Posted on | January 21, 2016 | 95 Comments
Just ordered from Amazon another $98 worth of feminist books, including Rape: The Power of Consciousness by Susan Griffin (1979) and Undoing Gender by Judith Butler (2004). As I continued my research for the second edition of Sex Trouble: Radical Feminism and the War Against Human Nature this morning, I was reminded of something an early critic of feminism said:
“The fantastical project of yesterday, which was mentioned only to be ridiculed, is today the audacious reform, and will be tomorrow the accomplished fact.”
That was Robert Lewis Dabney, in an 1871 essay called “Women’s Rights Women.” Dabney was a Presbyterian theologian who, during the Civil War, served as chief of staff to Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. His theology and politics were firmly conservative and will strike most modern readers as shockingly “right-wing,” as Dabney condemned what he called “ultra democracy” and “infidel Radicalism.” Yet I think at this late date, after some 140 years of continued militance by the advocates of Progress and Equality, we may read what Dabney wrote and ask whether he was indeed a prophet:
God’s ordinance, the only effective human ordinance for checking and curbing the first tendencies to evil, is domestic, parental government. When the family shall no longer have a head, and the great foundation for the subordination of children in the mother’s example is gone; when the mother shall have found another sphere than her home for her energies; when she shall have exchanged the sweet charities of domestic love and sympathy for the fierce passions of the hustings; when families shall be disrupted at the caprice of either party, and the children scattered as foundlings from their hearthstone requires no wisdom to see that a race of sons will be reared nearer akin to devils than to men. In the hands ,of such a bastard progeny, without discipline, without homes, without a God, the last remains of social order will speedily perish, and society will be overwhelmed in savage anarchy.
Last: it would not be hard to show, did space permit, that this movement on the part of these women is as suicidal as it is mischievous. Its certain result will be the re-enslavement of women, not under the Scriptural bonds of marriage, but under the yoke of literal corporeal force. The woman who will calmly review the condition of her sex in other ages and countries will feel that her wisdom is to “let well enough alone.” Physically, the female is the “weaker vessel.” This world is a hard and selfish scene where the weaker goes to the wall. Under all other civilizations and all other religions than ours woman has experienced this fate to the full; her condition has been that of a slave to the male — sometimes a petted slave, but yet a slave. In Christian and European society alone has she ever attained the place of man’s social equal, and received the homage and honor due from magnanimity to her sex and her feebleness. And her enviable lot among us has resulted from two causes: the Christian religion and the legislation founded upon it by feudal chivalry. How insane then is it for her to spurn these two bulwarks of defense, to defy and repudiate the divine authority of that Bible which has been her redemption, and to revolutionize the whole spirit of the English common law touching woman’s sphere and rights. She is thus spurning the only protectors her sex has ever found, and provoking a contest in which she must inevitably be overwhelmed. Casting away that dependence and femininity which are her true strength, the “strong-minded woman” persists in thrusting herself into competition with man as his equal. But for contest she is not his equal; the male is the stronger animal. As man’s rival, she is a pitiful inferior, a sorry she-mannikin. It is when she brings her wealth of affection, her self-devotion, her sympathy, her tact, her grace, her subtle intuition, her attractions, her appealing weakness, and places them in the scale with man’s rugged strength and plodding endurance, with his steady logic, his hardihood and muscle. and his exemption from the disabling infirmities of her sex, that he delights to admit her full equality and to do glad homage to her as the crown of his kind. All this vantage-ground the “Women’s Rights women” madly throw away, and provoke that collision for which nature itself has disqualified them. They insist upon taking precisely a man’s chances: well, they will meet precisely the fate of a weak man among strong ones.
Some will surely find Dabney’s attitude toward women insulting, and will argue that he underestimated women’s fitness for “competition with man as his equal.” This may be so, but it is irrelevant to the more important point, namely that the subversion of parental authority and the destruction of the family — divorce “at the caprice of either party” — have produced exactly what Dabney predicted: A generation of young men “without discipline, without homes, without a God,” with the result that many communities are “overwhelmed in savage anarchy.”
Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago — this kind of savagery is now so common in America’s cities that we take it for granted, just as we take for granted that there are more than 2 million inmates in our nation’s prisons, and that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have a combined total of more than 1 million full-time employees on their payrolls. America is over-policed because American families are falling apart, and our society’s descent into “savage anarchy” is being hastened by the sort of Equality and Progress that have produced “a bastard progeny” of young men “nearer akin to devils than to men.”
When we hear feminists today lamenting “street harassment” and “rape culture” — a world in which all women “live in a state of continual vigilance about sexual safety,” according to Lindsay Beyerstein — we must not forget that the society in which we live today has been created in large part by the measures of “audacious reform” that earlier generations of “Women’s Rights women” demanded. Like an Old Testament prophet, Dabney tried to warn them, but they would not listen, and “the weaker goes to the wall.”