Monday, October 31, 2005

Arguing against reality

What makes feminists think the way they do?

Here’s one useful case study. The most recent appointment to Australia’s High Court is a woman, Susan Crennan. When she was appointed the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, made clear that she was selected not because of her sex, but on merit alone.

You would think that this would make feminists happy. Not so Leslie Cannold. In an article for The Age she notes that if appointments are made on merit, and if there are fewer female High Court justices, then it is being suggested that women are less meritorious than men. This she takes as an insult to women.

But what if there are simply fewer female candidates for such positions because many women choose to devote themselves to motherhood? What if, as Susan Crennan herself has suggested, it is a “biological imperative” which leads to there being more qualified men than women for High Court positions?

Predictably, this response draws out a basic statement of liberalism from Leslie Cannold. She writes,

... such a rebuttal seems to me to constitute further evidence of the discriminatory nature of the system and those who run it.

To suggest that female biology is destiny is to depict women as slaves to their hormones rather than rational beings capable of choosing if and when they’ll reproduce.

For liberals, our very humanity is defined by our ability to choose for ourselves who we are and what we do. We are meant to create ourselves through our own individual reason and will. In this view, accepting an inherited tradition or an unchosen “biological destiny” is considered to be an oppressive impediment to the self-creating individual.

That’s why liberals hate the idea of an inherited ethnic identity. It’s also why they consider a conventional sexual morality to be oppressive and why they want many alternative kinds of family life rather than just the traditional one.

And it explains why Leslie Cannold vehemently rejects the idea that “female biology is destiny” and considers such an idea “discriminatory”.

Where does this ideological view of things lead? Think of it this way. For conservatives, the fact that women are more likely than men to take time off work to mother their children is both a natural and desirable state of affairs.

But a liberal like Leslie Cannold can’t see it this way. For her, biology isn’t allowed to count – it isn’t allowed to predispose women to motherhood.

So when Leslie Cannold sees reality – sees that women are still more committed to motherhood than men – she assumes that this must be because girls aren’t being taught to think logically or that men are somehow being obstreperous in not taking over the motherhood role.

Her efforts to eradicate the influence of biology also means that she must even reject the “compromise” position of many young women, namely, to pursue a career but to take some years off to raise their young children.

For Leslie Cannold, it is a kind of defeat, rather than a reasonable compromise, for young women to have “future plans to stay home when their kids are young” in order to live “less exhausting lives than their mums”.

So the end point of Cannold’s feminism is an oppressive one for young women. They are to sacrifice themselves to prove that their lives are disconnected from any natural impulse toward active motherhood. They must either accept the harried lives of their feminist mothers or else wait for men to be equally committed to motherhood as themselves.

Fortunately, young women seem less inclined these days to accept a view which is so at odds with reality.

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