Feminism’s Heritage: Freedom vs. Special Protections

Suffragettes - jebkinnison.com

Suffragettes – jebkinnison.com

Peter Wright at AVFM pointed out the division among early feminists between those who wanted freedom to enjoy the rights and opportunities of men (voting, professional employment, equal treatment under the law) and those who wanted special treatment (exemptions from military service, favorable alimony and custody rules, lighter criminal sentences, lowered physical qualification standards for physical jobs.) He pointed me to the work of Ernest Belfort Bax, an early (1913) men’s rights advocate:

Modern Feminism rose slowly above the horizon. Modern Feminism has two distinct sides to it: (1) an articulate political and economic side embracing demands for so-called rights; and (2) a sentimental side which insists in an accentuation of the privileges and immunities which have grown up, not articulately or as the result of definite demands, but as the consequence of sentimental pleading in particular cases. In this way, however, a public opinion became established, finding expression in a sex favouritism in the law and even still more in its administration, in favour of women as against men.

These two sides of Modern Feminism are not necessarily combined in the same person. One may, for example, find opponents of female suffrage who are strong advocates of sentimental favouritism towards women in matters of law and its administration. On the other hand you may find, though this is more rare, strong advocates of political and other rights for the female sex, who sincerely deprecate the present inequality of the law in favour of women. As a rule, however, the two sides go together, the vast bulk of the advocates of “Women’s Rights” being equally keen on the retention and extension of women’s privileges. Indeed, it would seem as though the main object of the bulk of the advocates of the “Woman’s Movement” was to convert the female sex into the position of a dominant sexe noblesse. The two sides of Feminism have advanced hand in hand for the last two generations, though it was the purely sentimental side that first appeared as a factor in public opinion.” — The Fraud of Feminism – Chapter I: Historical (1913)

Bax is part of the “patriarchal” reaction to early feminism — these men were horrified that the suffocating sentimentality of women and what they thought was woman’s overly emotional reaction to issues would, with women’s suffrage and increasingly equal roles in the world, lead to disaster and the end of civilization as they knew it. For a pop culture model, imagine Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady — grumpy, male chauvinist, orderly intellectual. Bax was quite reasonably complaining that the law had already started to bend to favor women over men in some areas (divorce, criminal punishment) for sentimental reasons, while feminists continued to push for even more special treatment, at the same time demanding equality where it would favor women. WWI is what actually ended the fin de siècle order of the world, but feminism continued, contributing in the US to the Progressive movement and its errors (e.g., Prohibition and eugenics.)

Feminism as a movement continued and expanded, each victory leading to more issues needing its attention. Public sympathy for the rational goal of equal legal and professional treatment coexisted with the reservoir of sentimental feeling for women and ingrained desires to help mothers and children, which affected decisions on governmental support and handling of divorce. Enlightened and empowered women joined academia and government in large numbers, until today they are dominant in some departments and fields.

But the split identified by Bax is still there.

Feminist thinker Naomi Wolf tried to influence the future of feminism with her 1994 book Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use It. From the Amazon page:

[T]he book argues that women should renounce “victim feminism,” which casts them as sexually pure, fragile, beleaguered creatures whose problems are all the fault of men. As an alternative, Wolf outlines an anti-dogmatic “power feminism” which sees women as no better and no worse than men, celebrates female sexuality and encourages women to claim their individual voices through a variety of tactics. These include “resource groups” for sharing contacts and increasing access to information and services; consumer campaigns; and pressure on the media to alter their portrayals of women. Wolf theorizes that little girls, as much as boys, have fantasies of absolute dominion but learn to repress their “will to power” at a very early age. Wolf here sketches a psychological road map designed to help women deal with their ambivalence about success, power, equality and money.

I don’t agree with Naomi Wolf much of the time, but in this she was on the right side: a feminism directed toward remaining real issues of equality, empowerment, and respect would be far less authoritarian and far less harmful to women’s partners in continuing civilization, men. But the cadres embedded in Woman’s Studies departments, government, and NGOs were not interested in giving up the easy demonization of men and continued to seek refuge in grievance, victimhood, and moral superiority.

One of the problems with Social Justice Warriors and activists generally is their myopic focus on their own culture and government, applying their search for ever-smaller irritants (“microaggressions” and remaining disparities in treatment) to the most progressive societies on the planet while ignoring the far more serious maltreatment of women, gays, religious and ethnic minorities, and poor people in other countries and cultures around the world. They elevate and sentimentalize other cultures as more “authentic” and seem to assign blame for most problems there to the imperialism and interventionism of Western countries. I would agree that societies on the other side of the world should not be lightly trifled with and Western countries have been foolishly intervening for centuries, but the treatment of women and minorities in those places was in place long before Western powers showed up. And yet activists spend far more time and energy on lobbying government to pressure businesses to provide free birth control and weaken standards of proof in university rape cases than they do on improving girl’s schools in Islamic countries or combatting female circumcision.

Today’s column in Toronto’s Globe and Mail by Margaret Wente continues the effort to get away from “victim’s studies” thinking:

Do we still need feminism? According to many younger women, we do not. For the past few weeks, a Tumblr hashtag campaign called #WomenAgainstFeminism has been stirring up a lot of angst in the Twitter/blogosphere. As part of the campaign, young women submit selfies with handwritten signs that say: “I don’t need feminism because [fill in reason here].” The reasons include things like: “My self-worth is not directly tied to the size of my victim complex!” “I love being an engineer, but I’d rather just be Mom.” “I like men looking at me when I look good.” “Feminism has become a pseudonym for bullying.” And, on a lighter note, “How the [bleep] am I supposed to open jars and lift heavy objects without my husband?”

Naturally, this campaign has been like a red flag to a bull, if I may use that expression. Shock, horror, ridicule and satire have ensued, along with a great deal of reproachful head-shaking from those who say that women who reject feminism are ignorant and misinformed.

To make sense of the debate, the CBC’s The Current convened a panel. It was the type of panel that muddied these already turbid waters even more. I felt sorry for the moderator, Jeffrey Kofman, who was stuck trying to elucidate the views of three not-very-interesting young women (two feminist, one anti). They left me longing for the days of Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer – fierce, magnificent, passionate, witty lionesses who would put any modern feminist to shame. They never stooped to academic jargon. They never spoke in uptalk, either, a mannerism these panelists unfortunately had not shaken. It’s hard to take anybody seriously when she’s droning on about oppression, colonialism and imperialism, especially when she’s uptalking.

This being the CBC, the audience reaction was predictable. Older, affluent, liberal, second-wave females generally agreed that we all have feminists to thank for our freedoms, and the anti-feminists shouldn’t forget it. Also, they protested, feminism has been badly misunderstood. It is not a bunch of shrill, hairy-legged man-haters, as the antis seem to think. Any younger woman who knew the slightest thing about feminism would be one!

So how come they’re not? (Most polls say fewer than half of younger women identify with feminism.) One big reason is: We won. Thanks for your hard work, Gloria and Germaine. The heavy lifting’s over. You can rest on your laurels now.

Another reason is that #WomenAgainstFeminism is essentially right. There is a hard core of misandry and victim-culture in modern feminism that is deeply disturbing. #WomenAgainstFeminism is in part a reaction to the #YesAllWomen campaign, which began in reaction to the murder rampage of Elliot Rodger last May. The lonely misogynist – who killed two women and four men, before killing himself – was cast as a symbol of the worldwide war against women. As one Facebook comment (quoted in Time by Sarah Miller) said: “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you.”

Modern feminism has split into two distinct strands. The mild-mannered mainstream version, having achieved most of its objectives for equality (and then some: upward of 60 per cent of postsecondary graduates are now women) is focusing its efforts on ever more elitist issues, such as the lopsided gender split in Silicon Valley and the shortage of women on corporate boards. Will all due respect to the problems of the one per cent, I do not think these are the types of issues that will send young women to the barricades.

The leftist, postmodernist strand of feminism insists that women are still oppressed, and the world’s still stacked against us, and there is basically no difference between the rape epidemic in India and the one in North America. One example of this thinking is The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti, who, in response to #WomenAgainstFeminism, wrote: “[D]enying that women are a victimized class is simply wrong. What else would you call a segment of the population who are systematically discriminated against in school, work and politics? How would you describe a population whose bodies are objectified to the point of dehumanization? Women are harassed, attacked and sexually assaulted with alarming regularity in America and around the world.” This is a belief system rather than a depiction of reality, and, as with all belief systems, there’s no point arguing about it with the faithful.

Views like this wouldn’t matter much, except that they have real-life consequences, as Cathy Young has pointed out in Time. One is the destructive “rape culture” myth that has gripped campuses across North America, along with the meme – utterly fictitious – that one in five women will be sexually assaulted by the time she gets her degree. This claim is on the face of it absurd, but it has spawned an epidemic of victimology and abuse of due process that will take a generation to undo.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading:

Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Modern Feminism, Social Justice Warriors, and the American Ideal of Freedom
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Evolve or Die: Survival Value of the Feminine Imperative
Feminism’s Heritage: Freedom vs. Special Protections
Red Pill Women — Female MRAs
Perfect Soulmates or Fellow Travelers: Being Happy Depends on Perspective
Mate-Seeking: The Science of Finding Your Best Partner
“The Science of Happily Ever After” – Couples Communications


  1. ” I would agree that societies on the other side of the world should not be lightly trifled with and Western countries have been foolishly intervening for centuries, but the treatment of women and minorities in those places was in place long before Western powers showed up. ”

    This statement is flawed. In the Muslim world the US often been on the side of ultra-Conservative, religious forces (think Saudi Arabia and the US support, indeed, creation of the jihadi movement in Afghanistan in the 80’s). Similarly, the US has consistently opposed more progressive nationalists in the Muslim world. It overthrew Mossadegh in Iran and opposed Nassar in Egypt. The US invasion of Iraq was horrible for women; they had it far better under Saddam.

    So US intervention really has contributed greatly to the rise of extremist, anti-women Islamic movements and continues to do so.

    1. There are examples on both sides–the Shah of Iran was propped up by the US, and while his regime was oppressive, it was also favorable to women’s rights, and his overthrow by fundamentalists a blow to women’s progress there. The poor treatment of women and minorities in the Middle East is about what the mass of the people believe, not a reaction to imperialist interventions. Look at Turkey — Westernized by one nationalist, now progress partly reversed by another, because there are a large group of citizens who believe (like “Christian Democrat” parties in Europe) that their religion should guide government policy.

  2. I think that these perspectives are important regardless of whether I personally agree with all of them. Universal thought or a universal ethos however is self-defeating in my view. People are going to have different values depending on geography, climate, resources, demographics, and, of course, class, among other factors, regardless of indoctrination. Feminism purporting to be all things to all women is one such megalomaniacal endeavor unduly aided by sentimentalism.

    I admit to a certain glee watching feminists eat their own with all the furor of a Crusade with schisms.

    I don’t expect that we’ll be able to eliminate global communication any time soon and thereby watching the Feminism bubble metastasize in various forms throughout society is bound to result in some severe corrections. Meanwhile, a whole lot of innocents of all sorts are going to be hurt. Is civilized society, the thing which allowed Feminism to flourish, worth it? Does every baby girl get a pony and the delusion that she’s “intelligent”? It’s like some sort of cat-fight-tastrophy, which, I believe, future generations will talk about in the same hushed tones when discussing The Holocaust.

    I’d rather have gross inequality with no figleaf, myself, rather than pretend equality which turns out to be anything but. Of course universal egalitarianism is slavery or livestock management or as evolved as an ant colony primarily populated by female drones. Utopia.

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