Last night, I had a conversation with one of my feminist friends. I tried to explain to her why the Democrats’ infatuation with misandry will come back to haunt them in 2020, if it hasn’t already, but she didn’t exactly find my opinion toasty.
[I should say she wouldn’t. You really tried to perform a political conversion? You are a committed masochist, aren’t you?]
Socrates refused to give up the good fight, even when they were stuffing him with toxins. The least I can do is continue to try to show people reason, even if it means that I, too, must drink myself to death the following day.
[At the very least, you’ll drink yourself to death of the brain. Goodness gracious me, did you really think there was even the remotest chance that she would come around to your view? I’m assuming, by the way, that you didn’t succeed.]
Keep right on assuming. She didn’t like what I had to say at all. On the contrary, she seems to be even more enamored with feminism, or what the people of this country call feminism, anyway. It looks as though she’s going to cling to her dogmatic viewpoint twice as tightly in the future, largely because it offers shelter from the assault of reason.
[While leaving one exposed to the assault on reason? Let’s back it up to something you said a few seconds ago: we as a society really haven’t come to a clean consensus on a functional definition of feminism, have we?]
No, and I think this is because we attempt to define feminism politically.
[Well, feminism is a political concept—]
Right, but our comprehension of the term shouldn’t depend on where we stand politically. In other words, we shouldn’t need separate dictionaries for the term feminism, one for liberals, and one for conservatives. Even feminists acknowledge the murkiness of the term: a different woman, one who tortured me in college with her own extremism, went as far as to say that all people hold their own meaning of the term.
[That’s probably correct. Do you think this has anything to do with our ongoing discussions about opinion as language? Are people really so wrapped up in their own arrogance, are people really so opinionated, that they can’t even agree on the terms of the conversation, on terminology itself?]
I wouldn’t put anything past the people of this political culture—or the people who are infected by the disease of this political culture. In the case of feminism, I think part of the problem is that those who claim to understand it know very little about the history of it. The woman with whom I argued last night identifies as a feminist, but was unaware, until very recently, of the movement’s different waves.
[She thought that feminism was one movement, at least in this country? She thought that feminism is all-encompassing?]
To be honest with you, I doubt she’s spent much time thinking about the variations, nuances, etc. Self-reflection is an uncommon skill, especially in this country, which is defined, in many ways, by a profound contempt for history. We don’t want to examine our own past, whether personal or historical, with ken, lest we discover something unflattering.
[Is the history of feminism unflattering?]
Not necessarily, but nevertheless, there is very little interest, even among feminists, in examining the differences between first-, second-, and third-wave feminism. Recently, I read somewhere that we— “we” —have moved on to a time of fourth-wave feminism, but I have no idea if that’s correct. And doesn’t that uncertainty prove my very point? If we don’t understand the history of something, how can we even try to understand it in the present?
[Most likely, we can’t. Still, feminism has become so very popular in the last few years, even if, as a concept, it is inadequately grasped.]
It isn’t the first time that masses of people have signed on for something without reading the fine print. Of course, feminism is presented as having no fine print. We are told by those who identify as feminists that feminism is, and I quote, “the promotion of equal rights for women”. Well, what kind of uncivilized person would stand against that?
[Didn’t you mention that you have an uncle you’ve never met, an uncle who insists that, when he and a woman enter a building, the woman ought to trail him by six or seven feet? To illustrate her secondary status, or something?]
Yeah, and let me tell you something that will rock you to your core: he doesn’t have any friends. This uncle of mine, if that’s what I’m supposed to call him, believes many moronic things, things so ridiculous that you probably wouldn’t believe me if I described them to you. Even his insistence that women walk behind him ought to be met with skepticism by those who are more accustomed to a certain degree of decency.
[So, you’re suggesting that this kind of sexist perspective is uncommon, is rare?]
Do you think it’s mainstream? How many men do you know who actually believe something like that is desirable? Now, how many do you know who insist upon it? A man who stood in the middle of a bar and advocated for something like that would be laughed out of the building, right after at least one woman upturned her glass in his face.
[I don’t know of anyone as ridiculously sexist as your uncle, I admit. Speaking of which, do you have any reluctance to denigrate him in a public format, such as this?]
Not at all. He isn’t exactly beloved among my other relatives. My grandfather refused to let him in the house.
[That’s actually pretty awesome. But anyway: I don’t believe that feminists, by and large, consider that kind of sexism, which is so extreme as to be impractical, to be common or widespread. I think their point—]
Wait a minute: you’re speculating as to what feminism is all about, to what its practitioners intend. I thought we were supposed to have moved beyond that uncertainty? I thought we were supposed to have furnished a strong and single definition of what feminism is?
[Well, we can come up with whatever definition we want. It won’t change the broader ambiguity, the general confusion as to the meaning of the term.]
But this is one of my points, precisely: if we can’t agree on what feminism means, then feminism, as a term, is meaningless.
[You make a good point. But to be fair to feminism, this linguistic ambiguity that troubles you so is fairly common, especially politically. For example, the term liberal is employed in America as a very general label. One can be a liberal, or identify as a liberal, and still reject all of the proposals made by the Democratic Party.]
That’s very true. In fact, the American concept of political liberalism is very far removed from its original meaning. A person who has been educated politically in the United States will often have to pause to make sense of The Social Contract, and most works of political philosophy, besides. Our political vocabulary is so bastardized that, when researching classical theory, sometimes we must first translate what we read.
[Yes, indeed. A people that does not want to, or cannot, study the history of feminism will be very unwilling to look upon our political crucible with a truly foreign eye. I trust that reading Rousseau has shaped some of your own political opinions?]
Yes, in no small part because his complexity of thought, his originality of thought, unintentionally exposes just how little thought the politicians of this country put into their own work—their work, which is to administer and run a country of several hundred million, is exposed as thoughtless? Is there anything in life more frightening to know?
[All right, let’s try to scale it back just a bit. So, the history of feminism is seldom understood, or even looked upon. Without this historical grounding, the concept becomes rather weightless. Yet, one particularly popular definition, that which refers to “equal rights for women”, is easy enough for people to support. This goes a rather long way towards explaining why so many people identify as feminists, but it does not explain why so many people don’t.]
There must be an alternative explanation somewhere, a more troubling definition, one portending an ominous future.
[Presumably, this is the idea that feminism is anti-male, that feminism promotes hatred of men.]
Right. And for the present, the question is not whether feminism promotes such sentiment, but why so many people, including many women, believe that it does.
[Eh, I don’t know if you can ask the second question without asking the first. At some point, you’re going to have to make a determination on the general question, aren’t you?]
Yeah, that’s fair. Again, it depends on what, exactly, feminism is. If we’re talking about something as simple as “equal rights for women”, then no, feminism is not anti-male. The idea that it is would be as ridiculous as the notion that the civil rights movement was anti-white.
[And I think this is where all too many feminists want to end the conversation. Having declared, rather arbitrarily, that feminism is “the promotion of equal rights for women”, they are comfortable declaring that all criticism of such a philosophy is inherently hateful and absurd—and therefore, it is not worth their time to entertain their critics.]
This, of course, is an awful attitude to take. As a politician, you have to answer to your critics. If you don’t, then people will question, rightly, what it is you fear in a simple, innocent conversation. What do you have to hide? What is it about your program that is so sensitive that it cannot bear to be held up to the light?
[Hitherto, I’m in agreement with you. My only question is, why does feminism deserve this special attention of yours? After all, we could just as easily talk about how childishly Trump engages with his critics, frequently refusing to answer their questions, and just as often rejecting the evidence they present.]
Based on what I’ve written in the last several weeks, I couldn’t blame you if you thought I was a Republican. However, I don’t identify as a conservative at all; on the contrary, I have spent most of my life supporting progressive causes. Alas, each day I grow exceedingly disappointed with the Left’s response to Trump. Considering the myriad personality disorders afflicting the gentleman in the White House, it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult for people on the Left to present themselves as the intelligent alternative, as the sophisticated, measured, and more thoughtful people.
[And yet . . .]
And yet, much to my dismay, almost all of my fellow liberals have proven themselves to be every bit as aggressive, myopic, bigoted, pretentious, and self-centered as the aforementioned President. It is thoroughly demoralizing to witness, which is probably one reason why so many liberals prefer to cover their eyes and pretend they are upright: in a country that resents nothing so passionately as it does self-knowledge, it is an uncommonly painful bit of business to take a long, sober gaze in the mirror and ask yourself what you are doing.
[And feminism, of course, has become a kind of standard currency among the Left, has it not?]
Yes, it has, though not the form of feminism that I would like to see.
[You have a desired form of feminism?]
Yes, I do. I believe that this culture infantilizes women. I believe that this culture corrupts its girls: almost from the moment of birth, girls are taught to see themselves as helpless, that they ought not to do that which someone else can do for them. Traditionally, this someone else has been a man, a man who was expected to make most of “the decisions” for this woman, who becomes his wife.
[And no feminist would object to this, your illustration of American society. But I suspect you are about to say something to which the feminists would object.]
Quite right: I am about to say that feminism does not prevent the infantilization of women. On the contrary, feminism—as it is practiced and promoted in this country—furthers and exacerbates this infantilization. Under the conditions of the new feminist culture, women are told that they cannot succeed in American society, that misogynistic forces are conspiring against them at every turn. It is only by identifying as a feminist and voting for candidates approved by feminist organizations that women can liberate themselves and achieve independence.
[These feminist organizations being the Democratic Party and its, pardon the pun, sister groups?]
Well, that is certainly part of the problem: the deliberate redirection of feminine energy to one of the two major political parties in this country, a party that has dedicated itself to the promotion of international war, blah blah blah. You see where I’m going with this: authoritarianism disguised as heroic rebellion.
[It’s a concept that will have to be examined further, in another setting. In the meantime, perhaps you can explain to me how this process, while certainly untoward, more specifically infantilizes.]
It goes back to the problem of a lack of agency, of a denial of agency. Formerly, women were told to rely on their husbands to make their decisions for them, to take action in their stead, and so on and so forth. Today, women are told that even this negligible semblance of power, exercised only vicariously through their husbands, has been a form of enslavement, and that the only power they can wield is in the voting booth—but this power, too, will serve only to fetter them, unless they vote correctly, unless they vote for the Democratic Party.
[Ah, I see. They still have to rely on someone else, this someone else being a politician.]
And because the purpose of any political party is to sustain itself, there is a vested interest among Democratic politicians to perpetuate “the issue”, whatever that may be. And because, in this case, “the issue” is the disempowerment of women, the Democratic Party will have to continue to tell women that they have no power, that they must continue to fight for their power . . . by voting for the Democratic Party.
[And the game will never end. Women are retained in this stagnant state forevermore. And this, I trust, is the infantilization of which you speak.]
Indeed it is, my friend. Indeed it is.
[Now, why was this so difficult for you to discuss with your friend? I understand that she wouldn’t want to acknowledge her lack of historical examination, as well as her misconceptions, but all the same, you’re not exactly advocating for the enslavement of women, here.]
I don’t know. Insert sexist joke about female temperament here.
[ . . . really?]