Sunday, January 29, 2012

From the horse's mouth

Anne Summers is a very influential Australian feminist. She has been editor of Ms magazine, head of the Office of the Status of Women in Australia, and chairwoman of Greenpeace International.

She recently gave her two cents' worth in the Melinda Tankard Reist controversy. Melinda Tankard Reist is an Australian feminist who is anti-abortion, anti-porn and against the sexualisation of girls.

But can a feminist be anti-abortion? Anne Summers, a grand old dame of Australian feminism, thinks not. And her reason for thinking so is revealing:

Can you be "pro-life" and a feminist. I say an emphatic, No.

Let me elaborate. Feminism might be blandly defined as the support for women's political, economic and social equality, and a feminist as someone who advocates such equality, but these general principles need practical elaboration and application. What does economic equality actually mean? How can women in practice achieve social equality? As far as I am concerned, feminism boils down to one fundamental principle and that is women's ability to be independent.

There are two fundamental preconditions to such independence: ability to support oneself financially and the right to control one's fertility. To achieve the first, women need the education and training to be able to undertake work that pays well. To guarantee the second, women need safe and effective contraception and the back-up of safe and affordable abortion.

That confirms what I've written about feminism for many years now. Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. And the key principle of liberalism is autonomy - the aim of a self-determining, independent life.

Equality is a secondary principle. If you think that you, or the group you belong to, are disadvantaged in achieving an independent, autonomous life, then you will call for equality (or for an end to discrimination, or for social justice etc). In other words, when feminists demand equality what they are really asking for is a greater degree of autonomy/independence/self-determination, which they believe has been denied them by privileged men.

So how do influential feminists like Anne Summers believe they can make women more independent? She is very clear about this. The first way is to make women independent of men by having them successfully pursue well-paying careers (and, in practice, by making women financially independent of men via transfer payments such as welfare payments, alimony and child support payments, paid maternity leave payments etc).

Second, a pregnancy is likely to impede women's independence in a number of ways. It might make it more difficult to complete her education, or to progress in her career, or to use her sexuality for purposes of power. And it might make her focus on family rather than career or to become financially or emotionally dependent on a man as a father to her child. (Anne Summers is childless herself.)

So feminists take very seriously having the choice to abort. It goes back to their first principle of achieving autonomy/independence.

What really needs to happen is for that liberal first principle - that autonomy is always the highest, overriding good - to be challenged openly. That's what would open up moral and political debate in the West.

11 comments:

  1. First principles..autonomy..holy shit. I read a lot, and I mean a lot, but that is the first time I've read someone succinctly explain WHY liberal women do what they do.

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  2. "How can women in practice achieve social equality? As far as I am concerned, feminism boils down to one fundamental principle and that is women's ability to be independent."

    I don't get it. Do women have to be MORE independant than men to acheive social equality with men?

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  3. According to that logic, a male's right to independence would necessitate the right to infanticide?

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  4. Absolutely free to be a cat lady.

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  5. "Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. And the key principle of liberalism is autonomy - the aim of a self-determining, independent life."

    What you are describing sounds more like libertarianism than liberalism which promoted dependence on big government rather than independence.

    "There are two fundamental preconditions to such independence: ability to support oneself financially and the right to control one's fertility... To guarantee the second, women need safe and effective contraception and the back-up of safe and affordable abortion."

    I wonder if she's ever considered what this would mean if applied to men; effective male contraception and a back-up of legal abdication of parental rights and responsibility.

    TDOM

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  6. Keep reading, Jules, and prepare to have your mind blown. Richardson's posts succinctly explain a lot of the strange things we do.

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  7. O/T

    At the risk of spamming can I remind all British citizens to sign this e-petition: No to 70 million.

    At 100,000 signatures the government is supposed to allow a debate on the matter in parliament, its well past that now but the bigger the numbers the louder the message. I realise its a very mild anti-immigration measure, not nearly enough and of course 'they' don't want to do anything, but thats the beauty of the petition, its so mild that no one could object to signing it.

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  8. Melinda Tankard Reist is an Australian feminist who is anti-abortion, anti-porn and against the sexualisation of girls.

    This type of feminism is quite contradictory, inconsistent and is a memory of the "unprincipled exception" feminism where one tried to temper the irrationality and destruction of more genuine, purer forms of feminism with traditional conservative cords in an effort to 'balance' out its heartening consequences. Feminism is in essence a part of liberalism and will always exalt autonomy.

    What you are describing sounds more like libertarianism than liberalism which promoted dependence on big government rather than independence.

    No, that is left-liberalism, not right-liberalism. Both are liberal in philosophy, simply the organizing principle of how to achieve this autonomy is different. Left-liberals use the state to achieve their freedom, right-liberals use the market forces to achieve their liberty.

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  9. But can a feminist be anti-abortion? Anne Summers, a grand old dame of Australian feminism, thinks not.

    For once I agree with a feminist.

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  10. "...feminism boils down to one fundamental principle and that is women's ability to be independent..."

    => Unfortunately, the over-focus of independence has consequences.

    The cycle of human life goes something like this...

    (1) Birth to teenager = Dependence
    (2) Teenager to young adult = Independence
    (3) Matured adult = Inter-dependence
    (4) Elderly = Dependence

    It just tells me feminism is a self-contradiction and not realising they're going against Nature itself.

    It certainly does explain why you have some women publishing online articles about their regret in their life decisions. ie: The 30yr+ crowd of career women who realise they still want kids. Then they blame it on men for not "stepping up" or "man up" as they keep telling the world they are some prized catch. (What feminism doesn't tell them is that men want a younger, more supple woman with fresh eggs. Not a career monger seeking material status and titles!) *rolls eyes*

    It also has other consequences...As men will respond to women's demands for independence. eg: There's no reason for men to commit to marriage any longer. They don't need to help women in times of trouble. Women can do it all themselves, remember?!

    The only way to demonstrate "Equality" and the "independent life" is a bad idea, is to deliberately enforce it until it affects all women at a personal level. They'll soon realise its not something they want when its seriously applied in all aspects of life.

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  11. @ Elizabeth

    While I can appreciate a subtle distinction between freedom and liberty, the two words appear frequently as part of the definition of the other. Mark used words like "autonomy" self-determining" and "independent" in his description of feminism. "Left-liberalism" does not foster independence, though it might be associated with autonomy and self-determination. "Libertarianism" on the other hand can be associated with all three terms.

    Left liberalism (the liberalism of feminism) fosters a dependence on big government to enforce and fund its "freedoms." Libertarianism promotes independence from smaller governments to allow its "liberties." Thus the left liberal (feminist) assures freedom for some (women) while depending upon the servitude of others (men) to provide the protections and funding for those freedoms.

    TDOM

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