Backlash to Feminism in the West and in the Press

on 08/16/2015 - 05:40 pm

by Quenby Wilcox

The media and press are filled with news stories about ‘honor killings’ in India and the Muslim world, denouncing the ‘backlash’ from men who are working to undermine the women’s rights movements in the region. However, rarely do we hear in the press how the patriarchal rights movement and ‘backlash’ in the West has undermined the women’s rights movement in North America, Europe and Australia.

In the past 40 years, independent journalism has died out in the US and Europe, becoming the arm of the ruling class – an arm which directs and influences public opinion, rather than reporting on it. As Bill Kovach, former Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, former editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and senior counselor to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, observed in his 1989 NY Times article Too Much Opinion, at the Expense of Fact, “News organizations are moving on to the same ground as political institutions that mold public opinion and seek to direct it. There is a danger here that even the most thoughtful journalists seem not to recognize. Such a powerful tool for shaping public opinion in the hands of journalists accustomed to handling fact is like a scalpel in a child's hands: It is capable of great damage. It leads readers and viewers who are fact-seekers into that babble of grasping and conflicting special interests that can make daily life such a confusing, even threatening place.”

Against this backdrop, the conservative, male-dominated, ruling-class in America has been particularly successful in utilizing the press as a catalyst in spreading anti-feminist propaganda and promoting a ‘patriarchal rights’ agenda to the general public for decades.

As Susan Faludi notes in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, “the media’s role as backlash collaborator and publicist is a familiar one in American history. The first article sneering at a “Superwoman” appeared not in the 1980s press but in an American newspaper headline at the turn of the century. Feminists… were a “heard of hysterical and irrational she-revolutionaries,” “fuss, interfering, faddists, fanatics,” “shrieking cockatoos,” and “unpardonably ridiculous.”… With each new historical cycle, the threats were simply updated and sanitized, and new “experts” enlisted. The Victorian periodical press turned to clergymen to support its brief against feminism; in the 80’s, the press relied on therapists… [and] is a hallmark of the ‘80s backlash journalism. The press delivered the backlash to the public through a series of “trend stories,” articles that claimed to divine sweeping shifts in female social behavior while providing little in the way of evidence to support their generalizations… Trend journalism attains authority not though actual reporting but through the power of repetition… And repetition became especially hard to avoid in the ‘80’s, as the “independent” press fell into a very few corporate hands… While 80s trend stories occasionally considered the changing habits of men, these articles tended to involve men’s latest hobbies and whimsies – fly fishing, beepers, and the return of the white shirt. The ‘80s female trends, by contrast, were the failure to find husbands, get pregnant, or properly bond with their children.”

The past 5 years has seen the birth of many independent, digital media outlets by journalist who have been all too aware of the tight-rein ‘corporate America’ has held on what stories would be covered, and what would be ‘said’ in mainstream media.  Time will only tell if these new media outlet will begin to expose the ‘backlash’ to feminism in America or if they will continue to distribute ‘trend stories’ which call for women “to reembrace “traditional” sex roles – or suffer the consequences,.. as a moral reproach” to those who refuse to obey and acquiesce, as Faludi so aptly remarks.

It is high-time that mainstream media gave a voice to the myriad of ‘faces’ and stories of women today – they might be surprised to learn that they are very different from what ‘common wisdom’ has dictated for all too long.