Lindy West argues at Jezebel that we are all feminists and those that aren’t are horrible people.
How does she do this, by (snarkily) arguing that:
To identify as a feminist is to acknowledge that women are people, and, as such, women deserve the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities as other styles of people (i.e., men-people).
This is of course complete bollocks.
The label of feminist has far more meaning than women are people. Not to mention that what feminists mean by “the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities” is far different from what most people consider “the same”.
Now, most people do accept most of first-wave feminism’s objectives: woman should be allowed to vote, own property, and be equal under the law. Even a reactionary curmudgeon like me doesn’t disagree with that (although, I’m not sure about Will).
But, feminism has evolved since then through the second, third, and post-waves and the term feminist has expanded far beyond the original goals of the suffragettes.
Accepting the goals of first-wave feminism no more makes a person a modern feminist than opposing slavery and absolute monarchy makes one a neo-liberal.
So, what does modern feminism mean beyond “women are people?”
Most obviously, modern feminism has irreversibly tied itself to unlimited abortion-on-demand, something the majority of people oppose. The abortion debate revolves around whether the unborn are persons or not and has nothing to do with the the personhood of women.
Affirmative action, the preferential treatment of women, is another major plank of modern feminism and has nothing to do with the personhood of women. In fact, it gives women rights that men do not have.
Other feminist tropes and goals beyond “women are people” include: the personalization of the political, anti-patriarchy, male privilege, “free” childcare, “free” birth control, “equal” pay, etc.
The second half of West’s definition of feminism is “women deserve the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities.”
This, is essentially as what she means by “the same rights and opportunities” is unclear and likely not agreed upon by most.
The first problem is the distinction between “negative” and “positive” liberty.
Under a classical liberal approach of “negative” liberty, “the same rights and opportunities” means that everybody is allowed to live their lives without undue external coercion. This is the standard conception of rights and liberty in the English liberal and liberal-conservative tradition that have defined (or at least until the last couple of decades) politics in the Anglosphere since Locke and Burke.
Under the progressive “positive” liberty approach, “the same rights and opportunities” means there can be external coercion if it helps an individual overcome internal constraints on their ability to act.
West talks positively of affirmative action and Title IX, so she obviously falls on the “positive” side of liberty, and she links these two strongly to feminism. She also talks derisively of those who have declared equality because legal discrimination has ended.
It’s obvious there is no room for “negative liberty” within her definition of feminism.
Yet, somehow we are all feminists now, even though “negative liberty” is the dominant (but declining) political thought in the US and the Anglosphere.
The second problem is the distinction between equality and equity.
Equality requires that everybody be treated the same.
Equity requires that people be treated differently to achieve the same outcome.
In an equal regime, hiring would be based solely on qualifications.
In an equitable regime, hiring would be based comparable results.
Affirmative action is very much equity based and is anti-equality, yet it is linked heavily to and is strongly defended by the feminist movement.
“Equal pay” is a a primary goal of modern feminists. Yet, the “wage gap” disappears when you account for hours worked, job type, specializations, and family arrangements.
Again, West strongly both affirmative action and Title IX to feminism. I’m also pretty sure where she’d stand on the “wage gap.” Is there any room for equality in feminism?
These first two debates can be seen in feminism itself between the liberal feminists who generally take the “negative” liberty and equality approach, and the other types of feminists who take the egalitarian, “positive” liberty approach.
So there is some room for them.
Sadly, liberal feminists tend to be few and far between and they tend not to be the drivers of feminism, but rather the PR people.
The ones dominating the agenda are the “positive” liberty, equity feminists. Hence, why feminism pursues the “wage gap” so strongly, why Obamacare has “free” contraception, why there was so much feminist rage when religious organizations did not want to pay for contraception, etc.
The third problem is that women and men are not the same. This leads to situations where “the same” is simply not possible.
The most obvious difference is that women can give birth, men can’t.
So, how do you give equal rights?
Is abortion only a women’s decision because it’s her body? Is it “equal” for men to have no say in the life or death of their unborn child?
If a man gets no say in the abortion decision, then would it not be fair to allow him to opt out of child support obligations? On the other hand, is it fair to expect a women to take all support for the child on herself?
There is no way the rights of persons in a situation like this can be “the same” because the decisions are not equivalent.
What of maternity/paternity leave? If we give them both similar time off, when the man isn’t even pregnant is that “the same”? But if we don’t give them equal time off, isn’t that differing opportunities?
Statistical differences in natural aptitudes or interests between the sexes leads to the equity/equality distinction.
Men are physically stronger and and bigger than women. So, when hiring, say, police, do we have “the same” physical requirements for both sexes with different outcomes, or do we “the same” outcomes by having differing physical requirements.
Women are less interested in math and math-based subjects. Do treat the sexes “the same” and just accept there will fewer female engineers or do we try to have “the same” amount of engineers for each sex by incentivizing and strongly encouraging women to enter engineering when they don’t really want to?
Most feminists I’ve read fall into the latter category of each. How does this fit into “women are people” and “deserve the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities?”
Slate, that bastion of modern liberalism, explains why feminists want everybody to be a feminist:
So as we adopt West’s definition of “feminism,” perhaps we can also start phasing out the term itself. Perhaps we can instead focus on labeling the outliers who are not feminists: the misogynists, chauvinists, and sexists. That would go a long way towards clarifying that feminism is now mainstream, obvious, and self-evident.
By defining feminism as the norm, they can then define anybody who doesn’t swallow the feminist agenda whole as “outliers”.
Oppose unlimited abortion on demand paid for by the state: you’re a misogynist.
Believe women should pay for their own birth control: you’re sexist.
Believe that the personal should be kept private: you’re a chauvinist.
Now, feminists already call anybody who doesn’t agree with their agenda misogynists, so that’s not the point, in itself. Rather, by having people accept feminism as the “mainstream, obvious, and self-evident” norm, they can force society as whole to accept that anybody who doesn’t engage in feminist group-think is a misogynist.
The point of normalizing feminism is to use it as a ideological weapon.
It’s a con-game: have society accept that the feminist label because they believe the uncontroversial statement that women are people. Most people don’t oppose the goals of liberal feminism all that strongly.
Then once society accepts the feminist label, move the goalposts. Feminism now means supporting unlimited abortion, or affirmative action, or “free” childcare. You must support us, you don’t want to be misogynist, do you?
In conclusion, we are not all feminists.
We almost all agree that “women are people” and should be given “the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities” as men, but feminism goes far beyond that. In addition, what most feminists mean by the same rights and opportunities is usually contradictory to what most people mean by that phrase and what the English classical liberalism which defines our political and economic culture mean by that phrase.
Normalizing the feminist label is nothing more than an ideological weapon.