The Spectator unveiled their cover for their latest issue on Twitter yesterday, which boldly declares The End of Feminism. The art, by an as-of-now uncredited artist, depicts an apoplectic looking woman with short hair and can of spray paint in her fist, which she’s used to paint over a staid looking suffragette’s “Votes for Women” sign with “All Men Are Scum!”
It’s an interesting contrast, especially in light of the opening of the recent film, Suffragette, which focuses less on peaceful protests that might have seemed “reasonable” at the time and more on the violent tactics employed by UK suffragettes. While the modern-day feminist’s depiction manages to avoid the common derogatory visual indicators (leg hair, bra-burning, etc.), her hysteria and man-hating do invoke some of the less flattering depictions of suffragettes from when women were protesting for the right to vote. Her t-shirt is emblazoned with a fist inside the symbol for Venus, commonly known as a symbol for women. The symbol is best attributed to Robin Morgan’s second Miss America demonstration, but is also tied to the Black Power Movement (note here that both “old” and “new” feminists in the image are white) along with more radical strains of feminism. It implies a militancy, which is ironic considering how militant UK suffragettes could be—including advocating learning jiu-jitsu in order to fight the police.
Anti-suffrage postcards and cartoons are the ideological predecessors of The Spectator’s cover—women fighting for rights are shown as furious, hysterical, and man-hating, demanding the right to vote in order to keep men downtrodden. The irony here is that while the right to vote was once seen as a radical request from women and is now being showcased as what a “reasonable” feminist might want—the historical suffragette looks disgusted with the anger and message of her supposed out-of-control counterpart. The vote is won, so why is she still protesting? she seems to think, This isn’t what we wanted at all.
Of course, the slippery slope was another theme of anti-suffrage art—the feminization of men, women wearing pants, men being henpecked by women. The one difference here is that our “radical feminist’s” legs and hips are exageratted, potentially sexualized when compared to her demurely dressed political foremother; the suffragette gets a flower in her hat while the radical gets short-shorts and fishnets. This seems to be a criticism of sex-positive feminist and is the biggest inversion of historical imagery; while current feminists hate men but campaign about sexuality, earlier suffragettes were denigrated by the implication that they were all old maids and had never been kissed.
Some things change, but some things stay the same.