Monday, May 04, 2009

The Two Faces of Feminism


Here is a feminist blogger (and former chair of Planned Parenthood), Gloria Feldt, defending feminists who fail to respond to writers and activists who have used sexist language in attacking Miss California for her opposition to gay marriage.* When I saw it as it first aired Friday night I was shocked.

The first big shock was when Feldt seemed to say that Laura Ingraham (or "the likes of" her) had used the same sort of language against Feldt herself. I myself have never, in my entire life, called a woman the b-word (follow the last link above to see what I am referring to) and I find the suggestion that Ingraham would talk that way in public hard to believe. (Her notorious comment that Meghan McCain was only trying to be a political pundit because she was too "plus-sized" to be a model, though mean and tasteless, fell far short of this kind of thing.)

The second shock, at least until I had a chance to think about it, was Feldt's strange explanation of why this sort of talk is okay with her.

Here is the only way I can find to make sense of her seemingly contradictory remarks:

Feminism, she says, is "about justice." By this she must mean that feminism is opinions about what justice is, not that it requires you to treat actual women decently. Precisely because it is a collection of opinions, women who have the wrong opinions can become, in her words, "fair game." Language that would ordinarily be denounced as misogynistic hate speech is just one more thing that they have coming to them.

Feminism, on this conception of it, is not supposed to protect women as women. It protects women who are feminists, and women who do not give this sort of feminist any trouble. Women who wander off the feminist reservation can expect rough treatment from them.

Is this really feminist at all? Well, yes. There are actually two kinds of feminism. One is liberal feminism. It says simply that women have exactly the same basic rights as men, and that these rights should be respected in every case.

The other is radical feminism. It aims at the goal of eventual, perfect equality of the sexes, a sort of sexually classless society. It exploits the rhetoric of equal rights when doing so helps to achieve the goal. At other times, violating those same rights serves the same progressive purpose (eg., it might intimidate and silence enemies of progress). At those times, it violates rights without flinching. It's for the greater good, after all. Academic versions of this sort of feminism back up their radical methods with a theory the understands genders in more or less the way the Marxist understands economic classes. Harsh methods are needed to bust up male hegemony.

What we see here is obviously feminism of the radical sort. Something tells me we will be seeing a lot more of it.
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* It is important to realize that there are feminists who have not failed to respond.
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