August 19, 2008

"The feminist movement has a right to define what constitutes being a member, and I'm not going to appropriate their label if it bothers them..."

"... any more than I'm going to start calling myself a Catholic who just doesn't happen recognize the authority of the Church. If you read any feminist blogs, you'll know that they spend an enormous amount of time trying to define the core values of feminism, and while I may disagree with the definitions they end up with, if they dislike my opinions on the matter, well, it's their movement."

Says Megan McArdle, and I completely disagree. I was going to explain my disagreement in detail but the second comment over there — by Julian Sanchez — is so apt that it instantly cured me of any propensity toward verbosity:
Why is it "their movement"? I didn't realize the analogy "Jessica Valenti : Feminism :: The Pope : Catholicism" held.
And why must feminism be attached to that ugly word "movement"? Movement feminists can have and define their movement, but they shouldn't be allowed to claim feminism. You know, back in the 1980s, I used to be afraid to say I was a feminist because there were other, more active people out there defining the term and I didn't want to adopt by reference a set of beliefs that I wasn't able to control. By behaving that way, I was ceding the field to the most activist types. That's what Megan is talking about doing now. I understand the impulse to say: Okay, then you can have your word and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. I'll find a different word. But if a word has a grand history and tradition — and "feminism" does — then it deserves a wide usage and a continued struggle over its meaning. Don't give it away to the boldest aggressor.

ADDED: Elisa Camahort thinks I have the better side of this argument and says:
In a way McArdle's concession of the term is not much different than Rush Limbaugh painting feminists as Feminazis. It's saying: over there there is a group of people who hold beliefs with which I disagree, and I am going to decide that they represent the sum total of all people who might believe some of the same stuff.
I do need to defend Rush here. In the time I've been listening to him (since January 2008), he hasn't said "feminazis" much, and when he does, it's always to bait a certain type of type of extremist feminist. He seems to support equal rights for women and similar individualistic feminist values.

In fact, I have heard him encourage young women not to marry, to go into business, and to compete with men. I have never heard him say women are inferior or that they should devote their lives to serving men and bearing children. So I suspect that he would concede that he agrees with feminism broadly defined.

The people to whom McArdle would defer are perhaps the same kind of extremists that Rush is talking about when he says feminazis. So if McArdle-style deference were to prevail, "feminist" and "feminazi" would come to mean the same thing but only because the category "feminist" will have shrunken.

59 comments:

MadisonMan said...

My bowels disagree that movement is an ugly word.

PJ said...

See also: "liberal."

Simon said...

Any time you accept a label for yourself, though, you're going to be hung from the baggage that other people perceive as going with that label, as Goldberg alluded to in the Bloggingheads you excerpted the other day.

Trevor Jackson said...

"there were other, more active people out there defining the term"

People like Rush Limbaugh? He transformed (or at least aided the transformation) the idea of the strong, independent woman into a hairy, mannish lesbian. At the very least, he popularized the term "feminazi."

John said...

You have to remember that Megan McArdle is an incredibly shallow thinker and is completely out of her depth when it comes to religion. This is a woman in her late 30s who still lives and thinks like she is 22. Her statement of equating feminism to the Catholic Church reflects her misunderstanding of religion more than her misunderstanding of feminism. To give and example, McArdle claims to be a "cultural Catholic" meaning she doesn't believe but still keeps Lent. Most people today have nihilism without the abyss. McArdle has atheism without the fun.

Given her stunted understanding of religion it makes perfect sense that she would see walking away from the church as no big deal. If Megan knew anything about Religion, she would know that the most vicious and personal fights happen in churches and people do not easily cede meanings of words or doctrines or just leave the church when the decision goes against them. They continue to fight it out because they believe and they don't want to see their beloved church lead astray. Megan is just too shallow of a person to understand that.

You are right Ann. Feminism as a word has a long and proud history and should not be ceded to the nuts. It may not be as important as the church is to a believer. But, it is important and worth fighting over. The more I read McArdle, the more I wonder why the Atlantic keeps her on. Then of course I go read Sullivan and realize that it is all relative I guess.

Zeb Quinn said...

It is only after it has been definitively and conclusively stated what feminism exactly is that you can identify who owns it. Me, I long ago decided it is a political strategy owned by the Democrat Party.

Tom said...

Trying to define a label like feminist is not a good use of time. For example I would say that the group "Feminists for Life of America" (in other words, prolife feminists) is a true feminist group.

But it's a pretty safe bet that most people who use the label "feminist" would disagree. They would say "you can't be a feminist and prolife."

Paddy O. said...

It's sort of like if the Jesuits said their expression of Catholicism defined the whole Church.

Franciscans might disagree. As well as many others.

Feminism has a whole lot of different orders within it, with the largest part being lay believers, and their cafeteria style ways.

Paddy O. said...

I doubt too that the present leaders could really lay claim to feminist apostolic succession. There seems to be differing views on core doctrine.

Simon said...

Tom said...
"[M]ost people who use the label 'feminist' would ... say "you can't be a feminist and prolife."

That's something of a 3d wave conceit, though, I would have thought. That was where things came off the rails, I have thought. Paging Beth.

Paddy O. said...

Don't give it away to the boldest aggressor.

Ann Althouse, "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me."

You're a Feminist Protestant!

Salamandyr said...

The thing I don't understand, is why would you want the label for yourself? The very construction of the word is exclusionary. It denotes an interest, a placement of foremost importance on the feminine, the female. The idea that a word that advertises respect for all sexes is as analogous as saying black power denotes a respect for all races.

There are loads of respectable, decent women (the majority of women who use the term, in fact) out there who identify with the term feminist, who, to my eyes contort the word, to say that "feminism" a word with no semantic relation to "equality" nevertheless means it.

Feminism was coined by female activists at a time when it made sense to be an activist for women; when they were victims who needed special attention. As society becomes more fair, the justification for that sort of one-sided activism withers away, and the word becomes less about proclaiming the value of a maligned minority and becomes merely another way to say "we're better than you!"

Synova said...

Am I a feminist if I don't agree that women still face an unusual and oppressive world? I don't think so and neither does anyone who bothers to call herself "feminist".

In fact, to me, it seems like life is almost more tipped against men than it is against women. So if I'm going to get motivated about inequities in education or some such, it's probably going to be on behalf of boys.

And I agree with Salamander... the term feminist itself is exclusionary. Why should I want it?

Defining "feminist" to mean nothing at all does not seem the proper answer to this problem.

BTW, I think that the reaction to the insulting (certainly it was!) term "feminazi" is rather telling. Do feminists refuse to recognize that they do have feminazis in their ranks and that these women ought to be spoken out against? I swear it's like running into a racist who explains that "I have black friends."

"I don't hate men! I even have a male friend who I tolerate and speak to! And it bothers me that my son is a rapist by definition but I love him!"

rhhardin said...

But if a word has a grand history and tradition — and "feminism" does — then it deserves a wide usage and a continued struggle over its meaning. Don't give it away to the boldest aggressor.

``Now here is a paradox: having made possible the reawakening of this silent past [of feminism in the nineteenth century], having reappropriated a history previously stifled, feminist movements will perhaps have to renounce an all too easy kind of progressivism in the evaluation of this history. Such progressivism is often taken as their axiomatic base: the inevitable or rather essential presupposition of what one might call the ideological concensus of feminists, perhaps also their `dogmatics' or what your `maverick feminist' [Emma Goldman, if I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution] suspects to be their sluggishness. It is the image of a continuously accelerated `liberation' at once punctuated by determinable stages and commanded by an ultimately thinkable telos, a truth of sexual difference and femininity. And if there is no doubt that this theater, upon which the progress of feminist struggles is staged, exists, it is a relatively short and very recent sequence within extreme Western history. Certainly, it is not timely politically, nor in any case is it possible, to neglect or renounce such a view of `liberation.' However, to credit this representation of progress and entrust everything to it would be to surrender to a sinister mystification: everything would collapse, flow, founder in this same homogenized, sterilized river of the history of mankind.

This history carries along with it the age-old dream of reappropriation, `liberation,' autonomy, mastery, in short the cortege of metaphysics and science. The indications of this repetition are more and more numerous...

Perhaps woman does not have a history, not so much because of any notion of the eternal feminine but because all alone she can resist and step back from a certain history precisely in order to dance...That history is one of continuous progress, despite the revolutionary break, oriented in the case of the women's movement toward the reappropriaton of woman's own essense, her own specific difference, oriented in short toward a notion of woman's truth. Your maverick feminist showed herself ready to break with the most authorized, the most dogmatic form of consensus, one that claims to speak out in the name of revolution and history.

(Derrida, Choreographies, in Feminist Interpretations of Derrida)

Hey it's online here

Agatha June said...

But this is the problem with liberal/leftist organizations. They spend half their time discussing what it means to be a feminist, what are the ideals of a feminist, what does a feminist really believe, etc. ad nauseum. I have other things to do and don't really want to engage in perpetual navel gazing. So they can have their word and I can have my life. Works for me.

P. Rich said...

Feminists fall basically into two main groups: those who are anti-male and so (openly or not) define themselves, and those who aren't, or say they aren't. The first group is composed of the loud, angry, militant types found for example in women's studies programs - or products of same. Activists live there, too. And because this group makes all the noise and gets most of the press, they are most associated with the term "feminist" today.

As for the others, I'm not sure what they intend to achieve by adopting this or any other label. How well-received would a bunch of men be if they decided to label themselves masculists, but claimed to be pro-female also (wink wink)?

Labels are exclusionary; fundamentally, they announce, "I'm one and you're not.". Labels in general create division, encourage conflict and lend themselves to distorted views of the wearer. In the US culture today, "Black" is probably the ultimate example of the more pernicious aspects of labels. So why adopt one like "feminist" and have to expend energy explaining, no, really, I'm not like those feminists.

rhhardin said...

I don't offhand see Derrida's characterization of feminist progress as ``marching in place.''

A nice play on the etymology of progress.

Anyway the point of it, could I have found it, was that actually nothing has changed in feminism since the 19th century.

My interpretation is that that's because it's largely nagging, expanded until there's no actual man involved. Call it the urge to nag takes a certain theoretical direction and becomes formal.

The urge to nag in turn is the urge to send your man on quests, but without having to show your man that you're satisfied with him.

Showing you're satisfied with your man, screw up or not, is what satisfies him, and you'd have a marriage instead.

Feminism is a dissatisfaction with some chance triggering constraint, gone off in another direction. It seems to be a stable condition.

Feminism as finding and doing what you're actually interested in would be a competing model, but without much theater.

integrity said...

It really bothers me that right-wing women are able to benefit off of work done by feminists.

If you are a right-wing female who believes that women shouldn't work (as is still the case with many republicans in this country) why the hell should I have to pay you when you don't think it is right for women to work?

I would chase every right-wing female from the workplace so quick that their collective heads would spin.

The real joke is women who listen and pay to listen to Jabba The Hut Limbaugh trash feminists, when those feminists are the only reason you have been able to have a career. What a joke. These women should be banned from the workplace immediately. Morons.

I loathe right-wing women, passionately.

vbspurs said...

Feminists are historical dinosaurs.

Why would anyone want to describe themselves for after a movement that has become ossified under its own rigidity, and is rendered obsolete because of post-modernism?

Cheers,
Victoria

Smilin' Jack said...

...if a word has a grand history and tradition — and "feminism" does — then it deserves a wide usage and a continued struggle over its meaning. Don't give it away to the boldest aggressor.

Yes, feminists, please devote yourselves to an intense and protracted struggle over the meaning of the word. That will give us men a chance to retake the ground we've lost.

Oligonicella said...

integrity -- You need to change your moniker. You describe your illusion, not real women.

Palladian said...

Psychiatric medication non-compliance is a real problem.

"I would chase every right-wing female from the workplace so quick that their collective heads would spin."

Should we call security? There's a slobbering old man with a damp stain on the front of his pants chasing one of the accountants down the hall, screaming that she's wearing "right wing shoes".

The Drill SGT said...

Fasinating that the same folks who want to create 31 flavors of gender rather than Male and Female and allow everyone to "self-categorize" into the 31 flavors then turn around and want to create a gatekeeping process to use the term "feminist"

Big Tent Feminism that isn't

PJ said...

I would chase every right-wing female from the workplace so quick that their collective heads would spin.

Only left-wing females have collective heads.

Joan said...

I loathe right-wing women, passionately.

This totally makes my day.

vbspurs said...

Joan, it's only 11 o'clock! Much merriment awaits.

Roger J. said...

hmmmmm integrity, thy name is feminazi

Simon said...

integrity said...
"I loathe right-wing women, passionately."

Is it just me, or has anyone else just found new joy in the fact that there is a large number of conservative and libertarian women? Just knowing that their existence irritates people like this is enjoyable.

Joan said...

Victoria: You're right, of course.

I'm trying to resist, but it's the perfect straight line.

Back to "integrity": I loathe right-wing women, passionately.

- The feeling is mutual.

- Why limit yourself to right-wing
women? Go for it, admit you hate 'em all! I'm pretty sure they all detest you (see above).

- Can you "loathe" something and not be passionate about it? Is it possible to dispassionately loathe something? You should look it up.

Pastafarian said...

Palladian -- your last comment was the funniest I've read in a long, long time.

bearbee said...

Any time you accept a label for yourself, though, you're going to be hung from the baggage that other people perceive as going with that label...

Never understood the wish or the need to label oneself. If others need to label me so be it. While my core values remain I cannot commit to a label. Life is too variegated, ideas fluid continually shaping and reshaping ones outlook. Labels confuse and obscure and eventually become meaningless.

Middle Class Guy said...

integrity said...
"I loathe right-wing women, passionately."

Then don’t sleep with them.

I mistakenly thought that according to the progressives, hate is not a family value. Oh, that’s right, they do not value families.

Howard said...

Megan is spot on and must have some measure of intelligence since she writes for one of the most thoughtful and prestigious magazines on the planet. You have to remember that John is a short guy with a tiny package intimidated by big, opinionated and successful women. It is obvious that he is insecure and jealous since he has not achieved anything close to Megan's success.

Old school Feminists, at their core, were fighters that attracted angry and bitter people willing to sacrifice for the cause. This group was very similar to abolitionists prior to and during the civil war. (calm down, I will stipulate that slavery was and is much worse than the limited career options of nurse, office clerk, housewife and mother).

The old school feminists won their battles and changed our society for the better. People today still carry the banner and title of feminism. They are the angry and bitter people who like to fight and, as Megan points out, push for government mandates that reduce freedom for everyone. She lets them claim their group title and has no desire to be a part of their movement.

If anyone wants to claim the title of feminist from these gals, they will have to organize an army and launch an all-out war to take over. Sounds like a waste of time to me, but if that blows smoke up your skirt, go for it.

ps: integrity's over the top post was troll bait for ideological morons. I'm sure he is having a good chuckle over the responses.

rhhardin said...

Never understood the wish or the need to label oneself.

You're an anti-labeller.

vbspurs said...

Then don’t sleep with them.

Meh.

That's why those
"Tired of dating Liberals/Conservatives" Dating sites you saw on Blogads a few years ago, never really took off.

All my boyfriends have leaned Lefty, even my current one. A marriage needs a little spark amongst the bedclothes.

John said...

"You have to remember that John is a short guy with a tiny package intimidated by big, opinionated and successful women. It is obvious that he is insecure and jealous since he has not achieved anything close to Megan's success."

Clearly, you are more interested in getting in Megan's pants than reading anything she writes. Megan is not a stupid person. She does quite well when she writes about economics. But, she is just not a deep person and has little knowlege or understanding of religous experience. Her equating leaving feminism to leaving the Catholic church in such a cavilier way illustrates that.

Also, Megan is not really that successful. She blogs for a magazine. Not a bad job if you can get it, but not exactly earth shattering either.

Beth said...

Paging Beth.

Simon, thanks but I'm pretty much on the same wavelength (pun intended) as Ann on this one, and I think her post speaks for me very well. I'm not a gatekeeper, and I think the range of feminisms means "the movement" aspect has been and continues to be successful.

ricpic said...

Would women be right in suspecting that a masculinst is hostile to females? They would. Well, what's sauce for the gander...

Synova said...

A troll? Perhaps so.

"It really bothers me that right-wing women are able to benefit off of work done by feminists."

Why?

Why, precisely, is it more honoring of the work of our mothers to accept that they WON? Hm? If we want to talk about disrespecting those courageous first-wave feminists or even the second, why not talk about how disrespectful it is to their real struggles to WHINE about imaginary oppression?

Because life is HARD?

It's hard for everyone. That's part of being grown-up and being responsible for one's self.

"If you are a right-wing female who believes that women shouldn't work (as is still the case with many republicans in this country) why the hell should I have to pay you when you don't think it is right for women to work?"

Delusional much?

Advocating a division of labor that actually, really, respects domestic contributions is a different sort of issue than who should "work" or not. Advocating life-partnership that involves working together to maintain a household and raise children can be fitted (quite frankly) to a support of same-sex marriage as well. Life is easier with two people who actually help each other and work together to take care of life's needs, including caretaking and other unpaid necessary things.

"I would chase every right-wing female from the workplace so quick that their collective heads would spin."

Because you... okay, the "troll" thing is looking very likely.

"The real joke is women who listen and pay to listen to Jabba The Hut Limbaugh trash feminists, when those feminists are the only reason you have been able to have a career. What a joke. These women should be banned from the workplace immediately. Morons."

On the other hand, I've met women with just this attitude... that only acceptable opinions are acceptable and only acceptable opinions are legitimate or even real. That women who don't conform to those acceptable opinions don't actually think for themselves or hold those unacceptable opinions honestly and sincerely.

Which makes it a whole lot easier to take Limbaugh seriously, when one experiences just what he's described.

Doesn't it.

"I loathe right-wing women, passionately."

Hate much?

Synova said...

"Why, precisely, is it more honoring of the work of our mothers to accept that they WON? Hm?"

*Less* honoring, not more. Which I'm sure was clear from context.

Howard said...

John: You got me pegged. I can't help being ruled by a toxic chemical. I still disagree with your shallow assessment and withdraw my snarky and obviously wrong conclusions on your stature.

Synovia: The bait must taste so good you can't feel the hook.

Synova said...

Maybe.

If it were the first time.

If it weren't for the times I've been called a "little lady" by women claiming not to be feminazis. Or told that I must get my opinions given me by men simply because I don't agree with them.

If only trolls said stuff just exactly like that.

John said...

FAir enough Howard. Maybe she is deeper than I give her credit for. I actually like McArdle and read her blog. I just find that when she strays off topics related to economics, a subject she knows well, she comes accross as a shallow Manhattanite.

Middle Class Guy said...

integrity said...
I would chase every right-wing female from the workplace so quick that their collective heads would spin.


You would be sued and made to pay extremely insane amounts of money in damages. If you were employed in a management position, you would be fired, thus unemployed and probably unenployable unless NOW was looking for a hater to put on the payroll.

Howard said...

Nice chatting with you folks.
Synovia: Trolling only works using verisimilitude. Why do you let morons bother you? I find the best way to piss off a feminist is to make a big, flamboyant production of holding the door for them. After getting the cold stare, say "your welcome".

John: Everyone is deep in areas they find interesting and shallow in areas they find boring. Megan's specific shallow area likely intersects a subject you hold near and dear.

In any event, Megan makes a good point. The rad fems own "feminism" trademark and if you want their flag, you need to run them off the hill. Pointless in my view as their influence is on the decline.

My mid-20's kids and their friends are way beyond racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. that the movement will fade slowly into the past.

Synova said...

The more I think of this... I grew up on Usenet, dude, and I wonder if this word "troll" means what you think it means.

I swear, blogs have perverted the purity of the medium.

Synova said...

I mean... troll is a word with a particular meaning and associations and "idiot trying to start a flame war" is not one of them. Starting a good fight is just that. A troll is a bit similar but mostly just wants attention... as such trolls are not generally "drive-bys" who go away after stirring the pot.

Nor is "troll" a description of "anyone who disagrees with me in a particularly rude manner."

blake said...

Are you willing to accept the label "troll", is the question?

An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

blake said...

I don't know if I'd use the word "grand" for feminism. "Great" perhaps, "awesome" or "terrible" might also work. It is a destroyer of worlds, to bring Oppenheimer's quote from the previous thread.

I'd like to hope we can be the first civilization to provide women with opportunities without destroying the future. So far it's not looking good.

rhhardin said...

Rush claims feminazi means a feminist who favors abortion over birth as a matter of policy.

I think it has the meaning of militant feminist, however, whatever Rush says it means.

Synova said...

It would be easier to avoid the destruction of civilization if a central feminist plank wasn't the innately masculine nature of destruction and violence.

Avoiding destructive possibilities while making fundamental changes to life and culture requires clarity of thought and stark honesty... in which there is no place whatsoever for the fantasy that women civilize and men destroy.

(As for the "troll" thing... maybe my standards are just too high, what with expectations of an element of art and skill and all. I'm always disappointed.)

blake said...

Avoiding destructive possibilities while making fundamental changes to life and culture requires clarity of thought and stark honesty... in which there is no place whatsoever for the fantasy that women civilize and men destroy.

That's not a reassuring point. Heh.

(As for the "troll" thing... maybe my standards are just too high, what with expectations of an element of art and skill and all. I'm always disappointed.)

When all else fails, lower your expectations.

Middle Class Guy said...

I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.
Groucho Marx

Howard said...

Synova:

I'm impressed, usenet. Tell us about the days of punch cards when bugs where physical beings. Too bad your playground is full of late adopters now like me. You sound like a bitter fem hag complaining about working women who listen to rush limbo without bowing down to a statue of Bella Abzug.

In my town trolls are bums. Troll bashing is good fun. Trolling is good sport as well. You get a boat, your best friends, a cooler full of beer and a tank of 'chovies and cruz around the bay hoping a stupid fish takes the bate and gets the hook.

Sorry for not jousting according to Hoyle, Post or Miss Manners. In any event, what is the proper usenet dweeb moniker for an idiot who responds to a fake post designed to inflame suckers and mouth foamers?jingle84

rhhardin said...

Stanley Cavell

It may help to ask: Can a child attach a label to a thing? (Wittgenstein says that giving a thing a name is like attaching a label to something. Other philosophers have said that too, and taken that as imagining the essential function of language. But what I take Wittgenstein to be suggesting is: Take the label analogy seriously; and then you'll see how little of language is like that. Let us see.) We might reply: ``One already has to know (or be able to do) something in order to be capable of attaching a label to a thing. But what does a child have to know?'' Well, for example, one has to know what the thing in question is; what a label is; what the point of attaching a label to a thing is. Would we say that the child is attaching a label to a thing if he was pasting (the way a child pastes) bits of paper on various objects? Suppose, even, that he can say: ``These are my labels'' (i.e., that he says `wyzir may leybils'). (Here one begins to sense the force of a question like: What makes ``These are labels'' say that these are labels?) And that he says: ``I am putting labels on my jars.'' Is he?

The Claim of Reason, p.174

Very little of the label claim here has to do with labels.

integrity said...

I meant every word I said. I have a job, unlike many others here who seem to have the time to be here all day.

No troll, I'm saying what many others are afraid to say and would be sued for saying.

If you don't like what I say, ignore it.

I offered a verbal confrontation last week to anyone from this site, I was at the Palm for dinner and told the two men(Ann and Victoria) what time I would be there.

Do not confuse me with the corporate and religious femme males you are accustomed to dealing with.

Morons.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

"It really bothers me that right-wing women are able to benefit off of work done by feminists."

It angers me that the legacy of the women from all walks of life who worked hard for equality is being hijacked by left wing radicals who now claim to have liberated women. (When the radicals have arguably done more harm to women's liberation than help.)

I also find it rather pathetic to define equal rights for women purely in terms of whether or not they work professionally. Why such a limited world view? Isn't the true ideal that we be judged by the content of our character and the gestalt of our actions, not what sex, race, religion or color we are?

Synova said...

Howard.

I never once made a personal attack on you. It seems you can't tolerate disagreement with your self-assessed wisdom.

Too bad.

Maybe the late adapters are too moronic to understand that reputation is all that you have in the ether? Except that most of the late adapters do understand it. You missed that class?