Orchard: Comments signal rise of far-right feminist-backlash

This summer, I wrote a story for The Conversation about my experiences using Bumble, a self-described feminist dating app where women make the first move.

In the article, I questioned Bumble’s claims to empower women. I also expressed my disappointment in the lack of sexy, equitable connections Bumble generated for me – connections promised in its marketing campaigns when I signed up.

As a woman seeking fun and romance, I found my Bumble journey quite frustrating. But as a researcher interested in gender, sexuality and digital dating practices, I found it fascinating.

My dual identities as a woman and a researcher surfaced again as I read the comments on my article and saw the reactions on social media. Given the feminist analysis in my story, I anticipated some backlash. I have experienced similar push-back in my research on sex work, an issue that can illicit charged emotional responses.

But what I didn’t expect was the volume of angry comments from mostly male readers.

What bothered them the most seemed to be the f-word: feminism.

YOU LOST ME AT EMPOWERING

In the comments, readers accused me of following a feminist agenda meant to demean men and their dating experiences. Readers scoffed at my complaints of meeting only 10 guys in five months, an outcome they said exceeds that of most men.

Anti-#MeToo sentiments were also shared: “You feminists have made your MeToo bed, now sleep in it.”

Soon after my article was published, a website ran a story about it: Feminist Joins ‘Empowering’ Dating App ― Begs for Return of Patriarchy After Constant Rejection. The story is full of errors and misquotes but was still picked up by several far-right websites and spawned a Redditt thread, which is essentially a diatribe against feminism, and also, me.

Many of the comments followed this pattern: they focused less on the content of the story and more on me. I was described as a man-hating woman who is after male power, unappealing to real men and in all likelihood a lesbian.

Dear commentators, the ‘70s called and they want their stereotypes back!

However, some responses were pretty funny. This is my favourite: “Here’s your cat, and a box of wine. Have a great weekend.”

To my commenter: I don’t drink, but I do have cats!

The far-right slogan “Feminism is Cancer” appeared often. This slogan reflects the toxic masculinity and anti-feminist sentiments that have been identified as central to the far-right movement. Many of those on the far-right support biological determinism and believe that the idea of gender as a construct is an attempt by women and liberal allies to displace patriarchal power structures and go against the natural order of things.

On Twitter, American actress and proud Trump supporter Mindy Robinson fueled the conversation. Her comments on the Pluralist article (which were retweeted 53 times and liked 277 times) ignited a sensational discussion with her followers. They pointed out my perceived unattractiveness, called feminism the root of all evil, and told me to stop bitching because being empowered doesn’t garner male attention.

FEMINISTS AREN’T THE ENEMY

Social media is a powerful domain for the dissemination of far-right ideology about topics like sex, women and gender. Within these online spaces or, “manospheres” feminism is a hot button issue because it is seen to threaten traditional forms of masculinity by affording women certain privileges formerly enjoyed by men.

Such beliefs are reflected in many comments on my story, including this one: “It seems more and more convincing that there’s a relentless drive for feminism to destroy femininity while shamefully and rather hypocritically coveting masculine values.”

Contrary to the antagonistic ideology reflected in the comments, feminism is not the enemy of society or masculinity. The global economy has been in flux since the 2008 recession, sometimes called the “mancession,” which profoundly affected traditionally male occupations like construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

Gender, sex and power relations are but three aspects of life that are changing alongside shifts in our post-industrial economies. We all experiencing these shifts globally. They are not the work of feminism or feminists.

Fewer sticks and stones and more alliances, that’s the smartest way forward.

Treena Orchard is an associate professor in the School of Health Studies. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.