Tuesday, August 02, 2011

How do leftist women justify the feminine?

A woman sits down and does some cross stitching. She is approached by another woman who glowers at her and asks if she's never heard of women's lib. Which then leads to an interesting discussion at a feminist website.

What's going on here? Why would a woman doing something traditionally feminine be so controversial?

It goes something like this, I think. The underlying principle of liberalism is that we are made human by our autonomous choices. This means that our life choices must be self-determined rather than predetermined. But our sex is something we don't get to choose - it is predetermined. Therefore, it must be made not to matter.

That explains in a general way why something as seemingly harmless as a woman cross stitching should raise the ire of a liberal true believer.

But there's one more level to the argument. Liberals have to answer some questions. The first is how sex distinctions came to exist in the first place if they are an affront to our humanity. The answer generally given is that such distinctions have no basis in nature, i.e. that there is no real essence to what is masculine or feminine. Instead, they are socially constructed.

The second question for liberals to answer is why sex distinctions would be socially constructed. The response of left-liberals is that men created the "gender binary" in order to gain an unearned privilege for themselves at the expense of women. Women were left with less opportunity to lead autonomous, self-defining lives. Therefore they were the "second sex" who were literally denied "human equality" - they played a less human role than men. Femininity, in this view of things, delivered women as inferior beings into the clutches of men.

So if you were a liberal woman, particularly a left-liberal one, the logical response seems obvious. You would reject femininity as oppressive and live your life in the manner of "privileged" men.

But .....

It seems that the feminine runs more deeply in women's nature than the theory predicted. Even the more political left-liberal women usually seek to express it in some way. So how do these women justify such expressions of the feminine?

One way is to claim that they are being "ironic" in what they are doing. Being masculine or feminine is OK, they think, as long as you somehow indicate that you're not entirely serious. If you show that you are only being feminine as a way of sending up femininity, then that's acceptable.

Another strategy is to claim to be mixing and matching, e.g. that you are wearing lipstick and high heels while drinking beer and putting up a shed in the backyard, or riding a Harley-Davidson whilst wearing lace.

It's also possible for a liberal woman to claim that all that matters is self-determining choice, so that a woman should be able to choose to be either masculine or feminine:

In my eyes, feminism isn't about forcing femininity or masculinity on anyone but rather making it more acceptable for women to be any way they want to be.

Then there's the argument that masculinity and femininity are OK as long as they are detached from biological sex, i.e. that masculinity and femininity should be randomly selected by men and women rather than femininity being connected to women and masculinity to men:

Gender expectation is when we, as a society, expect nail polish and skirts on women, and trousers and ties on men. Wouldn't it be something to live in a world where they weren't gendered, though? Where men could paint their nails without getting funny looks?
Now, should that come to fruition, where anyone could be wearing a pretty apron and baking cookies, and anyone else could be in coveralls and repairing a car, it may be that we stop viewing those things as "feminine" and "masculine," and that's certainly fine, but it's not a requirement. Feminine and masculine don't have to mean the same thing as male and female. It's about separating gender presentation from inherent gender.

These attempts to fit the feminine into liberalism, as compromised as they are, attract the ire of the more radical moderns. In a post titled "only sub-human" one radical feminist attempts to restore orthodoxy as follows:

Femininity is not a natural expression of femaleness. It is not an hereditary, hormone-based fascination for fashion, submissiveness, mani-peddies, baby-soft skin, or catfighting. It is not a fun-loving lifestyle choice. Femininity is a rigid system of behaviors imposed on us by the Global Accords Governing the Fair Use of Women as a means to control, subjugate, and marginalize us, entirely at our expense, for the benefit of the male-controlled megatheocorporatocracy.

This idea often chaps the hide of novice blamers. This is because they don’t fully appreciate the hideous essence of femininity. Some of them believe that the practice of femininity is but one facet of an exciting smorgasbord of lifestyle choices available to today’s busy autonomous gal-on-the-go. They feel that “choosing” feminine conduct is an act of feminist rebellion, on the grounds that the choicing is entirely the chooser’s own personal idea. They aver that femininity can be an expression of a woman’s personal personality, and that it is “fun.” It is irrelevant, apparently, that femininity just happens to align precisely with the pornified desires, yucky fetishes, and vulgar business interests of the entire dudely culture of domination. Sadly, the novice blamer omits to consider this greater whole, and that in “choosing” femininity she is merely making conspicuous her compliance with dudely authori-tay.

Our hardcore feminist writer goes on to complain that "the truth about femininity is so repellent, so foul, so depraved, that we don’t want to know it" and even that one of the consequences of femininity is that women get "no invitation ... to life’s rich pageant."

Whichever way liberal women go, the outcome is sad. The feminine is utterly condemned, or treated ironically, or regarded as one choice of no more significance than another, or disconnected from women as a sex.

And a woman cross stitching becomes a controversial act.


  1. "megatheocorporatocracy."

    I think I am in love with that word.

    It is possibly the most left-liberal word ever invented.

    Just say "fascist" girlie we know what u mean.

  2. You've often said that liberalism and its offshoots such as feminism are founded on a notion of autonomy or freedom from traditional moral constraints, but I think it'd be more accurate to say that liberalism is founded on the subversion (or perhaps inversion) of traditional Western values, whether that entails increased personal autonomy or not.

    The subversion theory would explain why feminists would glower at a woman exercising her individual freedom to do a cross- stitch, or -- to take a more important example -- why they are comfortable or at least complicit with Islam's subjugation of women: because Islam is alien to the West, it is to be endorsed no matter what, because in the end it isn't personal autonomy that matters as much as subversion of the Western tradition by any means possible.

  3. And a woman cross stitching becomes a controversial act.

    Not merely controversial, but seditious. And if cross-stitch is an occasion for a tongue-lashing from your cultural betters, just imagine being a SAHM with 8 kids. Though it is from a principal motivation, I cannot help taking some small sense of satisfaction in being a walking, talking, breeding middle digit to women like Jill.

  4. EDIT:

    ... though it is far from a principal motivation...

  5. Neil,

    a) I wouldn't deny that there is an impulse to subvert within liberalism (a "turn the world upside down" impulse).

    b) In Australia there was initially a debate about Islam amongst feminists. Some wanted to condemn the burqa as oppressive to women; others defended the burqa as an act of solidarity with the "other". The Islam aligned feminists have won decisively.

    Here's one possible explanation. Liberals believe that the default setting for humanity is one of "equal freedom", i.e. when everyone has the same opportunity to live a self-defining life.

    So why doesn't that exist now? The left has argued that whites (or Westerners) are to blame - that whites created categories such as race to create their privilege and dominance.

    Therefore, white/Western society is:
    a) uniquely guilty
    b) uniquely an oppressive artifice
    c) needs to be deconstructed in order to end injustice and restore the default setting of human equality - of equal freedom.

    So the left believes that white/Western society was created for the purpose of maintaining an unearned privilege.

    Therefore, if you identify positively with this tradition it is assumed that your motivation is to uphold white/Western privilege, i.e. that you are a "white supremacist".

    So the point for the left is to identify instead with the "other" *against* the white/Western tradition - that shows that you are not a "white supremacist".

    But if you're say an African who identifies positively with a tradition, that's considered OK because these traditions aren't thought to be responsible for privilege/exploitation/opression/injustice.

    (The right-liberal attitude though differs, which is why you can find Islam critics in this group.)

  6. Interesting post. This also picks up on a lot of the same themes as a recent post by Terrible Swift Sword: http://kenshi.livejournal.com/236516.html

    You guys sound like you've been reading each other.

  7. http://stitchnbitch.org/

    So Mark they've taken over that one as well.

  8. Perhaps leftist women justify femininity through sexual liberation and the sexualization of women? Compared to the past today's form of femininity in entertainment for example is far less spiritual and cultural and far more physical and dare say it a superficial form of femininity. It's almost depraved.

  9. On another note compared to left-liberals how do right-liberal women justify femininity (in the midst of libertarian ideals)?

  10. Excellent article and feminism do hate their own sex as well as all men and boys. Do not have to search far to confirm that.
    They have to destroy the natural instincts in women to sow their hate message, meanwhile the majority of women do not want a bar of feminism or their male hating lunacy..

    Good on them..

  11. Whirey,

    Thanks for the link. I haven't read that site or author before. I agree that the analysis is similar. He expresses it well.

    Elizabeth wrote:

    Perhaps leftist women justify femininity through sexual liberation and the sexualization of women? Compared to the past today's form of femininity in entertainment for example is far less spiritual and cultural and far more physical

    I agree completely with what you've written here.

    To add to your point: some feminists seem to take the line of "dress like a woman, act like a man". They think it's OK to accept a distinction in outward "presentation" as long as it's balanced by masculine behaviours, e.g. a woman can wear a wedding dress but "redeems" herself by going out hunting.

    What you won't get referenced in feminist debates is the idea that femininity is tied closely to the inner spiritual life of women.

  12. How do leftist women justify the feminine, you ask?

    Why should they have to? Personally, I reject the concept of femininity. By that, I mean that I reject the idea that there are a set of behaviors or personality traits that are essential to being a woman. I also reject the idea that I have an obligation to conform to what is considered feminine. I also think that there are certain aspects of what is considered "feminine" that those women who have those traits should overcome -- timidity, weakness, and gullibility, for example.

    But just because I find the concept of "femininity" profoundly silly (and perhaps damaging when social mores elevate weakness as a positive quality in women), it doesn't follow that I have to justify engaging in feminine activities. I don't have any interest myself in any kind of sewing or needlework, but I can recognize the usefulness and art in cross-stitching. Just because our culture codes certain activities as feminine doesn't mean that they are inherently bad or silly.

    Most of people are a mix of what was traditionally considered masculine and what was traditionally considered feminine. I practice law, argue with people, read history, play and watch sports, trade put-downs with men in the office, lift weights, cook wonderful desserts, wear dresses, and adore Jane Austen. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about where I fall on the spectrum of traditional femininity, as it is simply an irrelevant category in my life. What is important to me as a feminist is whether I have equal status and dignity in society, and whether I conduct myself in a morally responsible way.