men are made to think they can somehow defile women with their penises.

Guy works and woman stays at home, yes that can be because of patriarchy. Guy stays home, woman makes the money, well, he's only a lazy deadbeat if that is what he is. You have a very uneducated and deliberately misinformed idea of what feminism is and it would do you some good to try and learn more.

> Guy goes out and gets job and the woman stays home = PATRIARCHY!
> Guy has no job and woman makes the money = LAZY DEADBEAT!

Even assuming you can find some feminist who would say these things (and I can find a man who would say all women are evil and deserve to die, I guess that means that you, as an anti-feminist, think that all women are evil and deserve to die?) I find it mind-boggling that you somehow think that these two things are self-contradictory. I mean... if I believed that men and women are meant to be partners, and share equally in the work, then wouldn't I think that having either partner stay home and do nothing (assuming you're talking about a couple with no kids, of course) would be a violation of that contract?

The other two, though, are even funnier:
> Couple waits until marriage to have sex = Oh my God, how old fashioned!
> Two people get drunk and have sex on first date = OMG DATE RAPE!!!!!

So, there are some sex-positive feminists who do think that waiting until marriage to have sex is old-fashioned. I guess that upsets you because... uh... you don't like people thinking that other people are old-fashioned? It must be terrible, being you and being upset all the time. You should have someone look at that ulcer.

And then there's the second one. So I guess the only alternative to waiting until marriage to have sex is getting drunk and having sex on the first date? And that somehow if you get black-out drunk and someone has sex with you that you wouldn't have wanted to have sex with you sober, that's just fine. (When really, morally, it's the same thing as, say, finding a woman who fainted in an alley and, instead of taking her to the hospital, having sex with her first.)

The fact that you think that this kind of insane ramblings is some kind of actual argument against feminism makes you a bad person, and you should feel bad for even thinking it, let alone spewing it on a wall here.

If feminism were merely about ending all legal and social privileges and bringing about social equality, it would be quite a bit more popular than it is now. I couldn't come up with fake strawman arguments more ridiculous than the theories drawn up by feminists commentators today. If you think there aren't feminists that do not agree that "date rape" includes situations in which people are BOTH drunk and have sex then it is you who has to brush up on research. Not only do feminists believe this, but it also is part of the law in many states. I believe it was Andrea Dworkin who called all heterosexual sex rape (which has served well as an Internet meme as well). It seems there was a time when time when the more absurd and shocking the claim, the more likely the claimant would be recognized as a leader. Nowadays, maybe this is waning, partly thanks to power of social media to call attention to such jackassery.

If feminism simply advocated for equal rights for all, well, it doesn't make the movement particularly unique. Lack of a unique cause is a serious problem for social movements. Once a point comes when no issue appears to be pressing enough for the movement to address, and the target group no longer seemed united about the problem, it is a good sign that the movement has reached diminishing returns. Feminism has nowhere to go.

I must disagree with you. I don't assume that all men who use stupid, misinformed ideas to promote their cause represent all men. Please don't do the same in regards to feminism, it's a trap. Feminism is easily derided because of overly simplistic ideas that feminists just want to be men. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that despite well-intended efforts, women are not treated with parity everywhere. This is a cultural phenomenon, not one promoted by feminists. Women and men do this, it is not as simple as an idea that men are persecuting women. Our culture places men's opinions and points of view above women's because of the traditional expectations of male dominance. It is THIS idea which is in constant need of vigilance on the part of every person in society who believes in parity for both sexes. Feminism has not reached diminishing returns, quite the contrary. The problem is that in the last few decades we have had such a cultural schism in this country over conservative versus progressive values, that the ideas of feminism have gotten blurred with political performance. My favorite example is Sarah Palin. If it weren't for feminism, she could never have run for public office, and yet, she is the one of the most vitriolic public women against the "idea" of feminism. I believe that the backlash against feminism is really about the idea that women don't have to, or shouldn't have to participate in other people's (other women included) idea that women "should" be: docile, sexually attractive, fertile, compliant, deferential, and attentive. Women have inherent value as people, not only as the fulfillment of someone's ideal. Feminism is about promoting THAT idea- anything else is marketing.

A lot of feminists think commenting on sexiness of a female in insulting. I guess that went right over your head.

The problem with Feminism is that it isn't really about supporting and defending strong, accomplished, intelligent women. It's about politics. You better be on the right team or you're toast. The pic of Tina Fey is absolutely too good to be true as an example of someone who trashes her "sisters" on the wrong side of the political tracks.

Minor edit: "You better be on the LEFT team or your toast." Other than that, I agree!

correction: "you're"

correction: "you're"

Heh. I see. So feminism is all about supporting all women, even those who are explicitly anti-feminist and supportive of the most destructive strains of rabid conservatism. All right-thinking feminists must support people like Sarah Palin, who explicitly believes that most of the tenants of feminism are wrong and would do her best to tear down many of the gains made in the last 50 years of feminism if she were brought to any real position of power.

Feminism is about empowering those who will empower women, and fighting those who would disempower women. If you think of it as a support group for women, then you diminish it to automatic irrelevance and ridiculous inconsistency.

Reminds me of an old joke--
Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: That's NOT funny.
Quit taking yourself so seriously, Amanda. Nobody else does.

I taught a women's studies course as a volunteer when I worked as an administrator in a large university. My definition of feminism to my students was simple, and achieved by asking a few questions:

1. Do you believe that women should be allowed to have equal rights to voting and public representation?
2. Do you think that women should be included in decisions that affect their lives and those of their family members?
3. Do you think that women should have something to say about what happens to their bodies?
4. Do you believe that women are capable of equal work?
5. Do you believe that a woman should earn the same amount of money for doing an equal job to a man?
6. Do you believe that women should be governed in the same manner as men?
7. Do you believe that women should have the right to be educated?
8. Do you believe women should have the right to own property?
9. Do you think sexual assault is a crime?
10. Do you think any violence against women should be criminal?

If you said yes to any of these, then you have feminist beliefs. Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, and that we are entitled to the same protections of personhood traditionally associated with men... and these days... corporations.

This should speak for what feminist ideals are:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/04/malala-yousafzai-god-second-life

Because of articles like this. This is obviously a gag, a joke not to be take seriously. But it is sliced and analyzed in hundreds of feminist blogs, articles and white papers. That is taking something too seriously. Because feminism is not about equality. If a comic makes a joke, just a joke about genital mutilation of women (I agree poor taste but bear with me) he/she will be damn to the most low of society by any dutiful feminist with a soap box to preach from. And maybe that is best. But... When a woman cuts a mans penis off not as a joke but in real life because he wanted a divorce, how many feminist said a peep? How many damned her for actually mutilating this mans genitals for being honest? Not one! Instead, jokes were made. The show the View with several prominent feminists joked about it on TV. "That will teach him".

Do they speak for all feminists? No they do not. But how many denounced their show that day? Not one.

Feminists want equal pay, But men largely lead in work place deaths. That is a statistic feminists never tell you. Why is that? Because men are still taking the dangerous jobs by far. How many women want to work on a oil rig in the middle of the ocean or in a coal mine? Should a secretary(The number 1 job chosen by women at this time) make as much as a coal miner who risks his life daily? Or a cop? A fireman?

I am all for equality. But most of the Feminists I read and see are not honest about at least half of what they say. Then if you make a comment is "Well have you been raped?" or "You are a man you do not understand" or "You dirty republican (of which I am not lol)". The feminists have attached their movement to a political party. So off the bat they opposed 50% of the nation. This is more apparent around elections. Sarah Palin (not who I would vote for) was more successful then most women will ever be, yet she is hated by feminists. Not disagreed with, hated! They attacks on her were vicious. I do not care for Palin, but I watched wondering why this was. Because feminism is not about equality and choice. Its about politics, money, power and control.

Young men learn quick feminists find any joke about women offensive, but laugh at jokes making men look ignorant. They learn they are often angry saying things like "deny your husband sex because it gives a man pleasure", or "all sex is rape in this male dominated society". I know NAFALT (Not all feminists are like that). But unlike other movements that all have a fringe movement with in, These public speakers are never denounced. Quite often they are granted talking spots at conferences, Study halls, book deals.

One only has to look at a few events where a woman wrongs a man and hear the dead silence from the feminists, then look at how serious a joke is taken to get the picture. You can't hide behind NAFALT and never denounce the fringe and still want to be taken seriously.

I want equality for women. I do. I have 2 daughters that mean the world to me. I want them to have every opportunity available to them. My oldest is sharp as a razors edge, I want her to be able to make good use of this gift at a fair pay when the time comes. She is 11 and on her own studying chemistry, biology, modern technology. I believe in true equity. That is not what the feminist movement wants as a whole.

The feminist movement wants everyone to agree with every point they have even when they conflict. They will not let you agree on this but not that, because the moment you disagree for are branded a sexist, woman hater, rapist, etc etc etc.

Why are they not sexy or funny? Because talking to a feminist is at many times like walking a tight rope. You never know what might set them off. What their mood is. Many choose to avoid it all together.

1. Twitter will bring you back here if you think to tweet article/sorry-feminists%E2%80%94not ... but misses if you tweet the more available article/sorry-feminists—not ... 2. I'd guess not only Twitter is broken like that ... 3. I'd guess significantly too few of us learned the spelling that works quickly enuf to give this thoughtful essay the exposure it observes ... 4. I wish there were some plainly effective way to get actionable word of these broken link bugs confusing %E2%80%9 and %97 and %2D%2D into the responsible tech folk at Prospect.org and at Twitter.com ... 5. I wonder if editors might choose best to accept all that web tech as oh too broken this year and hold back on the creative punctuation that de facto for now cuts us apart.

Younger women, in particular women of color, choose to distance themselves from the word and the identification, because it is exclusionary. The first wave feminism that you are so nostalgic for is also the most white and privileged brand. This brand of feminism does not embrace the experiences of women of color. Rather, it calls for women of color to join their fight for equality -- the privileged white woman fight for equality. That would be all well and good if they were fighting the same fight, but they are not. And, until feminists acknowledge that there are other women fighting the fight for equality on multiple fronts (read: gender, race and poverty), then you will continue to see young women, like myself, distance themselves from the name.

The mistake that is being made here is this idea that feminism is some kind of monolithic movement AND IT IS NOT. Feminists don't all agree on the same thing nor should they have to waste time disavowing stuff from the fringe. Do you see the NAACP or the Anti-Defamation League doing it? Just as civil rights groups are not one giant monolithic movement where everyone agrees, so to with feminism. The problem is, when you disavow feminism because of the lunatic fringe (who really do NOT have the power to drive the agenda, but make very effective straw men), you also disempower the ability of feminists to make sure that your daughters can get paid fairly for jobs that challenge them, rather than be relegated to secretarial work. You also disempower feminists of color from bringing race, class and sexuality issues to the table, as they need to be.
(And BTW, the reason why most women opt for secretarial work is not that we WANT secretarial careers but that other options are still closed to us and discrimination is still rife in the job market. Furthermore, equal pay is still aways off. I had the distinct pleasure of earning $2 an hour LESS than the men I was supervising and I was doing twice as much as they were because I still had to do the same job as they were, in addition to supervising. When I brought up this unfairness to management, I was out of a job in less than a month. This story is beyond typical. It's par for the course.)

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