Sunday, November 18, 2007

Are men and women equal?

In a recent post I claimed that it is liberalism which leads to the feminist belief that women are the victims of oppression and inequality:

The liberal starting point ends badly: in feelings of loss of humanity; in assumptions of oppression and inequality; and, for some, in a rejection of love and relationships.

A regular reader posted a comment suggesting that the feminist belief in inequality was more than an assumption, as men really are superior:

The inequality of men and women is not an assumption, it's a reality. It's evolved. Unless you are a female spotted hyena, you just have to like it or lump it.

I thought this comment worth responding to at length, as it involves some important issues. I'll say at the outset that I disagree with the idea that men are superior to women. This is not because I hold to a politically correct belief that everyone is equal. Furthermore, I think it's healthy for men to assert themselves confidently in their relationships with women.

So why don't I think men superior? The big issue, I think, is how we judge the quality of people. If we follow modernist ideas, and reject the existence of "transcendent" (i.e. really existing) goods, then the measure of man is power. I will be held to be superior if I prove my dominance by holding power over others. I can achieve dominant status through money, through a professional career and through political power.

If we accept this "proof" of superiority, then I cannot blame feminists for acting the way that they do. It's inevitable that some women will be too proud to accept an inferior status, particularly when they know that they have the ability to prove themselves dominant in careers, money and politics over many men.

It's a pity, though, if women accept such a proof of their own quality. It means that they are forced to compete to prove themselves on traditionally masculine terms; the more feminine side to life will inevitably be neglected.

Which leads to the question: what happens if we accept the existence of transcendent goods, as Western societies traditionally did? We then have an alternative way of judging the quality of people, namely according to how finely they embody some aspect of the good.

Looked at this way, there is a lot to admire in both men and women. Men, at their best, are loyal, courageous, persevering and good-humoured, and their dispassionate intellect serves them well in acting justly and in seeking knowledge. Women, at their best, are warm, vivacious, graceful, beautiful, empathetic, considerate and intuitive. Women, more than men, are often present in the moment for others.

So which constellation of goods is superior? The question makes little sense for two reasons. First, it's difficult to measure in any objective way whether the finer female qualities represent a higher good than the male qualities or vice versa. It might be possible to have a personal preference, but there's no obvious way to prove such a preference to be true.

More importantly, the question of superiority is misconceived because the male and female goods grow out of each other; therefore, if you think of the masculine qualities as being particularly fine, you must recognise that they wouldn't exist without the feminine qualities being strongly present (and vice versa).

If the women of a society no longer embody the higher feminine goods, then it's unlikely that men will be inspired to fully develop their masculine qualities. Similarly, femininity can only flourish when men are moved to create a protected space for it.

So it's not even so much a question of stating that men and women are equal, as this tends to miss the point of what determines our quality as men and women.


  1. Good points.

    The problem with many on the left is that they can't tolerate talking about differences, because they then assume you must be judging one group as superior to the other.

    Trying to decide whether women or men are superior is about as useful as trying to decide if your heart or lungs are more important in keeping you alive.

  2. The problem with "equality" is that there are clearly functional differences between men and women. Somehow this translates to inferiority or superiority.

  3. It's really rather simple. Equality and sameness are not synonymous, as should be obvious to anyone with only a few moments' consideration. The male and the female operate in a harmonic kind of way, toward a common end which transcends both.

    Now, the problem with this for modern liberalism is obvious: it suggests that an individual's identity depends upon things outside itself to acquire meaning or even comprehensibility. It also suggests a teleology to the human person that transcends his ability to construct his own meaning. In short, the masculine and feminine, by depending upon one another for coherence, are incompatible with the liberals' denuded view of the individual as an infinitely malleable and interchangeable blank slate.

    As Mark often points out, sexual categories are incommensurate with liberal autonomy theory, since they impose some aspects of a person's being upon him from from outside himself. If the masculine can only be understood in reference to the feminine, and vice versa, this limits the individual's ability to define what he is for himself, and therefore assaults his humanity. (It also should be expected to produce tremendous resentment toward the opposite sex.) Much better to assume that there are no such categories, at least not in any way that matters. A difference that doesn't make a difference isn't a difference, and all that.

  4. Mark, I'm still noodling some of this for myself, but you hint at something pretty interesting: That women's inferiority to men could be deduced from modernist assumptions about the point of existence. My thought is that men are suited in a particular way to striking out and defining themselves according to their doings--at least if the totality of human experience in every place and time is any guide. Men have something to prove by being men--masculinity is in significant measure about "becoming." The U.S. Marines' ethos of melting down the man and forging him into a blade, of reshaping him in line with a certain purpose, is something that appeals to men's innate character, and I doubt very much whether many young women find the imagery very compelling.

    Now, modernism, and modern liberalism particularly, tells us that the entire point of individual existence is to define what one is, what one's reality shall consist of, and what the meaning of one's life is supposed to be. Femininity does not seem especially well suited to this view of things, and if one takes it as normative, then women should be expected to envy and resent the masculine traits upon which genuine human existence is said to rely.

    The practical reality of masculinity is that it has to be earned and proven--the relatively de-sexed young boy has to undergo a transformation of sorts to acquire manhood, and it has to be done via certain behaviors--a girl's womanhood simply turns itself "on," so to speak, at a certain age. So it would make sense that to attack sexual distinctions it becomes necessary to attack those values and behaviors that produce manhood in boys. More disturbingly, in order to stunt the feminine side of things, as indicated by the fact that womanhood is a question of internal, involuntary processes, requires a biological "fix," i.e. drugs (e.g., pills and hormones) and medical procedures (e.g., abortion). All these things are radically anti-natural and must be of necessity.

    So feminism's hostility toward not simply the masculine, but the feminine as well, may have some roots in the view that Man makes himself, which is a view which disfavors of the feminine and favors the masculine.

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Sage, I particularly liked your observation that the sex distinction runs foul of modern liberalism by suggesting "a teleology to the human person that transcends his ability to construct his own meaning".

    It would be a useful point to draw out, as I expect traditionalists do generally operate with a "teleology of the human person" - the liberal view does seem to run against this. Perhaps this is one of those differences in mindset which need to be drawn to the surface.

  6. 15/3 = 2 + 3.

    Both equal to 5 right?

    But are they the same?

    One is sum of two numbers.

    The other is a division of one number by another.

  7. So are you saying that while feminine traits are intrinsic and develop naturally regardless of favorable or unfavorable environmental conditions, masculinity is nurtured (or abandoned) in its subjects? That is an interesting proposition. Assuming it is true to a significant degree it would mean that women are generally in default mode, while men are constantly in a state of exertion to define their character and establish their role in both private and public life. I can live with that.

    Regarding modern ills, I think the subversive side of feminism's drive for authority comes in its co-opting men together with women in the same agenda. This agenda becomes one of "shared obstacles" and right away we are on the road to notions of absolute human equality and other nonsense. Many millions of men have signed on, eyes in the headlights.

    It may also be the case that atheism and indeterminate religious beliefs have almost obliterated the worthy idea that we are all "equal in the eyes of God" or that we are "Children of God". This is an expansive and healing image that can be applied to men/women and other distinctions and it previously allowed for the *idea* of true equality to pervade our thinking without corrupting the natural order of society. Undoubtedly some saw this as a means of obviating social injustice and so it was doomed to be attacked at some point. But the attackers failed, and fail today, to see the value of considering humanity in its unevenness and complexity.

  8. Hannon said, Many millions of men have signed on, eyes in the headlights.

    Free and easy sex makes the medicine go down.

  9. I agree with both of Jaz's posts.

    Men and women are functionally unequal. (I am a woman btw) It is kind of insane to suggest otherwise in the face of much evidence that men have throughout history, strived to create, defend and advance western civilization at great risk of life and limb. And us women have enjoyed the spoils of their efforts, just being asked to have babies(historically also dangerous) and keep the men happy at home. Women rarely tried to move outside this role. And even 40 years of feminazism haven't changed this much. Women still tend in the opposite direction as men.

    The only 'equality' that comes into play when comparing men and women is that all human life has equal, inherent value. Well, in my Christian world view anyhow.

    Jaz's last post cleared something up for me. I've been confused about feminism pushing the hedonistic sex angle. But that is the only to get men on board with their destructive agenda to reshape society into a Marxist, collectivist hell hole.