Not surprisingly, some feminists framed this week’s Supreme Court decision allowing states to limit second- and third-trimester partial-birth abortions as an attack on women’s rights. Like a lot of Americans — though not the ones you tend to see arguing about abortion on television, for reasons more aesthetic than political — I’m fairly moderate on the abortion topic, inclined to think that fetuses are less than full persons but more than, say, tumors and thus arguably due some degree of moral concern and legal protection, particularly the farther along they are in the development process. Rough, centrist legal remedies like, say, allowing abortion in the first trimester but limiting partial-birth abortion in the third trimester are thus OK by me, though inevitably we will always be without a perfect solution on this topic. So I’d rather talk about feminism instead.
I mentioned my opposition to feminism in an earlier post called “Brief Statement of Principles,” which is now also posted as one of the Permanent Things in my right margin, as is my half-joking Personal Ad — something you should read instead of the current post if you happen to be a feminist who might be willing to date me but will cease to be willing if you read my denunciation of feminism. Also among the Permanent Things is information on the monthly Debates at Lolita Bar that I organize and host, which next month (May 2) will feature an intra-feminist argument between comedian-debaters Charles Star and Jen Dziura over the question “Does the Beauty Industry Oppress Women?” So come hear them and, if the current blog entry upsets or inspires you, come give me a piece of your mind while you’re at it.
There’s bound to be something in the following Ten Complaints About Feminism you disagree with (all that I really have time for now, though one could write a multi-volume encyclopedia with tiny little footnotes):
1. Making A Priori Moral Assertions About Thoroughly Empirical Questions
This is really my main complaint about feminism, as philosophy, and I mentioned it in the Principles post already. I get the sense whenever listening to feminist arguments that there are conclusions I am being morally goaded into drawing about how the world works even before I have been allowed to investigate — that women and men’s intelligence “must” be found to be equal, or that if men are smarter at some things, women “must” be smarter at others in such a way that it all evens out (in some grand, ill-defined metaphysical sense) so that everyone feels like an equal partner in democracy at the end of the day. That’s just bad science.
And speaking of science, I should preface this entire list of complaints with the comment that I am well aware that individuals frequently defy the broad, relatively subtle generalizations made about them, and in my own life I’m lucky enough to have frequent contact with highly rational female colleagues, for example both ones with science expertise greater than my own (at work at the American Council on Science and Health) and ones with phenomenal writing skills in my off-hours existence, which so often involves rubbing elbows with various media folk.
Yet the data suggest that there are intelligence differences between males and females, and without going into each sub-category of intelligence (ability to negotiate three-dimensional spaces, ability to read emotions from faces, recall, math, etc.), I will say that there seem to be both more male geniuses than female geniuses and more male idiots than female idiots. For a moment, the reader hoping (for whatever a priori reasons) to find “balance” in evaluations of the two sexes might feel relieved that in some sense the IQ differences appear to “even out” — but a tendency for women to bunch near the norm while males are more likely to rise to the top and to end up in prison is hardly, I think, the sort of simple “equality” that underpins most traditional, idealistic feminist thinking. Those differences have huge implications that we’re still sorting out and may render, for example, the application of affirmative action laws to gender “balance” absurd (and unjust).
2. Refusing to Define “Feminism” Clearly Enough to Judge Its Value
If people are going to say “I am a feminist” — or be outraged by someone’s statement “I am not a feminist” — you’d think they’d have some sort of definition of the term in mind. Yet in my experience, defenders of the term are perfectly content to give slippery reformulations of it that to a less than fully magnanimous listener might seem to be offered more for moment-to-moment strategic purposes than for clarity — usually for the purposes of either reading someone out of the feminist movement (if, say, they find that someone unattractive) or insisting that someone is indeed a feminist whether he likes it or not (perhaps, for instance, because he is deemed attractive).
This problem of amorphous, not terribly useful definitions crops up repeatedly on the left — as in the case of the term “global warming” being craftily and strategically replaced in much recent discourse by the ludicrous catch-all “climate change,” no doubt in part so that anything that happens (since climate is not, and never has been, unchanging) can now count as evidence for “climate change” — which either implies business as usual or an imminent crisis demanding takeover of the global economy, depending on rhetorical circumstances (this sort of terminological chicanery tends to be closely associated with another of the sophist’s favorite tools, cherry-picking of data — the sort of selective attention that now leads to each hurricane being spoken of as “possibly” caused by “climate change” but does not, of course, lead to headlines this month saying, as they might well have: COLDEST EASTER IN SIXTY-SEVEN YEARS: DOES PLANET FACE “FREEZE PERIL”? [but for more on climate change, see the recent debate about it posted on the blog I edit at my real job, HealthFactsAndFears, which often examines the way weak data is turned into overblown doomsday rhetoric]).
One female friend and past commenter on this fledgling site has summarized feminism as the belief that “women are people too,” to which I am tempted to say that perhaps Black Nationalism, then, is the view that “black people have lungs and circulatory systems,” in which case I’m a Black Nationalist and a feminist. But it seems as if feminism is supposed to be something more than that, certainly something that implies a moral veto power of some sort over aspects of traditional male behavior.
3. Feminism Often Demolishes the Very Traditions That Could Solve Our Problems.
Fittingly, I once had a notion that turned out, like most good conservative ideas, to have been better stated by someone else before me, in this case Irving Kristol. He observed, back in the 70s, before we’d even gotten in the habit of calling politicized campus speech codes “political correctness,” that feminist and leftist taboos are not so much opposed to traditional etiquette rules as they are a hastily-constructed, ramshackle substitute for traditional etiquette. To take a collegiate example: tradition dictated that young men shouldn’t walk around half-naked in front of women they hardly know, and the left demolished that taboo with the result that women — even smart, “liberated” women — found themselves quite alarmed by the naked men walking around their dorm rooms but unable to articulate their objections in (hated) traditional language (“boorish,” “unseemly,” “not gentlemanly”) and so had to concoct (proper) leftist rationales — not always terribly good ones — for a de facto return to the old order and in some cases separate bathrooms (“All those men are potential rapists!” “If we’re all naked, they may objectify me!” “I can see his patriarchy hanging out, for goodness’ sake!”). Being a lefist means, above all else, never admitting you made a mistake — or rather that predecessors thinking along the same lines as you made mistakes — and so we “progress” on to a new set of rules, learning almost nothing from the experience of abandoning the older, more nuanced set that preceded them. So it is with liberalism, always.
4. In Any Truly Useful Gendered Analysis, Ineradicable, Natural Inequalities May Well Matter Most.
I think the degree to which people prefer pleasant illusions to truth is often underestimated. In the specific case of relations between the sexes, it is largely the women’s delicate sensibilities that determine what illusions we will all agree to use, the main one being the pretense that humanity isn’t driven largely by the animal impulse to be what the hip-hop community refers to as pimps and hos. But lest that comment be misinterpreted, let me first describe the psyche, as near I understand it (never having hired any), of the prostitute.
Libertarians tend to look upon prostitutes — hos for present purposes — as simply another sort of worker engaged in financial transactions. Liberals tend to see them as among the downtrodden, indeed perhaps the patriarchy’s lowest victims. Conservatives see them as sinners and threats to the social fabric. All those analyses fly out the window, though, if we are to believe the claim made by multiple pimps in the documentary American Pimp that their hos receive no money for doing their “jobs.” All the money goes to the pimp. And, if anecdotal psychological evidence is to be believed, this is not simply because the ho gets paid by the pimp in diamonds, shelter, and fur. Rather, many hos are psychologically dependent on their pimp in more the way we expect of cult members orbiting a revered father-leader. Many even get started on their “careers,” apparently, by doing sexual “favors” for the pimp’s friends. Something less pristine and far more sad than a cold transaction is taking place — or so it reportedly is in at least some cases (I don’t mean thereby to rule out the possibility of some hos being just as strong and sane as the rest of us and simply deciding to take up the most easy, lucrative line of work available to them at the time — people vary).
But what it comes down to is that most men, far from needing to dominate women, may actually be more naturally prone to seek out an equal, an attainable partner, while women are naturally inclined to throw themselves in huge clusters at the one alpha male — or at a tiny handful of alpha males — at the top of the social heap. This makes evolutionary sense, since the one alpha can easily impregnate them all, especially if he’s already killed off all his male rivals (whereas women basically can’t have babies any faster no matter how many rivals they displace, so there’s less point in a woman trying to amass a he-harem of ready males). Why settle for a lower-caste male, girls, when you can be one of countless harem-girls who gets a tiny portion of the endlessly-flowing sperm of The Best Guy? And, yes, some small minority of men will calculate — or simply feel on a gut level, as a result of instincts produced by evolution’s mating calculus — that they have a better shot at flourishing in a competition to become the pimp-daddy themselves than in a culture that strongly encourages permanent pair-bonding. But most males, I think, simply want an acceptable, normal girlfriend.
This is the fundamental asymmetry at the heart of all human life, and any philosophy that purports to show that the two sexes are “equal” — or that they would behave the same way if only the cruel, arbitrary rules of the “patriarchy” were somehow abolished — is as hopelessly at odds with fundamental human nature and social reality as a theory that says deer “ought” to live in an aquarium in the same tank as the octopus. Any honest examination of human life ought to start from this evolutionary psychology insight about the differential behavioral implications of wildly different sperm and egg production/usability rates.
Otherwise, feminists are doomed (and the rest of us along with them to the extent we have to listen to them or abide by the laws they inspire) to be shocked and offended anew each time, say, a Bill Clinton (or someone else with the most resources or power) amasses an army of fellatrices even while talking the talk of feminist empowerment, or all the female interns sleep with the same male partner at the law firm, or all the women in some ostensibly egalitarian art- or free-love-oriented collective all rotate through the bed of the one male guru in charge in part because all the other women have so it must be the most desirable thing to do, or half the parish women throw themselves at the priest, or countless amoral she-yuppies become mistresses to one rich already-married businessman while turning up their noses (and instinctively protecting their vaginas from entry by the genetically inferior) at more sincere romantic overtures from lower-caste, single, monogamous males.
The power of women to delude themselves into not noticing these patterns even while engaging in them would be breathtaking were it not by now so familiar. But all talk of “equality” is nonsense so long as women continue to behave like harem-girls, and the evidence is ample that their doing so has nothing to do with some slight income disparity or tragic but temporary bought of low self-esteem — this, Dr. Freud, is what women want. Having failed to hold the attention of the CEO, football captain, or other pimp-daddy at the top of the social heap, they will eventually settle (marriage rates would be far lower otherwise), but whether de jure or merely de facto, harem-formation will always be a natural tendency among mating humans.
And who knows, if I were sleazy enough to lie, behave callously, or jockey for position, perhaps I too could one day become a pimp-daddy (surely it’s at least natural for all males to think so).
But the tragic thing is that I am perhaps more feminist in one narrow sense than anyone: I want one truly equal (intellectually, emotionally, morally) partner and had assumed since imbibing the feminist messages pervading pop culture in the 70s and 80s that that was a natural, relatively easily-found thing. And while I was in effect being a naive feminist and trying to engage women in respectful conversation about philosophy, women were sleeping with the callous football captain and the even more callous professor (hey, beats dating your equals). So it shall ever be, and it’s time men stopped letting women dupe them into feeling guilty about it and time we all stopped denying it. They may try to silence you, boys — call you bitter, even oppressive — but we have to start breaking the silence if things are going to get better. Though they won’t. Ever. Not with this species — and the pattern is roughly identical in almost all others, as zoologists know (but probably never admit in front of their feminist spouses), right down to the male dung beetles competing to see who can offer the coy female the biggest piece of dung. (Species that don’t fit the pattern are usually abnormal in some other way that does not fit the human pattern, as with seahorse males being the ones to carry the fertilized eggs. On a related note, I think that people who worry that awareness of evolutionary theory will lead people to behave like animals have it exactly backwards — those who forget evolutionary theory are most likely to passively follow evolution’s dictates, as with religious fundamentalists who don’t believe in the centrality of reproductive drives to human behavior but “coincidentally” claim that God wants us to “be fruitful and multiply.” Cretins.)
I am reminded of a female co-worker in my ABC News days, one who considered herself both a libertarian and a feminist, who said she resented men so often choosing to date younger women, as though this were entirely up to the (icky) men. “When you were a high school freshman,” I asked her, “Did you want to date the freshman males or the seniors?” The seniors, she admitted. “Well, then, think of this as payback time,” I told her. Truer words were never spoken, if I do say so myself. In a sane world, the Women’s Studies departments would close and classes would instead be built around my words. Maybe someday.
5. The Feminsts Often Recapitulate Traditional Patterns While Demanding that No One Point This Out.
Only days ago, as it happens, I heard a left-leaning feminist of my acquaintance, one not only trained in psychology but philosophically inclined to claim some sophistication on sexual matters, express surprise that a man she’d kissed is a Republican. How did this philosophical interloper win over our sophisticate? From what little I observed, it had a great deal to do with him (a) talking about money and (b) using (consciously or not) the infamous “negs,” or offhand insulting comments, seemingly delivered without ill intent, that lower the woman’s self-esteem enough to make her think the guy must be her superior — someone from up near the top of that aforementioned alpha-male-capped heap — and thus to be desired (this technique is apparently all the rage with men who teach courses and write books about how to pick up women, and more than that I’d just as soon not know — though I’ve already witnessed it working its magic in at least two cases in my extended social circle and I’m sure it goes on all the time).
Imagine how insulted these people would be, though, if I were to suggested they’d simply repeated the widespread pimp-ho behavior pattern written (as at least one mating strategy among many, the human brain being admirably flexible) into our genes and celebrated by countless abrasive rappers. If modern women behave like hos, feminism tends to insist, the blame must belong to men, the evil capitalist system with its income disparities, or some aberrant self-esteem problem on the part of select females. But what happens to feminism’s egalitarian worldview if this is simply the way women tend by nature to like it, absent lots of rationalistic or religious haranguing to behave otherwise?
Traditional, 70s-style feminists have spent the past four decades honing their arguments against conservatives and capitalists, but I suspect their cause is ultimately going to be done in instead by a rising generation of trashy hos.
6. Feminists Tend to Disparage Current Social Arrangements Even When They Are in Fact Working to Women’s Advantage.
To what extent, I wonder, will monogamy (including marriage, so often depicted as something of a trap by feminists) be looked back upon as the chief cause of the egalitarian-feminist impulse in the past two centuries? The male-female diatom does, after all, lend itself to thinking of two equal partners. As that diatom becomes less common, I suspect the illusion of equality will also naturally erode — though that illusion will not go quietly. Liberals, being naturally inclined to totalitarianism, are willing to expend a great deal of (other people’s) resources trying to shoehorn social reality into their mental picture of how it ought to operate. As women end up poor, without husbands but saddled with children, liberals are perfectly willing to denounce traditional ideas of marriage in one breath (Who needs a male breadwinner?) and call for ever-increasing wealth redistribution with the next breath — to pick up the shattered pieces of the society they’re destroying. (I don’t pretend any of this was fully intended on the left’s part — the left, to my mind, is not so much a sinister conspiracy as a grand tragedy in which we are all players as participants in modernity.)
On a similar, though perhaps less consequential, note, I think feminists often tote up as patriarchal wrongs things that were produced precisely by the leftist/feminist sense of irony, as with an upcoming movie that might as well be entitled Vagina Dentata: The Motion Picture. If everything in pop culture that’s stupid (say, sunny weather girls with no real knowledge of meteorology) automatically counted as conservative or patriarchal, then opponents of conservatism and patriarchy would indeed have a strong case. But stupidity is transpartisan.
7. In Its Recent Manifestations, Feminism (While, Thankfully, Less Ideologically Rigid) Seems to Encourage Women to Insist They Are Not Only as Good as Men But as Bad.
What exactly is this “girl power” (for lack of a better term) form of feminism that the Generation Y members now fall for if not simply the usual feminist hypocrisy — regard us as equals even while giving us special treatment — gussied up in its latest form, in which we are ordered to believe that in addition to being exactly as smart and employable as men they are also just as macho (until they cry)?
Lately, it almost seems that “feminism” is now mainly a brand of spunky pugnacity — like they’ve gone from trying to “be men” (becoming lawyers and whatnot, as was the ideal back in the 60s and 70s) to simply trying to “be boys” (loutish, crude, oversexed, drunk, etc.).
Why is everything that’s supposedly wrong when men do it OK when women do it? Having heard for decades about how crude and exploitative it is for men to look at women’s bodies, for instance, are we now supposed to think at the same time that it’s cool when lesbians or bisexuals do it? I’m inclined to think that if it’s OK for the lesbians to do it, feminism owes a memo of apology to Hugh Hefner and company. (“But when I do it, it’s cute!” as Homer Simpson once insisted, in one of the most succinct summaries of moral double-standards ever written.)
As always, what the feminists seem most to want to be liberated from is…intellectual consistency. So if you say women today still behave in a more feminine manner than men, you are condemned by them. If you then say women behave in a more masculine manner than they used to, you are condemned. If you say that they deny the validity of such categories as “masculine” and “feminine,” you are condemned for depicting them in an outmoded, straw-(wo)man form. And on it goes, never arriving at a point where one can comfortably describe reality in anything resembling a familiar form without the feminist seeking some sort of leg up on discourse by asserting that more respect must be paid to them and their (vague) cause. And even if they found that last sentence accurate, they would most likely just assert that it is a moral triumph of some sort to perpetually complicate and render problematic all attempts at discourse — until you asserted that that was the effect they were having, at which point they would probably assert that you’re overreacting and switch back to the “we’re just ordinary women who want the usual, non-radical things” mode. It’s all quite mercurial, in my experience.
8. Feminism Seems Increasingly to Point to Worst-Case Scenarios as Evidence Feminism is Still Needed.
As evidence their movement has some point, feminists trot out things that (virtually) all non-feminists already agree with, such as opposition to rape. Claiming that opposition to rape — or intense forms of verbal abuse, for that matter — makes one a feminist is a bit like saying that opposition to the Klan makes one a Democrat.
They will also try these days to take credit for the most basic, nigh-universal rules of civility, as if thinking that listening to what people have to say and refraining from punching them in the face were feminist moral innovations (indeed, tolerance and not hitting people in the face seem to me principles that, if consistently observed, make one more eligible for inclusion among libertarians than among feminists, since libertarians are the only philosophical faction aside from pacifists to consistently condemn the initiation of force).
9. Feminism Is Quite Plainly, Though No One Ever Seems to Point This Out, Self-Interested Rather than Dispassionately Just.
Is a woman being a feminist really any more admirable — weighed purely in terms of altruistic motivation — than a white guy becoming a white supremacist? After all, I don’t think even the white supremacists these days hold out much hope of passing anti-black laws…but they are always fighting for their tribe against others and seeing the world in those terms, even while condemning others for acting as self-interestedly. What has feminism become if not self-interested, tribalist pleading on behalf of a group that has already won all its morally relevant battles? Far from feminism being a feather in the cap of all respectable “intellectuals,” perhaps it should be a sign that someone has wholeheartedly immersed herself in naked partisanship and is unfit for the polite, civil, and disinterested discourse that makes philosophy and (rational) politics possible.
The goal of the movement, one suspects, isn’t to make sense of the world or to push some coherent model of justice — the whole thing is just one more guilt-tripping tactic, no more indicative of them holding the moral high ground than their ability to make males feel bad by crying (a tactic that I think has finally completely lost its power over me — if they’re crying, they may well deserve to be crying).
If I may, by way of compensation, plead on behalf of my own sex for just a moment: it is worth remembering that there is consistent, constant state violence (in the U.S.) against men, in the form, for instance, of affirmative action laws, tax-funded set-asides for women, and speech-restricting sexual harassment laws far more likely to be deployed against males, all enforceable by fines and (like all laws) ultimately by forcible imprisonment when people refuse to pay fines (though so pervasive is the legal threat that the guns rarely need to be displayed) and no such state violence (in the U.S., as opposed to many Islamic countries) uniquely directed at women. (Even abortion laws, of which there are precious few, apply in principle to both sexes — it’s just that biology, not law or society, has placed fetuses inside only one sex, but we’re skipping that topic and its endless complexities for now.)
And to those of my fellow libertarians who covet the “feminist” label — some calling themselves “individualist feminists” or “iFeminists” to show their opposition to the socialism so common in feminist writings: if some would contend that “conservatism” is too much entangled with the use of coercion for anyone of a libertarian bent to want that label, what on Earth are we to think of the label “feminist,” which seems to me almost invariably bound up with some of the most intrusive statist schemes ever devised, from legally policing what can be said in the workplace to what the composition of our workforce can be and, in many instances, what its members can be paid — not to mention the ever-looming threat of using vast, aggregate statistics regarding social power as a moral-legal trump card for demanding more spending or further changes in the law, rather than “letting the chips fall where they may” in terms of social power and marketplace performance, based on individual achievement (as laissez-faire thinking would counsel, and as most men, I think, would naturally prefer, competitive sorts that they are)? (The oft-cited “income disparity” stats about how much women earn vs. how much men earn are Marxist nonsense of the most presumptuous sort, based once again on the a priori assumption that women ought to be making the same career choices and displaying the same work habits and thus making the same amount of money as men — have we forgotten all those chaos theory lessons about how tiny initial differences can lead [without chicanery] to vastly different outcomes?)
Rather than pleading in a tribalistic fashion for women and feminists, intellectuals would be wiser to condemn all sorts of legal and intellectual double standards as a system of anti-male oppression — a matriarchy, if you will. Luckily for feminists (or at least, luckily for the handful of feminists who really mean it rather than just deploying feminist arguments as one more weapon in the quiver when, say, wiles or crying fail), men are less inclined to this sort of self-serving, tribalistic whining than women are, so an organized men’s movement — largely for reasons of chivalry — is never likely to become very aggressive. I may not even bring it up again myself, as fighting with girls seems mean.
Oh, and that raises a side point that I think is worthy of a few books and doctoral theses: far from feminism being the opposite of chivalry, it should by this late juncture in history be obvious that both chivalry and feminism are just systems for getting men to treat women more gently than they treat other men. The difference is that under chivalry, both sexes admitted this was the arrangement and under feminism, we are supposed to pretend women are being held to the same standard even when they aren’t.
If I am nice to women — and some will probably say that this post itself means I am not, itself an interesting and all too common argumentative tactic in feminist discussions — it may be precisely because I am not a feminist and recognize, chivalrously, that (for instance) when, on rare occasions, I make the mistake of arguing with women as vigorously as I would my male acquaintances, bad emotional consequences are likely to ensue.
10. Feminism Unwittingly Inspires Some Downright Bizarre Postmodern Arguments.
Getting back to abortion again, just briefly, there’s the absurd argument that men can’t have an opinion on it, since they can’t get pregnant. This seems roughly as absurd as (though of course not perfectly analogous to) saying, in the 1850s South, that only blacks can oppose slavery. This is a postmodern parody of argument, designed to discredit arguers instead of arguments — and what then happens if the same argument is made by people of both sexes? Is it at least potentially valid when women utter it but inconceivable when men do? Nonsense — and I say this regardless of the correct position on abortion. I say it merely to preserve something about as fundamental as life — the freedom to form moral opinions.
And some surveys suggest, by the way, that women are in fact more pro-life than men, so consider that before you make your next (unprincipled) strategic decision, pro-choice sistas.
I think that’s enough for one short blog post, though obviously volumes could (and ideally should) be written. I am just one man, though.
UPDATE 5/7/07: Well, in defiance of the critics, I have a new girlfriend, who you can read about here — though I admit that as I write this, she hasn’t yet read the above blog entry.