Has Feminism Bred an Even Stronger Opponent: Anti-Feminism?

The belief that men and women are entitled to equal rights and opportunities has been growing and evolving for more than a century. All along the way, however, there have been opponents to the movement.

But now there appears to be a new opponent, the anti-feminist. However, this isn’t a group of men ushering women barefoot back to the kitchen — it’s women themselves.

An example of this new anti-feminism is the fictional character Claire Underwood from the successful Netflix show House of Cards. When the show first debuted in 2013, the political climber Frank Underwood, a Democrat from South Carolina’s fifth congressional district, was the House Majority Whip. His wife Claire appeared to be committed to furthering his case, no matter how backhanded their actions, while heading up a non-governmental organization.

From this vantage point, Claire could be considered a poster girl for third-wave feminism, a brand of feminismevolved out of the previous two incarnations of the movement.

The Waves of Feminism

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought the first rise of feminism. It challenged the “cult of domesticity,” the confined roles within the home which women found themselves. This initial movement of feminism surrounded discussions of women’s right to vote and participate in politics.

The second wave emerged amidst the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. The focus shifted toward the dominant issues of reproductive rights and sexuality. To secure social equality irrespective of sex, the movement focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. This wave continued until the 1990s.

The third wave broke open in the mid-90s with a focus on defining feminine beauty for oneself, not as objects of a sexist patriarchy and the male gaze. It challenged the idea of “universal womanhood,” as well as normative concepts of body, gender and sexuality.

Many third-wavers refused to identify themselves as “feminists” as they found the word and concept to be restrictive and exclusionary. Instead, they set their sights on global and multi-cultural concepts, shunning artificial groupings of identity, sexual orientation and gender.

The fourth wave is now. It is grounded online with social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, which identify and discuss gender inequality and social injustice. The Internet empowers oppressed groups to call-out the injustices they face. There is a focus on confronting misogyny and sexism when it appears in everyday advertising, literature and media. Researcher, Diana Diamond, describes fourth wave feminism as a cause combining factors of politics, spirituality and psychology in an all-encompassing goal of bringing about change.

Each of the four waves of feminism builds upon the last. It’s no surprise that some may claim Claire is a mix between third and fourth wave feminism, with her chic style and harnessing of her sexuality to gain power and status.

But this is merely the starting point for Claire Underwood as an anti-feminist — it’s her jumping off point.

The Anti-Feminist Stands for Herself

The intention of feminism is to fight for all women’s equality, but Claire Underwood doesn’t have that purpose. She isn’t interested in the success of all women. Instead, she’s only interested in her own success. She has taken the lessons learned through the evolution of the feminist plight and applied them to suit herself alone.

This is how anti-feminism works. It is focused on personal success whereas feminism is based on women supporting other women.

It is odd that a woman who is self-interested is deemed an anti-feminist — pitting her against all of her gender.

Men who are self-interested are deemed competitive and savvy but definitely not against all other males. This appears to correlate to surveys that show women in roles of responsibility and management tend to be far less popular among employees of both sexes than their male counterparts. A male boss can discipline staff, but a woman who dares to do the same thing is likely deemed harsh or unfair. There are different cultural norms surrounding men and women.

Anti-Feminism Is Selfish — Feminism Isn’t

The anti-feminist has gained from the successes and lessons of the three waves of feminism. She is a strong, independent woman who desires and pursues power and success. Still, she diverges from the common plight of feminism. Her pursuit is rooted in her selfish intentions rather than the interest of further developing the cause for other women.

The anti-feminist is not a trailblazer for all women. She doesn’t see herself as part of a movement or cause for women and equal rights. Any glass ceilings broken weren’t intentional, but were instead a byproduct of her own selfish quest.

The anti-feminist doesn’t wish to be equal to women or men — she wants to be better and more powerful than them all. She also doesn’t seek gender equality. She seeks personal supremacy instead.

This post was inspired by a Medium post from Abby Norman.

Holly Whitman is a political writer and journalist, originally from the UK but now based in Washington DC. Want these posts delivered straight to your inbox every week? Sign up to the weekly newsletter.