Whilst scrolling TikTok recently, I noticed text across a video that read ‘the kids will be alright’. In the video a young woman with long brown hair recounts how she used to be an “angry blue haired feminist” but has since discovered that feminism is part of plot created by the Rockefeller family in order to get women out of the home and into the workforce. Why? So that the government can have twice the people to tax and keep the birthrate low, she explains. The woman continues that since she threw off the shackles of this ‘feminist plot’ and now embraces ‘real’ beauty, taking bikini selfies on beautiful beaches for her social media, she is much happier. It is entirely forgotten that without the second-wave feminist movement this woman would likely already have several children by her mid-twenties, have no access to a bank account, faced unequal opportunity of education, yet she believes feminism is a conspiracy against women, and more specifically a sinister Jewish plot.
Where does the antisemitic aspect of this conspiracy theory rear its head? My attention was first drawn when I began to notice an antisemitic trend on the comments of my own social media. Odd statements such as “I bet you celebrate Hanukkah”, and “oi vey! Men are so evil”, and ‘oh look another Jewish feminist’ started to pop up only since last year. Several ensuing comments and tweets have recently accused me of being a Zionist, despite being publicly and actively involved in pro-Palestinian activism during my entire adult life. I had thought this bargain basement antisemitism was simply based on presumptions around having dark hair and being called Hannah, but there was a novel anti-feminist twist. One account was particularly obsessed by my promotion of the work of radical feminist Andrea Dworkin, constantly commenting about how Dworkin was a ‘Rockefeller feminist’, a ‘CIA feminist’, and ‘agent of the new world order’. Other feminists (Jewish or not) have also shared with me that they are seeing these kinds of comments with increasing regularity.
What is the current context to the emergence on social media of an antisemitism mixed with anti-feminism? The younger generation, Gen-Z, is increasingly rejecting the pro-porn, pro-prostitution, pro-kink sexual politics that so many Millennials refused to scrutinise and endorsed as ‘sex positivity’. Even the far-left and general centre-left milieu of the Global North refuse to challenge these harmful sexual practices that the first generation who grew up with pornography are starting to reject. The result has become a popularisation of what is dubbed ‘Trad’ (short for traditionalism), whereby young people discuss online the value of the things their generation is being denied: the security to buy a home and find secure employment, so that things like planning marriage and children might be possible, if desired one day. The criticism of the merry-go-round of dating apps, healthy scepticism of hyper-sexualisation online, and opposition to the normalisation of sites like OnlyFans that takes place on sub-Reddits and podcasts like Female Dating Strategies, are dismissed by older Millennials on the political left as ‘sex negative’. Because of these stark generational differences in understanding, many Gen-Zs are left rejecting feminism as a whole because they see the liberal feminism embraced by Millennials, specifically its ‘anything-goes’ attitude towards sex, ‘raunch’ culture and glorification of hook-up lifestyles, as embarrassing, cringe, and harmful. This battle of ideas has led to fertile ground for the reimagining and promotion of old anti-feminist talking points.
Taking advantage of this resurgence of interest in ‘Trad’ (traditionalist) aspirations is a section of opportunist proponents of far-right politics. Those far-right political actors are styling their ideas as anti-capitalist in order to appeal to the swathes of young Gen-Zs who feel let down by our sexual culture and also understand our economic system is not working for them. These far-right social media accounts, such as Savannah and Dani to name just two, have between them accumulated millions of views. TikTok, unlike other social media platforms, does not require huge follower numbers in order to achieve millions of views. Circulation of content is based on algorithms and shares. It is therefore possible for moderately popular accounts to achieve huge influence. These right-wingers do not want socialism as an alternative system to capitalism, but a return to an idyllic imagined past, where women raised their children in happiness and harmony in small tight-knit communities.
This sort of romanticism about a pre-existing order where everyone was happy with their God-given lot is present in the work of fascist intellectuals such as Italian supporter of Hitler, philosopher Julius Evola. Evola, who found Mussolini altogether too soft, is a favourite of many current right-wing pseudo intellectuals and political operatives such as Steve Bannon. His ideas found new popularity in the rise of the alt-right over half a decade ago. As self-styled, liberal feminist, pro-objectification Millennials struggle to reproduce their ideas to a younger crowd, many Gen-Zs are looking to right-wing politics to explain why feminism seems like such a failed project. But is feminism a failed project given what has already been acknowledged about the successes of the second-wave? If women’s independence is a core goal of feminism, the 26-year-old women of today who cannot leave home due to precarious employment, exuberant rents, and the cost-of-living crisis, certainly do not feel that they as women can enter the world and be independent.
There are several problems with the line of thinking that there is a ‘feminist plot’ to undermine the family and support corrupt governments through taxes. Women were in the workforce long before even the first wave of feminism. Women entering the work force began en masse through industrialisation, with women moving to urban centres and working in factories at the onset of the industrial revolution. Indeed, some women forwent a husband and children in these early industrial economies, not because of feminist political commitments, but because the material conditions during the process of industrialisation demanded it. Early first-wave feminists, namely the suffragettes, were very much against women working in factories due to the dangerous working conditions. It was capitalist material forces, not feminist ideological ones, that pushed women into the workplace.
It was in response to women already being part of the capitalist workforce that feminists fought for workplace protections against sexist discrimination, and sexual harassment. Women organised women only unions for women dominated fields, such a secretarial work and healthcare, that put them in opposition with capitalist bosses, not working on their behalf.
The ‘feminist plot’ conspiracy relies heavily on the spectre of the state, which in this understanding demands tax revenue from women as part of a plan to further malevolent government control, towards establishing totalitarian authority. It may be a surprise, but neoliberal governments do not unfortunately use tax as a primary method of social control and if it were greater tax revenue the state was after, it would certainly be easier to tax the rich and corporations, who pay significantly less proportionally to working women. The ruling classes are overall not made richer by tax, but are encumbered by it. Again, if neoliberal governments were so desperate for tax revenue why not tax Walmart or BP oil. Meredith who works at Tesco has significantly less to contribute.
There is a pernicious brand of so-called feminism that encourages women to climb the ranks of the professional workplace. This ‘girl boss’ feminism is an ideological force that not only sells women’s liberation as something that can be won through the boardroom, but also assures women of the middle and upper classes that capitalism can make space for them, too, and that capitalism is not a factor in women’s oppression. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In typifies this particular strain of third wave feminism. The book considers women being assertive at work and at home a feminist act and advocates careerism as an escape from women’s subjugation. Since it’s publication in 2013, responses to the book have been mixed, from both feminist and non-feminist authors. Dawn Foster’s Lean Out, published in 2016, directly responds to Sandberg’s book branding it ‘corporate feminism’, arguing that ‘leaning in’ (being sharp-elbowed at work in order to succeed professionally) is a possibility only for upper middle-class, highly educated women. Further, Foster explains how Sandberg shifts responsibility for sexism in the workplace to women themselves, at once individual victims and their own perpetrators, if they do not battle enough for career progression, rather than blaming broader capitalist and patriarchal structures. Another effect of so-called ‘girl boss’ feminism is it has become a term used to deride struggling working-class women, often employed in precarious forms of labour, taking on second jobs, or trapped in multi-level marketing schemes. It’s easy in this context to understand why anti-feminism flourishes.
Anti-feminism has long operated as a central aspect of recruiting to far-right politics. One key example is Brenton Tarrant, the man who shot and killed 50 people during a mosque attack in New Zealand. Brenton subscribed to the antisemitic conspiracy theory of ‘global homosexualisation’. Namely, that Jewish overlords want to feminise men in order to disrupt the white, heterosexual nuclear family. Feminism is considered part of this plan.
Where do anti-feminism and antisemitism meet? The idea that feminism is a plot by Jews is a facet of broader antisemitic conspiracy theories that Jews intend to replace white society with other groups
One key example of this is the Great Replacement theory, developed by French author Renaud Camus. The theory is rooted in 19th century fascist ideology, and postulates that multiculturalism will cause a ‘genocide by substitution’ of white Europeans. Though Camus did not explicitly name Jews as organising this ‘white genocide’, he cites an ‘internal enemy’ which can easily be interpreted as Jews. Indeed, the ‘collaborators’ Camus refers to are named as Jews by antisemitic sections of the far-right. Robert Bowers, the man who killed eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 2018, wrote a post blaming Jews for bringing non-white immigrants to America in order to ‘replace’ whites.
Camus identifies white women as perpetuators of the Great Replacement due to their low birth rates and blames feminism as partially responsible for the destruction of the white race due to encouraging women out of the home. Before 19-year-old San Diego nursing student John T Earnest shot and killed one woman at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, he wrote on the image board website ‘8 Chan’ that Jews should be blamed for “their role in feminism which has enslaved women in sin … and promoted race mixing”. Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people and injured 317 others attending a Norwegian Labour Party youth summer camp in 2011, blamed feminism for the destruction of the white race. In his manifesto Brevik stated, “feminism has greatly weakened Scandinavia, and perhaps western Civilisation as whole”. Indeed, this mix of anti-feminism, antisemitism and ant-immigration sentiment is characterised in a phrase popularised through 4chan: ‘feminism is white genocide.’
The claim that Jewish promotion of multiculturalism intends to wipe out the white race works in tandem with the notion that feminism is a Jewish invention designed to similarly destroy the white, traditional, heterosexual family as a reproductive unit by feminising men. That arc fits into the larger framework of far-right antisemitic conspiracies, representing the sexual arm of how a cabal of Jews intends to engineer total control over white heterosexual men in order to undermine and eventually destroy Western civilisation.
Dworkin recognised that antifeminism and antisemitism has a long history, ever since Paul wrote his letters to the early Christian churches. Writing in her book Right-Wing Women (1978) that Judaism had been conceptualised as a feminising force in early Christian theology, and that this informed the enduring Christian right-wing. Dworkin writes:
“It was Paul’s genius to exploit Christ as the prototypical Jew—he suffered like a female, it was his passion, an ecstasy of agonised penetration— and then to have the resurrection of Christ symbolize a new nature, a Christian nature: it dies, then rises. The son, born a Jew, was worthy of death—homosexual as Jews are, effeminate as Jews are, with their weak law and tenuous masculinity. The son resurrected triumphed over the father and over death.“ (Right Wing Women, p.127)
According to the Old Testament circumcision was a mark of masculinity. Paul understood this differently, writing in his letter to the Romans that circumcision was symbolic of legalism over faith in the Holy Spirit. Dworkin writes that the Holy Spirit is understood to be a ‘phallic force’ with the ability to penetrate because it has the power to get inside people’s hearts and impale people’s minds (though not literally), and this phallic ability is transferred to Christian men when encountering it. Circumcision is therefore more like castration than a masculine convenant with God’s chosen men.
During the 1977 National Women’s Conference Andrea Dworkin, somewhat surprisingly, encountered a member of the Klu Klux Klan. The two got into conversation and Dworkin recounts the KKK member told her, firmly, that “homosexuality is a Jewish disease”.
There is a perception that within Jewish theology exists an attitude of permissiveness regarding homosexuality (such as Maimonides viewing lesbianism as not a major sin) as criticised by early Christians. Dworkin expands that according to Christian theologians, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates that religious law alone did not protect God’s people in Sodom and Gomorrah from the sin of homosexuality, whereas the Holy Spirit from Jesus can. It is this supposed impotence of Jewish law that is considered feminine when compared to the strength and phallic nature of the Holy Spirit, that for Dworkin underlies and characterises antisemitic far-right sexual politics. It is this same toxic mix of homophobia and feared of loss of masculinity that frames and shapes right-wing antisemitic conspiracy theories today.
It is no coincidence that an antisemitism mixed with anti-feminism peaked around the rise of the alt-right in 2017, coinciding with the MeToo movement that focused on men’s violent conduct, producing a cultural focus on men changing their sexual behaviour, becoming more considerate, etc. The focus on changing men created fertile soil to ground claims of a Jewish plot to de-masculinise men through feminism. Feminist demands for workshops on consent, conversations about sexual etiquette, or not to ‘manspred’ on public transit, could be reworked into a demand to turn men into feminised ‘soyboys’.
The question we have to ask as feminists is how we respond to this new iteration of backlash. How can we take on the popularisation of ‘trad’ and counter it with a real and viable alternative? Young women who have never heard of Dworkin, Firestone, or Atkinson, are being exposed to the idea that feminism was cooked up by a cabal of Jewish overlords in order to separate them from their children. If their only exposure to ‘feminism’ has been Buzzfeed videos extolling the virtues of pornography, they will be suspectable to this sort of crypto-fascist rhetoric given feminism appears as their enemy. The responsibility of materialist feminists of all stripes is to ensure that a radically feminist and Marxist analysis is present to fill the gap that fascists who want to return to the time before social movements, and in some cases the feudal era, are currently exploiting.