In the early 21st century, sometimes the threat to progress comes even more from the far-left
Feminism has a long and complicated history, with lots of contradictory developments throughout. It is easy to say that one is a feminist, or alternatively, one is anti-feminist, without being critical enough of what one is actually saying. Put it simply, the original definition of feminism is the movement which seeks equality on gender grounds, especially the equality of opportunity for women compared with men in every aspect of life. Almost every feminist still upholds this definition today. However, with many anti-feminists also upholding what is in the definition, how then is feminism and anti-feminism different, even opposites? The truth is, anti-feminists are probably largely not opposed to feminism per se, but rather, they are against something else that they associate with feminism, rightly or wrongly. Let me explain.
What is Feminism, anyway?
Feminism, in its original form, was a logical consequence of the liberal ideal that everyone should be entitled to equal opportunity. As a Moral Libertarian, I like to use the term Equal Moral Agency to describe this commitment. If everyone is entitled to equal opportunity, surely women should be entitled to equal opportunity as men, without judgement about their gender? This is why many classical liberals, including John Stuart Mill perhaps most famously, were strong supporters of feminism as it existed in their time. This form of feminism is now called liberal feminism.
On the other hand, by the time of the ‘Second Wave’ of feminism in the 1960s to 80s, another ‘feminism’ had emerged: ‘radical feminism’. One that was inspired not by the ideals of classical liberalism, but by a combination of radical ideologies, including Marxism, anarchism, critical theory, and certain strands of post-modernism. This mixture gave rise to theories about privilege-group consciousness, and the idea that biological science is just a construct, perhaps even a patriarchal construct. To be fair, radical feminism is a broad church, and not all radical feminists embrace all the aforementioned ideas. Therefore, not all forms of radical feminism are extreme, but some definitely are, in my humble opinion. In the rest of this argument, I will focus on a subset of radical feminism I consider to be particularly problematic: neo-Marxist feminism.
Today, the situation with feminism is complicated, and in my humble opinion, a bit sad. I personally strongly identify as a liberal feminist, supporting the kind of feminism that John Stuart Mill supported back in his day. However, I cannot, in my good conscience, support neo-Marxist feminism, which is having increasing influence in the feminist world today. With its ideas centered on oppression and struggle, neo-Marxist feminism in practice often seeks to turn the tables of oppression more than it seeks to create equality. That’s why there is the misconception that feminism is about men vs women. Well, at least classical liberal feminism was not. But neo-Marxist feminism is, in my opinion, too often about the ‘struggles’ of the ‘oppressed’ women against the ‘privileged’ men. A lack of concern about the real life struggles (pun intended) of young men is a potential conclusion of this worldview. Meanwhile, young men who have been failed by this worldview are increasingly becoming anti-feminists, or even turning to the alt-right. When liberal feminists question this struggle-based zero-sum worldview, they are also often told to check their privilege by their more radical ‘sisters’. Which is why some just stay silent, and others quit the feminism thing altogether.
A ‘Revolution’ Most of Us, Male or Female, Simply Don’t Want
Another way in which some (but not all) neo-Marxist feminists poison the feminist brand is via their ardent opposition to traditional values, and the structure of society. Of course, liberal feminists, and liberals more generally, don’t accept every bit of tradition as sacred. The difference between liberals and conservatives is that, while both recognise the importance of the traditional values that have evolved over centuries to guide our lives, liberals believe that traditions sometimes need a bit of reform to give everyone truly equal opportunity, and that such reform will not be harmful to the survival of traditions. But liberals, throughout history, have wanted to enhance and extend traditions, rather than destroy them. Freedom of conscience, respect for reason, the importance of marriage and family values, individualism and freedom of religion have guided liberals in our reforms, even as we applied these concepts in a different way compared to conservatives.
Neo-Marxist thinking, on the other hand, is very different. Some neo-Marxists believe that almost everything can be a social construct designed to favour dominant groups and keep the oppressed in their oppressed state. (This, in turn, stems from their belief that all social constructs in the ‘superstructure’ are determined by the economic ‘infrastructure’ of capitalism, making them inherently oppressive.) Therefore, they believe they should ‘struggle’ to, in their own words, dismantle many things that are dear to the rest of us, including family values, individualism, and even the scientific method of reasoning in some extreme cases. If people associate all this with feminism, then it is no wonder that people are turning away from feminism.
Radical feminism, LGBT ally? I don’t think so.
Radical feminism has positioned itself as the strongest ally of LGBT people in recent years. Underneath this position, however, is an important contradiction. Many branches of radical feminism strongly believe that gender is a social construct. The ‘traditional’ radical feminist position of rejecting transgender people stemmed from this belief, and even today, TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) still justify their transphobia by saying that trans women weren’t socialised as women from a young age. While most radical feminists nowadays have quit being transphobic, they have not given up on the core idea that animates the transphobia of TERFs. Therefore, some trans individuals continue to take this as a sign of less than full acceptance. I tend to agree with them, because, after all, if gender is not rooted in some sort of biology, then trans people would just be making a lifestyle choice. In other words, full acceptance of LGBT individuals can only be grounded in an understanding of gender that is rooted in biology.
An associated issue is the acceptance of gender non-binary people (NBs or Enbies), and the use of gender neutral pronouns. I consider myself well educated in human biology, and I at least cannot rule out the natural existence of people whose neurological wiring is somewhere in between the usual binary genders. I mean, if we accept that intersex people exist (which is not disputable at all), and we accept that neurological wiring can in rare cases differ from chromosomal sex (which is what we accept if we accept binary trans people), then there is no logical reason to say that non-binary people definitely do not exist. Furthermore, I believe in trusting people’s own feelings as to what they actually perceive about themselves, because that tends to be more accurate than any other measure we have at the moment. Therefore, I strongly support equality and acceptance for non-binary people, and the use of gender neutral pronouns at their request. The rest of us (99.9% or more) can continue to function according to the gender binary, while we make compassionate exceptions to the rule for this small minority.
On the other hand, the radical feminist ‘acceptance’ of the non-binary simply cannot be rooted in the same reasoning as my own, because they believe that gender is a social construct. The logical conclusion is that anyone should be free to ‘choose’ to identify as non-binary, and it may even be a good thing to do that, because the gender binary, like all ‘privileged’ social constructs, needs to be challenged. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but I think this amounts to saying that identifying as non-binary is a lifestyle choice, rather than an agonizing decision an individual takes to feel more comfortable in their own skin. This, in turn, has caused conservatives to reject non-binary people and gender neutral pronouns completely, thinking of them as radical feminist inventions designed to dismantle our gendered culture. As you see, radical feminism is putting ideology before people. This shows that, a radical feminism that believes gender to be a social construct is not only ideological and anti-reality, it is also inherently and irredeemably transphobic.
Is feminism still needed, anyway?
As I have said before, I personally identify as a liberal feminist, who supports the original, classical liberal feminism dating from the First Wave. Many anti-feminists say that they don’t differ from myself on this point, but that in the West the ideals of the original feminism had already been achieved, so it is no longer needed. I would disagree with them here, for two reasons. Firstly, while things have gotten more equal, equal opportunity is perhaps still not 100% there yet in every aspect of society. Moreover, we need to keep the movement up to prevent re-establishment of inequality as the social and economic structures of society continue to evolve. Secondly, even if the remaining discrimination is not huge, it still matters to many people, and without the maintenance of classical liberal feminism, people will increasingly turn towards forms of radical feminism, some of which have unpalatable consequences for society. Therefore, the work of liberal feminism remains important.
Reviving Liberal Feminism
A revival of classical liberal feminism is much needed. But it cannot occur in a vacuum. Liberal feminist ideas will dominate the world of feminism once again only when liberal values of liberty, equality and fraternity; of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, finally triumph over the zero-sum neo-Marxist worldview of oppressions and struggles everywhere. We need to, therefore, first revive the classical liberal ideal itself.
My case for liberal values is a moral one. As a Moral Libertarian, I believe that every individual needs to be accorded Equal Moral Agency, i.e. to have the ability to live according to their sincerely held moral beliefs as much as every other individual. In this view, individuals need to be given individual liberty, and cannot be seen as simply groups or classes of people pit against each other. Where individualism triumphs, people will be able to participate in a free market of ideas, where everyone should put their best ideas forward, so that we can solve problems in an inclusive, rather than oppositional, way.
The Moral Libertarian Manifesto
Is this Equal but sort of Opposite of the Communist Manifesto?
As a moral absolutist, I believe that treating individuals as individuals and according them equal moral standing is an infinitely more moral stance than treating people as merely members of groups which are inevitably pitched against each other. I also believe that most other people in this world will agree with me. It is up to us to stop the ‘struggle’ trainwreck by putting our much better alternative forward. Here’s to liberty, equality and fraternity, applied in a race-blind and gender-blind way, for all!
TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about 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.