Untangling Feminism and Critical Theory
NOTE: Marxian doesn’t mean Marxist. It is an academic term, and here it means something like pseudo-Marxist or Marxist-like. For my latest thoughts on why criticalism isn’t Marxism, see this 2021 post.
Today, I want to respond to the latest ContraPoints video, titled Men, where Natalie talked about topics like masculinity and the men’s rights movement. While I think she did much better than your typical left-leaning feminist, I also believe she ultimately missed the mark. I think it’s great that Natalie could at least see that life is pretty bleak for many men out there, particularly young men, and the left in particular has often been too dismissive of this. I also think it’s great that Natalie is aware that, if there is to be new models of masculinity for the 21st century, it would need to be developed by and for men. I certainly agree that most men wouldn’t accept a model of masculinity that was designed by women!
Where Natalie missed the point, however, was that she couldn’t see how contemporary feminism is making things difficult for many men. While I’m not saying that contemporary feminism is all bad, it certainly has some problematic features, and they have created genuine disadvantage and resentment in men. Of course, the other important factor in the crisis of masculinity is the economic side of things, that is, the poor economic prospects for many young people in today’s world, which I will address in part 2 of my response. Today, though, I will be focusing on where feminism has gone wrong. What I’m going to say may be unpopular, but I think it’s an unpopular truth we all have to face.
Part 1: Untangling Feminism and Critical Theory
Let’s start with this controversial proposition. The fact that there even needs to be a men’s rights movement today is a sign of feminism’s failure, at least according to the goals of earlier feminism.
The reason why there needs to be a men’s rights movement is because there are a number of ways men are disadvantaged because of their gender, for example in custody, in sentencing, in suicide rates, and so on. Even early in life, girls are told to be proud of their gender, but boys are not. The problem is, no other mainstream political movement would care about these issues. The fact that this is the case represents the failure of feminism as it was originally understood, the version of feminism that I personally identify with. You see, feminism was originally about equal treatment of all people regardless of gender. It sought to end all such unequal treatment, as part of classical liberalism’s wider goal of individual liberty and equal opportunity. This is why many classical liberals like John Stuart Mill were sympathetic to the feminism of their day. This form of feminism was ultimately quite successful, bringing women the right to vote, equal access to education, and much better access to employment opportunities, even though I think there’s still improvement to be made there in terms of the glass ceiling.
The problem is that, around the 1960s and 70s, something happened across the Western intellectual landscape that ultimately also changed feminism for the worse. Classical liberal values like individual-level equality and dignity went out of fashion, and Marxian ideas introduced via critical theory became fashionable, and eventually became dominant in so-called progressive circles. When I say Marxian, I don’t mean Marxist or Communist, but rather models of understanding society that was inspired by Marxism. For example, during second wave feminism, gender relations became more commonly thought of as a class-like system, with men being the oppressors and women being the oppressed, analogous to Marx’s idea of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Unlike earlier models of feminism, which sought gender equality by reform, this new model of feminism saw men as an oppressive class, and effectively pit women against men.
Part 2: Toxic Gender Relations Under Marxianized Feminism
Anyway, the Marxian influence essentially turned feminism from a project of reform for equality to a dialectic struggle between women and men. Regular audience of this channel would know that I have never been a fan of Marxian influence in culture, but its impact on gender relations have been particularly toxic for society. Feminists began blaming men and masculinity for every difficulty faced by women. After all, every man was now a member of the oppressor class, with all its privileges. Every man thus had an undeniable role in the perpetuation of the system, mirroring how in Marxist theory every member of the bourgeoisie had a similar role, whether they embraced it or not.
Just like it is difficult for the Marxist to feel sorry for the bourgeoisie, it became difficult for the radical feminist to have any genuine concern for the welfare of men. Thus, where classical liberal feminism would sought to iron out all gender inequalities, Marxian-inspired radical feminism would only care about women. This gave rise to attitudes like ‘it’s not feminism’s responsibility to care about men’, which I am disappointed to see. I also think this attitude is ultimately self-defeating for feminism too, because gender inequality somewhere in society is a threat to gender equality everywhere in society. I firmly believe that, we can’t fix the glass ceiling in the corporate world, unless we also fix the bias against fathers’ custody in the courts.
Part 3: The Attack on Traditional Masculinity
The Marxian and critical theory turn in social studies also led to the view of cultural hegemony becoming dominant. In this worldview, all existing cultural arrangements are seen as potentially in service of systems of domination, and should be deconstructed and dismantled for the sake of liberation.
In this view, traditional masculinity began to be seen as a social construct that supported the system of patriarchy, and its dismantling was therefore seen as essential for women’s liberation. Ideas like ‘toxic masculinity’ was thus born. This led to the denunciation of much of the traditional gender role for men, with harmful consequences. While it is true that not all men want traditional masculinity, the fact that it was popular for so long should logically point to this model being satisfying for many, if not most, men. Like it or not, traditional masculinity gives many men the purpose they need in life, and I believe this is somewhat biologically hardwired too. Therefore, I think that it is impossible for men to develop models of healthy masculinity if feminists keep attacking multiple elements of traditional masculinity all the time. While we certainly can do without the sexist attitudes of the past, there are plenty of other elements of traditional masculinity that deserve to be celebrated, and we shouldn’t let critical theory ideology get in the way of that. I believe that, ultimately, we can have traditional masculinity and we can have gender equality, that the two aren’t incompatible if you take a classical liberal view.
That’s all for today. And remember to resist the hive mind and stay individualistic. The world depends on it.
Originally published at http://taraellastylia.blogspot.com.
TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.