Thursday, March 14, 2013

Katherine Connell: "Benevolent Sexism"

Ye gads, it's a sad day when the NRO is talking sense about something...

Recent feminism began spinning off into never-never land when it moved radically to the left, politically and intellectually. Any movement that becomes allied with postmodernism, poststructuralism, and similarly disreputable positions is going to have a problem. Whereas old-style feminism was a robustly liberal movement that deployed concepts like equality, justice, autonomy, discrimination and respect in fairly straightforward arguments about the evils of prejudice and sexism, later feminism took a different turn. It's hard to go very far in contemporary feminist literature without encountering the silly terminology, confused concepts and contorted arguments of such thinkers (and I use the term rather loosely) as Lacan, Baudrillard, Foucault. But any arguments built on appeals to nonsense about "the male gaze," "objectification" and "social construction" are doomed to failure. It's not that there aren't interesting and important issues remaining about sex and gender--it's just that a feminism built upon the swampy foundation of literary "theory" etc. is less and less well-equipped to handle those questions. And a feminism that has spun off into intellectual oblivion by trying to construct "feminist epistemologies," "feminist metaphysics," and even "feminist logic" isn't addressing the real social and political questions that need addressing.

You may remember that there was big dust-up a few years back over the fact that fewer and fewer female undergraduates identified themselves as feminists. Many feminists spilled a lot of ink spinning out increasingly baroque and conspiratorial theories about the insidious forces that had saddled these people with "false consciousness" and suchlike. The true explanation was much simple and more straightforward: the feminism one encounters under that description in academia is largely radically to the left and intellectually indefensible. There's no real doubt that most female undergrads are feminists by the old standard--they're egalitarians with respect to sex. What they reject is radically leftist feminism and po-mo gobbledygook. As they should. The farther feminism moves back toward the sensible liberalism of, say, the Mills, the more people will identify themselves as feminists.

All that having been said, it seems to me that feminism outside the academy has moved in the right direction in the past ten years, abandoning its flirtation with people like Andrea Dworkin, and tracking back toward a more hard-headed--and clear-headed--liberalism. Every movement has its errors and excesses; feminism isn't unique in that respect. But, because it has been treated (as someone once said, but I can't remember who...) as a "protected species" in academia, it was subject to the evolutionary pressures that knock the nuttiest edges off of other positions.

Personally, I think that feminism was one of the most important social and political forces of the 20th century. I also think there's a fair bit left undone. But I think that the good feminist arguments are relatively straightforward liberal arguments about fairness, justice and equality. The farther feminist allows itself to be moved to the left, and the more closely it identifies itself with outre and muddle-headed literary quasi-philosophy, the farther it moves away from where it needs to be.


Anonymous Irene Duma said...

Found this blog while googling Zizek nonsense (thank you for your philosopher's take on Z, as this English major was truly confused by his gobbledygook). But what I noticed back in 2013 was that young women and undergrads were just ignorant of what feminism truly is, and were responding to the unpopularity of the term. A feminist in the vernacular was as sexy as an spinster, hairy-legged ogre, or booger-encrusted tissue - definitely something on the fringe and to be avoided. When I revealed to my nieces that I was a feminist they looked at me in fear as if I had just grown a second head. They had never heard anyone declare themselves to be one out loud. Since then they have slowly started to adopt the term, but so has the media - applying the term loosely and everywhere until we now have Playboy declaring itself as feminist. (

So, I don't think you can reject "radically leftist feminism and po-mo gobbledygook" - if you have never even heard of it. In fact, I've been calling myself a feminist for 30 years and am only now getting into the "theory."

Sadly, these young women probably got most of their "education" where most of us do - from magazines and TV shows, music videos and movies, religious pulpits and school popularity contests. And these have typically vilified feminists as gross stinky things that no one should take seriously, let alone on a date.

But that's all gone now that happy sexy fun-time feminism has arrived. Everyone is a feminist now. Yippee.

1:22 PM  

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