Friday, January 02, 2009

Why would a feminist attack motherhood?

Twisty the radical feminist never lets me down. She is so concerned to follow through with the theory, even if it makes her seem impractical or even unhinged, that she always comes up with something quotable.

Her latest effort? Twisty is a follower of patriarchy theory. She believes that society has been created by men to secure autonomy for themselves at the expense of women. Therefore, whatever seems to compromise women's autonomy must be rejected as a creation of the patriarchy. Motherhood compromises a woman's autonomy, as it places certain commitments and expectations upon women. Therefore, concludes Twisty, women must reject motherhood:

We are desperate for women to stop buying into the patriarchy-sponsored message about women’s fulfillment ... We want women to reject marriage and the nuclear family. We want women to not have kids in the first place.

No kids for women? That might be a logical position for a follower of patriarchy theory, but it's not a politics with much of a future. If women were to follow Twisty's advice, then the human race would very quickly die out.

Twisty is too uncompromisingly logical about her politics not to admit to this. So she wrote a follow-up post, in which she advocated that humans should, as a matter of principle, die out:

In light of a remark I made in a recent post ... that women should just quit having babies ... I thought it might be fun to revisit the Voluntary Human Extinctionist Movement.

The VHEMT manifesto is contained in a delightful website maintained since the late 90’s by an Oregon high school teacher named Les Knight. The gist of Les Knight’s argument is this: that the biosphere simply cannot sustain human beings in any way, shape or form ... As long as there remains a single breeding pair of humans, Knight avers, the danger of a destructo-human flare-up exists, so the only acceptable number of human inhabitants is zero.

So there you have it. A humanistic politics has morphed into a radical anti-humanism.

How did Twisty's readers respond? Some were supportive:

My philosophy has a name. Thank you Twisty, for showing me the way home. Maybe people will stop calling me nihilist now.

To which Twisty responded:

“Maybe people will stop calling me nihilist now.”

Not bloody likely. People get awfully sentimental about The Human Race and its cute little babies. And by “sentimental” I mean “violent.”

You think this is odd? But it's only the same modernist mindset taken one step further. Twisty is saying: look at those human supremacists, those "human racists" with their dark, violent urges and their irrational, merely sentimental attachment to human existence.

This is not a new or a different way of looking at things for moderns ... only a wider application of an existing politics.

Twisty was very upfront in the comments section about another aspect of feminist politics. Someone of my generation would have heard a lot from feminists about "reproductive freedom" for women. This was always assumed, though, to mean freedom from reproduction via contraception or abortion. There wasn't much thought given to a woman's freedom to actually reproduce.

According to Twisty, that's exactly how things should be:

I see this VHEMT stuff primarily as a reproductive freedom message ... What is meant by “reproductive freedom” is “freedom from reproduction.”

So freedom is understood to be a negative freedom from motherhood, rather than a positive freedom to participate in something of considerable significance to most women.

Those women in their 30s finding it difficult to partner and to form a family can't expect much help from feminists like Twisty.


  1. "We want women to not have kids in the first place."
    Echoes of Beauvoir's "No, we don't believe that any woman should have this choice. No woman should be authorised to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make it."

    "The gist of Les Knight’s argument is this: that the biosphere simply cannot sustain human beings in any way, shape or form "

    And this man was a teacher? Well, in Oregon it figures. For a biological argument, however, if the biosphere cannot support us, it simply won't. Humans would die out. Nothing voluntary about it.

    When you reject commitments and expectations in life what are left with beyond anomie?

  2. Maybe we should suggest that 'twisty do the right thing for her philosophy and top herself?

  3. Pharmommy, thanks! (Pharmommy has her own blog here).

    Liesel, a good point when you write:

    "When you reject commitments and expectations in life what are you left with beyond anomie?"

    Twisty's politics hasn't left her with much. She seems to take some pleasure in animals (horses and wildlife), but that seems to be about it. So, yes, anomie is a predictable consequence.

    Iain, I don't want Twisty to practise voluntary human extinction on herself. But it does interest me that someone who has reached the point of hating human life still puts herself forward as a political leader.

  4. She must despise her own mother.

  5. The gist of Les Knight’s argument is this: that the biosphere simply cannot sustain human beings in any way, shape or form

    And the biosphere has value because...?

    (I do personally think it does, but I'm at a bit of a loss as to how Twisty could rationally justify this herself.)

  6. Mark, if Twisty was somehow the President of the Hivemind of Feminism, this post might somehow have a point, but in fact she is enormously good on pointing out things that are wrong, but most people disagree with her ideas for solutions. I see you failed to mention the fact that the comments thread encompasses a whole spectrum of views from other feminists, who, as you reliably fail to notice, are diverse.

    As for speculating on the richness or otherwise of Twisty's personal life, I have never seen a hint of social life whatever in your blog. As a reasonable blog reader I assume this is not because you are a tragic loner with no life, but because you prefer to blog about non-personal matters. Please show the same respect to others.

  7. Helen, I think I made it clear in the post that Twisty is exceptional in the degree to which she takes the theory.

    Having said that, I just read through the comments again (the first 60 or so) and there were hardly any which disputed Twisty on principled grounds.

    The one who came closest was Lisa KS who pointed out a contradiction in autonomy theory.

    She wrote that she is supposed to choose not to become a mother because it means she is limited in choosing other things. But why should she want these other things more than she wants motherhood?

    But even this objection by Lisa KS still assumes that it is autonomy in the sense of an individual freedom to choose which is the overriding good.

    Helen, I know you want to think that feminists are a diverse bunch, but I see little evidence of this. I do read other popular feminist websites and the general trend of the politics runs in much the same predictable direction.

    As for Twisty's personal life, she writes on this frequently. She likes horses and wildlife and she has preserved a sense of humour. Otherwise, she has a very pessimistic take on things, and chooses to spend much time by herself.

    I don't think it's unreasonable if a commenter at this site speculates that someone like Twisty, who writes about voluntary human extinction within an indifferent universe, and who rejects motherhood, love, family and culture, might be setting herself up for a dose of anomie.

    As for my own personal life, I don't write about it much because this site is really an attempt to understand political modernism. It's mostly about the logic of ideas.

  8. Whilst on the topic of the logic of ideas, credit to Bernhardt Varenius for picking up a likely inconsistency in Twisty's position.

    Twisty wants humans to aim at their own extinction in order, supposedly, to save the biosphere. But if human life has no value worth preserving, why should Twisty consider that other life has? Why bother to save the biosphere at all?

    The Twistyites take seriously the modernist idea that if you aren't fully autonomous then you aren't fully human. They consider that men have organised to cast women into the category of non-human. They think it unlikely that women will escape their oppression because it is organised as a whole system of society and would require an incredible type of revolution to overthrow.

    As Twisty herself admits, it's a bleak and difficult view of things. It confers a kind of illegitimacy on human society, at least until an impossible utopia is reached.

    And for those Twistyites realistic enough to think that this utopia won't be reached? Doesn't it make sense that they would think humanity uniquely corrupted and therefore uniquely evil? And unworthy of a future existence?

  9. "As for speculating on the richness or otherwise of Twisty's personal life,"

    Whether Twisty personally finds fulfillment or not in this life is a bit of a different issue than whether a majority of humans would find fulfillment in the model she endorses. She may be quite happy, we don't know, but that would be a bit of an anomaly. We have many years of civilization and studies of human behavior to show that such a model would rob most people, particularly women who forgo marriage and motherhood, a meaningful and rewarding life. Not to mention children deprived of a father in their life.

    There is a reason that every society on the planet throughout history has had a belief system and a set of values and taboos regarding sexual activity. They have not always been the same values and taboos, but they have provided a framework for people to work within and the durability and prevalence of such a model is not evidence that society exists to oppress one group for the benefit of the other. Rather to add meaningful structure to life for all in the society. This model reigns in the more selfish and destructive elements of human nature and puts restrictions on all.

  10. Mark, I am delighted to hear that I never let you down! I attribute this happy circumstance to the celebrated spiritual bond between Texans and Australians.

    Let me assure Oz Conservative readers that, despite their concerned speculations, I do not hate my mother, I am not against love and life and happiness, I am not an 'anti-humanist', and I am personally as contented as anybody who has not sauntered through life blessed with the gift of cerebral simplicity.

    However, touched though I am by the group's interest in me personally, perhaps the discourse might be more greatly enbiggened by an essay entitled "H. sapiens in the 21st Century: Its Many Gifts to a Lucky Planet."

    Also, though it is of little importance in the grand scheme, your synopsis of my views, Mark, summarized by the statement "She believes that society has been created by men to secure autonomy for themselves at the expense of women," is inaccurate and unsophisticated. But I congratulate you on resisting what most Twisty-is-unhinged bloggers write, which is, without fail: "Twisty hates men!"

  11. Twisty, thanks for taking the time to respond. I do find it interesting to hear your take on things.

    You wrote that my (very brief) summary of your views was inaccurate and unsophisticated, but without explaining why.

    It's true that talking about society being created by men to oppress women does considerably simplify theories about patriarchy.

    Often patriarchy theorists have a more detailed explanation about the historical processes by which a patriarchy was formed (I criticised one of these theories here).

    Still, I think my basic characterisation of your position stands. For instance, in one of your posts you wrote:

    "in a patriarchy, the cornerstone of which is a paradigm of male dominance and female submission, women do not enjoy the same degree of personal sovereignty that men do. This oppressed condition obtains a priori to all other conditions, and nullifies any presumption of fully human status on the part of women."

    So women do not have a fully human status because men are granted a privilege of autonomy in a patriarchal system denied to women.

    It's this view of yours - and the logical consequences deriving from it - which I have tried to explain to my conservative readers.

    (The average conservative would not even begin to understand where you are coming from when you talk about women not having a fully human status. For conservatives, our humanity isn't contingent on qualities like autonomy - it's something invested in us.)

    As for your enjoyment of life, I'm glad to hear that you are content (your posts do often come across as being good-humoured). I did not suggest that you hated your mother or happiness.

    However, I did report that you had set yourself against "human life" in the sense of not wanting it to continue into the future.

    I have also previously reported, based on your own columns, that you have set yourself against sex, marriage, culture, motherhood and romantic relationships.

    Again, the point of my own posts is to try to explain to my readers the logic of your position of these issues.

  12. Deep down, Twisty, you know your favorite song is the Stones' "Under My Thumb."

  13. We want women to not have kids in the first place.

    Ha! You might as well say women should not be allowed to breathe. These people are ultimately doomed to fail.