Carrie Gress thinks smashing the patriarchy has destroyed us. That’s the subhead of her new book, The End of Woman. When Gress set out to trace feminist ideology from its inception with thinkers such as the 18th-century philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, she was not prepared for what she would find.
In her book, she ties Madonna’s obsession with the occult to free-love proponent Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Meghan Markle’s supposed iconoclasm back to Wollstonecraft. Today’s feminism is yesterday’s feminism, she says, and it has only done damage to women, who don’t even realize how baked into our culture its harmful messages have become.
I recently sat down with Gress to discuss these ideas in her new book, the Barbie movie, and more. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You write about how there’s this idea among some people that feminism was good and then it became bad. And you argue that it was always kind of bad. Can feminism be redeemed?
I think that’s been the big piece that I discovered when I was researching this because I had that exact same thought: The first wave was great, and the second wave is where things really imploded.
The real problem is that feminism, from the very start, began with the wrong question, which was, “How do we make women more like men?” Once you start seeing that question, then the whole movement makes sense, then you can see how we got from Mary Wollstonecraft to the trans movement.
Obviously, there are people who want to redeem the word “feminism.” The problem is there’s just a lot that you have to navigate and not embrace. And part of that is what I’ve come to call the three pillars of feminism: One of them is the free love movement, which, of course, we know is unhealthy for society. The other is smashing the patriarchy, which is that collapsing of everything down into equality and simultaneously vilifying men. And then, the third one is the occult. And none of these things are good for women.
Women can use the word “feminism”; they just have to be incredibly specific about what they mean and avoid these three pillars and this question of, “How do we help women become like men?” It just feels like that’s a lot of caveats.
I found it fascinating because it fit exactly into what my whole point was: Feminism is a brand, and they’re rebranding it. What they were doing with the Barbie movie is, you’ve got a lot of pink and all these beautiful women. You’ve got some nostalgia because most of us played with Barbie.
But what it’s pushing, meanwhile, is “men are bad.” There’s not a single necessary man in all of Barbie; they’re all useless or goofy or just mentally deficient. The whole thrust of the movie is Ken gets it into his head that he can be in charge and everything goes awry, and women can’t figure out how to correct it until they’re back in charge again. So I think it’s a very clear effort to try and introduce these feminist ideas to a new audience.
Most girls and women are taking away, “It was fun, and there were some tender moments.” There’s all this other stuff that kind of distracts us, so we miss that not-at-all subtle message that feminism is what’s really gonna save the world.
That’s the subliminal thing that’s just so baked in that we’re not used to recognizing it. In fact, that was actually the funny thing about reading people’s thoughts on it, the idea that it’s so over the top in how patriarchy is used and that they must just be spoofing it. But the thing is, when you start looking at all of these feminists’ writings and their work, it’s so over the top.
So feminists are good at branding, to say the least.
“Shout your abortion,” “the future is female,” “smash the patriarchy”: They’re really good at recycling these taglines, and they’ve got retailers and corporations that are happy to do so as well.
They’re also just focused on culture. And I think this is really where conservatives have dropped the ball. We’re busy making arguments and trying to influence legislation, so we don’t have a culture at all. We don’t have women’s magazines at the checkout stand.
What is the right response?
Men, I think, don’t have any idea how important a coffee table book or magazine is or how important a network like HGTV is. That’s a hard thing to communicate to men, that the culture is a key piece for getting women on board. And it’s also a key piece for the women’s vote.
Every election cycle, we go through this autopsy, and it’s the women’s vote, but no one has any suggestions about how to change it. So it’s a book like mine that helps women see, “OK, this is a problem, what we’ve been doing.”
I think we could delve into the culture. And I think we have a much better message.