Friday’s post about feminist Ruby Hamad included a quote by Professor Sheila Jeffreys, asserting that heterosexuality is “a political institution through which male dominance is organised and maintained.” This prompted the commenter Joe Joe to remark:
Does Jeffreys understand that all sexual relationships have some element of power relations? Butch/femme pairings are not accidental. And no, those women are not “imitating” heterosexuality: it’s internal. We’re born with different sexual charges. That’s biology, not politics.
Well, here we ascend to the lofty plateau of theory, an area of philosophical speculation that is far above my pay grade. Some readers have been mystified, I suspect, by the way I have dealt with feminist gender theory — the social construction of the gender binary within theheterosexual matrix — in the Sex Trouble project. To me this theory (a terse summary of Professor Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, which enjoys a quasi-scriptural authority among Third Wave feminist intellectuals) seems self-evidently wrong.
Notice that I say “wrong,” rather than false.
Far be it from me to dispute Professor Butler’s assertion that the “binary” social behaviors of the sexes are necessary to heterosexuality. Some men are more masculine than others and some women are more feminine than others but, however we describe these traits, they are highly correlated with success in terms of the natural biology of reproduction, i.e., heterosexuality. It seems to me that Professor Butler and others (e.g.,“Queer Theory” pioneer Eve Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Eastern Washington University Professor Mimi Marinucci, author of the 2010 textbook Feminism Is Queer) begin their arguments by assuming certain basic premises of all feminist theory. The essential premise of feminism — the movement’s sine qua non — is that all women are oppressed by men under a system of “male supremacy” otherwise known as patriarchy. This premise was stated most clearly in 1969 in the manifesto of the Women’s Liberation collective Redstockings:
Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every facet of our lives. . . .
We identify the agents of our oppression as men. Male supremacy is the oldest, most basic form of domination. . . . Men have controlled all political, economic and cultural institutions and backed up this control with physical force. They have used their power to keep women in an inferior position. All men receive economic, sexual, and psychological benefits from male supremacy. All men have oppressed women.
If you disagree with that, you are not a feminist. The Redstockings collective was co-founded by Shulamith Firestone, arguably the most important figure in the Women’s Liberation movement (so-called “Second Wave” feminism) of the 1960s and ’70s. Author of the influential 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, Firestone had emerged as a leader in September 1967 at the National Conference for New Politics. At that gathering of the radical New Left, Firestone and Jo Freeman staged an insurrection, supported by women from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), taking over a women’s workshop chaired by notorious atheist Madlyn Murray O’Hair.
This event (described in Susan Brownmiller’s 1999 memoir In Our Time) led directly to the formation of the Chicago-based “West Side Group” which was, as Brownmiller says, “probably the first Women’s Liberation group in the nation.” Obtaining a list of addresses of SDS women, Firestone moved to New York City and began recruiting and organizing others. Among those recruited by Firestone was a veteran socialist named Anne Koedt, subsequently a member of Ti-Grace Atkinson’s group The Feminists and editor of the 1973 anthology Radical Feminism. The history of the modern feminist movement can be traced directly back to the ideas, activism and organizing of a comparative handful of women associated with the 1960s New Left. What was the nature of women’s “oppression,” according to Firestone and her Redstockings comrades?
We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor.
In 1969, then, feminism condemned male admiration of beauty (women as “sex objects”), as well as women’s role in motherhood (“breeders”) and marriage (a wife’s work within her own household reduced her to the status of “domestic servant”). This amounted to a complete rejection of sex roles, per se. If it was “oppression” for women to become wives or mothers, then by the obverse principle, feminism also condemned any man who might desire to become a husband or father.
Given the all-encompassing categorical scope of feminism’s attack on every normal manifestation of human sexual behavior, is it any surprise that the movement soon attracted to its banner militant lesbians?
“Lesbian is a label invented by the Man to throw at any woman who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives . . . who dares to assert the primacy of her own needs. . . .
“Until women see in each other the possibility of a primal commitment which includes sexual love, they will be denying themselves the love and value they readily accord to men, thus affirming their second-class status. . . .
“But why is it that women have related to and through men? By virtue of having been brought up in a male society, we have internalized the male culture’s definition of ourselves. That definition consigns us to sexual and family functions, and excludes us from defining and shaping the terms of our lives. . . .
“The consequence of internalizing this role is an enormous reservoir of self-hate. . . .
“As the source of self-hate and the lack of real self are rooted in our male-given identity, we must create a new sense of self. . . . Only women can give to each other a new sense of self. That identity we have to develop with reference to ourselves, and not in relation to men. This consciousness is the revolutionary force from which all else will follow, for ours is an organic revolution.”
— Radicalesbians, “The Woman-Identified Woman,” 1970
You see how rapidly the inexorable logic Women’s Liberation advanced from its founding in 1967 to the emergence of lesbian feminism in 1970. Calling on feminists to reject “the male culture” of “a male society,” the Radicalesbian manifesto called on feminists to exchange their “male-given identity” for a “new sense of self,” thus achieving a new “consciousness” that would be a “revolutionary force” against male supremacy.
This advance in feminist theory occurred in less that three years, from September 1967 to May 1970, when the Radicalesbians disrupted the NOW-organized Second Congress to Unite Women with their protest. The significance of this is explained in my book Sex Trouble:
The authors of “The Woman-Identified Woman” were not as famous as celebrity feminists like Gloria Steinem, but even if they were completely unknown, their radical manifesto would continue to be influential, because it is routinely included in the curricula of Women’s Studies courses across the United States: Michigan State University, the University of Oregon, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Minnesota, to name a few. It is not difficult to trace the influence of this early radicalism down to the present day, or to cite similarly influential treatises — e.g., “Lesbians in Revolt” by Charlotte Bunch (1972) and “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” by Adrienne Rich (1980) — commonly included in the syllabi of Women’s Studies programs. Any attempt to separate this kind of explicitly anti-male/anti-heterosexual ideology from “mainstream” feminism would require us to argue that the most eminent academics in the field of Women’s Studies (including the lesbian editors of the widely used textbook Feminist Frontiers) are not “mainstream.”
What feminism actually means, as a political philosophy, is deliberately obscured when we see a celebrity like Harry Potter star Emma Watson enlisted to recruit men to support the feminist movement.
Today we are launching a campaign called “HeForShe.”
I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality — and to do that we need everyone to be involved.
This is the first campaign of its kind at the UN: we want to try andgalvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. And we don’t just want to talk about it, but make sure it is tangible.
I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. . . .
I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.
Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.
Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?
This is not really a difficult question to answer, Ms. Watson. No matter how many beautiful young actresses are conscripted as celebrity feminist spokeswomen, you can never evade the problem of feminism’s core ideology, the movement’s theory of women’s “oppression.”
Why is feminism “synonymous with man-hating”? This should not be mysterious to Emma Watson, nor to anyone with two eyes and a brain. It is easy for an extraordinarily privileged young woman like Emma Watson, who became a multimillionaire long before she was old enough to vote, to speak of “gender equality” as if this were something that would occur spontaneously once we overcome prejudicial stereotypes about feminists being unattractive man-haters. Going back to the very start of the Women’s Liberation movement, and continuing up to the present day, we see that it is always privileged women who achieve prominence as feminism’s intellectual leaders and spokeswomen.
The secret ingredient of feminist ideology is Daddy’s money:
Catharine MacKinnon, for example, is the daughter of a Republican congressman and judge; her family’s wealth enabled her to attend elite schools (Smith College and Yale University) and to spend 18 years writing her grand opus, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. It is astonishing to read, in the preface of her 1989 book (p.xiv), that the first chapter “was written in 1971-72, revised in 1975, and published in Signs in 1982.” Only an extraordinary sort of financial security can explain how a writer could be able to wait a full decade between writing the first draft of an essay and its initial publication. During the intervening years, MacKinnon published The Sexual Harassment of Working Women (1979) just two years after graduating from Yale Law School. This Marxist daughter of a Republican father was able to make herself an “expert” on the problems of “working women” precisely because she never had to work a day in her life. . . .
It was her remarkable socioeconomic privilege that was the basis of MacKinnon’s lifelong assault on “male supremacy,” and we see a similar pattern in the lives of many other feminists.
We encounter this phenomenon repeatedly in the biographies of feminist leaders. Women who make careers attacking patriarchy and capitalism are almost invariably the daughters of privilege.
Ti-Grace Atkinson, for example, was one of five daughters born to a prominent Louisiana family. Her father was a chemical engineer for Standard Oil, and yet she has never acknowledged the role of her father (or capitalism) in paying the bills for her education.
“Why do women keep getting married? . . . It’s conceivable somebody could be happydespite being married, but never because they were married. . . .
“Sex and love is the dynamic that keeps women’s oppression going . . .
“Motherhood is a heavily permeated sex role.”
— Ti-Grace Atkinson, 2011
More than 40 years after she became a leader of the feminist movement, Ti-Grace Atkinson’s hostility to marriage, love, sex and motherhood remained the same as in 1969, when she protested against marriage anddeclared to a Time magazine reporter: “Love has to be destroyed. It’s an illusion that people care for each other. . . . It may be that sex is a neurotic manifestation of oppression.” Has any reporter bothered to ask Emma Watson if she agrees with Ti-Grace Atkinson? Of course not.
Who pays the bill for Emma Watson’s feminist agenda at the United Nations? In 2012, U.S. taxpayers provided $567 million — 22 percent of the United Nations’ budget — and, as Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation explained, America’s “assessment” is “more than 180 other U.N. member states combined and 22,000 times more than the least assessed countries.” The vast majority of the world’s countries are parasitic freeloaders, in terms of the U.N. budget, while taxpayers in the United States (which has only 4.3 percent of the world’s population) provide 22 cents of every dollar the U.N. spends. Somebody at the U.N. got paid to “create a new symbol for our shared humanity,” proving the platform from which Emma Watson could lecture the world about how men need to become “advocates for gender equality.” This requires only that we ignore the actually history of the feminist movement.
Emma Watson has started a feminist book club, and I wonder if she would consider recommending Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left by Sara Evans (1979), Daring To Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975 by Alice Echols (1989) and Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation by Kate Weigand (2001). Perhaps it would help Ms. Watson’s naïve young admirers to study how the modern feminist movement originated. If the subscribers to Ms. Watson’s book club are curious why “Second Wave” feminism so quickly became associated with man-hating lesbians, right here on my desk, I have several books that Ms. Watson could recommend to her feminist fans:
Let the members of Emma Watson’s book club read that list of 20 books — a fraction of the feminist library I’ve amassed during my research — and tell me if any of these eminent authors has anything good to say about men, marriage or motherhood. Permit me to point out that among the names on this list are Professor Charlotte Bunch (Rutgers University),Professor Kathleen Barry (Pennsylvania State University), ProfessorMarilyn Frye (Michigan State University), Professor Celia Kitzinger (University of York), Professor Sarah Lucia-Hoagland (Northeastern Illinois University), Professor Sandra Lee Bartky (University of Illinois),Professor Sue Wilkinson (Loughborough University), Professor Dee Graham (University of Cincinnati) Professor Diane Richardson (Newcastle University), Professor Carole McCann (University of Maryland), Professor Seung-Kyung Kim (University of Maryland),Professor “Jack” Halberstam (University of Southern California) andProfessor Jennifer Rich (Hofstra University). Let the reader ask,”Who pays the bills to promote feminism’s anti-male/anti-heterosexual agenda?” And the answer is: “You do.” Feminism is supported by taxpayer funding to higher education, and by every parent or student who pays a dime in tuition to the hundreds of colleges and universities that employ such professors in departments of Women’s Studies.
The secret ingredient of feminist ideology is Daddy’s money, you see.
Every year, some 90,000 students in the United States are enrolled in Women’s Studies classes, where they are indoctrinated (at taxpayer expense) in the Cult Ideology of Feminism, and sent forth into the world as activists promoting this anti-male belief system everywhere.
All of this is by way of explaining why I say Professor Judith Butler’s feminist gender theory is wrong, but not necessarily false.
If a woman feels nothing but contempt and hatred toward men, if she never desires to have a husband or babies, if the thought of heterosexual intercourse inspires in her only feelings of dread and horror, there is no reason why she shouldn’t embrace Professor Butler’s theory. Shulamith Firestone, Mary Daly, Catharine MacKinnon, Joyce Trebilcot, Gayle Rubin, Sheila Jeffreys, Amanda Marcotte, Jaclyn Friedman — one could recite a very long list of eminent feminist authors without naming a woman who had ever married a man or given birth to a child.
Does anyone imagine this is merely a coincidence? Of course not. As a rationalization of man-hating — or divorce, or abortion, or lesbianism — feminist theory is entirely valid. Begin with the premise that all women are “oppressed,” and that all men are “agents” of this “oppression,” and how else do you expect the argument to conclude?
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind . . .”
— Romans 1:22, 28 (KJV)
The logic of feminism is obvious enough. But when the commenter Joe Joe asserted that “all sexual relationships have some element of power relations,” I felt obliged to offer my own perspective:
Let me say, first, that I do not like theory. Give me enough facts, and I’ll come up with my own theory — or not. Could I theorize about the nature of sexual attraction? Sure, and I even dabble a bit in it (“Me Tarzan, you Jane“) in my book. Heterosexual success requires that a man exhibit some quality of heroism, to elicit the admiration of a woman. She cannot love a man she does not admire. This is simple enough to understand, and also explains the fundamental problem of feminism — an ideology that takes a wholly negative view of masculinity, so that the feminist can never find any real enjoyment in a normal heterosexual relationship. Insofar as a man is worthy of admiration — possessing heroic qualities — the feminist must resent his success. This resentment of male success is so inherent to her ideology that the feminist must feel like a horrible hypocrite for admiring any man. She is always the protagonist of the drama, and he is a bit player whose only lines in the script are “yes.” For this reason, to hear her husband praised for any independent achievement of his own always fills the feminist with envy and rage.
Well, that is one theory, anyway. If you don’t like it, I could whip out another half-dozen by next Tuesday, but theory doesn’t pay the bills.
Somebody’s got to pay the bills, you see. Feminists do not want men to have economic success or career achievement that would enable men to pay the bills — to support their wives and children — because if women have husbands and children have fathers, this contributes to “the dynamic that keeps women’s oppression going,” as Ti-Grace Atkinson put it.
Lest anyone mistakenly believe that feminism has changed its tune, or doubt that young feminists subscribe to the same radical ideology that inspired Firestone, Atkinson, et al., carefully read the rant that Meghan Murphy published just last week, denouncing “capitalist patriarchy,” condemning “gender roles that are rooted in domination and subordination (i.e. masculinity and femininity),” and describing feminism as a movement “to build a society wherein men don’t feel entitled to sexual access to women.” Is Meghan Murphy a marginal extremist “fringe” feminist? No, she is the founder and editor of Feminist Current, Canada’s leading feminist website. She has a master’s degree in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies from Simon Fraser University, and if Ms. Murphy insists that feminism must have “a real, radical definition” and “collective, agreed upon goals,” who am I to say she is wrong?
Meghan Murphy is right: Men cannot have “sexual access to women” — that’s rape culture, she explains — and masculinity and femininity must be abolished. Or so you must believe, if you are a feminist.
Professor Ann Althouse was intrigued by my rhetorical method:
This is an interesting form of argument, where you take a central term that people have infused with various meanings, adapting it to their preferences and purposes, and present evidence that the truest, most historically accurate meaning of that term refers to things that those who’ve been embracing it would find repellent.
Well, I make no argument, Professor, and I offer no theory. Such work is for intellectuals, whereas I am a mere journalist, and all I’m doing is reporting the objective facts here: Feminism Is a Totalitarian Movement to Destroy Civilization as We Know It. Trust me on that.