Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Kafkaesque Feminism


There are numerous reasons for a libertarian to reject feminism, and I may not get to all of them this month, but one thing that should rub most libertarians the wrong way is the Kafka-like inability of a well-meaning agent to be confident he has behaved justly under the arbitrary and unpredictable (not to mention never-clearly-stated) moral rules of feminism.

If you tell a woman she looks better in dresses than in pants, have you “coerced” her without using physical force? Is this contingent on whether nine out of ten other males told her the same thing? Who the hell knows. You just have to sit there waiting for feminists to pass judgment. I don’t think most people of a libertarian bent would consider even the harshest of wine or theatre critics in any meaningful sense coercive (freedom means experiment and feedback, speech and critical response, as Virginia Postrel says). Yet expressing biologically- or for that matter historically-rooted gender-related aesthetic preferences is somehow akin to truncheon-wielding, surprisingly enough.

Is fashion evil? Cosmetics? Male-dominated sports? They can always get you for something, and you just have to wait and see when the Sword of Damocles descends — and possibly even apologize afterwards for using violent imagery involving swords. Uh, I mean, unless feminists claim this week that “women like swords just as much as men.” (Then again, Swords of Damocles may be considered laughable Freudian castration imagery this week…or, on the other hand, is this one of those weeks when it’s considered laughably paranoid to think people still talk about Freudianism and deconstruction and semiotics? Be careful.)

Similarly, I gather that in these porny, Third-Wave-feminist times, we’re now supposed to think strippers are oppressive when they’re hot, busty blondes but non-oppressive when they’re tattooed lesbians with bisexual friends in the audience who find Weimar kitschy. I’m not joking. I guess the Third Wave-type feminists can send a memo when they decide all this for sure. In the interim, shamed and guilt-wracked, we can only await their verdicts. (Or not. Actually, I’m going with…not.)


jenny said...

this miniskirted, knee-high-booted feminist thinks you’re misrepresenting feminism. or perhaps she’s just peculiarly stuck in the second wave, as would be suggested by her wardrobe.

(and i’m confused as to how strippers can be oppressive, unless they’re smothering you with their busty blondness.)

Abhishek Saha said...

Todd, I pretty much agree with you on everything libertarian, and I am not a feminist — but I fear you are misrepresenting feminism. At the very least, I believe there are some (many?) feminists who would not be included in your description.

It is obvious that social pressures exist; as a libertarian I also believe that these are a completely different category than *actual* ‘coercion’ and as such, the state has no business regulating or actioning them. However, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea that these social matters are still worth discussing, and some aspects of them countering, using purely social and voluntary tools of course. I think it is also possible to approach this whole matter in a fairly objective and rational matter, and in particular do so in a manner consistent with retain libertarian ideas about individual freedom. Sure, a lot of feminists, are not of this category, but I am sure some are, and it is a bit heavy-handed to tar them all by the same brush, don’t you think?

Dirtyrottenvarmint said...


Perhaps you should dedicate a post to discussing the complex range of social philosophies that comprises “feminism”, and the relation each of these has to libertarianism. Most libertarians probably would not favor a return to chattel marriage or the denial of property rights to women – one reason the Ron Paul movement’s opposition to the war against Islamic fascism is severely misguided. On the other hand, you are correct that modern feminism is also associated with a number of plainly socialist ideas. Perhaps the thing to do is not to talk about “isms” at all, but instead discuss specific social policies. I propose starting with the institution of heterosexual monogamous marriage, and its relationship to the social value of the female. Abortion or infanticide could be good starting points as well.

Ken Silber said...

If a problem with feminism is that its claims are shifting and unpredictable, doesn’t libertarianism have the same problem? Sometimes libertarianism means there should be no government, sometimes minimal or limited government. Sometimes being pro-choice or against the drug war is integral to libertarianism, sometimes not. Sometimes non-interventionist foreign policy, sometimes not. It all depends on which libertarian you talk to, and when.

Todd Seavey said...

No, there is a profound difference between ambiguities arising from, on one hand, _tough cases_ or the inevitable ambiguity of language, and, on the other hand, the ambiguity arising from a sort of stealthy and strategic refusal to state clearly what one’s goals and grievances and groundrules for retaliation are.

I’ll address self-serving feminist shiftiness in that regard in the Thur., Dec. 4 entry (and in general will tend to reply to comments in subsequent entries this month).

jenny said...

…a sort of stealthy and strategic refusal to state clearly what one’s goals and grievances and groundrules for retaliation are.

sounds awfully conspiracy theorist to me. i daresay “feminism” isn’t a political ideology, but rather a social one – and one that isn’t (and has never been) characterized by a uniform set of core tenants beyond “the inherent worth of women is no less than that of men.” everything else feminist seems (to me) to flow (blood red, hah hah) from that – property rights, inviolability of one’s body, equal pay, and so on.

not being an academic feminist but rather a practical one, though, i’m sure i’m completely wrong in my above assertions. after all, i did define the core tenant in opposition to the patriarchy, which is probably committing some sort of cardinal sin. and this is all coming from a woman who deliberately sabotaged her law firm interviews by asking about maternity leave.

Dirtyrottenvarmint said...

Oh, good. Jenny, perhaps you can address the question of why law firms seem so set against maternity leave. It’s always struck me as odd. I mean, we’re dealing with what, a couple hundred years of legal tradition? Does being out of the game for 9 months really make one’s skill set that obsolete?

jenny said...

nine months? there are companies that allow nine months of maternity leave???

i have no idea why law firms are the way they are. i have a sneaking suspicion it isn’t the maternity leave per se that’s a problem, but rather the notion that a woman, once she’s bred, will choose to spend some of her time with the kidlets rather than at the office. and we can’t have that, now, can we?

some firms have instituted non-partnership tracks, or modified partnership tracks, allowing people (not just women) more flexibility in how they approach their work. this makes sense to me, and not just from a family-friendly standpoint. there are many excellent lawyers who have no interest in making partner, or who prefer to be able to go hiking or catch a concert rather than remain chained to their desks for all eternity.