WTF Is “Freedom Feminism”?

Conservatives have decided they don’t like feminism for being, you know, feminism, so they created their own brand — it’s called (duh) “Freedom Feminism.” You, a lady, are free to be a woman without having to be a man. You’re free to enjoy your own femininity! You’re free to rewrite hundreds of years of the feminist movement in North America and boil it down to your own self-serving narrative. Oh, wait, that last part applies to Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of anti-feminist books like Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women and The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men. She’s now touting a new screed, Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History And Why It Matters Today for the “sure, Sarah Palin is a feminist” set.

In this video for the conservative group the American Enterprise Institute about so-called “freedom feminism,” Sommers claims the feminist movement only had two parts: one is the “egalitarian” part with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (aka votes for women) and the other part is what Sommers calls “maternal feminism.” “Maternal feminism,” Sommers claims, is “lost to history”  — and although she doesn’t exactly explain what this supposed traditional “maternal feminism” means, one can assume from the name that it has something to do with being a mom? (I also have a degree in Gender & Sexuality Studies and I have never heard of this before.) All she really indicates is that current feminism is somehow against men — because by archconservatives’ definition, demanding that men give up some of their male privilege is sooooo unfair.

With her historical revisions, Sommers glosses over the Second Wave of feminism that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, when abortion was legalized, marital rape was made illegal, and the birth control pill was invented. She also conveniently writes over the Third/Fourth Wave, which has taken place from the ’90s onward, which brought us Riot Grrrl and an great emphasis on the intersectionality of race and class issues. But of course Sommers doesn’t want to mention those parts: she wants to keep the focus on the lie that feminism is a “radical” movement that’s going to take away your lipstick and send you to a work camp where you sew your own tampons out of leg hair. As she says in the video:

“Freedom feminism is not at war with femininity or masculiinity. It doesn’t want to bring down the gender system. It recognizes the genders are different but equal. It asserts the right of women to pursue happiness in their own distinctive way. Put simply, freedom feminism affirms for women what it affirms for everyone — freedom, dignity, liberty.”

Her press release on the American Enterprise Institute goes into further explanation about what “freedeom feminism stands for:

  • Take back reason: correct more than 40 years of feminist advocacy research;
  • Be pro-women but not male-averse: acknowledge that the health, education, and welfare of males are pressing public issues;
  • Pursue happiness: allow women to follow the paths they want to pursue — and respect their decisions;
  • Support women as they are: respect them regardless of the different paths they choose;
  • Forget about political litmus tests: understand that freedom feminists can be libertarian, liberal, or conservative.

Nothing about reproductive rights? Marriage equality? Equal pay for equal work? Bueller?

Look, I can understand why it’s appealing to people that Sommers presents “freedom feminism” as something that won’t require cultural and social changes, especially by men and white people. Who has privilege over other people and wants to give that up? Not a lot of people! So not asking for real changes while claiming to stand for these concepts sounds more palatable to everyone; thus, “freedom feminism” means essentially nothing.  In her soothing earth tones, she makes it sound like the successes of the feminist movement — which she does not portray accurately in the first place — have been a failure (to whom?) and what we really need is to ignore all that structural change stuff and let men be men and women be women.

I don’t know if anyone will swallow down this hogwash. They likely will; Sommers’ numerous books have been very successful. But I’m an educated, middle-class, white lady just like Christina Hoff Sommers and I’m not buying it. I don’t think the fact that I embrace my femininity and my feminism are in conflict with each other. I also don’t care if equality for women and people of color makes men and white folks a little uncomfortable. It’s not supposed to be easy.

[American Enterprise Institute]

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