Losing the Gender War

Women are leading the latest backlash against feminism, writes Annalee Newitz in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. With such mainstream female icons as Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and Amy Tan supporting the ideal of the ‘Surrendered Wife,’ the
anti-feminism movement is gaining momentum.

Dubbed conservative feminists, these women are promoting a model in which women are equal to men in the workplace and in public life, but in the home, in private, women serve their husbands.

Newitz cites Laura Doyle, one of the most prominent conservative feminists and author of the new book The Surrendered Wife: A Woman’s Spiritual Guide to True Intimacy with a Man (Fireside,
2001). Doyle writes that if women let their husbands take care of everything from personal finances to initiating sexual encounters then a happy and fulfilling marriage will follow.

Newitz writes: ‘[C]onservative feminism isn’t something we can dismiss as a fabrication of white, middle-class housewives, either: its popularity cuts across class, race, and sexual orientation.’ Adding: ‘Conservative feminism appeals to women on multiple levels… it calls on primal feminist archetypes, grants us careers, and preaches sexual satisfaction.’

Newitz argues that the rise of conservative feminism would not only hurt women, but men as well. It would call for the social injunction that men always be ‘in charge,’ without concern for whether or not they feel up to it. Potentially, she suggests, it’s just another way for women to manipulate men.

Looking to progressives for alternatives, Newitz finds hope for the future of relationships from redefining gender roles to a more open understanding of what relationships are. ‘[Men and women] wouldn’t be socially rewarded for behaving in ways that are deemed appropriate to their genders, nor would they be given special privileges by the state if they got married.’

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