It was a typical day on Twitter, when I stumbled onto some grumbling about Liza Featherstone’s “Moving Beyond Misogyny: Why do they hate us?” (The New Republic, November 4 2019), a review essay of Kate Manne’s Down Girl (2018). Featherstone’s slug for her own tweet summed up the central question of the piece: how had #MeToo made bad sex, rather than good sex, the central problem for feminism? “Where current feminism focuses on ridding the workplace of sexual expression,” Featherstone wrote, radical feminist Shulamith Firestone “dreamed of a world where we wouldn’t work at all and would have sex with whomever we pleased. Intellectually and libidinally…we are in a dry spell.”
Needless to say, perhaps, a lot of feminists – often younger men as well as women – were pissed. Although there were a number of appreciative responses, the reader had to wade through a mountain of outrage to get there. The essay was a “bizarre and a really frightening misreading of previous feminist movements,” wrote one critic. Another characterized it as a “dismissive screed,” while feminist Kate Manne, whose book Featherstone critiqued, gathered a crowd of outraged admirers around her, repudiating what she characterized as a willful misreading of her work with the now-familiar dismissal, “OK, boomer.”
It was a full-on Twitterstorm.
But why are important ideas litigated on Twitter? And when they are, shouldn’t that be a signal that we need to have a more serious conversation than can be accomplished in 280-character bursts? I wondered what this conversation would look like if we slowed it down, and so I reached out to several dozen feminists, men as well as women, for their take on Featherstone’s ideas. While Liza Featherstone declined to respond, because, as she pointed out, she had worked hard on the essay and had said exactly what she meant, this is what our respondents – Jodi Dean, Eli Zaretsky, and James Livingston — had to say.
Claire Potter is co-executive editor of Public Seminar and Professor of History at The New School for Social Research. You can tweet with her @TenuredRadical.