Feminism is in a strange place lately. They insist that their movement is deeply critical and important, but fewer and fewer people seem to be listening. The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest and most powerful feminist activist organization in the United States. NOW Claims that it has a membership of 500,000 across the USA (out of about 160,000,000 total females, or .03%).
However, membership in NOW costs $35 a year, and according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org, they aren't pulling in 500,000 members worth of dues - total receipts of $137,439 for 2012 (35x500,000=over $17 million). The same site also notes a decline in salary and benefits paid to workers at NOW, with the average dropping from $46,762 in 2006 election cycle down to $744 in the last listed year (2012). Their donations to various organizations and candidates have dropped off at a similar rate.
In other words: NOW is claiming membership it has no record or financial basis of claiming. They might believe they have half a million supporters or sympathetic people out there, but they show signs of having more like 4000 members. Of course, its always possible that the NOW PAC only gets a tiny shred of the dues, and the rest is being spent... elsewhere.
Small wonder the "war on women" push and the ridiculous "I need feminism because" and "yes all men" twitter campaigns; they need money and notice. Signs of the decline of radical feminism are all around us. In the mid-1990s, according to Paste Magazine (a publishing journal) there were more than 100 "feminist bookstores" in the US and Canada. Today, there are only 13 left, including In Other Words in Portland, Oregon where the TV show "Portlandia" films segments.
Eva Longoria, actress in such stellar work as the lesbian-themed TV show "The L Word" started up a female Steak house. No, they didn't serve only steaks from cows, the idea was to have a steak house called "SHe" that wasn't so darn masculine and was more comfortable and pleasing to women. Ms Longoria's concept? To "create a feeling of empowerment" for women and challenge the notion that steakhouses are a place for men.
SHe opened in 2012 but it never took off like Ms Longoria hoped, and recently the place was shut down by the health department after 21 demerits for undercooking the food. In any case, SHe's idea of empowerment doesn't sound like what NOW would want. According to Kaitlin Roberts at TheWeek:
"She-sized" steak portions, mirrors on the dessert menus so women could reapply their lipstick, and "sexy" décor. And let's not forget SHe's main attraction: a catwalk where women in scanty clothing perform for the restaurant's female and male guests.
Whether the steak house will reopen is unclear, but its hardly the first female-themed eatery to suffer. Kaitlin Roberts goes on:
SHe isn't the only restaurant that has drawn criticism for invoking gender stereotypes under the guise of being "female friendly." The international steakhouse chain STK received backlash after posting a female-friendly promotional video that featured sexist images of stilettoed women feeding each other steak. A pink sports bar in New York's Union Square hit every feminist's nerve when owner Ken Sturm told DNAinfo, "We did a softer design [because] we wanted to make it very inviting for women so that they don't feel like they're sitting a men's kind of club."
Last year, when The Bachelorette's Chris Bukowski opened the Bracket Room, a female-friendly sports bar in Arlington, Va., Washington City Paper reporter Jessica Sidman chided the bar and other similar restaurants, writing, "[S]mall plates and sexy décor? If this is what these restaurants believe women want, their target audience should be insulted."
Of course, its women who are building and opening these places, not men. And the article points out that even restaurants that formerly promoted themselves as being female-oriented are dropping that from their publicity material. Either its not paying, or they just want to avoid the publicity.
Either way, this does not add up to what feminists would like to see. And its not hard to understand why. Feminism won, they succeeded, they got what they were after. They destroyed the glass ceiling, they smashed sexism in the culture, they've wiped out all kinds of barriers. A strong feminist would say there's plenty of work to do but if they are honest, they'll admit there really isn't much left.
Compared to 1966 when NOW was founded, today is amazingly triumphant for the cause.
And when you succeed, people strangely feel no need to keep supporting the cause. Once the airplane was designed and functional, people stopped trying to make airplanes. Once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball (officially, at least - he wasn't actually the first black player, but that's for a Common Knowledge post) there wasn't any need to keep pushing to get blacks in baseball.
The truth is, feminists got what they were after. Even in bad economic times, women are doing well. Women lost far fewer jobs and lost less earning power during the recession than men. Women are accepted in pretty much every position and job they try for. There are women on submarines these days in the Navy.
Feminism, at least as defined by the NOW crowd, is pretty much rejected by young women today. They don't want any part of the "never shave, men are rapists, we are oppressed" outlook of the modern feminist. They liked the "stop treating me like an idiot child and let me have that job" sort of feminist, but that's not what NOW offers.
Like most activist groups, NOW and other feminist organizations are casualties of their own success. They did what they set out to do. They succeeded. They won. And having won, now they have no purpose and are losing influence, power, and money.
But they also suffer what most organizations - especially activist ones - face. Each successive generation of leadership tends to get more radical rather than less. Unless the organization consciously and continuously strives to remain neutral or conservative, it becomes increasingly leftist over time. This is an artifact of the very nature of activists. People who are so driven and passionate about any one cause tend to be more emotionally driven and more radical by nature. Over time that increases each step and eventually you end up with loons in charge.
The Sierra Club was founded to enjoy and protect beautiful areas, they were naturalists. These days they're radical environmentalists. Most large religious denominations face this as well, as more conservative and doctrinally-concerned leadership gives way to more "modern" and culturally-driven leadership and they lose their way.
So the organizations of feminism are facing success not with joy and triumph, but with greater wails of despair as they see (or invent) greater areas of horror and crisis. And as they grow ever more radical, they get ever less influential and meaningful in the culture.
Most women today would call themselves feminist but they usually will qualify that with "but not like those feminists." The only ones who cling to the "those feminist" sort are college sorts and the kind of radical men-haters that folks like Rush Limbaugh like to ridicule.
Congratulations ladies, you won. You'd think you would be happier at losing membership and power; it means you did your job and can go home, like an army that beat their enemy. Instead, you seem more miserable and determined to cling to power than ever.