Friday, January 15, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Feminist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My third piece was "Antiracist". Now we look at his "Feminist."

deBoer's approach to sexism is the same as his approach to racism. But he asserts that "gender discrimination is a unique form of injustice that has been ubiquitous in human history" [my italics], not just in the modern world. It is a "uniquely destructive injustice... the domination of women by men."  The same remedy is required: "addressing material inequality and material injustice" and pursuing a politics of "equal rights, equal power, and equal dignity for all gender identities."

But I'd say that we have a category error here. The notion of "gender discrimination" only makes sense in a state society with a justice system that reaches into tribes and families. Prior to the state, people lived in families, men and women, and the patriarch was law. It was the Roman Empire that made the first significant effort to penetrate the patria potestas with the state's law and an environment where discrimination had any meaning.

Actually, the domination of women by men goes all the way back to our ape ancestors. In the society of chimpanzees all males outrank all females, and the males are not slow to remind the females of this fact. There is also a complete division of labor between the sexes. The males defend the border of the troop's territory, and the females bear and raise the young using the food available within the troop territory.

That is where we began. Since then there have been some changes made. For one thing, modern men have been socialized from border wars to wage labor. For another, the lives of women are no longer completely consumed by childbearing and childraising, and for over a century they have been coming out into the public square. This public square, as the German sociologist Georg Simmel wrote a century ago, was defined by men for men. But he predicted that women would, in time, transform the public square to suit a more feminine sensibility. Now that the majority of university students are women, I think we can say that the current rape crisis on campus reflects a more feminine sensibility at work both in the administration and the student body. Has that happened spontaneously because individual people have adjusted their individual lives to new conditions on the ground, or because of the left and its activism? I suspect a bit of both.

I'm just a humble racist, sexist, homophobe, but I wonder if the rhetoric that deBoer uses is not dominatory in a male-centered, and Enlightenment rational sense -- which was critiqued by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Do women really talk and think in terms of material inequality and equal rights, equal power, etc.? In my experience women, unless they have been carefully taught, think much more in terms of relationship, in giving and receiving, and above all in caring for those they love. How would that work in the relentlessly political world imagined by the left?

For you will search in deBoer's manifesto in vain for the word "child" or "loved one" or "family". Forget "husband" and "wife" or "spouse" or even "partner." There is not a whisper of that. It is all very well to talk about rights and power and material security, but it rather elides the central fact of human life, that it is not about politics and government and a moral social system, or of economic reproduction, but of living and human reproduction and growing and dying.

Let us concede the point that women have been dominated by men since the dawn of time. But what do we make of the rich women of the Middle Ages that were married young and remarried and often lived to a ripe old age enjoying dowers from three separate dead husbands? What kind of domination would allow old widows to enjoy the fruits of the patriarchal estate in such a way while important dynastic questions were being weighed in the balance. A real patriarchy would have stripped the widows of their extravagant dowers without compunction. What do you make of the writings of women like Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Willa Cather? Were these women just writing fantasies of feminine empowerment, or were they writing about women and situations they knew?

There are serious questions about the feminist agenda and whether it is really as good as advertised for women and other living things. Is the sexual revolution really so good for women? Hasn't it had the paradoxical effect of victimizing women in a humiliating sexual free-for-all? Has the divorce revolution really been so good for women -- or men or children -- or has it coarsened women's lives and thrown them into dependency on government? Does not legal abortion put pregnant women under hegemonic pressure to "get rid of it" for the convenience of the others in their lives?

If you ask me, a real Feminist movement would not be a movement of the left at all, but a vast informal network of communities of women working to serve the best interests of all women, and also the men and women that they loved. It would not be political, because politics is violence; it would not be governmental, because government is force. It would not, for sure, be armed to the teeth with an ideological agenda, ready to lay waste to its enemies. Because, to use a trope of President Obama, that's not who women are.

Next up: "Anti-nationalist."

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