At the recommendation of more than one commenter here, I’m reading Susan J Douglas’s Enlightened Sexism. It explains a lot, and matches a lot.
The core idea is summed up on page 7:
…the media’s fantasies of power are also the product of another force that has gained considerable momentum since the early and mid-1990s: enlightened sexism. Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the perceieved threat of a new gender regime. It insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism – indeed, full equality has allegedly been achieved – so now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.
Long exhalation. Ohhhhhhh, so that’s what it is.
That would explain what I’m always fretfully wondering – why, when we learned that sexism was bad decades ago, are apparently reasonable people talking this shit? Why isn’t sexism taboo the way racism is taboo? Why do people who would never call someone a nigger in anger call women bitches, whores, cunts without hesitation?
If Douglas is right it’s because they think oh hai, feminism is over because women have all the things, so no problem calling them every degrading name that comes to mind, iz edgy and funny and cool to do that.
Strange thing to think, isn’t it, even if the premise were true, which of course it isn’t close to being. Now you have full equality, so we the rest of us can freely insult you, because that’s what equality is. Eh?
Ashley has a useful summary.