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Feminism

(after C.G. Jung, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Warren Farrell, Camille Paglia, & Christina Hoff Sommers)

by Kelly Ross, Ph.D.

By permission, and the efforts of Jim Bracewell, WebMaster of the Florida Men's Resource Site. The original is at: http://www.friesian.com/feminism.htm

 

They had jobs, but feminists weren't satisfied; every other woman had to get one too. So they opened fire on homemakers with a savagery that still echoes throughout our culture. A housewife is a "parasite," [Betty] Frieden writes; such women are "less than fully human" insofar as they "have never known a commitment to an idea."

David Gelernter, Drawing Life, Surviving the Unabomber, Free Press, 1997, p. 95


"Sexism" is the term that was coined by feminists for wrongs of belief or action with respect to women that seemed to them comparable to the wrongs of belief and action signified by racism. However, where racists may be reasonably said to have erred in seeing great genetic differences between human races, there are real continuing questions about whether human sexual differences of behavior and psychology have a genetic basis.

My jumping off point here comes with three recent books: Christina Hoff Sommers' Who Stole Feminism? [Simon & Schuster, 1994], (order on-line) Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae [Vintage Books, 1991], (order on-line) and Warren Farrel's The Myth of Male Power [Simon & Schuster, 1993] (order on-line) . All three of these people themselves believe in a certain form of feminism, what Sommers has dubbed "equity feminism," which is just the principle that there must be legal and political equality for women. Warren Farrell was actually on the national governing board of the National Organization for Women until he became disillusioned and decided that NOW was not fighting for the proper goals. On the other hand, most contemporary feminism, and almost the entirety of academic and political feminism, as Farrell discovered at NOW, is what Sommers has called "gender feminism," which is essentially based on a form of Marxist theory that substitutes "gender" for Marx's category of "class," or simply adds the two together, usually with "race" thrown in. This sort of "race, class, and gender" theory is typically a dangerous form of political moralism, with the same totalitarian characteristics as other versions of Marxism have proven to display. One consequence of this is that the substantive content of criticism is rarely addressed but that it is considered sufficient to vilify critics as, in effect, "class enemies," i.e. directing ad hominem arguments against them that their status, in terms of race, class, or gender, or simply in terms of their critical attitude, is sufficient to refute their arguments. Hence the convenient device of dismissing most of Western civilization as the product of "dead white males"--though for feminism the inconvenient fact remains that Eastern and Middle Eastern civilization (and every other) must also be dismissed as the products of "dead non-white males."

This essay will not deal with specific anti-capitalist arguments in feminism, since capitalism as such is defended elsewhere. Questions about economic "power," markets, free exchange, and private property will thus not be dealt with here. A good start is with the essay on Say's Law.

Until the controversy over Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas politically revitalized feminism, many wondered why feminism seemed to have been such a vibrant political movement back in the 70's but since then had retreated into Women's Studies Departments at colleges and universities, where no one paid much attention to it except other academic feminists and college administrators. The answer was really simple enough: in the 70's feminism came to be perceived as simply anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-children, and perhaps even anti-religion, not to mention anti-men. Many early feminists certainly regarded marriage and family as so burdensome as to approach slavery. Feminism presented the family as a kind of prison, with a working career on the outside as a kind of liberation. This did not take into account that for most people a family has always been the meaning of their life, the finding and creation of the closest relatives that a human being can have. Men did not go to work to enjoy the self-fulfillment of work. They went to work to support their families, often at jobs that they positively hated, or at least just tolerated for the sake of the income. Few men were so fortunate as to be doing something fulfilling or interesting that paid the bills at the same time. While feminists lamented that women often give up years, or all, of their careers in order to have children, even men with hopes of a fulfilling career traditionally have often had to give up those hopes if they suddenly were responsible for a family [1].

But for most people, who never get anywhere near a professional degree in anything, the whole idea of a "fulfilling career" was a little ridiculous. A job was to make a living, and the worth of living was to have that home and spouse and children and some leisure to enjoy them, working at personal projects or hobbies and watching the kids grow up. Because of that, most men were simply bewildered and astonished by feminism back in the 70's; it seemed to come from some sort of comically different reality. At the same time, any women who knew what the working world was like, and who felt that their primary concern, whether they worked outside or not, was their family and children, not only felt bewildered but insulted: feminism tended to portray home life as some sort of idiocy that no enlightened woman would be interested in. That is why the women's vote has rarely gone for out and out feminists (until, perhaps, in some 1992 races--although there was still no "gender gap" in the votes cast for George Bush), even while working women did want equal pay for equal work, etc. On the CBS television magazine Sixty Minutes, in January 1992, Gloria Steinem said that only the "enemies of feminism" ever said that women could "have it all"--both career and family. That is an astonishing thing for her to have said. If feminists had ever frankly admitted that family would be impossible for a real career woman (as it was for Steinem), then not only would feminism have failed at its own goals but it would simply have been Dead On Arrival for all but the smallest minority of woman; and it is inconceivable who these "enemies of feminism" would have been who could have perpetrated the hoax that women could have had both career and family.

But more important than any misestimation or misunderstanding about what people valued, feminism was perceived as having positive reasons to hate the family: not only ignoring but militantly rejecting the focus of meaning in people's lives. The hostility to the family came from ideological & political reasons: any old social function that the family may have fulfilled was to be fulfilled by the state instead, much more safely and effectively. Safely because children would be outside the influence of reactionary parents, especially patriarchal men. Effectively because they would be in the hands of politically sound professional "care givers." The literature was full of how wonderfully this had been working in the Soviet Union, Israel, etc. What the professionals could accomplish best, of course, was to erase the old sexist gender differences by socializing the children differently. This view rested, then, on the theory that gender differences are the result only of arbitrary social convention.

The problem with the examples cited so warmly, however, was that they were often monstrous acts of totalitarianism, and that they failed. The problem with the theory that personality and gender differences are entirely the result of environment, not heredity, is that it is indeed a prescription for just the kind of coercion and tyranny that most conspicuously tried to exploit its possibilities: if everything that we are is just socialization, then the reasonable thing is to socialize us in the best way possible, and that would be through the agency of those who know best. Those who know best, in turn, would be those politically favored, or at least self-appointed with enough fanfare. The socialization, in turn, would be a thorough indoctrination which, if done to adults, would have been called brain washing--but then the brain was supposed to have been blank in the first place. Cambodia took this to the logical extreme: if you simply kill the parents, then that leaves the children in the hands of the state by default. Fortunately, the last line of defense against totalitarianism was the simple fact of human nature. All the power of the state could not really make the "New Man," and no amount of lies could cover that up indefinitely. The Soviet Union crumbled to reveal the people of 1913 emerging from the shadows, wanting the same things out of life that they did then, without all the bombast, promises, fanfare, and lies.

The charm that totalitarianism had for feminism was real enough, even though the desire to control human nature wasn't just confined to radical theory. It has crept up on us from all directions. F.A. Hayek says there are basically two views on how society should be organized, tribalism and the free market. Karl Popper more crisply contrasts the Closed Society with the Open Society. Ayn Rand says that the paradigm of humanity in the Open Society of the marketplace is that of the trader. Feminist theory mostly still hates capitalism--"patriarchy" is often simply equated with war, racism, and capitalism; feminism with pacifism, socialism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and even vegetarianism--in short, any case that might be regarded as "progressive" from a leftist point of view. Hence the ironic move of doctrinaire feminists dismissing with contempt Margaret Thatcher, one of the most successful, powerful, and historically important women, and the longest serving British Prime Minister, of the 20th century. Similarly, in 1994, Annie Potts, a Hollywood actress, dismissed Kay Bailey Hutchinson, soon to win election as a United States Senator from Texas, as a "female impersonator." That seems to say that only politically correct women are really women.

What happens under the principles of the free market and liberal democracy with the feminist view that human nature is created entirely by environment is that the view as a political force simply disappears: people can raise their children however they like; and if they have some sort of educational theory or ideology like feminism to use, that's their business. It is not the place of the state to promote one view or another, to label some views as politically sound and others as sexist or anything else.

Hayek is clear that the marketplace is "unnatural" in a way and that people, yearning for the old tribalism, can simply hate it. The difference is that the old tribal societies were personal. Capitalism is impersonal. Tribalism involved mutual positive obligations. Capitalism involves voluntary trade and contract. Tribalism provided a secure place for everyone. Capitalism denies that absolute security is possible or that we have a right that strangers provide it for us. Tribalism left no doubts. Capitalism tells us nothing. Tribalism always provided for needs, to the extent that the group could provide. Capitalism doesn't care what we need, but will provide what we want....if we will work for it. Tribalism valued people. Capitalism, indeed, values what people do and want, which is reflected in prices. Thus Marx accused capitalism of reducing even the family to a cash relationship. The choice, indeed, is between security and insecurity, but also between slavery and freedom and, in fact, between poverty of secure socialism and wealth of insecure capitalism. It is hard to choose between security and freedom, and it is easy to hope that they could be had together, that tribalism (or socialism) could be combined with capitalism. With that hope, "freedom" can be pursued in a way that surprisingly leads to tribal slavery. That is what happened with both Marxism and feminism.

A Closed Society is based directly on interpersonal relationships and is inevitably hierarchical. Feudalism is a system of direct obligations to specific persons, and nowhere is that kind of thing better illustrated than in the Confucian "six relationships." While the "six relationships" are often cited as three pairs, it is possible to flesh out six full pairs; the relations between: ruler and subject; parent and child; husband and wife; teacher and student; older brother and younger brother; older friend and younger friend. In each of these relationships the elder or higher member owes benevolent protection and care to the lower or younger, while the lower owes to the higher conscientious (i.e. not blind) obedience and loyalty. These relationships are mostly established by who one is, not what one does or wants, and this in great measure is determined by birth. There can be security and humanity in these relationships, but there is no such thing as freedom; and it is indeed a "closed," womblike and suffocating arrangement. Virtually all societies were based on these principles until within the last couple of centuries. The view of feminism is that in these systems women were not even persons. But if the argument is simply that women were stuck in a certain place with a fixed thing to do, without freedom or any opportunity to work for self-realization, then there were simply no persons in these systems since their whole principle was a place for everyone and everyone in their place. The whole idea of personal fulfillment or self-realization or opportunity for individual growth was simply non-existent. Of course, that is why Ayn Rand dismisses these societies as simply vast forms of slavery. But even slaves can be persons. Even slaves can have some rights. And under feudalism there were rights and obligations for every position in the hierarchy. The hierarchs did not have arbitrary authority. Theirs was a placejust as much as a ny other, albeit with more privileges and authority. Even someone at the very top of the system who becomes an individual, like the Egyptian god-king Akhenaton, can come to grief for it.

These hierarchical systems clearly come from our primate past, as they are universal, not just among primates, but among virtually all mammals who live in groups. Once we get back far enough, not only are there no concepts of individual fulfillment or opportunity, but it is clear that there could not even be such a thing since there is actually nothing to do apart from the immemorial activities of the species. Some feminists say that women have been oppressed for 30,000 years. That is just about the time of the emergence of modern humans (H. sapiens sapiens), but those humans were not so different from older H. sapiens, physically or culturally, and not much like us in any cultural form. Instead, with nothing but the addition of tools and language (and religion), human life wasn't socially all that different in its forms even from the life of baboons or lions. All that counted was survival, since survival is all that counts in nature. Because survival was all that counted, the only human activity that really counted was reproduction, and so the only humans who really counted were women. That did not make them individuals. Nature simply doesn't care about individuals when the survival of the group or the species is all that counts. But it is from that level of culture that all the symbols that some feminists now think are evidence of matriarchy were produced--the steatopygous "Venuses" and so forth.

It is unlikely that there was real matriarchy, but there was psychological matriarchy. Camille Paglia makes the decisive observation about the Venuses: they mostly don't have faces, or hands, or feet. The womb of nature is blind and, literally, faceless. Nor is there really anything to do except reproduce, and hands and feet are not needed for that. Now this sounds dehumanized, but back then there is no other model of humanity to contrast it with. The first human art simply reproduces the forms of nature, and to nature there is no individuality and no value apart from survival. Now we might say that tools and so forth were the beginning of something different, and in retrospect we might like to see the art celebrate all the new tools and their heroic use against nature; but that would have been wholly anachronistic, meaningless, and absurd at the time. The tools were simply used for survival, and all survival was ultimately dependent on and subordinated to fertility. To live that life, however, is to live in the warm, smothering, embrace of the community--the psychological matriarchy of C.G. Jung's Terrible Mother, who devours individuality for the comfort of unconsciousness. That continues to be the attraction of all forms of tribalism. Feminist yearning for the matriarchy can dangerously find expression, indeed, in yearning for the smothering certainties of totalitarianism.

In the marketplace all that remains of tribalism, the last irreducible unit, is the family. Even if husband and wife do not exist in the old hierarchical relationship, parents and children inevitably do. It is a case of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny: you grow up in the closed community of the family, then go out into the world. This gives rise to ambivalences. Freedom is getting away from the family, but freedom can also be solitary and lonely. And then there is the purpose of that freedom. Some creative worthy goal is always a possibility; but for most people of average ability and limited ambition, the most worthy goal still seems to be to continue a family and so to make for the next generation the same warm source as the last. Making a living was usually hard, so there mostly was not much chance to reflect on things beyond the benevolent protection of the family. For the generations after World War II, however, when prosperity seemed so easy (at least to the children), the question inevitably arose about the purpose of a mere endless round of life creating life. Given the opportunity to make a living in various ways, room opens up for something more than just making a living for the sake of one's family. That can expose one even more to the solitary openness of freedom, and because of that most people still decided that family was fundamental in a fulfilling life. There is always going to be a problem, however, if one's original experience of family was unpleasant. The conclusion from that is easily that a family is dispensable or even malevolent. Gloria Steinem seems to have had an unpleasant experience--a divorced father who went away, and mother who couldn't cope and drifted into mental illness. The result was that she didn't want any kind of marriage or family. If it is not just a matter of what one wants, however, but of a judgment that the institution is wrong and must be overthrown, then this can lead to speculation about human life without families. The taste of freedom in the independence of the marketplace can tempt one to generalize the situation into all of human life. That isn't really going to work, since few people want their entire life to be as cold, impersonal, detached, calculating, and negotiable as relationships in the marketplace. If the market cannot provide the things that were rejected with the family, then perhaps something else can: political life.

Giving political life the old power of the family, however, is the same as to return to a political principle of tribalism. But this is a key move of feminism. The slogan, "The personal is political," embodies that connection. It is a slogan full of monstrous and terrible danger. Where in capitalism the personal is separated from the political in that the family is separated from the marketplace, which is served by politics, the abolition of the family exposes the privacy of the individual to whatever political forces, whatever ideology, happens to be ascendant. This literally strips away privacy and posits a political test, not just for everything the individual does, but for everything the individual thinks, desires, and feels. This is consistent with the view of human nature as "socially constructed"--"environmentalist" rather than "genetic"--and is precisely what is advocated by feminist legal theorists like Catharine MacKinnon. On that view, there really is no nature, only nurture according to some ideology. With no nature, nothing is really "natural," no natural feelings, no natural desires, no natural actions, no natural responses. Spontaneity must always be suspect, since the more spontaneous anything is, the more purely it embodies some unexamined and probably discreditable ideological conditioning. It is impossible to be a Taoist on the environmentalist view since "not-doing" cannot produce anything fresh from the Tao, it can only reproduce some stale socialization. Thus one goes about one's life hesitating at each action, feeling, etc., thinking, "Now, does this conform to the Correct View of social existence that I have gotten from my political indoctrination?" If not, then it is time to confess one's political crimes and beg for reëducation from the more enlightened. That kind of life is completely intolerable for any but fanatical zealots and ideologues; and anyone else who is harangued or browbeaten about thinking that way just ends up hating it with a passion. And that is th e kind of response that feminism began eliciting in the 70's. The "backlash" that is now decried in the 90's was never against women per se but against the catalogue of political crimes into which feminism wished to transform private life.

Whatever human nature is actually like, whether there are innate differences between the sexes or not, this must be completely irrelevant to political life. It is not up to politics to determine some biological matter of fact. Instead it is the nature of liberal democracy to ignore whatever differences there may be between persons, from whatever source, whether there are differences or not. That, indeed, is the Marxist accusation against capitalism, that some people do better than others, regardless of their needs. And people are different. Some people are smarter than others, some are taller, some have certain desires. What they do and how they fare is determined by the free trade of the marketplace. Whether differences like that align with sexual differences is an interesting question for certain sciences, but irrelevant to politics. To enforce some preconception about how people, or the sexes, must be the same will abridge the freedom not only of what they do but of what they are. Feminism was hell bent to abridge people's freedom in that respect. The choice is simple, freedom or slavery--freedom to the uncertainty, unconformity, and the openness of the market, or slavery to the coercive power of the state to enforce a preconceived ideological conformity, right down to what people feel and believe.

It is not impossible, however, to say how men and women might, in general, be different. Indeed, it is the popular wisdom of every age in every place that they are, and there is not a whole lot of disagreement in what respects they are different. One precise issue to consider is what feminism likes to call "male violence." There is little doubt that the received wisdom in every culture is that men are suited for war and women, mostly, are not. And men are suited for war because they are larger and stronger but also more aggressive and naturally violent. Feminism can grudgingly admit the former qualities [2] but is adamant that the latter qualities are merely the result of social conditioning. Women would be just as aggressive and violent if they had been taught to be that way, and were expected to be that way, from childhood. This is, indeed, a serious question. And if aggressiveness and violence are entirely the result of conditioning, then feminism would also be right that violent crime by males (90% of the prison population is male) is the result of society conditioning males to commit violent crimes. Thus the view of many feminists that social norms instill hatred of women, since if there is ever any violence against women, the perpetrators must have been trained to behave that way.

This sort of thing seems like sheer, dangerous insanity to someone like Camille Paglia. To her, it is social conditioning that contains and restricts violence, in which case attacking social conditioning will only result in more violence, not less. She traces the feminist point of view back to the 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who said "Man is born free, but now is everywhere in chains." Rousseau's idea was that we are naturally good and pure, but that society has made us evil and twisted. Consequently, we should return to a kind of education that would allow children to just run free, without any inhibitions that traditionally were instilled in them. Since such ideas have influenced not only feminism but a lot of professional educators for the last thirty years, or the last eighty years (starting with John Dewey), it is sensible to now ask if the result has been more violence or less. Clearly it has been more. And we might ask, in more direct response to feminism, whether the sons of families without fathers are, in general, more violent or less violent than sons who have been raised with a strong father present. The answer to that is also that the sons from fatherless families tend to be more violent.

Since Paglia thinks that men are naturally more aggressive and violent than women, we can of course ask why that would be. Many children of the sixties, who firmly believed that all behavior was the result of conditioning, came in for a bit of a surprise when they had children of their own. However they tried to be "gender neutral," many had to admit that the boys they were raising definitely behaved rather differently than the girls. The boys tended to go charging around pounding things and the girls didn't. But in the face of that kind of intimate, albeit anecdotal, evidence, or even systematic, scientific studies, feminist denial can be monumental [3]. The evidence from nature itself, however, eliminates the socialization argument altogether. Among mammals, from sea lions to llamas, we frequently find males fighting each other over females, often over large "harems" of females, where the females themselves seem content to accept the winners of the combat. The most striking example, however, comes with hyenas. While male mammals typically have high levels of testosterone in the womb, which is responsible for the development of primary sexual attributes, hyena females also have high levels of testosterone, and this results is several striking results: One is that hyena females develop apparently male external genitalia. This made it rather difficult to tell male and female hyenas apart, and some naturalists originally thought that hyenas were hermaphroditic (with functioning male and female organs). The second result is that female hyenas are larger and dominant over the males in hyena groups; and the groups are large and important because hyenas hunt in packs, like dogs and wolves. But the third result is probably the most startling: in hyena burrows where the young are born, they begin, not just to fight among themselves, but to actually kill each other. A hyena pup will establish her dominance by killing all her sisters. This kind of thing sets us face to face, not with Rousseau and his "noble savage" in friendly nature, but with Darwin and "nature red in tooth and claw"--the "law of the jungle."

Testosterone does not cause violence, but it creates a certain potential that can be expressed in different ways. Socialization does not create that potential, and it cannot eliminate it. What socialization must do is provide for constructive ways for the potential to be expressed. But in some ways it is a little more definite than that, with examples like the following: In many cultures, young men get together in groups and do typically foolish kinds of things [4]. Such groups range from the warrior bands found among ancient Germans or the modern Masai (in East Africa) to modern college fraternities and contemporary street gangs. Typical of all of all these groups are initiation rituals that usually involve discomfort, pain, humiliation (often sexual), or even serious danger. We now call this "hazing." This kind of thing makes little enough sense to adults, none to women, and periodically provokes tremendous outrage when it results in the injury or the death of participants. But every effort to completely stamp it out fails. Trying to eliminate it, of course, often drives it underground and results in more dangerous rituals than would have occurred otherwise.

But the whole idea of male associations like fraternities is anathema to feminism. Feminists necessarily view fraternities, not as vehicles of channeling and socializing male energy into the least destructive directions, but as the very mechanisms by which males are socialized into violent and patriarchal behaviors. Many colleges and universities consequently have been trying to eliminate fraternities altogether. Since that simply drives them off campus, many colleges and universities have tried to make membership in fraternities a punishable offense, even punishable by expulsion. That, naturally, can make secret membership even more attractive. On the other hand, the alternative of trying to make fraternities coed is also very awkward. If sexually humiliating hazing is disturbing enough when men practice it on each other, it automatically becomes sexual harassment or rape when it is practiced on women [5]. That is a non-starter as an institution. And now, with many more women in the military, in mixed sex basic training and housing, scandals have multiplied over sexual fraternization and rape. One "solution" has been to soften up basic training by not even allowing drilling instructors to shout at recruits.

So we might ask, what was nonsense like hazing and shouting drill instructors all for? Was it just an expression of the potential for aggression and violence? It seems more complex than that. In The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell deals with this quite well [pp. 294-296]. If warriors or hunters, in the past, went into danger, it helped for them to know how their fellows would react under danger, stress, and fear; and it helped for them to know to what extent they could trust and rely on each other to act in certain ways. Adults with experience of life and of each other don't need artificial means to test themselves; but the young need to learn all those things, and to be trained, preferably in an artificial context first. While such tests and training may be somewhat dangerous, they are not likely to be as dangerous as the real life situations for which they are preparatory. Today, when such training may only be necessary in the military, police, or other dangerous and physically demanding professions [6], it is nevertheless noteworthy that groups of young men spontaneously engage in the same kinds of behaviors--rough-housing, showing off, taking risks, taunting each other--that would have been customary, planned, and controlled in the young men's groups of traditional societies. When those unplanned and uncontrolled activities begin to include drive-by shootings and gang wars, it is clear that there has been a major social failure to deal with male adolescent behavior. The feminist desire simply to get rid of that behavior may already be said to have proved itself a disastrous failure, since feminist ideology and the most socially disruptive expressions of street gang culture have all developed and expanded during the same period of time, within the last thirty years. The only effective way to deal with the young men is to accept, control, and channel their behavior, not to pretend that it can be abolished. At the same time, doing away with the emotionally and physically stressful aspects of military training, because women can't or shouldn't handle it as well, simply means that there will be no training, for either men or women, for the stress and trauma of actual war and combat.

Another aspect of differences between males and females is explored by Deborah Tannen in her best selling book You Just Don't Understand, which is about how men and women use conversation in different ways. Her simple thesis is that men basically use conversation to establish status and women use it to establish closeness. She does not commit herself to whether this difference is the result of nature or socialization. She simply thinks that because it is there (her book is full of examples), it must be dealt with. She does not try to deal with it through moralistic exhortations to abolish it, but simply tries to promote understanding. Her theory, however, raises intriguing questions. Tannen admits herself that men actually do care about closeness, and women do actually care about status. Very rough and tumble competition can create friendships for boys and men (starting with Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh), and status for girls and women can be determined by their closeness to the core of a prestigious social group.

This is reminiscent of C.G. Jung's theory about consciousness, the unconscious, and their relation to sexual differences. Jung thought that anything in the mind that did not appear consciously would appear unconsciously. In sexual terms, that means that sexuality, which appears in consciousness one way, appears as its opposite in the unconscious. That leads to Jung's theory that there is a female archetype, the anima, in the male unconscious and a male archetype, the animus, in the female unconscious. If we apply that to Tannen's theory about conversation, it simply means that the overt seeking of status by men or closeness by women is complemented by the covert seeking of closeness by men and status by women. Nowhere, indeed, is the female status system of "ins" and "outs" more painfully obvious that in Women's Studies Programs. The purpose of conversation there, as explored by Daphne Patai & Noretta Koertge in the recent Professing Feminism, Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women's Studies [BasicBooks, 1994], (order on-line) is less the transmission of information or the cultivation of understanding than the transmission of a doctrine. Although the doctrine itself ferociously dismisses "patriarchal" hierarchy, it creates its own hierarchy simply in terms of how enthusiastically its message is received. Conspicuous agreement determines the "ins," rejection, scepticism, or even caution determines the "outs."

The issues that arise about all these differences between male and female require the most serious research and consideration, but this already goes beyond mainstream feminism, which has seemed resolutely unwilling to admit even the possibility of innate differences between the sexes. The closest it has come is to a moral difference between "genders," that the feminine point of view is superior to the masculine. This has usually just meant, however, that the masculine should be abandoned and the feminine adopted right across the board (even, paradoxically, in the military)--which again presupposes that the "masculine" is something that can be abandoned. In terms of the both the received traditions of the past and the best evidence of the present, this seems unlikely. Attempting social engineering through politics, which now extends to sexual harassment law in the workplace and a de-"masculinization" of the military, will most likely result in a phenomenon described by Jung: the reality being driven into the unconscious and expressed in the most destructive and irrational ways, as noted above with street gangs, etc.

Pages on Feminist Issues
Against the Theory of "Sexist Language"Defense of Christina Hoff Sommers published in The Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 66:7
Anaesthetic FeminismAbortionLetter in defense of Christina Hoff Sommers sent to the Los Angeles Times

The Backlash!

Ethics

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Copyright (c) 1997 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved


Feminism, Note on Gender

A fundamental move for early feminism was to distinguish between sex and gender, where sex, male or female, is about physical differences between the sexes, while gender, masculine or feminine, is about characteristics of behavior, demeanor, or psychology which feminism wished to claim are culturally constructed and conditioned and so ultimately arbitrary. Since the moral and political program of "gender feminism" was essentially to abolish gender differences, so that men and women would end up living the same kinds of lives, doing the same kinds of things, and perhaps even looking pretty much the same in "unisex" grooming and clothing, it was important to distinguish between the class of cultural and alterable items, matters of gender, and the class of physical and unalterable items, matters of physical sex differences.

Regardless of whether "gender" differences ever were entirely matters of cultural conditioning, and so oppressive discrimination, the clear and simple feminist distinction between "sex" and "gender" has become confused by a couple of developments:

  1. First, the use of the word "gender" instead of "sex" simply became a badge of political correctness, by which speakers marked themselves through speech as having a proper feminist consciousness. Then, since meaning didn't much matter for that usage, "gender" has tended to simply replace all uses of the word "sex," except for direct references to sexual activities. Thus, where the answers "male" and "female" should indicate that the question was about "sex," and the answers "masculine" and "feminine" should indicate that the question was about "gender," it is now common to find questions of the form, "What gender are you?" where the answer is clearly expected to be "male" or "female" rather than "masculine" or "feminine." If this replacement becomes complete, however, then the original feminist distinction simply disappears, and the word "gender" can easily take on the whole original meaning of "sex," including all the unalterable differences, physical or otherwise, between the sexes. One can imagine the dilemma of feminists whether to rejoice in their transformation of ordinary language or worry that such a transformation, by obscuring the distinction they wanted to make, will not actually make any difference. They may well wonder when Rush Limbaugh can say "gender" instead of "sex" without ideological difficulty.

  2. On the other hand, "gender" feminists never did accept even physical differences with very good grace, and it now appears that their political program is of a sort that, even if most women cannot, for instance, lift and carry the fire hoses and ladders, this weakness must simply be accommodated in such a way that women will nevertheless have "equal opportunity" to be "firefighters" (rather than "firemen"). This is conformable with the apparent philosophy of enforcement of the "Americans with Disabilities Act" (the ADA), by which the "reasonable accommodation" language of the Act has come to be interpreted by the EEOC as "spare no expense." In these terms, the takeover by "gender" of the whole sex/gender semantic spectrum may be perfectly consistent with the evolving goal of feminism, which is to erase through political action, by any means necessary, any differences whatsoever between men and women, even physical ones. Such an evolution is no less than what we might expect from the overall thrust of leftist egalitarianism, which is that society must be engineered so that everyone will be exactly the same in any way that makes any real difference (as all the promotion of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" is not expected to produce any actual differences in economic performance or "gender" deportment--a paradoxical expectation considering the marked "gender roles" in traditional world cultures).

Thus the future of the use of "gender" is unclear. It depends on the true purposes of feminism, which may not be candidly stated to the public. It also depends, of course, on the ability of "gender" feminism to maintain its political influence and success in the face of the falsehood of its theory and the anti-capitalist roots and program of its politics.

Return to "Feminism"

Return to "Against the Theory of 'Sexist Language'"

Return to "Defense of Christina Hoff Sommers"


Feminism, Note 1

I don't have to look far for an example, since my own father gave up going to UCLA and working towards an engineering degree when his uncle offered him a job and he decided that he needed it to support his family. And my mother wasn't even a housewife. She worked all her life, except for my first five years.

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Feminism, Note 2

"Grudgingly" is the key word there. Although the original feminist demand was that a woman should be allowed to do anything she is qualified or able to do, this has slowly shifted over to the requirement that standards be changed to allow more women to qualify for any profession or activity. Although the United State Army determined that, in general, women only have about 52% of the upper body strength of men, both the military and other physically demanding professions, like firefighting, now often have separate physical standards, or special training programs, just to increase the number of women who can pass the training. Why this has happened, or why it is thought to be necessary, has mostly not been a matter for candid admission or public debate.

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Feminism, Note 3

And one result is that "hyperactive" boys, who now amount to a very substantial percentage of all boys, simply get drugged in school, typically with Ritalin (Methylphenidate).

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Feminism, Note 4

An interesting comparison is between language about "trouble" as applied to young men and young women. When young men are said to be "looking for trouble," it usually means that violence is in the offing. When they are "in trouble," it tends to mean trouble with the law--the probable result of violence. On the other hand, when young women are "looking for trouble," often this has only meant taking up an active role in the pursuit of sex. And when young women were "in trouble," this used to be absolutely synonymous with being pregnant out of wedlock--as when a young man "got a girl in trouble." Once a living could be made off of illegitimate children, through welfare, and out of wedlock pregnancy became "destigmatized," the troublesome nature of this condition has declined--as though a life in single parenthood poverty was not "trouble" in itself.

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Feminism, Note 5

A stunning variation on this was reported in a street gang in San Antonio, Texas, where females could become gang members by engaging in unprotected sex with a male gang member known to have a venereal disease.

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Feminism, Note 6

Which, of course, raises uncomfortable questions about how men and women are going to interact in those professions. The most famous example of the danger of this interaction is the infamous "Tail Hook" convention of U.S. Navy pilots, where the women participants mostly knew what was going on and themselves engaged in various drunken and sexual activities. The original complaining woman officer, whose most lurid description was of a hallway gauntlet of groping hands, actually had been at previous conventions and knew that such a thing was conducted, in a certain place, at every Tail Hook convention. She did not accidentally stumble, to her surprise, into the gauntlet but deliberately and with foreknowledge went to it. She had also been a willing participant in "leg shaving" rituals whose sexual overtones were unmistakable. Circumstances of the case like that resulted in no criminal charges being pressed against anyone. And while the public spin on that failure to prosecute was recriminations that the Navy or the Justice Department were covering up the affair, the plain truth was that the cases would have fallen apart in any real courtroom. The original complainant did, however, manage to win a civil suit against the hotel where the convention had taken place.

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