By Nicole Goulet
The term ‘feminazi’ reared its ugly head on my Facebook feed this week. It showed up innocently, not as an accusation (although it is always an accusation), but as part of a casual conversation about what feminism was. In this case, it was someone mentioning their distaste for the archetypical feminazi, the imaginary feminist who is outraged by imaginary men opening imaginary doors for her.
The term ‘feminazi’ emerged in the 1990’s, as popularized (and possibly created) by political commentator Rush Limbaugh, to refer to a particular type of “extreme” feminist (namely, pro-choice activists). “Feminazi” has since been used in a variety of ways to give negative value to certain groups of women. Some examples include: high profile activists like Gloria Steinem; unknown feminists dissatisfied with and critical of the current status of women; and those women who do not conform to the culturally dominant beauty standards (e.g. shaving). In defining the term ‘feminazi,’ it is safe to say that it is used quite liberally depending on the situation.
This outraged feminazi, as a stereotypical representation, suggests that feminism is not bad per se, but that there are “good” feminists and “bad” feminists. In the conversation in question the “bad” feminists were a group of young women from Sydney Girls High School in Sydney, Australia, who on March 13th, 2017, produced a scathing response to a well-intentioned video about feminism created by their Sydney Boys High School counterparts
The original video was released on March 8th, 2017, entitled, Schoolboys on Feminism. The Sydney Boys High School students are shown looking directly into the camera, one by one, and parroting statements they heard when they interviewed women in their lives. The young men look somber in their school uniforms. This is no doubt meant to heighten the gravity of their findings. Their quotes include: “Feminism is important to me because my dad told me I should be ashamed of my body…” and “Feminism is important to me because when I give directions at work, I’m called a bitch…” and “Feminism is important to me because my dad doesn’t think I can be an engineer….”
The popularity of this two minute video was helped by George Takei, who posted the video to his Facebook feed on the same day, citing, “You don’t have to be female to give your voice to feminism” On Takei’s Facebook page, which touts over 9.3 million followers, the video was a great success, viewed over 15 million times, and shared by almost 115, 000 people.
But the Sydney Girls were not so quick to praise the Boys for this production. Instead, they argued that the video was yet another example of males speaking on behalf of females. That is, the idea that feminism was viewed as legitimate when supported and propagated by men potentially undermined the nature of women’s own experiences at the heart of feminism itself. Furthermore, the Girls’ real life experiences and treatments by the Boys called into question the sincerity of their performance in the first place. The Girls cited experiences of aggression by these Boys, particularly when they attempted to create an initiative to draw attention to the gender pay gap, which the Boys denied by way of a hostile counter-campaign. It is no real surprise then, that the term, ‘feminazi’ emerged in this context as part of my Facebook feed — the Sydney Girls became typical of ‘feminazis’ because they were women who did not want men to open the door for them.
So from the point of view of those who mobilize the term, such as the individual who commented on my Facebook feed, good liberal feminism rewards young men for their candor, while bad totalitarian feminism is dissatisfied and critical of good faith efforts (however relevant and useful such a critique might be) to the point that it hinders positive change.
What is most curious about the way the term ‘feminazi’ organizes feminism into good and bad modes is that it is generally perpetrated by people who are at best unsympathetic to feminism. So, for example, when the Sydney Boys video was posted to my Facebook timeline the individual who tagged me wrote, “I may not identify as feminist, but feminism is important to me.” By declaring that some elements of feminism have proven worthwhile but simultaneously declaring the radical fringes of the movement are irrational and anti-democratic an individual can absolve themselves of any responsibility for ongoing, difficult, and unsettling activism. Such individuals can gain from the benefits radicalism has helped them accrue without exposing themselves to the dangers of accidentally falling into the realm of “bad” feminism, without risking being identified as ungrateful for all the reforms and changes liberal society has already granted women, without risking being offensive to good faith male allies. The term ‘feminazi’ then, obscures an essentially sexist attitude behind a false dichotomy of good and bad feminism, in much the same way that arguments about good others and bad others are frequently used to hide unpalatably racist attitudes, such as the recent strengthening of immigration policies in part to remove “bad hombres.”
Nicole Goulet is an Assistant Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on constructions of religion in relation to race, class, and gender.
photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Feminazi_1.jpg