Why I’m Not a Feminist
I occasionally get asked that magical trap question, “Do you believe women should have equal rights as men?” Upon my answering “Yes!” the questioner immediately congratulates me, “Then you’re a feminist!”
Having no formal training in logic or taxonomy, I am unable to identify the species of this statement, but I can definitely tell that it belongs to the logicalicus fallacious genus. But, to be fair to the feminists, maybe they’re a tad right- by historical standards, I am something of a feminist.
I believe that women are equal to men, and in many cases superior. I believe they ought to have equal rights under the law of any civilized nation. I believe they ought to have equal opportunity in every field of endeavor, from politics to law to medicine to academia to business to labor to service to the creative industries. If they can meet the physical requirements of the U.S. Special Forces, they should be allowed in, and if a religious tradition does not object to their being pastors, they should take that opportunity. I believe in treating women on their merits as individuals, not as members of some underclass perpetually in servitude. And I think the broad majority of Americans would agree with me, and not only agree but put their convictions of gender equality into practice.
So why do I not identify as a feminist, and save myself the stigma of misogyny, the accusations of sexism, and the shame of not being on the “right side of history?”
I have a couple of reasons, but the simplest one is that, as a conservative traditionalist and classical liberal, (or what some would call an “oppressor,”) I simply cannot accept the anti-traditional, anti-empirical, and anti-individualist assertions that modern feminism has picked up. I must stick, with St. Thomas More, to my convictions, even in the face of a public execution in the form of accusations of sexism. I must stand up to represent a silent, non-activist plurality of Americans, who hear the assertions of the feminists and are as appalled as I am.
So here are my reasons.
First, feminism is a form of identity politics at its worst- it values individuals for the facts of their biology rather than on the merits of their character. Nothing can be more dehumanizing, so great an affront to human dignity as this, but the actual stripping of individual rights by violent force. And when such an ideology organizes its followers into a cultural and political consensus, it stands to divide Americans not by differences of opinion, nor by differences of interest, but by differences of biology. In such a divided state, individuals have no choice over the side they choose, for it is decided for them already by an artificial division by gender. In this scenario, the War on Women narrative perpetuates a false gender division in American society and, worse, assigns individuals a partisan political affiliation solely based on their genitalia. Modern feminism thus strips agency from individuals and puts it in the hands of those crafting the narratives, castigating any dissidents as whatever the non-feminist version of an Uncle Tom would be.
Second, feminism relies on scare tactics and misinformation campaigns that would have made Susan B. Anthony roll over in her grave. From phony statistics like seventy-something-cents-to-the-dollar and one-in-five-women-will-be-raped, to demands for affirmative-action-type policies to increase gender equity in male-dominated professions, to aggressive and anti-liberal policies such as California’s new and draconian anti-sexual assault laws that strip the accused of legal recourse, to defense of hoaxes like the infamous Rolling Stone UVA gang rape article, feminists shed the tactics of decency for the tactics of efficiency at any cost. The means, however illiberal and slanderous, are completely justified in the name of the untouchably sacred ends of “equality” and “justice” (defined in some subjective and unattainable sense.) Feminists claim to be “oppressed” and thereby justify radical tactics, excommunicating those not sufficiently pure and excoriating all who stand against them. It all begins to look like any other extremist ideology, but one that eschews violence because it possesses a greater lever of power- major influence in the public debate.
Third, there are indeed differences between men and women; these do not make them unequal, but they do make them different. A trumpet and a saxophone, a trombone and a flute, make two different sounds, and neither is better or worse than the other; each can play the same melody, and paired together they make a more beautiful harmony than either could make on its own. And feminist theory, and gender studies in particular, tend to deny these basic truths of human nature as artificial constructs imposed by a paranoid patriarchy. Everything important is constructed; nothing is real. It is a rejection of reality in the name of subjectivist fantasies and illusions, and when imposed upon public policy it perpetuates gross distortions. Indeed, this reason alone would be sufficient to drive any classically-educated thinker far away from the assertions of feminism. If politics is the managing of human nature, a clear definition of human nature must first be sought; and the feminists, like the radical progressives of earlier decades, view it as more malleable than it is. This is a dangerous idea when put into political practice. It is very possible to believe in equal rights for women without having a distorted view of reality.
Finally, the strongest women in my life are more successful and independent than I am, and they do not identify as feminists. Clearly, then, it is possible for women to be empowered without subscribing to the divisive identity politics of modern feminism. I can’t explain why this is true, but I expect that a large part of it stems from the fact that they reject the cult of victimhood and embrace a concept of individual empowerment that is blind to the politics and sociology of gender. And I respect them for their achievements far more than the mediocre achievements of feminists who claim oppression. One of these individuals is my mother, and she raised me to be a good man, respectful of women, and rejecting the claims of any extremist ideology. Her influence is at least partly to blame for these heresies I now spew forth, though I take full responsibility for holding to them.
Who am I to write on these issues? I, a straight white Catholic man, am purportedly the oppressor of peoples- I, in my very practice of thinking and writing, have constructed the narratives, the words, the ideas, that hold down the downtrodden of the Earth. I am to blame for their oppression, and for the world’s ills. Who am I, then, to write on issues pertaining to the rights of women?
If subjective feeling is the only truth, then clearly I am wrong, and clearly this little essay is objectively merely me perpetuating my own dominion over the marginalized peoples of the Earth (or something like that.) But if there is some objective truth beyond mere perspective, and more fundamental than power- if there is a moral law which it is every human’s duty to stand for, and that moral law is the empowerment of individuals by their own labor and intellect to discern truth as well as they can and defend it in the face of a candid world- if there is some objective truth out there that we human beings cannot ever truly know, but always and in every way can feel- then can I truly be blamed for standing on my conscience by the light of my reason? Or is my heresy sufficient to condemn me to the judgment of history?
That never-ending conversation, my friends, which has endured from the first day humankind rose from the swamp and learned to think, is why I am not a feminist.