Posted on | August 21, 2014 | 56 Comments
Feminists and friends of Amy Austin (@amymarieaustin) have spent the past day-and-a-half chastising me on Twitter for the tone and content of Wednesday’s post, “Feminism Repeats Itself, the First Time as Tragedy, the Second Time as Farce.” It may help to examine the “gender theory” gibberish piled into Ms. Austin’s 995-word screed entitled “Patriarchy and the Problem of Being Born Female.”
Having spent the past several months immersed in a study of radical feminism, my antennae automatically alert to the word “patriarchy,” a sort of dye-marker for radicalism. Most people who think of themselves as “feminists” are not radicals, defining their understanding of feminism in vague terms of “equality” and “choice,” signifying opposition to whatever it is they consider “sexism.”
However, when people start talking about patriarchy and male supremacy, when they speak of the systemic oppression of women — well, at that point, you can be reasonably certain you’re talking to a radical feminist. And gender theory is a spawn of this radicalism.
Attempting to explain gender theory to normal people is like attempting to explain a schizophrenic’s delusions to sane people. Normal men are masculine in the most common-sense understanding of that word, and normal women are feminine. Because the meanings of male/masculine and female/feminine are so obvious, from a common-sense point of view, normal people take these categories for granted.
However, radical feminists are not normal people. They are intellectuals, and the most eminent feminist intellectuals have spent the past four decades denouncing the common sense of normal people when it comes to men, women and sex. Anything that normal people believe about sex is a myth, according to feminist intellectuals, and in place of our oppressive patriarchal myths, they offer us feminist ideology and gender theory. Their hostile critique of normality (for that it is what it boils down to) is couched in a pretentious academic jargon, with which Amy Austin’s 995-word rant is replete:
Social constructions of gender, like power, stem from patriarchal ideologies . . .
Environmentally speaking, gender is independent of sex . . . and signifies the social constructedness of what maleness and femaleness mean in a given culture. The hierarchy that implicitly positions men above women due to reproductive difference, is a harmful one. . . . .
No normal person talks this way. People must be taught to babble this ideological nonsense, which always reminds me of George Orwell’s aphorism: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that; no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
It is not necessary, nor is it my purpose here, to dismantle and disprove Ms. Austin’s claims about “the social constructedness of what maleness and femaleness mean.” It is enough to say, in reply, that most educated people are opposed to an excessively rigid system of “gender roles.” We don’t wish to unnecessarily limit people’s career choices, nor do we go around shouting hateful slurs and epithets at people who are, as the feminists would say, gender atypical. At the same time, however, most people are basically normal — masculine men and feminine women — and don’t think of their normality as part of a harmful, oppressive hierarchy.
Radical feminism’s war on human nature is an attempt to redefine what we believe about men and women and sex, and to do so in order to destroy everything normal about men and women and sex. Radical feminism envisions an androgynous future, where human beings are more or less identical and interchangeable units, where there are no meaningful differences between men and women. This is the radical meaning of “sexual equality,” and if it is an impossible goal, its ultimate futility will not prevent feminists from destroying the happiness of normal people in pursuit of this doomed radical project.
It is not simple anatomy which is harmful to children, it is the forced gender roles which we assign to the sexes that harm them from birth. It is telling girls that they are inherently inferior; it is telling them that they are responsible for becoming victims of sexual assault or violence; it is teaching them that their vulvas are ‘dirty’ whilst men’s sexual parts are ‘something to be proud of’; it is teaching boys that they need to “man up”; it is teaching them that they are allowed to be violent in certain circumstances; and is it teaching them that women are enticing objects of sexual desire. We must begin to educate our sons, we must stop blaming our daughters for dressing “inappropriately” and encourage our sons to respect not only themselves, but their female counterparts. The term ‘gender’ needs to be abolished. Only then might we be able to move away from a society that fundamentally relies upon patriarchy, to one where we talk freely of female biology and remove the negative connotations that surround the term ‘female.’
Notice anything about that paragraph? First-person plural pronouns — “We must . . . our sons . . . our daughters . . . our sons.”
Yet Amy Austin is an unmarried college student who has no sons or daughters, nor does it seem likely that she will be procreating anytime soon, so that these first-person plural pronouns amount to her lecturing other people about how to raise their children.
Her lecture includes many false accusations; I assure you that my daughters have not been taught “that they are inherently inferior” or “that their vulvas are ‘dirty,'” and exactly who is Ms. Austin blaming for the “negative connotations” of “female”? Perhaps other people are not offended to encounter insulting lectures from these young fanatics who suppose that their ability to mimic the jargon of radical ideologues makes them qualified to pass judgment on the lives of people they don’t know. Perhaps others are content to ignore the fact that the madness of “gender theory” is being promulgated at taxpayer expense at public universities, where no member of the faculty or administration dares speak a word in opposition to the radical feminist agenda.
It was necessary, in response to one of Ms. Austin’s defenders, to recall how and why I began this long exploration of feminist theory, and the anti-male/anti-heterosexual rant of “Radical Wind” was the starting point. Of course, I’ve been critical of feminism for many years. (Since 2009, we have celebrated the week before Mother’s Day as “National Offend a Feminist Week.”) But the “War on Women” theme of the 2012 presidential election, the rhetoric about “rape culture” surrounding the Steubenville case, and the 2013 Kaitlyn Hunt lesbian molestation case had the cumulative effect of making clear it was time to begin “Taking Feminism Seriously”:
Some of my fiercest arguments over the years have been with Republican women who argue on behalf of an oxymoron, “conservative feminism,” a thing that is as ridiculous as it is impossible. Real feminism is entirely a left-wing phenomenon, and Republicans who think they can cherry-pick seemingly inoffensive items from feminism’s radical agenda are deluded. . . .
Trying to disabuse Republicans of this “conservative feminist” delusion doesn’t make me popular with certain feeble-minded superficial people, but that’s OK. I know what feminism is, I know what conservatism is, and the two things are fundamentally incompatible, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.
You can read the whole thing. Feminism’s social, cultural and political impact had become newsworthy, a sort of constant background hum that occasionally flared up into the headlines, while the movement’s deeper ideology went unexamined.
“Feminism defines patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women. As feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman writes, ‘The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection.’ In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy . . . often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.”
Every serious student of feminism is aware of the influence of Marxism and lesbian radicalism on feminist theory, but most conservative political commentators are not serious students of feminism. They are interested in feminism only as it affects elections — the so-called “gender gap” — and do not bother to examine feminist theory as it is developed and promulgated in Women’s Studies programs. This lack of critical scrutiny toward feminist theory results in a failure to ask the key question: “What does ‘feminism’ mean?”
When it is pointed out that, for example, the most widely assigned anthology of feminist literature is edited by three lesbian professors, or that the communications coordinator of the Feminist Majority Foundation is a self-declared “raging lesbian feminist,” many people who consider themselves “feminists” are quick to protest that this sort of radicalism is not what they support. Despite the schisms and factions within the feminist movement, however, the radical influence has steadily gathered strength since the 1990s, when the Clarence Thomas hearings and the Navy’s “Tailhook” scandal focused attention on sexual harassment. And in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. United States, the most extreme voices of radical lesbianism have become increasingly more persistent in declaring that heterosexuality is inherently oppressive to women:
Sex for men is the unilateral penetration of their penis into a woman . . . whether she thinks she wants it or not — which is the definition of rape: that he will to do it anyway and that he uses her and treats her as a receptacle, in all circumstances — it makes no difference to him experiencing it as sexual. That is, at the very least, men use women as useful objects and instruments for penetration, and women are dehumanised by this act. It is an act of violence.
[I]ntercourse is inherently harmful to women and intentionally so, because it causes pregnancy in women. . . .
Men, by whom we are possessed, colonised and held captive, are the sole agents and organisers of PIV [penis-in-vagina, i.e., heterosexual intercourse]. Men dominate us precisely so we can’t opt out of sexual abuse by them; intercourse is the very means through which men subordinate us, the very purpose of their domination, to control human reproduction.
This was the Radical Wind rant that inspired widespread mockery from conservatives, but despite the laughter — “Was she dropped on her head?” — the doctrine this deranged young woman was expressing is actually taught in nearly every Women’s Studies program in the United States, where some 90,00 students are enrolled annually. Radical Wind was able to list the sources of her anti-male analysis, including Mary Daly, Dee Graham, Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys, all of whom are or were tenured professors and feminist authors whose works have been widely cited in the field of Women’s Studies. Radical Wind could have cited any number of other sources (Charlotte Bunch, Adrienne Rich, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, et al.) as authorities for her denunciation of heterosexuality. Examine the syllabus of the introductory Women’s Studies class at almost any university, and good luck finding any that don’t include such radical authors. At Berea College in Kentucky, for example, a 2012 syllabus for “Classic Texts in Women’s Studies” (WST 315) included assigned readings by both Adrienne Rich and Mary Daly, as well as other lesbian feminist theorists like Audre Lorde, Judith Butler and Gayle Rubin.
My background familiarity with feminist theory informed my answer to the obvious question about Radical Wind: Is she crazy?
Yes, she is crazy, which is to say her behavior has been irrational and self-destructive, and her inability to cope with disappointment — “I didn’t understand why I accumulated so many failures” — led her to adopt an extreme anti-male worldview, i.e., radical feminism. But this is all radical feminism actually is, the elaboration of mental illness as a political philosophy. Sane, normal and happy women don’t become feminists. However, as the realities of sexual behavior in our culture become increasingly abnormal — and widespread sexual promiscuity is, historically speaking, abnormal — fewer women are sane and happy, so feminist beliefs become more commonplace and abnormality is thereby normalized.
“The personal is political” has been a feminist slogan for more than 40 years, and it is therefore impossible to separate the personal experiences of these women from their political theories. As I explained Thursday on Twitter to feminist Emily Stockman:
The point is to understand feminist theory as what it actually is, a rationalization and substitute for therapy, i.e., “I’m not a misfit. I’m not unlucky. I’m not overweight. I’m politically oppressed! I’m a VICTIM OF THE PATRIARCHY!“
All human beings have problems in life. However, only women have access to the ready-made rationalizations of feminism, an elaborate belief system that offers them a political explanation for their problems, permitting them to believe that their shortcomings, failures, hardships and disappointments can all be blamed on male domination. Whatever problems she experiences in her relationships with men, whatever her career difficulties or her negative feelings about herself, at every turn feminist theory is there to teach an unhappy woman that her heartbreaks and struggles are ultimately the fault of a vast patriarchal conspiracy that oppresses women.
Feminism’s core theory is either true or it’s false. One must either accept and defend radical feminism’s anti-male/anti-heterosexual worldview, or else reject and condemn it. What is happening in our education system today, however, is that radical feminism is being promoted by intellectuals in environments where criticism and opposition are not permitted. The victims of this ideological indoctrination are, in many cases, mentally ill women — like Amy Austin who, while suffering from severe depression, has evidently embraced feminist “gender theory” as the panacea for her problems.
The accusation by Ms. Austin’s defenders that my criticism of her widely-praised essay amounted to “harassment” actually proves my point: Such is the current climate on campus that it is now considered harassment even to disagree with a feminist.
It is not for me to decide for Amy Austin or anyone else whether they should accept or reject feminism. However, I feel an obligation to ensure that no one is mistaken about the core meaning of the feminist idea. As Richard Weaver warned, Ideas Have Consequences, and the consequences of radical feminism — for individuals, as for our society as a whole — may be very serious indeed.
- July 14: Radical Feminism and the Long Shadow of the ‘Lavender Menace’
- July 26: Feminists Worry That Disney Movies Are Making Girls Heterosexual
- July 28: Feminists Against ‘The Unnatural, Yet Universal Roles Patriarchy Has Assigned’
- Aug. 2: How to Become a Lesbian, Step One: Watch Cable TV While Depressed
- Aug. 3: #DearFeministMen Illustrates a Fundamental Problem
- Aug. 6: Hey, Moms: Feminists Think They Know What’s Wrong With Your Children
- Aug. 10: ‘Hi, We’re Lesbian Feminists and We’re Here to Talk to Your Daughter About Sex’
- Aug. 15: ‘Wacky Conservative Hit Piece About Raging Lesbian Feminist Carmen Rios’
- Aug. 19: A Lesbian Feminist Horror Movie