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Antifeminism

Antifeminism, Patriarchy, Reproduction, And Sexuality

Feminists and antifeminists have staked claims to a range of positions on sexuality and reproduction. It is important to begin with the observation that control of female reproductive labor was the historic object of the establishment of patriarchal forms of male superiority around the globe. In the vast majority of societies, feminism has targeted some form of patriarchal relations, or their vestiges in industrial or industrializing societies. For this reason, control of female reproduction and sexuality have been major antifeminist themes and goals. Patriarchal practices as varied as patrilineal inheritance of property and female genital mutilation have been targeted by feminists and defended by antifeminists. Early feminist activists challenged direct legal manifestations of patriarchy by agitating for married women's property laws, maternal guardianship rights, and the liberalization of divorce statutes. Feminist success, real and perceived, led to a counter "men's rights" movement in the late twentieth century, largely concerned with the divorce-related issues of alimony, child support, and paternal custody rights.

Although not directly addressing reproductive issues, the struggle for political rights and educational and vocational opportunities sought to provide women with alternatives to patriarchal dependency. In each of these cases, antifeminists claimed that the resulting reforms would render women physically and temperamentally unfit for reproduction and motherhood. In the late nineteenth century, Margaret Sanger (1883–1966) and other birth-control advocates addressed reproduction directly in their promotion of contraception as a means to increase women's autonomy. The battles over access to contraception, like the continuing conflicts over abortion rights, divided women's rights advocates to some degree. At base, contraception and abortion are about control of reproduction, but a complex mélange of issues including religion, freedom of speech, medical authority, and female sexual pleasure have shaped the debates.

In these and other contexts, the antifeminist depictions of female sexuality have been multifaceted. Early feminists were often said to be unsexed. The exact meaning of this term varies greatly, but it was never used in a positive manner. The related concept of the "masculine woman" is clearer and equally negative in intent. The rhetoric associating feminists with lesbians—accurately and inaccurately—has been a mainstay of antifeminism. This trope has long coexisted with other conflicting stereotypes of feminists as antisex prudes and free-loving (heterosexual) libertines. Although all three have been present throughout the history of antifeminism, their relative popularity has gone through cycles. Perhaps due to the influence of Wollstonecraft, the depiction of feminism as a gateway to sexual license enjoyed an early popularity, but most feminists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries actively espoused respectability. This, in concert with their involvement in the temperance movement and campaigns for social purity, inspired caricatures of feminists as antisexual. The emergence of the "New Woman" and the flapper ideals in the early twentieth century brought back complaints about the loose (heterosexual and homosexual) morals of feminists. The visibility of lesbians in the women's liberation movements of the 1970s inspired new attacks on feminists as sexually deviant "man-haters." In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries all three antifeminist tactics have been common. Prominent women with progressive politics are regularly the subjects of whispering campaigns about their homosexuality. In works such as Katie Roiphe's best-selling The Morning After, feminism is blamed for creating a puritanical climate of sexual fear, yet it is commonplace for religious activists to condemn feminists for "undermining" the morals of society. Leading antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly has exploited all three: equating feminism with lesbianism, blaming feminists for creating an overly sexualized culture, and taking them to task for their work against rape and pornography. The inconsistency in the antifeminist stance on sexuality is both a reflection of the diversity of feminism and a product of political expediency.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acidAntifeminism - Defining Feminism And Antifeminism, Feminism, Antifeminism, And Difference, Nature, Science, Religion, And Antifeminism