Saturday, January 31, 2009

A modern marriage

Liz Jones is a 50-year-old feminist who pens a column for the Daily Mail. She has written a lot about her relationships with men. Recently she explained that she has never in her life dated a white man:

I think in the Nineties I fell in love with three black men partly because it was fashionable and gave me a veneer of (here comes a racist word) ‘cool’ that, as a boring Essex girl, I didn’t possess.

I married, on the wave of Asians being the new blacks, with lots of hot new books in the bestseller lists, an Indian (that wasn’t the whole reason but, let’s be honest here, it was part of it).

So when she was in her late 30s she met and married an Asian partly because Asians were the literary flavour of the month and it seemed hip to be with one.

She describes her marriage as a modern one:

Our marriage was, on reflection, a very modern one. I am 14 years older than him. When we met I was earning a huge salary ... he was an intern on a local radio station.

He is Indian and moved, aged 26, straight from his mum's house into mine.

At first I believed that love would conquer all, that our bond was so strong that none of these things mattered. He told me he didn't want children ... I hid the fact that I did.

... I told him to give up his job so that he could write a novel: 'Take six years. What's the rush.' I took a job where I worked 75 hours a week to support us both.

It doesn't seem like a promising basis for a marriage. It reminds me of the premise of an English film I very much disliked called "Love Actually" in which romantic love is supposed to overcome every conceivable kind of barrier.

In real life, things didn't work out so well. Her husband had multiple affairs before leaving for a "young, slim, pretty, Indian woman" he wanted to have children with. Liz Jones, for her part, had lost "her last childbearing years".

Her husband had by then completed part of a second novel:

It is all about me, of course, the older woman in whom he has no interest sexually, with whom he manages the tension because he has nowhere else to live.

He wrote: "I can feel her anger, like cold static in the space between us. I could calm her down, and make things better. I could reach out and touch her ... It works every time. But I won't do that. And I know how much it hurts her that I won't. Knowing this gives me the closest thing I have to happiness."

Her summing up of the relationship rings false:

We tried something different, radical, romantic, and it didn't work out.

Can you have a marriage that is different and radical and still expect it to work as it did in the past?

It's a mistake to think that it is so easy to make a marriage work that it can survive any kind of circumstance. The opposite is true: marriage is a difficult high point of human relationships and it is most likely to succeed under certain conditions.

Liz Jones has recognised that some of her own feminist attitudes were a problem within the marriage. She has confessed to being too strident in her dealings with men:

OK, I admit that feminism the first time around made mistakes. It turned us into man haters (I still, to this day, whenever I am told my BMW needs a new tyre, say, yell at the hapless man serving me: 'You wouldn't dare treat me this way if I were a man!') and set impossible standards.

She wasn't easy to get along with:

I admit I was a nightmare to live with. Like many women who get married later in life, I liked to be in charge, I was super-efficient, I didn't suffer laziness or someone who did not seem to try. I was used to looking after myself and got cross when he tried to do anything nice for me.

She seems to have once believed that her husband might be a "new man", one who would be content with a wholly emasculated role within a marriage:

New men, metrosexual men, men who are in touch with their feelings, who are willing to take a back seat, supporting and nurturing you, don't exist.

They might pretend to be able to cope with you but they are, instead, storing up anger and will hate you for being fabulous, for being independent, for not needing them in your life but just wanting them to be there.

This is just a feminist conceit. It's a picture of a marriage in which the wife is so autonomous that she doesn't need her husband anymore; in which the husband is supposed to give up his masculinity to support his wife even though she doesn't actually need his support or even his presence in her life; and in which a failure by the man to play such a role can only be explained by his resentment at just how fabulous his wife is.

We are supposed to edit such conceits from our minds at an early age. Liz Jones tried to play hers out in real life in middle-age. She has been left with the following prospects:

I will have to stop mourning the life I could have had and get on with another life ...

A week after I got back from Africa I rescued a six-year-old racehorse (she, due to ill-treatment, hates men too), and I am sure my family of five cats will grow more numerous.

I still wish her well, but my stronger wish is that young women will see the damage done and opt for a more loyal and less conceited approach to men and marriage.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Patriotic surrender?

It is Australia Day and Dave Bath wants us to fulfil our nation's promise as follows:

On our national day we must realize that to remain true to our history’s noblest aspect, to extend the realization of the promise of its founding, the nation must cease to exist.

His argument is that Australia was formed when the separate colonies agreed to cede their power to a larger union in order to achieve equal rights and an improved welfare for all. But now we are too selfish to realise that the earth belongs to everyone and that to achieve true equality and to avoid the catastrophe of global warming we must again cede power to a larger union - a world government:

While air, seas, rocks, flowers and fauna of this world are by Nature common to us all, they are not shared by all ...

It seems that only injustice, the product of avarice, itself the outcome of ignorance in both proles and plutocrats, is the lot of the vast bulk of humans, our cousin hominids, and indeed the biosphere.

Our greatest hypocrisy lies in claims that we value egality.

... Until [we learn to be moral] by subsuming our nationhood into the single world polity that both reflects the global realities, and is needed to mitigate the threats facing all peoples, then we are lesser folk than our forebears: smaller in mind and spirit, with withering stature in the world ...

... Just as our nation was formed as a collective, it must dissolve into a greater collective, with fairness to all, not within the borders that must and will disappear, but bounded only by the atmosphere we all breathe.

... we must see all humanity as one people, one polity, one past, one present, one future.

So the message is that to live up to the higher standards of our ancestors we have to dissolve a sovereign Australia.

It's interesting that Dave Bath appeals to an instinctive, intuitive patriotism in his call to abolish Australia. He uses phrases like "our national day," "promise of its founding," "promise of our past," "our history's noblest aspect." Yet the appeal to patriotic feeling is employed against the patria (which reminds me of the way that feminists sometimes appeal to a masculinity they wish to abolish, i.e. they argue that a real man would be willing to give up a distinctively male role).

One problem with Dave Bath's argument is that it doesn't capture the entirety of what our ancestors held as their ideal. For instance, when Alfred Deakin launched his campaign for Federation here in Victoria in 1898 he finished his speech with a poem by William Gay:

From all division let our land be free,
For God has made her one: complete she lies
Within the unbroken circle of the skies,
And round her indivisible the sea
Breaks on her single shore; while only we,
Her foster children, bound with sacred ties
Of one dear blood, one storied enterprise,
Are negligent of her integrity.—
Her seamless garment, at great Mammon's nod,
With hands unfilial we have basely rent,
With petty variance our souls are spent,
And ancient kinship under foot is trod:
O let us rise, united, penitent,
And be one people,—mighty, serving God!

According to the poet, it is the "ancient kinship" shared by the settlers which is a natural source of unity.

So the more traditional form of nationalism, based on a shared ethnicity of some sort (language, ancestry, culture, religion etc) was present at Federation. This traditional form of nationalism was to fall foul of the liberal idea that we are to be regarded as self-defining individuals who must not be impacted by unchosen attributes such as gender or ethnicity.

Therefore, a civic nationalism in which citizenship alone defined national belonging triumphed. Dave Bath recognises that this change took place (and approves of it) when he writes:

We have dropped the torch of early ideals, the only advance being the yet imperfect acceptance of the immateriality of accidents of birth of our fellows: the color of skin, any faith of forbears, the borders within which they first drew breath.

But the newer civic nationalism is inherently unstable. First, citizenship still discriminates - it still places restrictions on the self-realising individual. Therefore, even citizenship distinctions will come to seem unjust, discriminatory, unequal or unfair. This is the path that Dave Bath seems to have followed.

Another weakness of civic nationalism is that the borders of the nation no longer have a logical fixed point. If all you need to do to become an Australian is to agree to certain liberal political values, then any person can potentially be an Australian and any place can potentially be joined to Australia.

This means that if the political elite believe there to be practical advantages to merging an existing nation into a larger entity, they are likely to think it reasonable to do so. Hence the continuing extension of the EU and calls for Australia to merge into a Pacific Union.

Civic nationalism, therefore, isn't likely to last in the long term. Which then leaves the question of what is likely to replace it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The orthodox Ms Dworkin

People think of Andrea Dworkin as one of the most radical of feminists, as a revolutionary. It's truer, perhaps, to call her militantly orthodox. I recently read a brief excerpt from one of her books, which outlines what she believed as a feminist. It's just standard, orthodox, liberal autonomy theory:

Feminists have a vision of women, even women, as individual human beings; and this vision annihilates the system of gender polarity in which men are superior and powerful.

This is not a bourgeois notion of individuality; it is not a self-indulgent notion of individuality; it is the recognition that every human being lives a separate life in a separate body and dies alone.

In proposing “the individuality of each human soul,” feminists propose that women are not their sex; nor their sex plus some other little thing — a liberal additive of personality, for instance; but that each life — including each woman’s life — must be a person’s own, not predetermined before her birth by totalitarian ideas about her nature and her function, not subject to guardianship by some more powerful class, not determined in the aggregate but worked out by herself, for herself.

Frankly, no one much knows what feminists mean; the idea of women not defined by sex and reproduction is anathema or baffling. It is the simplest revolutionary idea ever conceived, and the most despised.

So sex distinctions aren't allowed to matter, because our sex is something pre-determined rather than self-determined. Our true nature as humans is a purely individual one that we create (work out) for ourselves. If we observe sex distinctions at work in society, it's not because they are natural but because they are used by one class of people (men) to suppress the true human individuality of another class of people (women). It is our nature to be radically alone and not connected in any fundamental or meaningful way to others.

It's predictable, unworkable and destructive. If you really believed that women are treated as women, not because sex distinctions are natural and significant, but because it allows men to be superior, then you're putting yourself in a difficult position. You will go through life with the evidence constantly before you of injustice and oppression. If you are realistic enough to see that sex distinctions aren't going to go away, you'll be led toward the belief that society will always be founded on social injustice.

Little wonder then that Andrea Dworkin at one time proposed establishing a separate country for women.

It's a bit dismal, too, this idea that we aren't meaningfully connected to others. Yes, we each live in a separate body, but we can be connected by ties of family and kinship, through love and marriage, and within larger communal identities and traditions.

Dworkin's self-defining individual is not so much liberated as deprived - cut off from significant aspects of our given nature and our heritage.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Strange university creatures

There's been a ruckus at Washington University in the American state of Missouri.

One of the graduates of the university is the conservative journalist, lawyer, author and activist, Phyllis Schlafly. She has been a prominent opponent of radical feminism since the early 1970s.

She received an honorary degree from the university at this year's commencement ceremony in front of 14,000 people. Some of the staff and students were displeased at a conservative being honoured this way and stood up and turned their backs when she received the award.

The 83-year-old Mrs Schlafly was unfazed by the protest and clearly enjoyed the moment. She later described the protest as "tacky".

And this is where it gets particularly interesting. Some of the staff and students are running a campaign to have the university take back the honorary degree.

Fourteen Washington University law professors have written a letter to the Chancellor, Mark Wrighton, in which they explain that,

Our objection to honoring Ms. Schlafly ... stems from the fact that she has devoted her career to demagoguery and anti-intellectualism in the pursuit of her political agenda.

Demagoguery? Anti-intellectualism? Compared to most political websites, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum is genteel in style - about as far away from demagoguery as you can imagine.

The claim has more to do with the inner workings of the professors' political mindset, which, in the closed environment of a university, has probably rarely been challenged.

One retired law professor did step in with an alternative view:

Jules Gerard, a retired Washington U. law professor who worked with Schlafly to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, said that if the university were to rescind the degree, then it would have to change its policy statements — to say that the school tolerates all views except conservative ones.

And what about the Chancellor, Mark Wrighton? He is acting more strangely than anyone:

Wrighton said the university will review the process for awarding honorary degres and will propose appropriate changes.

"Personally, I do not endorse her views or opinions, and in many instances, I strongly disagree with them," Wrighton said.

... Wrighton affirmed his personal commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusiveness and to improving gender balance at the university.

"Washington University -- or any other university -- is neither perfect nor are all its processes for making decisions. We can always do better. In the aftermath of Commencement, I am deeply committed to whatever work needs to be done to rebuild damaged relationships with members of our community -- faculty, students, alumni, parents, trustees and staff. I thank you for all that you do to make this a community so open, tolerant and inclusive ..."

He affirmed his commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusiveness and to improving gender balance? Perhaps you're thinking right now that Washington University is an unusual campus at which men vastly outnumber women and at which ethnic minorities are unfairly underrepresented.

But that's not the case at all. There are slighly more female than male undergraduate students at the university (52% to 48%). Exactly half of graduate students are female.

58% of the students are white. This is higher than the percentage of whites who live in the city precinct of St Louis (44%). However, it's much lower than the percentage of whites in the population of the state of Missouri (87%). So there is a strong case that it is whites who are underrepresented at Washington University.

Therefore, the chancellor is beating himself around the head for crimes against liberal diversity that don't even exist. It reminds me of the situation of apparatchiks under communist rule who also had to prove their loyalty to the system by readily confessing to phantom offences against Marxist-Leninism (although of course the stakes were higher in the USSR - Wrighton doesn't face a knock on the door at night).

And all this because of a single award to an 83-year-old conservative. What this demonstrates is that liberals, despite their mantra of tolerance, are radically intolerant.

A single, small manifestation of something non-liberal, something outside the system, being publicly acknowledged, and they immediately feel the need to confess their sins, to promise never to repeat the offense, to redouble their efforts to purge themselves of the intrusion and to take diversity and inclusion to ever more radical lengths - even to the point at which it becomes a kind of exclusion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Better to be trivial?

Jim Kalb's most recent article touches on an interesting theme that isn't often discussed. For liberalism to work well, people have to radically limit their life aims.

Why? It's true that liberals talk about freedom of choice. This choice, though, is to be exercised by a stripped-down version of the individual: one who is no longer "encumbered" (to use a liberal term) by what is inherited or inborn.

Nor can our liberal individual ask for a particular social setting in which to fulfil his life aims. He must instead pursue those aims which he can achieve by himself independently of the social setting.

What are the areas of life that give us a range of choice and which we can pursue as independent, self-defining individuals? The obvious ones are careers, travel, entertainment, restaurants and shopping. These fields are very much open to individual choice, so it's not surprising that a liberal society is very good at developing them.

In his article, Jim Kalb discusses another reason for the liberal restriction on life aims. He looks at liberalism as a particular system of managing society, a "comprehensive system of top-down-social management". The principle of this system is "the efficient and equal pursuit of individual desire".

It is a universal system which does not like to recognise qualities or distinctions outside itself, such as those related to family, culture, religion and inherited community. In fact, the more that these non-liberal distinctions are disrupted and suppressed, the easier it becomes for a more formal, centralised, technocratic system run by a liberal bureaucratic elite to manage society.

I'll finish with some relevant extracts from Jim Kalb's article (but I've had to compress the argument - it's worth reading the whole article):

Left-liberals believe that society is made up of individuals and legal structures. The only rational and legitimate purpose of the structures is to give the individuals whatever they happen to want, as much and as equally as possible. It follows that the purpose of government, and indeed of morality, is regulating individuals and structures so that career, consumption, and the free choice of hobbies, lifestyles, and indulgences are secured for everyone.

... The goal is to give people what they want, and it can only be achieved if what people want fits into the liberal scheme: that is, if it respects the needs of the system and the equal validity of the desires of other individuals.

That means that what people want has to be controlled. Left-liberalism requires us all to become virtuous, where virtue consists in pursuing only legitimate desires — in other words, supporting the system and otherwise minding our own business by concerning ourselves only with tolerant and private goals. Hence PC, and hence the constant re-education initiatives to which we are now subjected.

... The point is abolition of all non-liberal institutions, loyalties, and standards. Those things lead to inequalities not justified on liberal grounds. They propose non-liberal goods — God, country, family, virtue, whatever — that interfere with the smooth operation of a system based on the efficient and equal pursuit of individual desire simply as such.

It is therefore basic to the liberal view that people must be made to view non-liberal goods and institutions as wrong and shameful. In particular, they must be taught to reject with disgust distinctions not related to the functioning of liberal institutions...

All history, all nature, all culture, and all religion threaten the basis and functioning of a liberal social order. They tell us that human beings cannot be reduced to orderly productive consumers who do what they’re told and only want a life of measured private self-indulgence.

Since human nature is a problem for liberalism, as all indications tell us it is, it has to be denied and stamped out. That is why liberals see hatred, bigotry, and intolerance everywhere. Crypto-Nazis are under every bed. The people can’t be trusted, so they’ve got to be disarmed, supervised, regulated, re-educated, and kept away from anything serious.

The 100 billion dollar man?

In the last 50 years in America the number of children living in single-mother families increased from 8% to 26%. 34% of American children now live separately from their biological father.

Last year the first study into the direct financial costs of this shift to single-mother families was released. It found that the median household income of married couples with children was $65,906 but only $27,244 for single-mothers with children. 39.3% of single mothers lived in poverty compared to only 8.8% of father-present families.

The researchers looked at 13 public welfare programmes aimed at those living in poverty, such as food stamps, energy assistance and rental assistance, and found that $100 billion per annum was being spent to support single-mother households.

It's one more reason why the traditional family should remain the ideal - the model which a society aims for and encourages.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A free-for-all?

Some items of interest from the papers:

Hazel Blears, a Cabinet minister in the Brown Government, has criticised her own party's handling of immigration into the UK:

Labour allowed a ‘free-for-all’ on immigration during its first years in power, a Cabinet minister has admitted.

Large numbers of economic migrants were let into the country claiming they were asylum seekers, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said ...

On Saturday, immigration minister Phil Woolas questioned the 1951 UN convention that underpins asylum rules and added: ‘A significant number of people who claim asylum are doing so for broadly economic reasons.’

... Mrs Blears said management of immigration was ineffective during Labour’s first years in power.

‘Initially it was a kind of free-for-all,’ she added, with ‘a lot of people coming as economic migrants, but through the route of asylum seeking’.

In Sweden the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman has ruled in favour of women only gyms. The ideological reasons for doing so were explained as follows:

The gym argued that its initiative to create special zones for women, which mitigated "the negative effects of the gender power structure and the sexualization of the public arena", ought to be viewed as a positive move.

In its ruling, the ombudsman's office agreed that the gym's policy constituted a justifiable exception to prevailing discrimination laws.

"JämO is of the opinion that enabling woman to have a protected zone when training is a legitimate goal ..."

So women only gyms are allowed not so that women might freely socialise together or enjoy their own company, but so that they might have a "protected zone" to guard them from the "negative effects of the gender power structure".

The Swedes always set things out so clearly. The reason female only zones are allowed, but not male only zones, is because the Swedes have adopted patriarchy theory as a kind of state religion or belief system.

According to this theory, sex distinctions are not a natural and positive aspect of life, but exist to enforce an oppressive male power over women. Therefore, male only zones would be used in a detrimental way to organise an oppressive power structure and are suppressed; female only zones, though, allow women to have a protected space in which to escape patriarchal control and are therefore permitted.

Bad luck, though, if you are a Swede who doesn't believe in patriarchy theory. You are forced to live by its claims regardless. Less reason to believe that in a liberal modernist order the state is neutral.

Here in Australia, profilers have found working singles to be amongst the unhappiest part of the population - despite having more time, money and career success. Couples with children are generally happier despite feeling more stressed.

THEY'RE cashed up, career-driven and child free, yet working singles are among the unhappiest Australians ...

The research, released by the federal Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Department ... showed working singles are unhappier than retirees, working couples and young families.

The singles group, which had an average age of 33, includes singles who worked full time, earnt more than an average income and had fair job satisfaction.

Yet despite all of the above, despite good connections with family and friends, they were unhappy about their single status and had "low life satisfaction".

I know these surveys aren't to be taken as the final word, but it's still interesting that the results go directly against what liberal modernism tells us ought to matter.

Liberal modernism tells us that our individual autonomy is the highest good. The group with the maximum amount of autonomy are the working singles; they are the most independent and unrestricted in their choices. But they are also reported to be less happy and to have lower well-being on average than married couples with children.

Doesn't this suggest a flaw in autonomy theory? Mightn't there be other goods - goods which connect us in important ways to others - which also need to be defended in society?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pope, Penny Red & the ecology of man

In his Christmas address, the Pope spoke about man and creation.

In his speech, he said that Christians believe that the world was created by God. Therefore, it was right that Christians sought to be good stewards for the environment - for creation. However, as man in his nature was part of this creation, it was equally right for the church to seek to preserve the nature of man himself here on earth:

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense.

In what way does the "ecology of man" need to be protected? The Pope raised as an example the issue of gender. He thinks it important that we continue to recognise that men and women were created with distinct natures. Sex distinctions can't just be explained in terms of a socially constructed "gender" which humans can re-create for their own purposes:

When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God.

That which is often expressed and understood by the term "gender," results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator.

The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition.

So the fact of our creation - of our having a nature as man and woman - does not deprive us of liberty, but is a condition of our freedom.

Is it self-destructive, rather than liberating, to deny the created nature of man? I believe it to be so. Let me take as an example the case of Penny Red, a young English feminist. She wrote a post attacking the Pope's speech and urging her readers to "hold on to our liberal ideals". But what do these ideals lead to?

Penny Red makes this clear in a recent post on gender. The first thing you notice about this post is how grim and grisly her views on gender are. Penny Red has rejected the idea that sex distinctions are a natural and positive aspect of creation; therefore, she explains them in terms of a violent, oppressive assertion of power:

School is where it all starts ... School is where girls learn that their bodies are objects of desire over which they do not automatically get sovereignty ... Most pupils of both sexes were learning what violence meant, which was power ... School is where those rules of gender, power and violence were laid down ...

Violence– whether sexual, physical or both – is almost always gendered, and remains gendered throughout adulthood, because it is about power, and gender as constructed by patriarchal society has always been about power ...

Sexual and physical violence has been ingrained as a method of asserting a primitive idea of ‘masculinity’ and of patriarchal might ...

For all our talk of civilisation, we remain an intensely divided, primitive and warlike society – and we will continue to do so as long as our young men ... grow up learning that instead of becoming whole human beings, they have to learn to fight.

This culture has been achingly slow to even begin to let go of the archetype of masculinity ... Women across the world remain unaware of the extent to which the Western model of masculinity is damaging – partly because we ourselves have spent way too long trying to emulate it ...

In reacting against the artificial prison of Western womanhood, liberated women have turned against their former masters with all the righteous rage of escaping slaves

So womanhood is reduced here to an "artificial prison" and manhood is thought of as an inhuman expression of violence, dominance and aggression. This reading of human nature as it really exists is extraordinarilay negative.

Where then is the liberation? Presumably, Penny Red's hope is that there is a utopian version of human nature waiting to emerge once the sex distinctions are cast off. The assumption is that once we are perfectly "sovereign" (i.e. self-determining) then we become fully human and more authentically self-realised.

The problem here is not only the overly optimistic view of the perfectibility of human nature. The deeper problem is the assumption that we become something greater by being wholly self-determined. But why should this be the case? If my "self" is something I make up (something self-determined), then it no longer relates to anything of objective significance outside of myself.

If, on the other hand, I have a masculine nature as part of my being, then my "self" gets to share in the objective significance of masculinity.

Penny Red goes on to admit that the liberal view has led to poor relations between the sexes. If social relationships are based on an assertion of power and dominance, then men and women will see themselves as existing within a hierarchy of oppression:

However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry ‘but men don’t have it easy either’ has been assumed as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone’s gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone’s struggle is not an attack on everyone else’s.

Furthermore, writes Penny, men have failed to abandon their manhood, leading to an ongoing, unresolved war of the sexes:

Recent decades have seen the dissolution of the gender liberation movement into in-fighting, with men and women attacking each other as if each were somehow to blame for the other’s lot in life.

Men have remained unreconstructed, in the truest sense of that term, whilst women have gone on to socially evolve beyond recognition in the space of thirty years.

Instead of claiming their own reconstruction in tandem, men have reacted at the shock of having the ability to define themselves against women taken away. Feminists have reacted against that backlash in turn, and the whole thing has descended to wary stalemate, neither side trusting the other enough to put their weapons down and start drawing up a peace treaty.

Not exactly a happy, liberating scenario, is it?

Finally, there is Penny Red's solution to the mess, which is (as is usually the case) an even more intense dose of liberalism. She wants to persuade us that recognising distinctions between men and women amounts, literally, to fascism:

If we are truly to leave gender fascism behind, we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries - men and women, boys and girls, us and them ...

So I have this dream about a new kind of feminism - one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender ...

We have to recognise that the spectrum of gender prejudice extends into everyone's lives and places limitations on all of us ...

The best term for what is perpetrated by patriarchal cultural mores is not misogyny nor even organised sexism, but gender fascism. Fascism in its most literal sense, in its etymological notion of the fasces, the ordered bundle, everything in its proper, pre-ordained and rigidly socially determined place. Ladies, gentlemen and everyone else in attendance: gender fascism is what we need to set ourselves against.

And that is why ... we are all feminists ... every person trying to live their life as a complete human being is a feminist ally ...

So whatever isn't self-determined, whatever is pre-ordained, has for Penny Red the stigma of fascism attached to it. In this view, heterosexuality itself, in which there is a love for and attraction to the qualities of the opposite sex (and in which a binary recognition of male and female is central), must be tainted with fascism.

This isn't a path to liberation, but to conflict and self-deception - in which we are no longer able to live freely and openly as men and women.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Can liberals tolerate sex distinctions?

Things don't always go the way of liberal modernism. Take the case of sex distinctions. These are supposed to be made not to matter in a liberal order.

One reason for this is that liberals believe that to be free we must be self-determining. We must be unimpeded in creating who we are and what we do. Our sex - the fact of being a man or woman - is something that we don't get to determine for ourselves. Therefore, it is seen negatively as a "biological destiny" and traditional sex roles are rejected as being merely "conventional" and therefore "restrictive".

This orthodox, establishment liberal view, that sex distinctions must be made not to matter, is set out by Susan Moller Okin as follows:

A just future would be one without gender. In its social structures and practices, one's sex would have no more relevance than one's eye color or the length of one's toes.

Similarly, Carolyn Heilbrun has declared that:

our future salvation lies in a movement away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen.

Here in Melbourne there is a private club called the Athenaeum which, since its formation in 1842, has restricted membership to men. A group of 130 high-profile members of the club have been campaigning to change the rules, but have not persuaded the majority of members to do so.

A Herald Sun columnist, Sally Morrell, weighed in on the issue. Her argument was simple but significant:

Of course, once there was the cry of "sexism" the usual gender war warriors came out to once more re-fight the battles of last century.

There was Victoria's Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission chief, Helen Szoke, claiming that while she had no power to change the Athenaeum's rules it was a "matter for common sense" that it should allow women to join.

Common sense?

Common sense tells me that it's actually very common indeed for women to prefer women's company, and men men's.

Barbecues in my childhood always had the women clustering around the kitchen, while the men stood around doing what they do to the snags and burgers.

And nothing much has changed. Look around at the next school social or street party, and you'll see the sexes doing their oil-and-water thing.

Sure, my women friends love the men in their lives, and love socialising with men, but we also love our women-only time.

My book club has no women-only rule, yet not a single man has even asked to join it in the years we've been going, and none of us plans to bring one along soon. It's wonderful to be among just women, free to indulge ourselves in goss and pop-psychology ...

I bet those old dinosaurs at the Athenaeum feel much the same way about their club.

And, I guess, the club offers them much the same kind of service.

A refuge from the other sex, albeit in somewhat grander environs and with a brandy after dinner to boot.

And you've got to wonder why Szoke doesn't also declare war on the women-only Lyceum Club, just a short walk from the Athenaeum.

For some reason the sight of rich women enjoying each other's company seems natural and social, but the sight of rich men doing the same seems sinister and evidence of a conspiracy.

Sally Morrell is arguing that sex distinctions do matter in our lives. That there are times when we enjoy the company of the opposite sex, but also times when we interact in a different way with our own sex.

She is arguing that this is a natural, ongoing, ineradicable, positive aspect of life which does not need to be suppressed.

In accepting sex distinctions as a natural and positive aspect of life, she has no need to explain them as an assertion of superior identity by one group over another, as left-liberals commonly do. So she doesn't assume that when a group of men socialise together, that they are acting to enforce an unjust power structure over women.

She therefore doesn't resort to the usual double-standard in which it's considered alright, or even liberating, for women to socialise or interact together, but thought dangerously illegitimate for men to do so. (Why "liberating" for women? Presumably, in socialising or interacting together separately from men, they are held to be escaping male control and male power - this is the very negative understanding of sex distinctions which leads to the retention of women-only groups, such as schools, sports clubs, gyms and girl guides, but to a voluntary or sometimes compulsory shift to unisex membership for previously male groups.)

I would add one further argument to those made by Sally Morrell. It's particularly important that young men experience masculine, and therefore masculinising, environments. Without this, it's more difficult for boys and young men to develop the strength of character and resilience they need to shoulder the burdens that will be placed on them in their adult lives. It's of considerable personal benefit to women if their fathers, husbands and sons cope well in life. So women, too, have an interest in maintaining male only spaces in society.

There's been one other setback to the liberal programme of making sex distinctions not matter. A couple of years ago I noticed that even feminists were returning to traditionally feminine pursuits:

It seems to me that the more that such feminist women reject femininity in theory, the more that they attempt to bolster it in practice. How else can you explain the feminist craze for the most feminine of interests, such as knitting, sewing, decorating, flowers and kittens.

Kate herself lists her primary interest as knitting; Mindy makes quilts; Laura likes baking and kittens; and Janet likes to sew pink clothes for her daughter. Janet, in fact, runs one website about her passion for laundry and another about her love for motherhood, her daughter, flowers, gardens and sewing.

This return to feminine interests has now become a recognised social trend. In a feature column in the Melbourne Herald Sun, Kylie Hanson writes:

For so long, the feminist movement made housewife a dirty word ...

We were proud not to cook, and shrugged our suit-clad shoulders when confronted with a sewing machine ...

It was dubbed progress ... But what women realised was that turning our backs on domesticity wasn't the easy answer.

Now, younger women are returning to the so-called domestic crafts: sewing, cooking, knitting and gardening.

Doesn't this trend suggest that sex distinctions are more deeply ingrained than liberals suppose? Why else would even the most "progressive" women take up traditionally feminine interests? It's not as if the current generation of women have been socialised to sew and to bake. Nor do they lack alternative pathways. But still they return to the traditionally feminine.

Why would they do so if the feminine only exists artificially to oppress them? Isn't it more likely that women are naturally oriented to some degree to what is distinctly feminine?

The evidence suggests that sex distinctions do matter and should be accepted as playing a meaningful role in society.

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.