Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why Nobody Wants to be a Feminist: My Response to Clarissa

Clarissa did an excellent post a few days ago, Why Nobody Wants to be a Feminist where she challenges women to accept the full consequences of being liberated from patriarchy.

Feminism has given women a lot in the last several decades. However, new rights always come accompanied with new responsibilities and obligations. While feminism was in the process of granting women rights, they were happy to accept it. As soon as the time came to “pay the bills” and assume new obligations that came with being accepted as fully human, women abandoned the movement in droves. Unless we accept this very unpleasant truth and start doing something about it, it is my profound conviction that no amount of ethnic-specific feminisms and happy bondings between second, third and fourth generations of feminists will help attract more women to feminism. The problem does not lie within the movement. It is located outside, in people who don’t want to belong to it, who cringe when they hear the word “feminism”, or who have abandoned it.


Unless we accept that the patriarchy victimizes and rewards both women and men, we will never move on from this stalemate. Many women are standing in the way of feminism today because they are unwilling to let go of the benefits the patriarchy offered them, even as they keep enjoying the removal of constraints it used to place on their lives. In my culture, we call this “sitting on two chairs.” And that, my friends, is always a dangerous activity to engage in.


I agree with Clarissa, though I would take it a step further. At its heart, feminism has never been about a principled defense of equal rights, but simply a grab for arbitrary special privileges. If feminism was actually about equal rights then the very term "women's rights" would be dropped and everything would be framed in terms of human rights. For example abortion would have nothing to do with a woman's "right to choose" or "control her own body;" it would simply be a plausible extension of the premise that individual human beings are the one's best suited for evaluating their own good and must be left as the sole arbitrators of matters relating to their own bodies. This leads to the conclusion that individuals should be allowed to use drugs, sell themselves as prostitutes, their own organs and possibly to have abortions. (See "The Libertarian Case Against Abortion.")       
Closer to Clarissa's point, feminists themselves have proven unwilling to abandon distinctions of gender when such distinctions are beneficial to women. We see this when it comes to sports and acting awards, but more importantly the draft, which women are still protected from. (It would be worth bringing the draft back just to see men in mass refusing to serve unless women did so as well or agreed  to give up the equal right to vote and hold down a job.) Either gender is rendered politically or socially meaningless like race and religion across the board or we admit that it is meaningful and negotiate where and how on the assumption that any special privilege will be paid for by accepting a form of discrimination on a different front. For example, it may be that if women desire special protection in terms of maternal leave they may have to pay for it by surrendering reproductive freedoms. The logic being that if the bearing of children is of some value to society at large so that companies should make special allowances for it then women, in turn, should submit themselves to the needs of society and fashion their reproductive lives in a way that best serves those needs.

Naturally, if the privilege is merely social then the discrimination, in turn, should also only be social. To make my own position clear. I oppose political distinctions based on gender (including women being exempted from the draft). That being said, and this is the Burkean conservative in me, I accept that, at a social level, there will for the foreseeable future continue to be social distinctions based on gender. It is my hope that, as a society, we can figure out a way to negotiate through these distinctions, men and women talking as equals.

There are consequences for this feminist unwillingness to take a principled stand on equal rights. If feminists are seen as trying to sit on two chairs with one rear end, then non-ideologically committed women can naturally only be expected to follow suit and not ask themselves the hard questions about being courted in marriage and becoming stay at home moms. Furthermore, this opens feminists to attack from different sides. Minority group feminists will attack establishment feminism as "white" feminism. If women are simply an arbitrary group grabbing for arbitrary special privileges then other arbitrary groups can arise within this already arbitrary group accuse others of wanting arbitrary special privileges and demand arbitrary special privileges of their own.

The greatest concern to any honest liberal should be how this plays into the hands of conservatives. If the people who claim to be liberals and supporters of equal rights behave like conservatives, creating arbitrary groups and handing out privileges and discriminating against at will, then we can only expect the true conservatives out there to throw away any pretext of supporting equal rights now that they no longer need to feel ashamed in the face of an honest principled liberalism.    

4 comments:

Steve Finnell said...

you are ivited to follow my blog

Garnel Ironheart said...

My favourite example is how women are capable, independent and equal.... until they come into divorce court. Then suddenly they're helpless, incapable and need to have all their ex's money in order to survive because they'd never be able to make it on their own.

Anonymous said...

You failed to make any kind of cohesive argument. What are the arbitrary privileges women seek? Access to equal pay, upward mobility in the job market, bodily autonomy? Also, I see no logical connection between your abortion/maternal leave comparison - are you suggesting women either must be stay at home moms or, upon entering the workplace lose the right to have children? What privileges do women have over men in the arenas of acting and sports? Also, the reason women aren't drafted is because they aren't allowed in combat. Change that social construct first if you think it is so beneficial to society to have women in combat, then make your foolish point. Your assertion that either women should be drafted or relinquish their right to vote or work is unutterably repugnant.

Izgad said...

You have failed to list any rights as understood within the classical liberal model of life, liberty and property. If something does not involve being protected against the initiation of physical violence then it is not a right. On the contrary to have the government step in and protect such as thing as a “right” is a violation as rights as it would involve initiating violence against someone else. (All government actions implies a threat of violence.)
Colleges are required to provide special women’s teams and do not have the option of simply of allowing both men and women to try out for the same team. Any man who would be physically capable of making it onto a girls’ team and is not allowed to because of his gender has been discriminated against (and vice versa of course).
There is no right to have a baby. It is a privilege that you purchase for yourself quite literally by spending the money necessary to raise a child through college (and perhaps beyond).
Obviously I support women being sent into combat situations just like men. Do you believe that your blood is redder than mine that I should go off to die while you get to stay at home? The idea of women serving in the front lines as a prerequisite for equal rights has been around since Plato. I am willing to make such an agreement, are you?