A Twitter discussion of skeptical feminism caused me to go look at one of the first things I wrote for the ur-B&W, the website not the blog. It’s an “In Focus” article on “difference feminism” with a collection of resources at the end.
I started with a defense of a certain kind of radical feminism (which is not to be confused with the term “radical feminism” as currently used by the troll-crowd, who don’t know what they’re talking about).
Second wave feminism has always had a radical strand. It has always been about more than equal pay. It was also, for instance, about exposing and then discarding banal conventional unreflective ideas that led to banal conventional unreflective behaviour. Ideas about cooking and cleaning being somehow naturally women’s work, for example, which led to men cheerfully lounging about while women put in what Arlie Hochschild calls a second shift. And even more than that, unexamined ideas about what women are like, what they want, what they should be and do. David Lodge once remarked that women became much more interesting after feminism, and his own novels bear this out, as do those of Michael Frayn and other male novelists who started writing in the ’50s or ’60s. The pre-1970 female characters are non-entities, the post-1970 ones–Robyn Penrose in Nice Work, Kate in Headlong–take up a lot of space. The very way women are perceived and noticed and thought about changed with feminism, and that would not have happened if mere institutional reform had been the only goal.
The way women are perceived and noticed and thought about changed with feminism, and that’s a good thing. It’s not better to have half of humanity perceived as just a little cleverer than the family dog.
But there are radical ideas and then there are radical ideas. One of the less helpful ones was difference feminism. The foundations of this shaky edifice were laid in the ’70s, when a popular rhetorical move was to label many usually well-thought-of attributes and tools–reason, logic, science, “linear” thinking, abstract ideas, analysis, objectivity, argument–as male, and dub their opposite female. So by a contortion that defies “male” logic, it somehow became feminist to confine women all over again to intuition, guesswork, instinct, feelings, subjectivity, and arm-waving.
If you’re going to rant and rave about feminism gone wrong, rant and rave about that. Don’t rant and rave about women refusing to be treated as inferiors; that’s the wrong thing to object to.