Misogyny or Misinterpretation?
As a women’s university student, we are exposed to many feminist ideas. SMU offering an entire category of classes related to feminism is one example. Have you ever thought, though, that as a women’s university student, you are becoming excessively feminist? When one is more aware of the feminists’ point of view, the study’s influence causes the person to become much more sensitive towards sexual discrimination. Even the most subtle indication that a woman is in an unfavorable situation can be wildly interpreted as sexism today, and this is precisely the reason why people are now slowly starting to turn their backs on feminism. There are some criticisms nowadays that feminists have already achieved a certain level of equality, yet are now going beyond that level to the point of inequality. In other words, what used to be understandable fair reasoning in the past now feels excessive and overpowering. An anti-feminist wave may be on its way.
Before delving further into this phenomenon, we must first define the correct and accurate meaning of “anti-feminism.” Anti-feminism looks and feels like an ancient concept that has been locked up in the shelves of history since women gained the right to vote in the early 1900s. Who would dare claim to be an anti-feminist today, in an era of gender equality? It is such an old-fashioned idea that not many use this word. Needless to say, not many know its exact meaning, either. Let’s first listen to two university students of their opinions on what anti-feminism implies.
Interestingly, after a thorough interview with around 20 more university students, it was clear that the definitions of the men and women differed as above. Men thought of anti-feminism as a negative aggressive type of activism while the women perceived anti-feminism as a neutral balance of right and wrong. Both sides contain a bit of truth, and a bit of a misinterpretation. A dictionary’s definition of anti-feminism is “the ideology that opposes women or feminism.”1 Michael Kimmel, a men’s studies scholar, states that anti-feminism is “the opposition to women’s equality, to oppose the women’s entry into the public sphere...”2 Thus, theoretically, the estimations of the male students were more correct than the female students. Anti-feminism is indeed a branch of conservative misogyny where anti-feminists dissent women participating in political activities and working for high paying jobs. However, this traditional interpretation of anti-feminism overlooks the recent changes of how it functions in today’s society. Although the female university students were not able to guess the theoretical approach of anti-feminism correctly, they were able to pinpoint the current direction and tendency of anti-feminism. It is true that the anti-feminism of the past and the radical active antifeminists today argue their beliefs based on simple misogyny which is the hatred of women and the expansion of their rights. However, anti-feminism that is existent in the society in general is different in character, and we go back to our first contention that the new kind of anti-feminism is a reasonable act against the overpowering feminism to achieve sexual equality. The female students were right in pointing out that anti-feminism takes on a new role in our contemporary society. Nevertheless, both male and female students were wrong in thinking that only men would think to be an anti-feminist.
To Kill a Mockingbird Singing, More Emancipation!
Eva Herman is one of the most respected icons in Germany. Her bright yet sharp insight as a broadcaster is what helped her to be chosen as the “Most Loved News Anchor” in Germany.3 However, despite being the representation of a successful career woman who has worked hard all her life to overcome the barriers that are held against women, Herman is famously known herself as an antifeminist. In her controversial essay, Emancipation- a Mistake?, Herman states that women today have fallen into a spell of narcissism and vanity that makes them arrogantly overestimate their female selves. Consequently, she attributes this belief to many social problems, including low birth rates, and ultimately believes that the emancipation of women was a mistake in history.6 Hermanis clearly an example of the new type of anti-feminism, because of the fact that she is criticizing more of the surplus of feminism rather than feminism itself. This point can be more precisely understood through a comparison of anti-feminism in the past. There was no concept of anti-feminism amongst the people who lived in the past, because it was an omnipresent thought and the main mindset at the time. Only now in the present, we are able to look back into history and recognize those theories and statements as anti-feminist ones. The early forms of antifeminism date back to ancient Rome and Greece as the basis of their patriarchal and male-dominated societies. Freud is another example of the anti-feminist mind in the past. His Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where he stated that woman is a being that ‘lacks’ the sexual organs of a man and thus needs to redeem her insufficiency, has received uncountable criticism for being sexually discriminating to the farthest extent. These forms of anti-feminism in the past all share the common belief that women should not be granted any privileges or opportunities and are naturally lacking in all areas just because they were born as women.
While anti-feminism in the past attempted to prevent the growth of women’s rights for the sake of saving the rights of the men, the anti-feminism that may be arising today can be seen as an attempt to prevent feminism altering into female chauvinism, the belief that women are superior to men.9 Writer and antiviolence activist Erin Pizzey states in one of his essays, “As far as I could see, the new feminists made no effort to share an equal relationship with their male partners. They saw themselves as ‘superior beings’.”
The Overpowering Force of Girls
In 2003, a 12 year old Muslim girl was expelled from a school in France because she refused to take off her chador (a cloth that Muslim women use to cover their whole body, except their face).11 This mainly became an issue because of the conflict between Islamic and French ideologies. However, after the law that forbids wearing chadors in school had been passed, it has been revealed that the illegalization was partially carried forward by the feminists.12 The feminists supported this law, because they perceived the chador as an obstacle against the freedom of women (regardless of their religious traditions). This is a clear example of how feminism is going out of its original boundaries from seeking sexual equality, to extending to the violation of one’s religious or cultural freedom. What other aspects of feminism can there be that stir alive a person’s anti-feminist reactions?
There was much debate about the practice of the ‘women safety cars’ on subway line 2 in 2011. As a solution to the increasing number of sexual harassments that took place in the subways, the government decided to have a test run of a women-only compartment in each subway.13 This highly inefficient and once already failed project caused great protests amongst men, not only because of its likely prospect of being unsuccessful, but also because it implied that all men have the potential to become sexual criminals. A staff member of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, Choi Jina, believed that this ‘women safety car’plan, which was meant to protect the women, “will only cause a reverse discrimination against men and an unnecessary gender match sentiment.”
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), isalthough not a direct criticism against the over doing of feminism, is yet a definite source of anti-feminism. MOGEF has already been receiving critical attention due to its prior actions such as the controversial ‘Selective Shut Down System,’ and the ‘Law of Sexual Protection for Adolescence.’ There have even been wild rumors that the MOGEF has attempted to ban a certain brand of snacks and computer games because it resembled a woman’s sexual organ.15 All of these events may have created a slight skepticism towards the organization, but not as much as when the MOGEF stood against the Extra Points System for men who served in the military. Their official statement about the system was not so excessively feminist, saying that “the system can make harsh working conditions for females, where the number of temporary positions and the average wages of women are respectively increasing and decreasing, more discriminating.”However, in a broadcast debate, the representatives of MOGEF stated extremely biased opinions about how the army is “fun” for some soldiers, and that the military service is not a sacrifice but a devotion that does not need to be compensated.17 Such extreme feminist actions have caused great complaints throughout the nation. The Male Alliance has continuously insisted on taking out the ‘Family’ part of the name of MOGEF, which leaves only the word Yeosung (women) in the Korean name of the organization.18 Their belief is that in the name of “Family,” the MOGEF takes numerous actions to downplay the rights of men. As we can see through these two cases, a feminist move has the power to aggravate a more severe anti-feminist opinion amongst the general society.
Hovering around the Center
While the anti-feminism of the past was a mere movement to discriminate and deny the rights of women, the anti-feminism today is different in the sense that it has appeared for the purpose of recovering the balance between feminism and anti-feminism. In defense of the anti-feminists, they are simply worried that the current feminism may evolve into a gigantic monster called female chauvinism. Therefore, the stance that the contemporary antifeminists hold is a wish for a pure sexual equality which takes a reasonable and justifiable approach. Or is it?
How can one be so sure that feminism has developed into the size that is justifiable to attack? Surely we can witness a few female chauvinistic movements today, yet can it prove that female chauvinism has fully come to existence? The light on feminism has only started to be shed just about a hundred years ago. Could it not be that the anti-feminists are taking off a little too early? We end up at a very basic roundabout, with the question, “How can we know when a society has reached sexual equality?” When a woman becomes chief of an enterprise, people have a positive emotion about her and want to praise her hard work. Some people also have a positive open reaction when a man decides to stay at home and take care of his kids. The sentiment one feels in the first situation can definitely be explained through sexual equality, but the second situation could be attributed to the change in the cultural aspects regardless of the social and political atmosphere. There are so many factors that define and shape the current status of sexual equality. All we can say is that, equality is an ideal place, and between the two forces of feminism and anti-feminism, the society continues to try to reach the center.