An Elle magazine story by Sady Doyle about an emerging character on the already-infamous Hulu show, “Has 'The Handmaid's Tale' Given Us the Scariest Anti-Feminist Villain Yet?”, smeared notable women like Christina Hoff Sommers, Camille Paglia, and Kellyanne Conway who fail to adhere to the left-wing brand of feminism, as self-hating women and oppressive Handmaid villains in disguise:
Serena Joy is one of the great anti-feminist villains. Even for Margaret Atwood, an author who's been known to expound at length on her love of wicked female characters -- "women," as she says, "have more to them than virtue" -- the chief female antagonist of The Handmaid's Tale is singularly disturbing. She's an enemy, not of any particular woman, but of women as a whole....
Doyle describes how the character of Serena Joy differs between Atwood’s 1985 novel and the Hulu series, then leaps into the Trump Era, where any female who dares question the feminist religion is on the side of the brutal sexist “Commanders” of the Tale.
....Where Serena Joy used to be a blunt, sobering portrait of religious zealotry, she's now symbolizes an even greater threat -- that our oppressors have gotten smart enough to sell us poison in an on-trend, very blonde package. In 2017, anti-feminists have co-opted feminist rhetoric in a way that would have been unimaginable in 1985 -- and we need to be more canny than ever about the mismatch between style and substance if we are to take it back.
...[Joy’s] first book, A Woman's Place, extolled the power of being submissive and accommodating to men and accused women of "abandoning their families." It established her as a voice on the forefront of what she called "domestic feminism." Chillingly, Serena Joy tried to sell the world on a return to total male domination by making the patriarchy look progressive—and she got what she wanted.
Doyle doesn’t forgive the anti-feminist treachery of the conservative females of the 1970s either:
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Offred goes on to point out her hypocritical politics: "Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, how women should stay at home," Offred says. "Serena Joy herself didn't do this, she made speeches instead" -- which mirrors pretty much every feminist criticism of Phyllis Schlafly, a constitutional lawyer who advertised herself as a "housewife" in her successful campaign to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. You can also find a little of Margaret Thatcher in Serena's Iron Lady affect, if you squint.
The original Serena Joy, in other words, embodied what anti-feminism looked when The Handmaid's Tale was published 30 years ago: middle-aged, stodgy, and openly conservative. The women on whom Serena Joy were likely modeled would never have described themselves as "domestic feminists," because they would never have described themselves as feminists, period; the concept was still new enough, and controversial enough, that they could reject it categorically.
But anti-feminism has since taken on a different cast, and it wears a new face. If conservative women still looked like that Serena Joy, young women would be able to see them coming; we'd quickly discern their agenda, realize the threat they posed, and stop listening. That's why the standard anti-feminist model today is not to attack, but to co-opt. Instead of arguing that women ought to be stripped of rights for "moral" reasons, conservatives increasingly argue that giving away those rights is empowering.
Doyle spied a “wider and more troubling phenomenon: the creeping sense that feminism, expertly brandished, gives anti-women activists a kind of cultural cover.” There are some familiar names on Doyle’s list of self-hating women.
Serena Joy gives us "domestic feminism," but the very real Christina Hoff Sommers preaches "equity feminism" while Camille Paglia endorses "pro-sex feminism" and Kellyanne Conway sees herself as a practitioner of "conservative feminism," which -- since Sommers thinks society is prejudiced against men, Paglia thinks accounts of campus rape are "wildly overblown," and Conway works for Donald Trump -- are actually all phrases that mean "not feminism." Nor is the appropriation confined to the word alone. Slate has reported on a whole wave of "pro-life feminists," -- young, quasi-secular, rainbow-haired anti-choice activists who rail against contraception by pinning it on "'douchebags' who 'treat fertility like a disease' by expecting their partners to be on chemical birth control.”
In Doyle’s ideal world, women would be free enough to only think a single way on issues or else be smeared:
Whenever a woman's chief political praxis is destroying other women, or elevating herself by aligning with those who aim to roll back women's progress, Serena Joy is in the room.....A modern-day Serena Joy would be far more like the young, modern, relatable "feminist" in the TV series than she would be like the forbidding middle-aged zealot in the book. As in the notorious case of the "Ivanka Voter" -- white, suburban women so enraptured with Ivanka Trump's poise that they managed to vote in a man who'd confessed to sexual assault -- she may be such an aspirational example that she manages to make women forsake or forget their own interests....