Who's Afraid Of Feminism

2 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.
Vintage illustration buiness men as trophys Hunting Down a Misogynist

Clutching their dusty, out of print copy of “The Misogynist Field Guide to North American Feminists,” many took to twitter at the urging of a conservative radio host, using the hashtag #HowToSpotAFeminist in pursuit of this latest sport.

After conservative radio personality Doc Thompson sent out a message tweeting “Any tips on #HowToSpotAFeminist, twitter exploded with sexist tweets , the hashtag sparking an angry debate about feminism.

Predictably mocking feminists as whiny, unattractive and unable to attract a man, these hackneyed tropes seem straight out of an episode of Mad Men where jokes were cracked about meetings “being bitch sessions, strictly consciousness lowering” a clear jab at  the newly formed women's lib.

1970 Womens Lib illustration "Lib Poster" Illustration from Newsweek Magazine 3/23/70 Women in Revolt

Now 45 years after the women’s liberation movement stormed onto the scene opening a floodgate of discourse about women’s rights, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Ironically because feminist ideas are so taken for granted, few women think of themselves as feminists. Just as the right has demonized liberalism, so the backlash has convinced the public that feminists are the true American scourge.

The modern aversion to the word feminism and the archaic  clichés of feminists as male bashing, make-up-less, angry and non domestic are the very same stereotypes perpetuated by the media during  the burgeoning women's liberation movement of the 1970's.

With more dissatisfaction among women regarding huge gender disparities in pay and advancement, along with sexual harassment at work,  women  began to revolt.

Women in Revolt
1970 Women Lib Newsweek Cover Women in Revoly Newsweek Cover March 23, 1970 "Women in Revolt" Cover Photo by Richard Ley

In 1970 as the national women's movement gathered steam, Newsweek magazine's all male management decided to put feminism on their cover, featuring a lengthy article entitled  Women's Lib: The War on “Sexism.”

A new specter is haunting America," it announced ominously - the specter of militant feminism. Convinced they have little to lose but their domestic chains, growing number of women are challenging the basic assumptions of what they consider a male-dominated society.

1970 Womens Lib Newsweek 1970 Women's liberation, members demand full rights for the once frail sex: A new American dream for the 70's. Newsweek Magazine 3/23/70 Photo by Howard Harrison-Nancy Palmer

Right off the bat, the magazine offers an explanation why a woman was writing this feature, a job usually best left to a man.

In an age of social protest the old cause of U.S. feminism has flared into new and angry life in the women's liberation movement. It is a phenomenon difficult to cover; most of the feminists wont even talk to male journalists who are hard put in turn to tell the story with the kind of insight a woman can bring to it. For this weeks coverage Newsweek sought out Helen Dudar, a topflight journalist who is also a woman.

1970 Feminist stereotypes 1970 negative stereotypes of feminists as karate chopping, bra burning, male hating women in desperate need of shaving their legs still persist.

Forever solidifying the stereotype of the feminist as unattractive, combative and a women in need of Nair, the article offered the reader its' own guide to spotting and identifying a feminist .

Plunging into the movement can mean a new lifestyle,” the article explains. “Some women give up make up; a lot of them fret over whether to give up depilation in favor of furry legs; A few of them are bouncy looking lot, having given up diets and foundation garments.

Femininity vs Feminism

1970s Feminism text

The image of the  unattractive feminist stuck.

By mocking and dismissing the way feminist activists looked and behaved, they reinforced the same notions that sometimes sexual objectification and subordination were just fine.

1970 Germaine Greer feminist attractive Though eager to shed many of the holdover trappings of the 1960 femininity, the backlash against feminism was filled with cautionary tales about what happens to women who are too outspoken and too much freedom. (L) Germaine Greer, an attractive Australian journalist and theorist was a major feminist voice in the 20th century who was palpable to men (R) The liberated lady could still swing to a new beat in a bra and girdle in this 1970 Maidenform Ad

Unless you were a saucy feminist like Germaine Greer, the media noted, a libber that even men liked with her easy charm that distinguished her from her militant sisters, you could count of being pretty lonely.

You've Come a Long Way Baby
Vintage Virginia Slims Cigarettes Ad 1971 Vintage Virginia Slims Cigarettes Ad 1971 Women could celebrate their own slim cigarette

 "And virtually all of them in the movement light their own cigarettes and open their own doors,” the article continues.

“Chivalry” is a cheap price to pay for power, one lib leader commented. In any event the small masculine niceties now appear to liberationists as extensions of a stifling tradition that overprotects women and keeps her in her place.

Male Chauvinist Pigs
vintage illustration woman secretary being gazed at by her boss The male gaze

A favorite negative stereotype was the hostile, humorless, man-bashing, sexually uptight, karate-chopping libber who saw male chauvinism at every turn.

Newsweek explained:

Among the man things that incite movement women to fury are the liberties men take in addressing them on the street-whistles “Hey Honey” greetings, obscene entreaties.

Casual annoyances to the unenlightened, this masculine custom becomes, in the heightened atmosphere of women's liberation, an enraging symbol of male supremacy reflecting mans expectation of female passivity and more important, his knowledge of her vulnerability.

1970 Womens Lib Karate Photo Newsweek Magazine March 23, 1970

We will not be leered at smirked at, whistled at by men enjoying their private fantasies of rape and dismemberment, " announced a writer in a Boston lib publication.” WATCH OUT. MAYBE YOU’LL FINALLY MEET A REAL CASTRATING FEMALE it boldly announced.

Her point was part of a plea for the study of karate a fashion that inspires men to helpless ho-ho-hos’s.

The lib view is that most girls discouraged from developing their muscles grow up soft and weak and without any defense reflexes to speak of. A little karate can go a long way in a woman's life, according to Robin Morgan, a poet a wife a mother and the designer of the movements signet- a clenched fist within the circle of the biological symbol for female.

In the new feminist doctrine karate is not merely a physical or psychological weapon, It is also political if you agree that rape is a political act."

Thus the karate-chopping libber became forever part of pop culture.

Hai Karate

In an odd coincidence, karate was already part of the pop culture landscape in a series of ads run by Hae Karate After Shave, but here it was the man performing karate to defend himself against his sex crazed girlfriend ( or even his own wife ).

 

Hai Karate After Shave ad Hai Karate After Shave ad 1969

Hai Karate ran a campaign offering a small self-defense instruction booklet sold with each bottle of after shave to help wearers fend off women. The notion being that the aftershave would turn women into wild maniacs who couldn’t wait to attack  you.

“New Hai Karate is so powerful it drives women right out of their minds, That’s why we have to put instructions on self-defense in every package."

Newsweek Women in Revolt

office secretary 1970

Ironically, as Newsweek planned this issue on Women's Lib, they were oblivious to their own staff of women in revolt.

As the rumblings of the embryonic women's movement began to be heard in 1970 , some women in the workplace began quietly grumbling too.

With the help of attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton, 46 women employees sued Newsweek Magazine for sex discrimination, charging it was a segregated system of journalism that divided the work solely on the basis of gender .

The magazine’s well educated highly qualified women were no longer satisfied answering phones and checking facts for its male staff of writers and editors. When it came to writing they were forced to hand over their reporting to their male colleagues.

Newsweek's News Hens Sue

Meeting secretly, the group of women  teamed up with a women's rights lawyer challenging the sex segregation jobs, becoming the first group of media professionals to sue for employment discrimination based on gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The night before the issue hit the newsstands the Newsweek women sent a memo announcing a press conference.

Media savvy, the women journalists called a press conference, filing the suit on March 16, 1970 the same day their magazine ran. Crowded into a conference room at the ACLU, “Newsweek's News Hens” as the N.Y.Daily News called them, held up a copy of their magazine whose brightly yellow cover reflected their own story: Women in Revolt.

 

Copyright (©) 2016 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

 

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