Post-machismo: The movement trying to destroy feminism’s achievements

The impact of MeToo has been followed by a backlash in the US. Meanwhile, in Spain, victims of sexual abuse have become the targets of insults and threats

J. Howard Miller's 1943 poster became a symbol of the feminist struggle. These days, there is a backlash that wants to turn feminism on its head.
J. Howard Miller's 1943 poster became a symbol of the feminist struggle. These days, there is a backlash that wants to turn feminism on its head.

The French poet Charles Baudelaire famously said that it is impossible to open a newspaper without finding signs of the most abject human depravity. We can only wonder what he might have said about social media.

The media outlet Vox sounded the alarm recently about the “mounting, undeniable Me Too backlash.” According to the article’s author, Constance Grady, the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Roe v. Wade has brought the US to a new phase of patriarchal vitriol. It’s not just about stopping the advances of the feminist movement, but also about monopolizing public spaces and silencing dissidents. For Grady, “free, safe abortion is history, and feminism is having a downfall.” Just three years ago, almost 60% of men believed that the feminist movement’s advances were “hopeful.” Not anymore. A strident partisan anti-feminism has taken over the scene. The so-called manosphere, the virtual spaces that promote misogynist ideas, are on the rise, capturing new adherents and gaining new levels of visibility.

Spain seems to be jumping on the trend. In recent weeks, several events have sparked aggressively misogynistic cruelty in online forums: reports of sexual harassment at the Feroz movie awards, controversies about abortion and about the government’s contested law of sexual consent, and the actress Berta Vázquez’s physical changes.

The women who reported harassment at the Feroz Awards have been called “witches,” “inquisitors,” “cynics” and “crybabies.” Berta Vázquez has been called a “talentless opportunist who had a goldmine, her beauty, and lost it because of stuffing her face.” Equality Minister Irene Montero has received a barrage of insults that she attributes to a “campaign of personal destruction.” And women who are fighting to guarantee the right to abortion are being called “lunatics,” “murderers” and, of course, “feminazis.”

A June 2022 march for abortion in Washington.
A June 2022 march for abortion in Washington.Anna Moneymaker (Getty Images)

In the opinion of the journalist and writer Cristina Fallarás, “the manosphere has made a splash on Spanish social networks.” What’s more, “their increasingly aggressive arguments are filtering into other areas, such as the media.”

Fallarás assures that she is personally experiencing the emergence of these renewed hate speeches: “I participate in multiple discussion panels, and in most of them, many of my right-wing interlocutors are beginning to echo these arguments, which very recently were marginal.” The worst, in her opinion, are the “systematic efforts” to silence feminist voices: “In my case, it has to do above all with the continuous lawsuits filed against me by ultra-conservative or misogynistic associations. It doesn’t matter if they have a basis or not. It is about taking me to the limit of my psychological and economic resistance to force me to give up, to shut my mouth.” This journalist believes that “feminism is undergoing an intense process, not of being discrediting, but of being criminalized by a variety of groups that defend traditional masculinity.”

That structure of privilege that she calls “male power” has been threatened “by the evident progress of the feminist discourse in colonizing public space.” At first, movements like Me Too “baffled the patriarchy, which responded in a clumsy and somewhat anarchic way.” However, “now that the reactionaries are organized, they have lost their shame, realizing that their rhetoric is being echoed throughout society, and they are resorting to verbal aggression, rumors, slander and personal harassment.”

Against this warlike escalation, “feminism finds itself at a loss due to its non-violent logic: when they yell at us, we shut up; when they attack us, we withdraw.” But she remembers, not without bitterness, “that history shows that no social change has been possible without some kind of violence against the power structures.”

Actress Berta Vázquez at the 2023 Goya Awards.
Actress Berta Vázquez at the 2023 Goya Awards.Juan Naharro (WireImage)

For Carolina Meloni, a lecturer in political thought at the European University of Madrid, it is clear that “there is an active and aggressive reaction against feminist struggles.” She attributes it to the fact that “traditionally excluded subjects have taken the floor and have obtained unprecedented visibility in the public space.” “Within emancipatory movements, hierarchies of power are frequently reproduced,” she adds. This is what is happening, in her opinion, “in so-called hegemonic feminism.” The philosopher notes “a brutal resistance to accepting that feminism is made up of multiple feminisms, of diverse forms of life, and that it is traversed by numerous struggles.”

For Laura Triviño, a lecturer in social sciences at the University of Malaga, “we are experiencing a feminist tsunami as a result of the successive waves that have been achieving rights for women.” But “feminist theorists wondered to what extent it would be unstoppable. Being linked to mass culture, it would sooner or later go out of style.” A sign of that turning point, she said, was when “multinationals began to sell T-shirts with feminist slogans.”

Triviño believes that, with the feminist agenda, “women have come out of the patriarchal cave hand in hand.” Movements like Me Too and #TimesUp have ended up triggering “hate speech against women on social media, which is becoming more and more striking.” She insists on the need to “answer with a unified discourse.” The most important thing, in her opinion, “is that we no longer remain silent. There are actions and reactions.”

The writer Cristina Fallarás.
The writer Cristina Fallarás.INMA FLORES (EL PAIS)

But the enemy is formidable. Triviño says that “resistance to the loss of privileges” will not disappear overnight: “Removing the foundations of the patriarchal culture that has spread throughout the history of humanity and the globe will require a long time.” Resistance is also versatile and mutant: “[University of Granada lecturer] Miguel Lorente alludes to the emergence of post-machismo. It is a media version of sexism that disguises itself as a victim of feminism and is dedicated to spreading false news about women’s demands.”

Meloni believes that “we should not be extremely optimistic, or naive, about this conservative belligerence.” After all, she says, it is part of a global trend “of the return of the conservative-fascists.” She notes that social media, the space that contemporary feminism used to spread its messaging, “has become an extremely hostile place.” On social networks, “situations of violence, belligerence and extreme polarization are promoted under the fallacy of the absolute transparency of opinion.”

Wounded beasts, she adds, “bite and scratch, and are capable of great damage.”

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