Friday, April 06, 2012

How feminism arrives at one of its contradictions

A little while ago I posted a story about a Swedish toy catalogue which showed a boy Spiderman pushing a pram. I criticised the Swedes for being hostile to sex distinctions between men and women.

Someone posted the story to the men's rights page at reddit. I'm grateful to them for doing so (if nothing else it boosts traffic). However, the men's rights activists there disagreed with me. They were critical of the Swedes not for attacking traditional sex distinctions, but for not doing it effectively.

And that's what I expected to happen. The men's rights page is dominated by left-leaning activists who are still pursuing a liberal utopia, despite all the evidence that liberalism is more likely to create a dystopia.

The redditors, however, do go against the orthodoxy in one important aspect. They don't follow the script which states that men are to be treated as privileged oppressors. Understandably, they don't want to occupy that position - it's not part of the ideal they are seeking.

They want a liberalism in which they aren't treated in such a negative way. And so they argue (very strongly) against the "men are evil oppressors/women are victims" line - and here there is a useful overlap with traditionalism.

Anyway, I thought there were two comments at the reddit site worth commenting on. The first was from someone calling themselves "throwawaygender" (who appears to be a feminist woman). She tried to summarise the Swedish toy catalogue story in these positive terms:
Toy catalogue expands traditional gender roles

The Swedes, she thinks, aren't taking anything away, they are just "expanding" what already exists. But I've read enough documents put out by Swedish governments to know that this just isn't true. I replied to "thowawaygender" as follows:

Not quite right. The Swedes believe that traditional gender roles are social constructs created for the purposes of the oppression of women. Therefore, the aim is to overthrow them, or at least to make them not matter, rather than to expand them.

To be more exact, the Swedes believe in two things:

i) Masculinity is socially constructed to harm women, therefore men should not be masculine

ii) Masculinity is the privileged position, therefore women should be masculine

The last part of my comment explains what seems to be a contradiction within feminism, namely that masculinity is regarded negatively as oppressive at the same time that women are urged to give up feminine roles in favour of masculine ones. This seeming contradiction has been around a long time, even in the early days of first wave feminism. An English anti-feminist of the 1860s, Eliza Linton, addressed the feminist women of her era as "you of the emancipated who imitate while you profess to hate" and criticised them as "the bad copies of men who have thrown off all womanly charm".

The second comment at the reddit site came from someone who describes themselves as a conservative. In response to my argument that "Liberals believe that the overriding good is individual autonomy, a personal freedom to be a self-determining individual" this person wrote that he agreed with individual autonomy as a first principle,

As a conservative I do too. I don't think this kind of gender-bending is necessary or especially praiseworthy, but I also don't see anything fundamentally wrong with it. Frankly, I'm more concerned by the parity of legal rights that exists, even in "egalitarian" Sweden (which, truth be told, is more feminist than egalitarian).

This shows how much work we have left to do. If liberals and "conservatives" believe in the same thing (autonomy theory) then we will be forever trapped within the same closed political system. The reddit "conservative" wants nothing more than an equality of individual autonomy, which he believes (no doubt correctly) that a Swedish feminist society won't deliver for men. My quick reply to him was this:

But then what do you end up conserving? If you think the individual should be self-determining, then you commit yourself to liberating the individual from whatever is predetermined. And that includes some of the most important aspects of individual identity, such as sex & ethnicity (and if you push the logic far enough, even nationality).

Furthermore, if you hold to autonomy as the overriding good, then justice will be defined as an equal distribution of autonomous life conditions. And the only way to achieve that (and to suppress the influence of sex & ethnicity) will be via an intrusive state.

So you eventually arrive at similar positions to that of the left.

If you want a conservatism that conserves, and which is different in principle to leftism, then I don't think you can endorse individual autonomy as the overriding good of society.

9 comments:

  1. MRA's are ultimately the male version of feminism and PUA's are indulging in the sexual revolution unleashed by feminism. Neither are allies of religious conservatives and the far-right.

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  2. Uber-individualism has led to many terrible things, for example the massive increase in the divorce rate. Children from divorced families I believe are affected adversely. At any rate, feminism is an evolutionary dead end, since most men are attracted to feminine women.
    silverman.

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  3. The 'conservative' redditor gprime appears to be more of a libertarian. Libertarians place most of their moral emphasis on the principles of liberty and autonomy, with some emphasis on fairness and just rewards. Hence gprime's approval based on liberty, and his greater concern about the parity of legal rights.

    A true conservative would emphasize a wider range of moral goods: loyalty, tradition, and sanctity among them. In this example, the value of traditional gender roles in providing order to society and the sanctity of our God-given natures are of concern to conservatives.

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  4. Elizabeth,

    MRAs cover the political spectrum, but there are plenty that approach the issue from the right. Men's rights issues have been the motivating factor for me to learn about and understand conservativism. Without my interest in men's rights I would not have found this blog.

    The reddit /MensRights forum is largely populated with college students, a demographic that leans heavily left. Many of these young men may come around with time and experience, as they discover how firmly the liberal agenda is set against them.

    I am heartened that some conservatives are starting to talk about men's rights issues. I've reposted a number of articles from conservatives from the Wall Street Journal and the National Review on reddit recently. The issues of men as men have almost no presence in the political forum. Many men feel deeply disenfranchised in today's societies. It is an opportunity the conservatives could seize to their advantage.

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  5. A true conservative would emphasize a wider range of moral goods: loyalty, tradition, and sanctity among them. In this example, the value of traditional gender roles in providing order to society and the sanctity of our God-given natures are of concern to conservatives.

    Wavevector, that's put exceptionally well. I agree with you too about the potential importance of the men's movement. I have tried myself to seriously address the issue, but that's not enough - we need to grow as a movement ourselves and then to be part of other movements such as the MRM (particularly early on when political ideas are forming). I don't think we've done that very well so far.

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  6. Elizabeth

    I think you're most definitely right about the PUA types. No one can fault you there, however, MRAs are not exactly the opposite of feminism. I count myself amongst them precisely because of my love of family, community and a sense of traditionalism. The current wave of feminism and liberalism has destroyed the man, and the woman, but has also destroyed the family and the meaning of community.

    I cannot in good conscience be a real conservative but yet remain quiet about the huge blows dealt to family men time and time again with the bias family laws in most Western Societies. The article mentioned on this blog over the change in the Indian family law also shows that it's moving to other 3rd world countries too. Someone has to stop it and that means sticking to issues that are damaging to good men. I just hope you realise that by actually helping good men to be good men you also help good women and the eventual families that will come from their unions.

    I think you have misjudged MRAs. They are not your enemy, they might say things that nobody likes to hear but there is a lot of truth that needs to be heard. For our sake and that of our future.

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  7. "They want a liberalism in which they aren't treated in such a negative way."

    You can see that kind of woolly-minded liberal thinking displayed in a spectacular way in Warren Farrell's book "The Myth of Male Power." He rightly takes feminism to task for its irrational hatred and resentment towards men but he still buys into the whole liberal utopia scam. He is unable to see that the problem is not that feminism needs to be changed, but rather that feminism needs to be abandoned.

    His book is worth reading for the brilliant way in which he exposes so many feminist lies but his own solutions (like "gender transition") are just as silly and just as dangerous.

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  8. wavevector's point about college students being a demographic that leans heavily left is an interesting one. College students are not inherently leftist - they've simply never been exposed to a conservative point of view. In fact they've never been exposed to anything other than a monolithically leftist point of view.

    Sadly that's increasingly true of society as a whole. It's not that people have rejected conservatism, or traditionalism - they've simply never encountered such ideas presented except in the demonised caricatures presented by the ABC, the BBC, Hollywood, etc.

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  9. "The last part of my comment explains what seems to be a contradiction within feminism, namely that masculinity is regarded negatively as oppressive at the same time that women are urged to give up feminine roles in favour of masculine ones. "

    Exactly, it's funny when you realize that besides the pointless fluff of gender-studies, the result of feminism has merely been to copy men. Some of feminists do speak of high-ranking women behaving in a way more conducive to the 'patriarchal' nature of men's institutions, and thus demand more women in there so that the patriarchal flavor is diluted to reach equality of treatment, etc.

    The 'contradiction' legitimizes masculine women's existence as women by tearing down their own behaviors in the opposite sex, while encouraging the same in their own.
    Instead of appearing dysfunctional mistakes of nature, then they are lauded as the ones who broke through the patriarchal brainwashing.

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