Against Feminism and the Modern World

Last week Cassandra posted an article praising Ace of Spades for his embrace of the label "feminist." There follows at Cassandra's place a long discussion, involving several of you, which seems to take as read the idea that some form of feminism is compatible with conservatism, and indeed a necessary condition for a just society. I'm disinclined to agree with either proposition.

That is not to say that I think that a just society ought to treat women badly: that would be nonsense. I hope that my respect for all of you, and the women you know I value in my private life, will convince you to take this criticism of feminism as a criticism of a bad strain of ideas, and not an attack on women as a whole. (See "Feminism as Analog to Christianity," below.) I simply believe that the feminist movement is not the way to a just society, neither for women nor anyone else, because it is rooted on some principles that are incompatible with right principles of justice, with our ideas about the market, and with our ideas about the role of the state. The problem is that conservative thinkers are apparently unable to deploy a criticism of the movement that does not seem to be a criticism of women, which has severely damaged them. Yet conceding the ideas means losing the overall debate about the structure of a just society.

Some of the conservative problems may arise because many conservatives don't really like women, but I do. Furthermore, you will find that I am criticizing not just feminism but the entire modern political project.

I recently told Tex that you should always ask a "conservative" what he means to conserve, and a "progressive" what he takes for progress. In my first two sections, I will explain some general principles that I think need to be conserved at all costs. In the later sections, we will talk about feminism more precisely.

I. Just What Is Meant By Equality?

The proposition that Ace offered is based on what he thinks "low-information females" take feminism to be:
1. Women are equal to men; and
2. Women's values and beliefs are just as important as men's; and
3. Women have, or ought to have, ambitions equal to men.

Now, it seems to me likely that a great number of low-information female voters probably believe that's about the extent of what "feminism" is, and that anyone calling himself, or herself, a "non-feminist" is against such things. Which of course we're not; virtually nobody is.
Now recently we have had several relevant discussions about the difficulty of defining terms. One of the terms that we really need to define in order to have this debate is "equality." This isn't just about feminism: Hannah Arendt, the late-20th century philosopher, raised the point more explicitly about what it meant to be Jewish in Europe.
Equality of condition, though it is certainly a basic requirement for justice, is nevertheless among the greatest and most uncertain ventures of modern mankind. Though more equal conditions are, the less explanation there is for the differences that actually exist between people; and thus all the more unequal do individuals and groups become. This perplexing consequence came fully to light as soon as equality was no longer seen in terms of an omnipotent being like God or an unavoidable common destiny like death. Whenever equality becomes a mundane fact in itself, without any guage by which it may be measured or explained, then there is one chance in a hundred that it will be recognized simply as a working principle of a political organization in which otherwise unequal people have equal rights; there are ninety-nine chances that it will be mistaken for an innate quality of every individual, who is ‘normal’ if he is like everybody else and ‘abnormal’ if he happens to be different. This perversion of equality from a political into a social concept is all the more dangerous when a society leaves but little space for special groups and individuals, for then their differences become all the more conspicuous.”

(Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism.)
Now what Arendt is saying here is difficult to get at first pass. She starts off by saying that "equality of condition" is "a basic requirement for justice." But what does she mean by "equality of condition"? It isn't that conditions be equal for everyone -- that's just what she says isn't achievable, and gives rise to dangerous trends (such as thinking the poor to be inferior, or the rich to be sneak-thieves). What she means by it is a very limited form of political equality, without any regard at all for what people do with it, or how they end up: "otherwise unequal people have equal rights."

Yet we still have some definitions to make, because we need to ask what it means to "have equal rights." What is a right? (These are little questions, small matters, aren't they? What is 'equality'? What are 'rights'? But on these little things the whole world turns.) Now there are several answers to that question that people have proposed, some of which are better than others. My own (which I take to be Jefferson's, but also Robert the Bruce's, and the idea behind Magna Carta) is that rights are pre-political conditions for the formation of a polity: that is, they are the things that a group of people agreed to as conditions for accepting a government, the defense of which is the purpose of the government, and the abrogation of which makes the government illegitimate and fit for overthrow. But that is not the only answer we could give.

Another discussion we have had recently concerns Rousseau's project. Now Rousseau was a very bad man, as he himself was first to admit. He clearly despised himself, and in part because he knew he didn't live up to his own ideas. His ideas, though, have been very persuasive to many people, and form the root of a very broad current of modern thought. In part this is because he did a very wise thing, and expressed his ideas not in the form of an argument -- not as I am doing here! Arguments like this are a waste of everyone's time -- but in a novel. The novel is called Emile, or On Education, and it is one of the most influential books ever written.

Rousseau makes the argument that our rights arise from what it takes to perfect a human being. Now this has roots in an older, better idea: the idea of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd and St. Thomas Aquinas that there are certain natural rights, which is to say that our natures makes certain things necessary, and therefore we must find a way to have those things. Such things include food and shelter, but also sex of a procreative nature (because we must, as a species, produce the next generation) and a social structure stable enough to raise children (because children must be educated in order to assume their roles in society). That last aspect is Rousseau's staring point: what would it take not merely to raise a child to assume a role in society, but to raise a human being to be morally perfect? Whatever that is, since the end is so high -- the moral perfection of the individual -- it must be a kind of natural right. If you deny them any aspect of it, you and not they are responsible for their failure to achieve this perfection.

There are three things that make this a deadly idea. The first is that it is beautiful. The idea that humans are basically good, and that if only we raise them right they will grow up to be wonderful and perfect creatures, is the hope of every parent. It is also entirely untrue. Many evils are bred in the bone. Many children raised right turn out to be wicked. Some of them do terrible things that their parents never taught them to do. Nevertheless, this is what we wish were true. It is what we hope for our child. It is something we already try to achieve. And thus, it was persuasive.

The second is that it puts the emphasis on perfection. Now all things are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even if perfection were in fact achievable (which it is not), and if it were merely a question of providing enough resources to the child in the right ways at the right times (which it is not), perfection requires a level of expense that no society can ever meet. The child needs shelter -- but not a shack! The child needs education -- and the very best sort. The child needs health care -- complete and thorough. The child needs... well, whatever it takes to ensure that the child is denied nothing that might stand between that child and perfection. And it has a right to these things, you see, because if we deny them to the child we are taking on any sins it may someday create. We are responsible, because we selfishly denied the resources the child needed to actualize his or her own moral perfection.

The third thing, then, is that the idea puts the responsibility for immorality on everyone except the actor. This surely sounds familiar, and well it should. In fact you see several of our greatest problems as a society rising from this source: the idea of "positive rights," that is, that you have a "right" to be given things at someone else's expense; and the idea that you aren't really responsible for the things you do wrong. These are attractive ideas for many people (perhaps especially for Rousseau! For he was a very bad man, as he himself knew).

So let us return to the original question. What does it mean to have equality, or "equality of condition"? Well it could mean that the rights that the government was structured to protect are extended to you as to everyone else. "Equality of condition" does not mean material condition, and it certainly does not mean that you are as good or as wise or as fat as everyone else. It means no more, on Arendt's terms, than that the government structured to protect freedom of religion and ensure a trial by jury protects your freedom of religion and ensures you get a trial by jury. That is the medieval view, out of which grew Jefferson's view, and mine.

But there is room to go all the way up: "equal rights" could mean that we defend a material right to whatever you need to achieve your own moral perfection, a perfection for which you are not responsible, and whose absence indicates chiefly that you need more material resources to be directed to you (from, necessarily, someone else).

So it will not do to endorse "equality" in a "low-information" way. You have to fight, and you have to fight every time, over the precise meaning of these terms. You have to make sure people understand what is at stake. Getting it wrong here means losing the whole argument, and indeed the whole society.

So one thing I wish to conserve is the idea of what it means to have rights, and a notion of equality that is limited to having equal rights on these terms. That is the first general principle.

II. Against Universality

Another problem with "equality" as a standard is that it implies that everyone should be subject to all and only the same rules. This is very basic to the modern political project. Kant thought that the moral law was self-legislated, but purely rational; and therefore, as reason is the same for all people, it would turn out to be the same not only for any human being, but for any rational agent of any kind. Hegel thought that universality was a basic necessity for any rule to be just. This is a terrible mistake.

Equality can rightly only mean equality of rights, where rights are viewed in the particular way described above. It cannot mean equality of anything else. One thing it cannot mean, for example, is equality of duties. A parent has responsibilities that are unique to that role. They took them on freely (with the obvious exception of pregnancy by rape, which we can break out as a special instance deserving a separate discussion). They are bound by these duties for two reasons: because they chose them, and because they have an obligation to their blood. Someone cared for them as an infant, or else they would not be here to choose and act themselves. It would be immoral to refuse to do for your child what was done for you: that minimum, at least, is owed as a debt from grandparent to parent to child.

This is a general principle that we have lost sight of as a society. Aristotle said that justice means treating relevantly similar cases similarly. Note how different that principle is from the "equality!" that we hear in our own time. First of all, there is the discussion of what is relevant. Take any two individuals and any problem, and ask how the cases are relevantly different. You will come up with a very long list! The only relevant similarity may be the problem (which, by hypothesis, we assumed to be the same -- in actual fact there will be differences in the problem, too).

So what does this principle of justice require? First, that the cases be handled "similarly" rather than "exactly the same way." If a true universal was in play, we would expect exactitude: "For all x, if x then y." But that is not what Aristotle is suggesting. What he is suggesting is that the cases be handled in a way that is not entirely out of proportion, not that they should be done in exactly the same way regardless of circumstance.

And circumstance is the second condition. If "relevantly similar" is a basic condition for justice, then a refusal to consider relevant differences means that you are insisting on injustice.

There are a huge number of relevant differences in any two people. Justice cannot therefore be a set of rules. It must involve practical wisdom, applied to each case as the unique problem that it represents. There can be no universals in justice. What we are looking for is similarities and differences, and each of these need to be taken seriously in order to come to a just result.

The problem with universals is that they destroy this human, and humane, capacity to talk about people as the individual people that they are. They reduce you to a mathematical figure, an x that goes with a y. That application of cold logic to human beings and human institutions lies behind the destruction of so much that we hold dear. Some of you may be following along in this lecture series on Hegel that I suggested to Cassandra. If you aren't, do no more than listen to the episode from Valentine's Day (that is episode 12, from 02-14). You will recognize that Hegel's mode of thought, as presented by this very modern and insightful professor, underlie the destruction of marriage and the family in our society. It is this very modern approach to thinking about these human institutions that is destroying them. The argument is logical, and it is universal, and it is deadly. Human beings require more practical wisdom -- what Aristotle and the Greeks called phronesis, the application of wisdom to particular facts in order to achieve justice.

So another thing I wish to conserve is phronesis. That is my second general principle.

III. On Markets and Freedom

With those general principles in mind, let's talk about something that is really modern: economics. Markets are old, but economics in a real sense did not exist before Adam Smith. Much of what we call the conservative movement is built around a love of these economic ideas, which have produced a prosperity unheard-of in human history. Though I have offered criticisms of existing economic theory elsewhere, which I trust you will keep in mind, here that is not my purpose.

Rather, I want to talk about freedom as it arises from and relates to markets. Now one reason to love markets is that they are exercises of freedom. It is possible both to overstate and to understate this principle. If you want to overstate it, you will ignore the fact that we are usually engaged in the market out of necessity: we have to eat, we have to pay our rent, we have to buy the things we need to survive. Thus, you can criticize the market as an institution of freedom because participation in it is not a fully free choice. It is forced upon you by your nature that you must find a way to be useful to others in order to survive.

But it is also possible to understate the freedom that the market makes possible -- indeed, I just did it. By focusing too much on the fact that you must participate in the market, you lose sight of the wonderful things that the market makes possible. For one thing, you can buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle. These would not exist if it were not for markets. The freedom of the roads is a function of the market that made the Harley possible, and which also created the wealth that was used to make the roads on which a Harley can glide. If you can find a way to make yourself useful enough to your fellow man, you will become free in ways that no human being ever was in decades before. Meanwhile, people striving to make themselves useful produce new forms of music and art, food and drink, clothing and thought, so that the array of choices is ever improving.

Now all of this is based on free choice. If you are willing and able to pay the price, you may transact for anything you wish. Nor is the price fixed: you can offer a different price, and if the seller is willing, transact a bargain.

So one of the criticisms I want to deploy against feminism is a market-based criticism. Ace's formula can't be adopted without debate, but the alternative formula being offered has a more cleanly-defined standard for equality and for freedom. Equality is economic equality (equal pay for equal work given equal years of experience -- about which 'equality' we will say more directly): freedom is freedom to leave the market.

Now that is a nice freedom! We just said that participation was necessary arising from our natural needs -- so in order to have that freedom, you have to arrange to be taken-care-of by someone else. Now that is an economic transaction, viewed in a certain way: you are providing some service (say, the raising of children and the keeping of house) to some other party who will provide for your economic needs in return.

On this reading, what is really being sought is not the freedom to leave the market. It is, rather, a demand that a certain kind of transaction should be treated as respectable. A kind of feminism would criticize this: it would say the woman is being 'kept,' or something similar, and that this must needs be a despicable condition to which no woman ought subject herself. Another kind would endorse it, as respect for the free choice of the woman ought to be at the basis of respect for women in general.

But it should be clear that neither is the correct reading. What is happening here is not chiefly or properly an economic transaction at all. It is the taking-on of an unequal duty: the very one I suggested before as an example, the duty of parenthood. This has nothing to do with economics, which again did not exist before Adam Smith. It has priority. The respect due to the parent is not anything like 'do not show disrespect for an economic choice that I am free to make,' but rather the positive and genuine respect due to someone who is doing their duty. This is the moral sphere, not the economic sphere. Of course it ought to be treated with respect, and the very highest respect. It is not merely an exercise of freedom, but the fulfillment of duty.

Now, there is a reply to this, which is to say that nothing escapes the laws of economics. What right do you have to take on a duty that you cannot support? If you cannot support a child -- either through your own economic activity, or through a blood alliance with someone who both can and will -- how dare you have one? On the other hand, from this perspective, if you can and will ensure that the means are there to support the child, how dare anyone question your free choice?

A lack of questioning your free choice is not adequate, though: a greater respect is due to the doer of duty than that. We have to recognize the overlapping but independent spheres in order to see the behavior in its proper moral light. It is right, on market terms, insofar as the economics have been worked out so that the child can be supported by the parents. But it is right, on moral terms, in a far stronger way. It is the answering of duty, and duty is among the highest calls that we know.

That is the answer to the question of "the freedom to leave the market," but what about the demand for economic equality? That also raises interesting problems.

Take a person who wishes to buy not a Harley but a Yamaha motorcycle. There are reasons to do this: for one thing, Yamahas are at least as well-made, possibly better-made in some cases, and yet they are cheaper due to the popularity of the Harley brand. But let us say you are motivated simply by patriotism. You're an American, and you want to own an American-made bike. Is there anything wrong with that? Possible answers are yes and no.

If the answer is yes, it is because we are once again overlapping the moral and the economic spheres. You may say that patriotism is not a worthy value: that patriotism is really just another name for nationalism, the destroyer of worlds. Or you may say that patriotism is fine, but not American patriotism, because remember Dresden and Hiroshima and slavery and the murder of the Native Americans.

But if the answer is no, we are defending the principle of free choice. It is none of my business why the guy bought the one bike or the other: the money was his, and his reasons are his, and he can do whatever he likes. This freedom is something that many conservatives, and all libertarians, want to conserve.

Yet now look at the question if we ask about what a worker is worth. Take two workers, A and B. An employer is willing to pay A $20 an hour for A's labor, but only $15 an hour for B. Assume (A,B) have spent the same number of years in similar jobs, and have roughly similar outcomes in sales or whatever other means of performance are relevant. One of (A,B) is male, and one female. Is this transaction right or wrong?

Under the feminist critique, it is wrong if B is the female (especially if the employer is male, but even if it is a female, and especially if the reason is that the employer prefers to have male employees). It is less problematic if B is male. But the real problem is, to what degree is it any of our business?

What justifies us in telling the employer that he or she must employ A and B at the same rate? It isn't economic theory. The economic theory of value is that the value of something is nothing other than what the buyer and seller agree upon. If the employer offers B $15/hour, and B accepts, that's B's market value. It's not fair or unfair, it is settled by the only standard economics has to offer.

So we must be looking into the moral sphere, which is the sphere of rights and duties. Is there a duty to pay A and B the same rate? Where would such a duty be located? (Remember, one of A and B is female and one male, but it's not determined which one.)

One place we might locate such a duty is in their dignity as human beings. But if we introduce human dignity to the market, we've got a whole set of problems with the marketplace. The marketplace is about exchanges of valuable things, in which I offer you a good or a service that is worth something to you. What is my dignity worth to you? If the answer is "nothing," you're not usually obligated to pay. (If the answer is more than nothing, let me know and I'll help you set up recurring payments at whatever rate you think my dignity is worth.)

In other words, what we've come to view as "equality" here is not the equality of rights from the first section. It has something important to do with equality of outcomes. But we have no basis for this: there's nothing in our moral or philosophical standards that justifies favoring equality of outcomes in the market. Furthermore, there is nothing in our general principle on equality that justifies it, because that principle has nothing to do with unequal outcomes. It has only to do with ensuring equal rights.

Elise wrote in the debate at Cassandra's place that "I think when I get around to starting the New Federalist Party, my slogan in going to be, 'Almost everything is none of my business.'" But here is one thing that we normally would take to be none of our business, which we are making explicitly 'our business.' It is unclear just why we are doing so in this market-related matter, because doing so is a violation of our usual principles as pertain to the market.

IV. Strains of Feminism

In addition to the market critique, there is a problem that arises from feminism's internal divisions. Tex was talking recently about how she is reading a lot of discussions about the sad state, or crumbling, of feminism. Surely we have all been reading long enough to know that this seems to be the perpetual state of the movement. The apparent crumbling does not represent an actual crumbling. What is at stake is that the movement is genuinely diverse, and its internal tensions are real (indeed they are healthy).

The acceptance of a "low-information" version of feminism as a label for yourself, though, doesn't solve anything. There are strains of feminism that really deserve a wholehearted rejection. I'm sure all of you can name a few, but I want to talk about one in particular. This is the Marxist-influenced feminism, which has taken an interesting idea and used it in a particularly bad way.

You're familiar with the word "deconstruction," which characterizes so much post-modern thought. The idea originates with another French philosopher, Derrida, and the concept works like this: wherever you find a hierarchy, or an ordering of one thing as better than or more-important-than another, you should reverse the hierarchy and see what happens.

As a way of critiquing our received standards and beliefs, it's an interesting approach. Sometimes it reveals genuine insights, although one must always be careful to be sure that one understands why the hierarchy was built in the first place. This is like Chesterton's example of the fence in the middle of town -- you can't take it down until you can explain why our ancestors thought it was important to build it: it didn't happen by accident, and we need to know the reason in order to evaluate whether we still need it or not. If you do know, though, you can evaluate the reason perhaps better in light of the mental experiment of what it might be like if things were otherwise.

The Marxists took the thought experiment for a practical program. Marxism is built on the idea of revolution. Overturning hierarchies is thus its real business. The idea that you ought to overturn hierarchies mentally is appealing to them, but only as a first step toward overturning them practically. But overturning practical structures, which have proven their worth over centuries, is a practice that should be undertaken only carefully and on Chesterton's standard: it should not be the reflexive position.

I know a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Women's Studies who has decided to write her dissertation against "dualism." Now she doesn't mean what you or I mean by the word, which is that there might be an immaterial soul or a mind in addition to the material body and brain.
She means that any sort of thought that divides things and orders them is wrong. If you divide things into male/female, good/bad/, right/wrong, up/down, you're engaged in the kind of thinking that gives rise to oppression because you think your hierarchy justifies boosting the one and suppressing the other. But of course she is doing the same thing: by saying this is wrong, she is dividing it from what is right. She is led by the logic of Derrida's ideas, and Rousseau's, to an impossible place. If you accept the "low-information" version of the movement, in the eyes of the "low-information" voters you are endorsing the whole structure. But the structure is leaning dangerously.

I am only sketching this argument, but the point is this: at least most, and possibly all, of this movement is based on untenable currents in philosophy that deserve to be rejected outright. Because the movement is wrapped up with the dignity of women, however, women feel inclined to defend it. What we need is another way to defend the dignity of women, one that does not stand on bad philosophy.

V. Feminism as an analogue to Christianity

The real root of this embrace of "feminism" by conservatives thus is not conservative principle, but seems to be something like patriotism among women for women. That's not bad -- no more than patriotism generally -- and I don't mean to criticize it. I cannot be guilty of patriotism toward women, but I can certainly be an ally of their nation.

Consider what Cassandra says here:
The horrified objections of many male conservatives, who nearly fell over themselves trying to convince Governor Palin that she reeeeeally didn't know what she was talking about (or that she should accept their definitions), managed to irritate even women like myself who don't particularly identify with feminists/feminism except in the vague general sense Ace describes.
That's the problem we're facing here. On the one hand, feminism has a lot to criticize. On the other hand, it sounds to women like men are criticizing women, and that naturally provokes a defense.

I want to raise an analogy to Christianity, which is even more all-embracing than feminism. (In theory, it is all-embracing, even for non-Christians.) Christians seem to be pretty good at criticizing themselves internally, but they tend to reject criticisms of "Christianity" as a whole that come from outside. Almost no Christians have a problem rejecting Fred Phelps' so-called church, but if someone tried to paint the whole of the faith as defined by Phelps' nonsense, that outsider would receive a well-deserved rebuttal.

The problem we all face, though, is that we do need to find a way to field the criticisms of feminism as a whole. This ought not to be, and if done properly should not be seen to be, a criticism of women. Women like Tex's mother are outstanding, deserving celebration whether or not we want to apply a given label to them. (Do we know if it is a label she chose for herself?) There needs to be a principled criticism available to us.

If we can't do that, we're in trouble. Maybe it's possible to criticize the movement from within it, but I doubt it. I am inclined to criticize the movement from very far outside it: for my problem isn't with the internal structures of the movement so much as with its foundations. It is the whole modernist project that has gone wrong, with its embrace of universality and French philosophy. In rejecting that, I'm rejecting not just the roots and branches of feminism, but the darkened earth from which it grew.

That kind of wholehearted rejection must be done from outside. So I cannot join Ace, or anyone else, in thinking of myself as a feminist. In love and respect for women, however, I declare myself devoted. I gladly accept the duties that follow from that declaration. I see no reason why it should not be possible to fulfill those duties and live out that love without embracing the label or what it represents.


Texan99 said...

I don't think anyone was in danger of mistaking you for a feminist! Nor do we suspect you of hostility to women because you're no feminist and never will be one. I do think you err on the side of overestimating the ways in which female souls are different from your own, and therefore always are in danger of seeing women through a very distorting lens. You are not hostile to them, but you are (amicably) blind in many ways, and I suspect that I would hate living in a world in which you got to make the rules for me, though you would mean me no harm at all.

This is pretty close: "The problem with universals is that they destroy this human, and humane, capacity to talk about people as the individual people that they are." You don't carry the notion on to the context of viewing woman as individuals, though, as far as I can see.

I don't think I completely followed most of what you said about equality. A lot of it seemed to have to do with ensuring equality of outcome, which is very far from any concern I've ever voiced.

When you discuss the "free market," I think you make the common mistake of equating the "free" aspect of it with "eliminating all restraints in life." If we assume that agency will be accorded to someone or other in any human organization, a free market is one in which agency is extended as much as possible out to all of the many participants in the market, to make their own choices for themselves. That doesn't mean that they are free to enjoy what they like at any price they like. It only means that they'll decide for themselves how to make any necessary tradeoffs imposed by harsh reality. That can be true whether they're male or female, and whether they make the decisions in splendid isolation or in close consultation with intimate partners and family.

Grim said...

I suspect that I would hate living in a world in which you got to make the rules for me...

Well, I hope it is clear that I have never asked for any authority to make rules for you. I want none. Cassandra used to get on me for the opposite reason: not that I was eager to make rules for women, but that I refused to hold them to any standards at all. That's the danger from my position, not that I would bind you to things you would hate.

It only means that they'll decide for themselves how to make any necessary tradeoffs imposed by harsh reality.

Sure, but the question is whether one might make tradeoffs in terms of employment of men and women. We seem to be saying that we're against sticking our noses in peoples' business, unless it is in this case, in which case they are especially forbidden from sorting out their own tradeoffs even though they are prepared to pay for them out of pocket. What justifies that?

Elise said...

I may have more to say on the whole post later after I've read it again and sorted it out but on the specific issue of equal pay for equal work:

I realized a while ago that if I followed my principles where they led, I could not justify demanding that private employers pay all employees with the same qualifications doing the same job the same amount.

I do believe it is abhorrent for an employer to pay an employee less simply because she is a woman (or he is Black or she is disabled or whatever) but there are many things I find abhorrent for which I cannot in good conscience advocate a government-forced solution.

I don't actually see the "equal pay for equal work" argument in what Ace wrote. To me, his argument is simply that women are not subordinate to men, nor are they some exotic species - women are not The Other. They have the same rights as men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the same right to define for themselves what type of life they want, what duties they will assume that limit their liberty; and what will make them happy.

Texan99 said...

When you write that "one might make tradeoffs in terms of employment of men and women," aren't you letting the sentence structure obscure who's making the tradeoffs? I hope I've ever said anything to open me to the charge of wishing to "stick my nose in" and make that decision for another human being. Obviously, for me a free market is a system in which anyone, male or female, may decide to work at a given wage or not, taking into account other available methods for putting food on the table, including family alliances. I think it would be a mistake to deny the "dignity" of any of these choices, or to try to translate the concept of dignity into monetary terms. People will make their own trade-offs, depending on what's important to them, which includes material welfare, their urge to bond with children, their views of their duties, their need for recognition or excitement, their ambition, and a host of other things, none of which need be understood or approved by others unless it bears on their willingness to raise children together.

But I've lost the thread of how this relates to your post? You seemed to be arguing that equality between men and women was inherently unjust, or inhumane, or impractical, or that it was an attempt to apply an exclusively modern economic analysis to an age-old function, or that it was an improper elevation of rights over duty (with the assumption that you are correct about the role of gender in conferring different duties to children), or that we were sticking our nose into the business of couples who decided to adopt traditional roles. Or even, toward the end, that the entire structure of feminism is the fruit of a poisonous universalist or French philosophical tree. When you write about rights, economics, or philosophy I'm afraid I often have no real idea what you're saying.

The one thing I'm fairly sure of is that much of what you dislike in your idea of feminism is something I've never advocated, and much of what is central to me about a desirable feminism is simply incompatible with your view of reality. You are much more sure about what is inherent in women than I would have thought possible. It's hard to describe how odd an experience it is from my point of view.

Grim said...


You have to give some account of this abhorrence, on the modern reading, if it is to be tenable as a structure for rules. If you can't explain it rationally, it won't do on the modern reading.

But I'm willing to take you on your terms. Let us say that it is wrong, without examining why it is wrong. I must then judge the rightness of what I pay employees based on an unsayable right. But must I employ them at all? If I cannot say why they merit a given wage, am I right to employ them?


I haven't really argued any of those things. In fact, I haven't argued anything positive about the nature of women -- what they are really like, I mean. An equality of rights between men and women, provided that "rights" is understood according to the provisions here given, is quite right. And I haven't set forth the first limitation on women at all.

So you dislike things I've written about and you want to assert things I haven't. Good! Sort out where you want to begin, and you'll find me to be your willing partner. If I've said something wrong, I'll be glad to be corrected; and if I can help you sort out how to criticize the thing that bothers me, all the better.

If you'll forgive my saying so, I think this may be a service. You haven't quite understood just what you want feminism to say, nor how to keep it from saying more than you wish it did. But these are important questions.

If I do no more than help you understand how to draw the lines precisely, I have done you a service. And willing service, each to the other, is the right ethic. So I think, at least.

Cass said...

Aye yay yay, Grim. Tex pretty much sums up my reaction here:

I don't think anyone was in danger of mistaking you for a feminist! Nor do we suspect you of hostility to women because you're no feminist and never will be one. I do think you err on the side of overestimating the ways in which female souls are different from your own, and therefore always are in danger of seeing women through a very distorting lens. You are not hostile to them, but you are (amicably) blind in many ways, and I suspect that I would hate living in a world in which you got to make the rules for me, though you would mean me no harm at all.

This is pretty close: "The problem with universals is that they destroy this human, and humane, capacity to talk about people as the individual people that they are." You don't carry the notion on to the context of viewing woman as individuals, though, as far as I can see.

The law doesn't treat ANYONE as an individual, really. Nor should it. About the closest the law gets to that is when it either defines classes of people (protected classes, for instance) or when it considers individual fact patterns as defenses or mitigating circumstances.

But the general rules are just that -- general. If you're a citizen, if you're an adult, you are bound by law except where the law explicitly makes exceptions (and the vast majority of these exceptions, though not all of them, are misguided).

For as long as we've been having these discussions, you have argued (less now than you once did) for a system that deals with women as you view them, not as we view ourselves. You're taking "equal to" far too literally from admittedly low information voters who quite obviously haven't thought deeply about any of this. I understand why it would be difficult for you to imagine their thought processes, but I take "Equal to" here to mean, "equivalent to", not "identical to".

You can't force people or society to have this lengthy discussion. If these folks were interested in such discussions, they wouldn't be low information voters in the first place! And interpreting their words as though they were something other than low information voters (IOW, as something other than a high level generality) is a distortion.
These are not folks who are interested in Hegel, Kant, or Aristotle.

Finally, I (for one) don't want you to say you're a feminist. That wasn't the point of the post. Whether you or anyone else does so makes no difference to me whatsoever, because I don't even call myself a feminist! All Ace's post was really saying was that on the level these folks are thinking about it, they consider themselves feminists AND on that level, so would a lot of folks who object to feminism as the far left defines it.

Whether or not that shoe fits you is your decision, and I'd be deeply shocked if Tex or Elise or any woman here has a problem with that.

Elise said...

You have to give some account of this abhorrence, on the modern reading, if it is to be tenable as a structure for rules.

But my point is that I don't consider my abhorrence to form a structure for rules. I consider discriminating against women (or men) in hiring and salary to be abhorrent; I am not arguing that we should have rules prohibiting it.

Cass said...

I consider discriminating against women (or men) in hiring and salary to be abhorrent; I am not arguing that we should have rules prohibiting it.

I think such rules are too easily abused. But I also think there's some value in having society say, "This is wrong and we won't tolerate it".

I know that I get paid less than many of my male co-workers and would never dream of suing. The bargain I've made is fine with me, because I have negotiated for what I care most about: enough trust and autonomy that I am happy (and by that standard, my pay is generous indeed) and enough money to make it worth my while to work.

For many years I was the only employee at my firm who was allowed to work remotely. Even when I moved back to DC, they continued to allow me to work from home. That's money in the bank to me, metaphorically and literally.

That equilibrium salary point isn't the same for everyone. Which is why I generally oppose idiotic pay parity laws.

Texan99 said...

Well, shoot. I just spent a long time on a reply that disappeared into the ether.

Texan99 said...

If you "support an equality of rights between men and women, provided that 'rights' is understood according to the provisions" in your lengthy post, then we probably have no disagreement -- except that I'm far from sure I see what you're getting at in your provisions. If you "haven't set forth the first limitation on women at all," even better, because that probably means I did misunderstand your provisions. But if that's the case, then I'm left in doubt about the sense in which we should reject "the darkened earth from which [feminism] grew."

I'm somewhat perplexed by your statement that I "haven't quite understood just what [I] want feminism to say, nor how to keep it from saying more than [I] wish it did." I'm pretty clear about my own view of feminism. I disagree with some of the formulations of feminism propounded by other people, especially the affirmative-action variety. (I reformulate the issue this way because I think it can lead to confusion to speak of feminism itself "wanting to say" something.) In what way do you think I'm lacking an understanding?

Cass said...

I haven't quite figure out why conservatives (who can't seem to agree on what they want 'conservatism' to say) in general, and male conservatives in particular, are so keen on the notion that feminists, like every other political movement on earth - including Christians, socialists, Muslims, libertarians and Libertarians - can or should limit themselves to one understanding of "what they want it to say" :p

I have no idea what "feminists" (or Democrats) want their movements to say. I don't think if we asked 15 conservatives, we'd get exactly the same message.

Where we generally agree is on generalities (govt. should be limited - how limited? well that depends on which conservative you're talking to). High level principles.

I did want to address this, from Grim:

On the one hand, feminism has a lot to criticize. On the other hand, it sounds to women like men are criticizing women, and that naturally provokes a defense.

I don't think it's that simple, Grim. You're making it sound as though women will simply instinctively resist any criticism of women out of some misguided notion of Sistah-hood. That's not it.

I listen to some of these folks and I walk away thinking that some of them would gladly wave a magic wand and turn back the clock if they could.

I've pointed out all the male bloggers who talk of repealing the 19th amendment, even though far fewer women vote Dem than Blacks, or Jews.

I don't think I've ever read a post talking about repealing the 15th Amendment. Where does that come from?

What are women to think of this?

Cass said...

Yikes. Sorry guys - I've been working since 4 am. Tired.

2nd try:

I haven't quite figureD out why conservatives (who can't seem to agree on what they want 'conservatism' to say) in general, and male conservatives in particular, are so keen on the notion that feminists, like every other political movement on earth - including Christians, socialists, Muslims, libertarians and Libertarians - can/should/have to limit themselves to a single understanding of "what they want their broad-based (in more ways than one!) movement to say" :p

Elise said...

What are women to think of this?

I think we're not supposed to worry our pretty little heads over it.

Cass said...



I give up :p time to go to bed

Texan99 said...

My views on the idea that women react to a criticism of feminism as though it were a criticism of women disappeared into the ether with my lost comment. But I'm with Cass. The most common attacks on feminism don't make me think someone is criticizing women. Nor am I afraid that most of my political opponents dislike women. I don't think they do (PUA bums aside); I just think they condescend to them and load them down with garbage they don't deserve, while subjectively holding them in what, to their way of thinking, is high esteem. It's a little like a guy who refuses to support a native American for office from a conviction that the Noble Savage is too virtuous for the role. But really! He likes Noble Savages! He reveres them! It doesn't help.

Grim said...

Wow, we got to 15 comments quickly!


...we probably have no disagreement -- except that I'm far from sure I see what you're getting at in your provisions.... even better... But... then I'm left in doubt...

So you may be confused because this has the form of an argument against feminism. But it's not really an argument against feminism at all: it's an argument against modern philosophy, which is to say, philosophy since the 1700s. Feminism is wrapped up in all that, for reasons that may not be entirely its fault: it may have a Marxist wing, for example, simply because it came of age at the same time as Marxism, and there was some cross-pollination that was a factor of breathing the same air on the same university campus.

Maybe not, though. It's worth thinking about how that. But if you look through it again, you'll see (I think!) that there are no rules for women qua women. I haven't said anything about what I think your nature is like, or how you ought to be in view of that (unstated) difference. What I've made a case for is the idea that differences are an important part of justice, and that our ideas about what a just society looks like don't easily admit of rules against prejudice v. women (or anyone else, it turns out).

That may be a way in which our ideas are wrong. That's one possible conclusion, though it isn't mine. But it's a discussion that would be rational, starting from this ground.

Or it may be that we're right about markets (given an allowance for your and my significant differences on that topic, and taking our position as a kind of unified whole), but wrong about other things.

It's a program of thought I think is worth undertaking. It may lead somewhere interesting over time. It's almost accidental that we're coming to it out of feminism, and not out of one of the other modernist philosophies that grow from the same roots in Rousseau and Kant and Hegel (say Marxism).

On the other hand, if I'd written a piece called "Against Rousseau, Kant and Hegel," you'd have skipped the whole thing. :) Well, maybe not you, but most people. It's in seeing how these bad ideas have flowed into concepts we might even otherwise approve of -- I certainly approve of a generalized program defending the dignity of women in the eyes of God -- that we find the location of the tectonic plates.

Grim said...


The law doesn't treat ANYONE as an individual, really. Nor should it.

It really can't, right? The law as it exists on paper can do no more than set out general rules (which is to say, universals). This is true even if it were to try to exempt someone by name. Consider: "For all x, if x is Grim, x shall be immune." I don't think it's possible to write a law that doesn't take the universal form.

But phronesis comes in with the jury, and indeed with the judge. The reason that we have courts and trials and juries is that justice needs must be concerned with the particulars of the case, and not only with universals. This is Aristotelian (although juries smaller than 'the whole of Athens' are more Viking than Greek).

Otherwise we could push the law off on administrative bureaucracies, whose job would be to determine which universal laws had been violated, and apply the penalties in the book accordingly. We wouldn't need a judge, or sentencing guidelines, or even a jury beyond their fact-finding function of "guilty" or "not guilty."

I've pointed out all the male bloggers who talk of repealing the 19th amendment, even though far fewer women vote Dem than Blacks, or Jews. I don't think I've ever read a post talking about repealing the 15th Amendment. Where does that come from?

I would say it comes from the fact that the sex difference is the most fundamental difference in human biology. Differences in race or religion are, in a way, artificial. Differences in sex are not: they really are unbridgeable differences.

I started with Arendt, and maybe I should say something about her view of unbridgeable differences. She thanked God for them, in her private letters, and thought of them as a real gift. The reason is that the differences we can't bridge are what keeps us away from the scourge of her hours on earth: totalitarianism and fascism. A thousand men might make themselves into SS officers, each a copy of the other for all you can tell; but one woman is going to introduce a difference into their unit, no matter how hard she and they work to eliminate it.

We've talked about how introducing one woman to an all-male office changes its moral structure elsewhere, and as I recall we've agreed on the point. It isn't that adding a woman makes it better; it's just that it necessarily makes it different, so that new rules have to apply that weren't needed before. You need rules about what kinds of behavior might constitute sexual harassment, for example. That's kind of the point that Arendt was after, and that I am after. It's not that women are better or worse that is important; it may not even be true that women are better or worse in any way we can reasonably discuss. But the fact of difference has its own moral quality.

I think you are right to fear that women might be made into scapegoats, because this obvious and fundamental difference makes them the most obvious choice for blame for anything that went wrong. Anytime we're dividing humanity up into groups, and blaming groups instead of individuals, women are likely to be first on the line.

That makes universality attractive as a standard, because it wouldn't allow you to break women out as a category. But I'm convinced -- and I have given an argument above -- that it's not a workable approach. If you can't consider relevant differences, you're at sea. And here, as elsewhere, the difference is itself morally valuable. We don't ignore it in practice, nor should we do so. I think the fact of difference makes us better. Arendt was right about that.

Grim said...


But my point is that I don't consider my abhorrence to form a structure for rules. I consider discriminating against women (or men) in hiring and salary to be abhorrent; I am not arguing that we should have rules prohibiting it.

That's workable on market principles. It may be possible to structure a kind of conservative feminism that refuses to include special protections for women in the law.

On the other hand, I've generally supported sexual harassment law (not that I find it enjoyable, just that I find it necessary), precisely because it seems to be necessary to make the workplace workable for most women. Some women are just really tough, and don't give a damn about the constant harassment they might otherwise endure. But I think most would find it uncomfortable enough that they would eventually bail out of such a workplace.

This is not a criticism of women, because I think they don't deserve to be subject to harassment: it just seems to be a natural feature of male/female relations that, without rules to guide it, harassment happens. Some rules, and periodic training (the Army does it as often as quarterly) seem to be necessary to making an intersexual workplace practical.

It's a sort of phronesis, which is why I can see my way clear to supporting it.

Texan99 said...

If it's not an argument against feminism, then the title may have led me astray, but in any case I'm relieved to hear it. We appear to be even more in violent agreement!

Grim said...

Well it is, and it isn't. It's not an argument against feminism per se. It's really an argument against the grounds out of which feminism grew.

But it isn't an argument against the dignity of women. I think a wholesome argument of that sort is really possible, and indeed really right. But it grows in a different ground than what we call "feminism." It starts where Ace wanted to start it: not in modern philosophy, but in the eyes of God.

Texan99 said...

OK by me. My view of feminism starts with the eyes of God, too. Gets to the same place, though.

Grim said...

Does it? You should lay it out, then. If you can get to the same place from a different way, rooted in good earth, I might well endorse it.

Texan99 said...

You must realize that nothing at all changes in my long-standing description.

Grim said...

Of course. But that is simply because no one but yourself has the right to command you to rethink something so basic as your identification. If you undertake the project seriously, you may rethink it (and re-identify) on your own terms. And if you do not, then you never will.

It would be a service to provide a better-rooted version of these ideas you call feminism. But to do it means a great deal of work: Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Aristotle, Aquinas, and others. It would be a great charge for anyone to understand, let alone to challenge, what these great thinkers say.

From here you have in front of you a free choice. It's up to you what you do.

Texan99 said...

I think that to approach the issue the way you suggest, I'd have to re-identify as more than a different kind of feminist or woman. I'd have to re-identify as Grim!

Cass said...

That's part of my problem with so many of these discussions - I am female, and much of what Tex argues makes sense to me, but there are areas where we differ.

My husband and I, though we have different plumbing, agree on most things related to feminism. But there's an overlay for both of us that I can only describe as an instinctive or natural reaction born of seeing life through the lens of our very different experiences.

We get to the same place, mostly for the same reasons. But he instinctively bristles at certain things that don't bother me so much, and vice versa.

I don't really buy Grim's assertion that feminism springs from French philosophy. I think he's giving these folks waaaaaaaaaaaay too much credit. From what I've been reading lately, large numbers of ardent feminists haven't even read Betty Friedan.

Honestly, I don't find that most people think deeply (or read deeply, or discuss deeply) the majority of their beliefs. Maybe they should, but they don't.

I always liked Haidt's formulation of "a moral sense" that resembles aesthetics more than anything else. That seems to be how most people make up their minds about big issues.

Grim said...

I don't really buy Grim's assertion...

I'm right here! :) My thought is that it's French and German philosophy, which you may have received secord or third hand even though you haven't read it directly. All I want to invite you to do, if you wish, is to encounter it firsthand and see what you think. (You, Cass, should especially read Kant -- those who brought you up were clearly influenced by him, though you probably haven't read more than his Groundwork even with your excellent education. I think you'd have a lot to contribute, though, if you decided to take the time.)

Now a moral sense that resembles aesthetics would be quite right, given what I've argued here. You know I think that the Good divides first into the True and the Beautiful: so a moral sense, which looks to the Good, has to be able to do both kinds of calculation.

What you say about your husband makes sense to me. I think even you and I, or Tex and I, don't really disagree about what 'right looks like' (to use the military expression). What I disagree with are fundamental assumptions. Now to me that seems important, but perhaps that is a flaw in my approach to the world.

But I don't think it is. I think it matters. If your assumptions are right, you get to the right place for the right reasons. If not, you may get to the right place, but there's something accidental about the fact that you do. Nor can you be sure that you'll remain right: you can go wrong, and easily, because your guides are not reliable.

Elise said...

It may be possible to structure a kind of conservative feminism that refuses to include special protections for women in the law.

There was and is exactly that kind of feminism. Certainly that was first-wave feminism. It was also something one reviewer called

"right-wing second-wave feminism” which “embodies the 1970's version of ‘make it on your own by playing within the system’-- ie, conservative feminism.”

That version of feminism got drowned out by what I call Institutional Feminism and, sadly, was abandoned by women and men who refused to call themselves "feminists" for fear they would be associated with IFs. Conservatives did, as Ace says, cede the word and it's costing them dearly. Perhaps if Republicans had adopted Conservative Feminism (or, as I like to call it, Real Feminism) as enthusiastically as Democrats adopted Institutional Feminism (without the warping that accompanied that adoption), things would look brighter for Republicans.

Grim said...

What was this 'one reviewer' reviewing?

I have concerns about attempting to structure the law in such a way that it doesn't take sex into consideration: it's another step on the road to universality, which means a law increasingly detached from the facts of the world we really live in.

But even if you think this is not a serious problem -- to me it seems serious -- it's not the only one: clearly the Violence Against Women Act, for example, brought enough pressure that Republicans caved on it last week. That's all the more amazing given that their opening position was 'we'll agree to pass the old one again.' Apparently there was enough pressure that re-authorizing the existing special protections wasn't enough even for the allegedly-rabid Republican House.

Texan99 said...

I've never read Betty Friedan that I can recall. Nor do I recall that anything I've ever read has had a huge effect on my feminism one way or the other. I was just raised to think of myself as human first and female second. I don't remember a time when I was ever any different. When I started to run across men who thought I should be a different way, I was a little baffled, but I never could take them seriously. The same goes for authors. I just can't understand what universe they're describing, because I apparently don't live in it.

Texan99 said...

As for laws that take sex into account, I'm all for it whenever sex is relevant. I just think it's relevant far less often than many people do.

Grim said...

Well, that's all I'm asking for. I don't want to introduce it where it isn't relevant -- that would be an error in the other direction.

Nor, I hope you realize, have I asked you to be anything other than what you are. Far from that, I handed you the keys to the blog and asked you to be what you are right here. I like you -- you, and Cass, and Elise, each one. Nothing about what I am after involves trying to tell you that you ought to be otherwise than you are.

Texan99 said...

That's how I take a friendly suggestion to re-identify myself. I do understand you were suggesting that I do it on my own terms, but somehow according to all the thinkers you find particularly useful, and whom I do not.

I realize you're not literally asking me to become like the ideal you seem to hold for women -- like the chick in your "Chivalry" poster -- but there's nevertheless a dissonance between your ideal and what I am. I can't aspire to your ideal. I can't imagine being "one of the ones worth dying for" in your formulation. I guess that makes me not worth dying for, which is just as well, since I wasn't asking for it, or at least not if the motive was my correct form of womanhood.

Grim said...

I'm not sure it's right to say that I find these thinkers useful -- mostly I think they are wrong. All I'm inviting you to do is encounter them, if you wish. And since you don't wish, you won't, and that's that.

There are things I get to decide, too, including who is worth dying for. I imagine you would find it uncomfortable if I died for you, but I would do it anyway. Perhaps I should apologize! But it is how I was made, do you see? I don't know how to be otherwise; nor can I imagine wishing to be.

I suspect you are saying something similar.

Texan99 said...

It's not that I haven't encountered them. It's that I don't find them useful.

Why in the world would you be willing to die for me, if your expressed view is that I the sort who isn't worth it?

Elise said...

What was this 'one reviewer' reviewing?

A book called Games Mother Never Taught You. The link to her site seems to be dead which is a shame because it was very interesting. The quote I gave was from a blog post where I referenced her:

Fourth Wave, Part 2: Women in the workplace

Texan99 said...

i completely forgot about that book, and it's actually an exception to my statement above. It influenced me profoundly. A really terrific book. Available via Amazon:

Grim said...

Thank you, Elise.

Tex, my expressed view is that you are worth it. The poster was made by someone else. You tell me you don't aspire to be that kind of person, but you don't need to aspire to anything. You're worth it to me, just as you are.

Texan99 said...

The poster was made by someone else but posted by you.

Grim said...

Yes. And the words I'm saying here were crafted by me and posted by me.

Words are an imperfect tool, and the moreso when they are a quote from someone else you are adapting to your own purpose. There are things that poster captures that are important to me, but there are other things it does not capture. You are worth it to me. Nothing changes that.