Faderman, Lillian. 1981. Surpassing the Love of Men. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-688-00396-6
A detailed and extensive study of the phenomenon of “romantic friendship” in western culture (primarily England and the US).
II.B.1 The Rise of Antifeminism
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No sooner had an identifiable feminist movement arisen in the 19th century but it was answered by an anti-feminist movement. Men formed the majority of this reaction, seeing feminism as challenging their superior position, but women were prominent in writing anti-feminist tracts as well, often ignoring the irony that in doing so they violated the norms that they claimed to uphold.
Feminism and the cultivation of women’s brains was felt to be physically debilitating as well as morally suspect. Satire and caricature were employed as well as argumentation. There was a horror not only that women were becoming more like men, but that men were being “tamed down” to being like women. [These reactions echo the same gender anxieties that produced all manner of polemic tracts in the 17th century, but Faderman doesn’t comment on this cyclic nature.]
Anti-feminist anxiety rose in parallel with the actual gains women made in breaking out of traditional roles. One particular anxiety was that the “New Women” would have no need for men at all and no reason to marry. Faderman still maintains that women were sufficiently brainwashed by the myth that women had no sex drive that the desire for sexual relations with men would not be sufficient attraction to marriage. And the desire for loving companionship could just as easily be fulfilled by other liberated women.
This, then, is the turning point in public attitudes towards women’s friendships: when they have the potential to disrupt the social fabric on a large scale. By this argument, it wasn’t the friendships themselves that were felt to be dangerous, but the greater social freedom women were achieving that eroded the need for marriage on economic and social grounds. If the only remaining motivation women might have for turning to men was the desire for romantic companionship, then any competition for that desire must be suppressed.
And only now (according to Faderman) did an awareness of the possibility of sex between women become widespread, through media such as sensational French novels and decadent poetry. These ideas prompted anxiety, but it took the contributions of the medical profession, as we’ll see in the next chapter, to provide a weapon for addressing those anxieties.