‘Male chauvinist pig’ was the ultimate feminist insult during the 1960s — and they are ‘alive and kicking’ in 2021: historian
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the term "male chauvinist pig" was the ultimate insult from feminists. It isn't a term that is used a lot among modern-day feminists and Millennials. But Texas Tech history professor Julie Willett, in an article for Mother Jones' November/December issue, stresses that "male chauvinist pigs" are alive and well in 2021.
"It would be hard to deny today that the male chauvinist pig is still alive and kicking, running amok in his own filth," Willett argues. "The election of Donald Trump and his 'grab 'em by the pussy' regime mixed misogyny, mockery, and race privilege with delight. (Former New York Gov.) Andrew Cuomo's domineering behavior in politics echoed his sexually belittling actions in private. Both were proud of being jerks, personally and professionally, and both got called 'male chauvinist pigs.'"
The term "male chauvinist pig" had a lot of bite during the Gloria Steinem/Betty Friedan era of feminism. And the Archie Bunker character on Norman Lear's 1970s sitcom "All in the Family" was a textbook example of a fictional "male chauvinist pig" in pop culture.
Willett, author of the book "The Male Chauvinist Pig: A History," discusses the origins of the term, noting that before the 1960s, racists were sometimes described as "White chauvinists" — and 1960s-era feminists applied the "chauvinist" concept to women's rights.
"In the 1960s, as feminists — many of them red-diaper babies — created their own networks, they adopted the language to name patriarchy," Willett recalls. "Pig was an obvious addition, an old insult for those holding corrupt power. Its historical links to racialized policing perhaps led to 'pig' as a moniker for White police terror."
Willett notes that while the Black Panthers, during the 1960s, used the "pig" concept to attack racists, feminists applied it to sexists.
"Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party said…. 'pig' was chosen to show 'grotesque qualities' and create a 'detestable' picture 'that takes away the image of omnipotence' of the White power structure," Willett notes. "The male chauvinist pig thus captured feminist fury as intertwined with other movements on the left: against nationalism, against racism, against capitalism and against cops. As activist Robin Morgan explained in the underground newspaper Rat in 1968, women wanted to target 'all the good old American values.' The insult did just that."
Willett adds, however, that some men — for example, the late far-right talk radio host Rush Limbaugh — considered it a badge of honor to be called a "male chauvinist pig."
"This embrace of what was meant to be derogatory rendered the real complaints of women unserious," Willett observes. "By the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh proudly called himself a pig. He could take a joke; why couldn't the women he called 'feminazis?' Cuomo, similarly, dismissed his female accusers as humorless, allowing him to frame his own actions as benign. Cuomo's political demise may indicate that this tactic no longer works, that the chauvinist pig has been put in his place. But then again, they say Trump could run in 2024."
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