Saturday, September 25, 2004

Free to choose?

Liberalism is not simply about freedom of choice. If it were then the choice of a woman to raise her children at home would be granted equal legitimacy with the choice of a woman to go out to work.

Liberalism is about something a little more specific: the freedom of an individual to be self-created by his own will and reason. To follow this principle successfully liberals must reject any part of our self-identity or our relationships which is created externally to our will and reason.

Our sex is one of these "impediments" to our will and reason: it is something we are born with rather than deciding for ourselves. This means that for a liberal the choice to go against the influence of our sex in our lives is considered more correct than a choice to go with the influence of sex.

So even though liberals talk about freedom of choice, and might even formally allow the choice of a woman to stay home with the kids, we all know that it's considered more politically correct for a woman to choose the careerist option. By doing so she is rejecting a traditional sex role, and showing her "freedom" from the influence of gender.

I was reminded of this by Pru Goward's latest outburst. Pru Goward is Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She has told Australian fathers that they have to shape up or face a new gender war.

What is the great sin of Australian fathers according to Ms Goward? She complains that they are too dedicated to their work! Now, traditionalists would find this a strange criticism. After all, it's part of a man's nature to want to protect and provide for his family, and having a strong career commitment is a sign that a man is willing to fulfil his masculine responsibilities.

But from a liberal perspective, Pru Goward's criticism makes sense. In her ideal world, men and women would prove themselves to be "liberated" from their own gender, either by rejecting or reversing the traditional sex roles. You can understand her irritation that a lot men aren't jettisoning their traditional provider role quickly enough.

What's even more remarkable is Ms Goward's complaint that the political leaders in Canberra haven't been showing leadership on the issue, because they "did not have family-oriented lives themselves."

In fact, the current Government leaders appear to have exemplary family lives - from a traditional perspective that is. They are married and raising children and have so far had no family scandals attached to them.

This is another example showing that liberalism is not really about choice. What Pru Goward is asserting is that a man cannot be family-oriented if he chooses to follow his masculine instincts and pursue a career. The more legitimate choice for her is the liberal one in which a man shows himself to be "liberated" from his masculine provider instinct, and takes over half (or more) of the homemaking role.

Another case study of the liberal principle at work occurred here in Victoria during the week. Three girls, two aged 15 and one aged 14, sought a court order making it illegal to prevent them playing football in a boys' team. Here is another example of conflicting choice: do you give preference to the girls' choice to play football with teenage boys, or the boys' choice to have their own football team.

Predictably, the court has so far ruled that the girls' choice should win out. It is predictable because it is following the liberal principle that our sex shouldn't matter. The girls are going against their own feminine nature, and thereby overthrowing the "impediment" of gender. In a liberal society this is considered to represent the "good" and so the girls are supported in their desires.

That's why the liberal media reported enthusiastically the comments of Anthony Quon, who coaches a team in the league played in by the girls. He said enthusiastically of one of the girls that "We played against her once and I didn't even realise it was a girl ... I sent someone to man up on her, but was told that's not a man, it's a girl!"

So in public life gender isn't supposed to matter and it's considered a great thing if you mistake a girl for a boy. But is this what we would really want for ourselves in our own personal lives? Would the coach choose to marry a woman if she were indistinguishable from a man?

It's unlikely. I'm reminded of Keith Ellis, the boxing promoter who organised the first professional female boxing fight here in Victoria. He admitted that "I prefer gentle women myself" before going on to talk about the need to overthrow traditional "stereotypes" about women being gentler than men.

So what does all this mean for conservatives? What we need to understand is that the attack on gender has little to do with "freedom of choice" in the abstract. It springs from the underlying liberal principle that we should be created solely by our own will and reason. It is this principle which undermines the place of gender in modern society.

So we need to reject the underlying liberal principle and allow room for the influence in our lives of things that we don't choose for ourselves, such as our sex, our nationality, our ancestry, our family and so on. It is within these "given" things that we can find our higher nature, including our higher feminine and masculine nature.

It's not part of the higher masculine nature of a man to be aggressive and violent toward women, even in competitive sports. Boys shouldn't be forced to go against their better instincts and roughly tackle girls in football matches, not when they're small children and especially not during the mid-teens when the romantic instinct should be emerging.

28/7/03 As a brief postscript it's worth noting the reaction of one of the girl's opponents after the match this weekend. Sinclair Johansen noted that "You find yourself holding back from bumps and tackles because you don't feel right doing it." What Sinclair is expressing here is just the normal taboo young men feel forbidding physical violence toward girls. Mixed sex football teams will force young men like Sinclair to override his sense of what's right and treat women the same way he would treat other men: roughly.

(First published at Conservative Central 27/07/2003)

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