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Apr 18 2013

In a modern-day version of Victorian True Womanhood

Yes, I’m recognizing the landscape. I share Kaminer’s dislike of difference feminism. But then – if people are thinking we are difference/protectionist feminists in Kaminer’s sense, they’re batty.

More from Kaminer’s article:

The Comforts of Gilliganism

Central to the dominant strain of feminism today is the belief, articulated by the psychologist Carol Gilligan, that women share a different voice and different moral sensibilities. Gilligan’s work—notably In a Different Voice (1982)—has been effectively attacked by other feminist scholars, but criticisms of it have not been widely disseminated, and it has passed with ease into the vernacular. In a modern-day version of Victorian True Womanhood, feminists and also some anti-feminists pay tribute to women’s superior nurturing and relational skills and their general “ethic of caring.” Sometimes feminists add parenthetically that differences between men and women may well be attributable to culture, not nature. But the qualification is moot. Believers in gender difference tend not to focus on changing the cultural environment to free men and women from stereotypes, as equal-rights feminists did twenty years ago; instead they celebrate the feminine virtues.

See? In Kaminer’s version it’s the “protectionists” who have given up on changing the cultural environment to free men and women from stereotypes, and the equal-rights feminists who want to do that. That’s the precise opposite of the usual understanding of this binary, which is that equality feminists are the good sane normal ones who think the whole idea of “stereotypes” is wild-eyed Stasi nonsense, and “radfems” are the ones who want to steal all your stereotypes and cut off your penis.

Confronted with the challenge of rationalizing and accommodating profound differences among women, in both character and ideology, feminism has never been a tranquil movement, or a cheerfully anarchic one. It has always been plagued by bitter civil wars over conflicting ideas about sexuality and gender which lead to conflicting visions of law and social policy. If men and women are naturally and consistently different in terms of character, temperament, and moral sensibility, then the law should treat them differently, as it has through most of our history, with labor legislation that protects women, for example, or with laws preferring women in custody disputes: special protection for women, not equal rights, becomes a feminist goal. (Many feminists basically agree with Marilyn Quayle’s assertion that women don’t want to be liberated from their essential natures.) But if men and women do not conform to masculine and feminine character models, if sex is not a reliable predictor of behavior, then justice requires a sex-neutral approach to law which accommodates different people’s different characters and experiences (the approach championed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg twenty years ago).

See? All the other way which. We’re the equality feminists, as opposed to the difference feminists who revel in the stereotypes.

Outside academia, debates about sex and justice are sometimes equally confused and confusing, given the political and ideological challenges of affirmative-action programs and the conflicting demands on women with both career aspirations and commitments to family life. Feminists often have to weigh the short-term benefits of protecting wage-earning mothers (by mommy-tracking, for example) against the long-term costs of a dual labor market. Sometimes ideological clarity is lost in complicated strategy debates. Sometimes ideological conflicts are put aside when feminists share a transcendent social goal, such as suffrage or reproductive choice. And sometimes one ideological strain of feminism dominates another. In the 1970s equal-rights feminism was ascendent. The 1980s saw a revival of protectionism.

Equal-rights feminism couldn’t last. It was profoundly disruptive for women as well as men. By questioning long-cherished notions about sex, it posed unsettling questions about selfhood. It challenged men and women to shape their own identities without resort to stereotypes.

But it’s a creative disruption. With all I said in the previous post about the lure of being well-adjusted – there’s also such a thing as boredom, and living in accordance with stereotypes is so farking boring. Do people really enjoy being that boring?

A quite different issue -

To the extent that there’s a debate between Paglia and the feminist movement, it’s not a particularly thoughtful one, partly because it’s occurring at second hand, in the media. There are thoughtful feminist debates being conducted in academia, but they’re not widely heard. Paglia is highly critical of feminist academics who don’t publish in the mainstream; but people have a right to choose their venues, and besides, access to the mainstream press is not easily won. Still, their relative isolation is a problem for feminist scholars who want to influence public policy. To reach a general audience they have to depend on journalists to draw upon and sometimes appropriate their work.

Well that was 1993. They don’t any more. There are ways to link academics and the public now.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Stacy

    I had just composed this and was about to post it on “An Unsettling Challenge….”:

    Anybody else notice that the slymers who prate about “equity feminism” vs. “gender feminism” tend to call us pro-feminists in the freethought movement “gender feminists” despite the fact that we’re not gender essentialists at all?

    Stupid dichotomy is stupid.

    You do this to me all the time, Ophelia. I compose something and then I see you’ve already addressed it in another post. Stop doing that! It makes me look silly. :P

    (No, really, don’t stop.)

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    I’m stealing your thoughts! :)

  3. 3
    Bruce Everett

    I can’t get this idea out of my head that Gilliganism puts women off on a desert island somewhere, where they’d be better off not trying to navigate back closer towards the domain of men, because it’s not in womens’ sensibilities to fix the Skipper’s boat. Or something. Puerile of me, I know, but it’s stuck up there now, in my brain.

  4. 4
    Kevin

    Do people really enjoy being that boring?

    Yes. When they’re not boring, they’re the topic of newspaper articles about how “quirky” they are.

  5. 5
    Worldtraveller

    Ophelia@2: At least you aren’t stealing….OUR PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDS!!! :D

    Gotta have at least one Dr. Strangelove reference/day. My work here is done.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream?

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