Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo


Sam Mills

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Everybody knows a Chauvo-Feminist…

The 2017 #MeToo movement was a flagship moment, a time which empowered women to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse in a spirit of solidarity and in demand of change. But have some men simply changed tactics?

Acclaimed author Sam Mills investigates the phenomenon of the chauvo-feminist, the man whose public feminism works to advance his career, whilst his private self exhibits age-old chauvinistic tactics. Through testimonies and her own experience, Mills examines the psychological underpinnings of the chauvo-feminist, exploring questions of modern relationships, consent, and emotional abuse and asks how we might move beyond ‘trial by Twitter’ to encourage an honest and productive dialogue between men and women.

Sam Mills is the author of numerous books, including The Quiddity of Will Self (Corsair, 2013), and recent memoir of love, madness and caring The Fragments of My Father (Fourth Estate, 2020).


‘We’ve all met That Guy. In this searching and provocative essay, Sam Mills neatly skewers the men who publicly spout feminism while treating women badly behind closed doors –– and asks how we can move forward to a happier, more feminist future.’
—Samantha Ellis

‘Thought-provoking, on point and abreast of contemporary ideas about the chauvinism of women’s everyday lives. A book for our times.’
—Monique Roffey

‘In this lithe and luminous essay, Sam Mills explodes the hypocrisy of many men in the wake of the #MeToo movement . . . Clever, funny, gripping and beautifully written… An exploration not just of the female experience, but of civilisation itself. This is a dazzling, essential book. Men with mutant politics: beware!’
—Emma Jane Unsworth

‘Wide-ranging in scope, this thought-provoking pocket essay book is a crucial addition to the canon of contemporary feminist writing.’
—Robert Greer

Dimensions: A format paperback with flaps
Length: 176 pages
Published: 11 February 2021
ISBN: 9781911648185
Cover design: © House of Thought

Publicist: Jordan Taylor-Jones
Agent: Will Francis at Janklow and Nesbit
Foreign rights: The Marsh Agency

About the author

Sam Mills studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University and worked as a journalist and publicist before becoming a full-time writer.

Her debut novel for adults, The Quiddity of Will Self, was described by The Sunday Times as ‘an ingenious, energetic read’ and by the Guardian as ‘extraordinary’. Her literary memoir of caring for her father, Fragments of My Father, was published by Fourth Estate in May 2020.

Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power & #MeToo

Late spring, the late 1990s: I am sitting in a small conference room in Oxford University. I am nineteen years old. There are eleven students in our group, twice as many men as women. We are in our first year studying for a BA in English Literature.

The tutor enters. She is in her mid-fifties, tall and elegant, with salt-and-pepper hair and shrewd eyes. She sits down and informs us that she is standing in for this lesson because our usual tutor is absent. We are here to discuss feminist literary theory.

We all take a look at the photocopied extracts we have been given in preparation: an essay by Susan Gubar called The Blank Page and Issues of Female Creativity. She asks if we have any opinions on this. A silence follows. I feel uncomfortable; hesitant. I am one of the few people at my college from a working-class background. I still feel as though I am lucky to be at Oxford rather than someone who belongs there. Though I am confident when I pick up a pen and shape an essay, I am unpractised at translating my opinions into articulate speech. Many of the male students in my group have grown up being taught to debate at private school. Some look as though they wouldn’t be out of place in a Bullingdon Club photo. Usually they dominate the discussions, locking intellectual antlers. The silence feels conspiratorial: a pact of rejection.

And then one of the men mutters, ‘I think she’s got a clitoris problem,’ and a snigger ripples through the group. He gives the tutor a sidelong glance to emphasise that it is her particular clitoris that offends him.

I’m not sure if the tutor has heard him. She chooses to ignore him. She carries on with the lesson, but it is not a success. Every so often, a female student engages with her, but the men remain unusually quiet.

I feel bewildered by what I have witnessed. I have spent my teenage years studying at a girls’ school. I have grown up with brothers, in a household full of men who have treated me with respect. My experience of the male sex has been compartmentalized: I have danced with boys, dated them, got drunk with them, but I have not had to sit in a room with them and compete, nor deal with waspish remarks about female genitalia. My mother was discouraged from studying for a degree because her chauvinistic father said it was a waste of time and money, declaring she would only end up getting married and having kids. She has made it clear that I am different: I am from a privileged generation. I am under the illusion that I have prepared myself for my degree because I have spent my holidays industriously devouring the greats of English literature, from Beowulf to Chaucer to Austen to Eliot. I have not studied De Beauvoir, or Greer, or Wolf due to the idealistic assumption that times have evolved: we are living in a world that has undergone several waves of feminism and is now egalitarian.

Sitting in that room in Oxford, I felt as though I had been launched into a battlefield without armour, weaponry or training, to fight a war that I thought women of decades past had already won.

Whenever I retell this experience, people immediately assume that the chauvinist I am describing is a supercilious public school boy. But he had studied at a comprehensive, seemed down to earth, had a good sense of humour and was well liked.

In our next tutorial, he argued passionately against having to study feminist literary theory at all. The tutor pointed out that such a line of argument would mean there was also no point in studying postcolonialism, or having any interest in anyone beyond his own small sphere of experience. This did not seem to strike him as a problem.

If I were to see my chauvinist again – at a reunion, for example – I am sure that he would be deeply embarrassed about his remarks, just as I feel angry with my young self for staying silent. He is happily married now, a successful professional, and behaves in a respectful manner with his female colleagues. We were all intelligent students, but we were also naive teenagers. By the time I left Oxford, I was what I might describe as a feminist-in-the-making, still under-read and confused by a world that was not as egalitarian as I thought it, but ready to fight if need be.

Georgia DC for Bookblast, 21 June 2021: Review | Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo, Sam Mills

Mika Ross-Southall for The Spectator, 24 April 2021: Beware the woke misogynist: Sam Mills warns against men who publicly champion feminism in order to lure women into abusive relationships 

 Ellspells, 22 April 2021: Review: Chauvo-Feminism by Sam Mills

CP Hunter for The Arts Desk, 29 March 2021: Q&A: Author Sam Mills on the phenomenon of the ‘chauvo-feminist’’

Ordinary Instant Podcast, 1 March 2021: ‘Talking Genuinfluencers & Chauvo-Feminism’ 

Andrew Gallix for The Irish Times, 27 February 2021: ‘Books in brief: From drone music to fig leaves for misogyny’

Anna Hollingsworth for Shiny New Books, 23 February 2021: ‘Review: Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo by Sam Mills’ 

New Statesman, 17 February 2021: ‘NS Recommends: New books from Eliot Higgins, Matthew Kneale, Jane Smiley and Sam Mills’

Rebecca Savage for Lucy Writer’s Platform, 15 February 2020: ‘Chauvo-Feminism: men, women, and feminism in the aftermath of #MeToo’ 

Sam Mills on TalkRADIO, 13 February 2021: Badass Women’s Hour (21.15-21.45)

Jackie Law for neverimitate, 12 February 2021: ‘Book Review: Chauvo-Feminism’ 

Sam Mills for Stylist, 11 February 2021: ‘Have you met a chauvo-feminist? That’s a man who acts like a feminist but is a chauvinist at heart’

Anna Vaught for 3:AM Magazine, 10 February 2021: ‘Review: Chauvo-Feminism’

Martin Chilton for The Independent, 1 February 2021: ‘Books of the month: From Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable to Nikesh Shukla’s Brown Baby’

The Indie Insider Newsletter, 23 December 2020: ‘New Year’s Read-olutions: What we’re looking forward to in 2021’ 

Chiltern Voice Community Radio Book Club 2020, 28 November 2020: Interview with Sam Mills

The Idler: Review of Chauvo-Feminism

The London Magazine Podcast, October 2022: Interview with Sam Mills

Sam Mills for The London Magazine: Les Liaisons Dangereuses: A Book That Keeps Burning

Dutch edition

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