Zelophehad’s Daughters

Mark IV’s First Question: The Limitations of Feminism

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Near the end of Kiskilili’s recent post “Where Do Mormon Feminists Come From?” our frequent commentator and good friend Mark IV proposed a short list of questions he’d like to see feminists discuss. Here follows the first of those questions. I’m looking forward to reading what people have to say about the issues he raises.

1. Given that the feminist critique of our culture is so often valid and accurate, how can we know when it is not? A woman who is dismissed from her job might attibute her dismissal to sexism, but maybe she is just incompetent. Feminism is a useful tool, but are there tasks to which it is not suited?

26 Responses to “Mark IV’s First Question: The Limitations of Feminism”

  1. 1.

    This is a very good question, Mark. To answer one aspect – a woman must prove certain elements in court to show she was dismissed based on her gender, rather than on incompetence or for, say, refusing to comply with a lawful company policy. It’s generally the same standard a black plaintiff would have to meet to show he was dismissed because of his race (incidentally, the courts use varying standards for a white plaintiff to prove reverse discrimination).

    With respect to employment decisions, feminist and racist critiques are well-suited to shed light on how impermissible factors influence the (typically) white men holding positions of power.

    That said, without defining more specifically what “feminist critique” means, I’m not sure it’s “so often valid and accurate” in describing human culture. Perhaps that’s one limitation of feminism (and measures of “culture”) – it can be invoked to explain everything and nothing at the same time.

  2. 2.

    Perhaps that’s one limitation of feminism (and measures of “culture”) – it can be invoked to explain everything and nothing at the same time.

    ECS,

    Yes, exactly. I find value in the overall assumption that much of our culture and many of the institutions of our civil and religious life come to us through a filter of male privilege. That seems to me to be obvious and non-controversial, especially if we can include a few caveats. And since that explanation is so often convincing, I think there is a strong temptation, seldom resisted, to extend it too far.

    Thanks for the explanation about how an actual legal case of gender discrimination would proceed. I have a friend who is probably in the wrong job. She is smart and personable, but her work is usually substandard. Since she has experienced a sexist workplace in the past, she inhabits a sort of twilight zone, wondering if her poor reviews and subsequent dismissal is due to her womanhood or her job performance. Sexism simply cannot account for every observable difference between men and women. For instance, I find the feminist explanation of the “wage gap” unconvincing. While I agree that it exists, I think there are better and more likely ways to account for the difference.

    When I was a young boy, I got a tool kit for Christmas. (Yes, my sisters got dolls.) I remember using my hammer on the legs of the piano, the kitchen table, and on my father’s desk, and the result was that my hammer was taken away on December 26th. It was only years later that I saw the axiom that states that “When the only tool you have is a hammer, lots of things start looking like a nail.” My observation is that feminism is a useful tool for many things, but that it is often stretched out of shape in an attempt to make it fit problems beyond its scope.

    But mostly, I find that I like people better when they have a sense of their own limitations. You gracefully demonstrated that in your comment # 1.

  3. 3.

    Mark IV, feminism is the theory of the equality of the sexes. Is there ever a situation in which equality of the sexes should not be the goal or ideal? I’m going to go with “no.”

    The phenomenon you are finding unsavory in its overly broad application, the phenomenon you are calling “feminism,” is not feminism. It’s allegations of gender bias. I agree with you, and I think 99% of those who claim the term “feminist” would agree with you that bias alone does not explain all the differences between men’s situation and women’s situation. People should not allege bias indiscriminately, but should carefully investigate whether bias is really present before attributing a particular result to bias.

    You say you disagree with “the feminist explanation of the ‘wage gap,’” as if there were just one feminist explanation. Feminism is not a monolith.

    Feminists have proposed a number of different explanations for the wage gap. Certainly many feminists think gender bias explains the wage gap, in whole or in part. (I think it may explain part of the wage gap. It will be interesting to see whether the women in the Walmart class action suitwill be able to prove their claims.)

    Feminists also suggest that young women are not gaining the negotiating skills they need to press for the starting salary they deserve. Even a small discrepancy in starting salaries is magnified over the years as percentage raises are applied.

    Feminists also point out that the bulk of family caretaking responsibilities tend to fall to women, making women less able to work overtime (more pay per hour of work during overtime hours).

    The only thing feminists agree on is that there is inequality and it should be remedied. The reason for the inequality and the way to remedy it are much debated among feminists.

  4. 4.

    I agree with Beijing. I don’t see feminism as a tool to be used in some situations and discarded for others. Is it unreasonable to expect that women and men are treated fairly in EVERY situation? I’m not sure what you’re asking exactly when you pose the question, “are there tasks to which it is not suited?” My initial response is a resounding NO! But maybe I’m not understanding you correctly?

  5. 5.

    I just reread your initial post and I think I understand what you mean a little better. Taking your example of the dismissed woman, you’re saying that people (mostly women, I assume) reach incorrect conclusions when they look at a cause and effect situation through the lens of feminism. I agree that the conclusion they reach might be incorrect, but I don’t think that merits throwing the lens out. Shouldn’t someone (her boss) just tell her she’s incompetent, give examples, and clear up the misunderstanding? I think there are certain lenses that should be permanently attached to ones’ eye. Kindness, equality, fairness, patience, etc. I think feminism has definitely earned it’s place on the list. And really, what is the woman doing working, anyway? Shouldn’t she be home making sure her husband’s bed is properly made? (tongue in cheek, of course)

  6. 6.

    Thanks to all who’s jumped into this discussion. As always, I can add only own perspective, and on this topic, I feel that my perspective is relatively limited. I don’t have much of the background in academic feminism that Serpahine does, and I don’t have any background at all in law, as ECS does (thanks, ECS, for bringing your legal expertise to bear on Mark’s example).

    In considering your example, Mark, the first distinction I would make is our time-honored Mormon one between between eternal principles and random cultural permutations members of the Church happen to embrace. In the same way that we’re constantly begging people not to leave the Church because a Mormon behaved badly (a la Elder Bednar’s most recent conference talk), I don’t think we need to abandon the ideals of feminism simply because they are sometimes misapplied, as in the case of your friend above.

    I understand my own feminism very much in terms of the gospel; I see it as part of a broader commitment to justice, to my hope that God is no respecter of persons. In that sense I see feminist commitment to justice as an an aspect of an eternal ideal, one that should be permanently affixed to our eyes and written on our souls, as I think Rilkerunning said above. But as Beijing points out, feminists are no more agreed on how best to remedy injustice–and no more committed in principle to uphold every allegation of injustice–than Mormons or any other group of people are.

    In the situation with your friend, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not just feminism that went wrong; it’s also, maybe more importantly, the sexism she endured in the first place. One of the really unfortunate consequences of injustice is that it makes people indiscriminately mistrustful. I’m not at all arguing that we should valorize that indiscrimination; a commitment to justice requires the best, most rigorous judgment we can possibly cultivate. It’s unfortunate, but probably inevitable, that personal and cultural reactions to injustice are going to overreach. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is one example of the maybe inevitable human backlash of persecution. As I see it, a real commitment to justice requires that we constantly examine ourselves, our thinking, and our perceptions, and constantly refine them in order to correct both the real injustices we face and the injustices which we’re probably all prone to commit in the name of correcting the first.

    I do hope your friend finds a job to which she’s better suited.

  7. 7.

    While I think we can all agree that we are committed to the ideals of justice and equality, can we not also agree that those ideals need a context in which to understand them?

    Our American democracy has spent decades trying to understand and implement equality, and we still haven’t completely succeeded. Is affirmative action good or bad? Is there such a thing as too much of it?

    I think it is simplistic and a kind of copout to say that feminism stands for equality between men and women and leave it at that. That simply doesn’t tell me anything. When it comes to the sentencing of criminals, men get harsher sentences than women convicted of the same offense. Do feminists advocate harsher sentences for women or lighter sentences for men? In divorce cases when the custody of children is involved, the courts overwhelming favor women. Since I haven’t ever heard feminists denounce this inequality, I have a hard time accepting the pat answer that the movement is all about justice and equality. These are difficult questions, and I’m not even sure that feminism has even bothered to lay out a groundwork for answering them.

    Eve, I don’t have a background in gender studies either. No doubt my ignorance is on display here. I’ve read a grand total of two books (one of them by Camille Paglia, who I think has been excommunicated from the sisterhood), and I usually take time to flip through Ms. Magazine every month. Beyond that, I read newspapers and magazines. I keep hearing that feminism is not a monolith, (but, politically speaking, it is very much a monolith) and that all these interesting discussions are taking place. Can anybody tell me where? Can somebody show me where a self-identified feminist has publicly taken issue, in print, with the idea that the wage gap is the result of gender discrimination?

    This is where it is hard for a sympathetic outsider to get on board. I’m used to an atmosphere of skeptical analysis and probing questions. Our justice systems depends on lawyers on opposing sides asking hard questions. A defense attorney needs to examine every possible weakness in her case, because she knows the prosecutor will come into the courtroom loaded for bear. Within feminism, we don’t have answers to some of the hard questions because we haven’t even asked them yet. We need to have some vigorous arguments about what it all means, otherwise we wind up with the mushy definition ECS described above, where feminism means everything and nothing. I’m calling for some knock-down drag-out fights, a la WWF – barroom brawls with hair-pulling, eyeball-gouging, and rib-stomping. In my opinion, there are a more than a few loopy ideas floating around that deserve to be held up to public ridicule.

    Take a good look at Lynette’s outstanding post on gratitude. Even though gratitude is a wonderful thing we are all in favor if, she was willing to take out the pruning shears and clean out some dead wood. By helping me understand what gratitude is not, she also helped me undestand and appreciate better what it is. I would be very much in favor of feminism getting the same treatment, from a sympathetic insider. It would good for us all, and feminism itself would be the big winner.

  8. 8.

    Mark IV, just because you’re not aware of feminist discussions/debates on justice and equality, doesn’t mean they’re not happening. What kinds of debates/discussions are you interested in? I will see what resources I can find on these topics.

  9. 9.

    When it comes to the sentencing of criminals, men get harsher sentences than women convicted of the same offense. Do feminists advocate harsher sentences for women or lighter sentences for men? In divorce cases when the custody of children is involved, the courts overwhelming favor women. Since I haven’t ever heard feminists denounce this inequality, I have a hard time accepting the pat answer that the movement is all about justice and equality.

    I think several people have pointed out that there is no more a single feminist position on these issues than there is a single Mormon issue. But by your reasoning, I would have to conclude that because I’ve never heard the Mormon church denounce the genocide in Darfur or the concentration camps in North Korea, I have a hard time accepting the pat answer that the church is all about compassion and Christlike love.

    These are difficult questions, and I’m not even sure that feminism has even bothered to lay out a groundwork for answering them.

    Mark, that’s precisely what we’re trying to do here by giving your questions an airing. I don’t have any problem discussing these issues–I’m glad you brought them up, in some cases they’re questions I’ve considered posting about myself, and I think they’re excellent issues to discuss and consider. I doubt there are simple answers to any of them; I can see arguments on both sides, and I’d very much like to hear multiple perspectives. But we’re not going to get anywhere if for every question of yours I’m willing to grant a forum, you pose three more questions that feminists haven’t yet addressed. What precisely is it that you want from us?

    As I tried to make clear above, I’m all for the most nuanced, discriminating thinking we can possibly muster on these issues, and on any issues we discuss. But I’m not a fan of “knock-down drag-out fights, a la WWF – barroom brawls with hair-pulling, eyeball-gouging, and rib-stomping.” That’s not the tone we want to maintain around here. I don’t think you have to venture far into the Blogosphere to see why–not to mention its incompatibiity with the ideals of Christianity.

    In short, I think I’m simply not understanding what it is you want to say or where it is you’re coming from. Yes, there are undoubtedly loopy ideas floating around out there under the banner of feminism (as there are under the banners of Mormonism, environmentalism, democracy, and the Purple Dress People). Yes, I’ll be very happy to denounce what I see as feminist loopiness and to give my very best reasons for denouncing it. But what I will not do is attempt to engage in cyberspace telepathy across however many states separate us and channel the denunciations you clearly wish to make. I’ll very happily provide the forum, but you’ve got to pony up your own criticisms. No one else is going to do that for you. ;)

  10. 10.

    Here’s a link to a book review on two books written by feminists who are writing on issues of equality and justice. I’ve read one of the books (the Fraser book), and I really liked it.

  11. 11.

    Okay, this is probably an obvious point, but I would say that one of the limitations of feminism is that gender relations aren’t the only factors at work in most situations, and if you only make use of a feminist approach in attempting to understand something, you’re likely going to miss other important contributing factors. When you look at something through the lens of psychology or economics or biology or even religion, it’s easy to forget all the other factors which might be in play, and overstate your case. I do think this happens at times with feminism; to give an extreme example, I’m not willing to lay all the evils of the world at the feet of patriarchy. (Of course, I also believe that a feminist perspective adds something valuable and important, and to neglect it in a situation would also likely mean overlooking relevant information. :))

    I also think the kind of question posed in this post would be interesting to consider in a Church context. If Brother Shiz in my ward is condescending to women and dismisses any opinions expressed by females out of hand, to what extent can and should that be attributed to the influence of patriarchy? I think it would be quite oversimplistic to attribute the problem entirely to sexism in Church culture and/or doctrine–obviously not everyone influenced by a Church environment ends up like Brother Shiz. At the same time, I’d be likewise skeptical about a claim that Brother Shiz’s views of women are entirely unrelated to Church teachings on gender.

  12. 12.

    Eve, wow, I don’t know quite how to respond, but for somebody who objects so strongly to allusions to fighting, you sure throw some hard punches. Including, if I may say, one or two that land well below the belt.

    Here is my attempt at an answer to your comment # 9.

    But we’re not going to get anywhere if for every question of yours I’m willing to grant a forum, you pose three more questions that feminists haven’t yet addressed.

    I asked the additional questions because I perceived (perhaps mistakenly) that my original question had been simply dismissed. So, I wasn’t trying to confuse things by asking yet more questions, but simply trying to reframe the original question in more concrete ways less susceptible to dismissal.

    That’s not the tone we want to maintain around here. I don’t think you have to venture far into the Blogosphere to see why–not to mention its incompatibiity with the ideals of Christianity.

    Well, I don’t know what kind of effort goes into the running of a blog, so I probably have an insufficient appreciation for the work that is done behind the scenes that helps to keep ZD the welcoming and congenial site that it is. Please accept my thanks for that. But really, Eve. Tell me truly – do you really think I was advocating fistfights? Good grief. I would like to think I have at least some small measure of credibility. Hang me for inept hyperbole if you must, but I think your charges of raising Cain and inciting riot at ZD are unwarranted and well over the top. If there were an emoticon for rolling my eyes, I would put about ten of them right here. My point was that I perceive a complete lack of vigorous debate on some of these issues, and that, sooner or later, the arguments need to be had. I would think that the person who wrote an outstanding post on differences would agree with me here.

    Yes, there are undoubtedly loopy ideas floating around out there under the banner of feminism (as there are under the banners of Mormonism

    Eve, one of the small pleasures of participating in the bloggernacle is to see people who are smart and articulate and faithful encounter a loopy Mormon idea and treat it like a cheap pinata. I have seen you do this a few times, and all I can say is: Bravo! I hope you don’t consider it rude of me to observe that loopy feminist ideas never get that same treatment. I am honestly puzzled as to why that is the case.

    I think several people have pointed out that there is no more a single feminist position on these issues

    Yes, I know people have pointed that out, but I don’t agree. I would argue that feminism, at least in it’s public manifestations, is quite predictable. One of my later questions addresses this point, if we ever get that far. And I hope you will allow me to note the delicious irony. Repeat after me: We are not a monolith. We are not a monolith. We are not a monolith….. :-) Missionaries in the MTC aren’t all the same either, but an outsider could be excused for failing to detect the differences.

    I am honestly grateful to you, Eve, for even allowing questions like these. Based on the results so for, I’m not sure how fruitful these discussions will be. I get the real impression that many think the questions are impertinent and preposterous and so outrageous that they don’t even deserve a response. Within the last year, the bloggernacle has seen literally thousands of comments where people inquired into the ramifications of the patriarchal nature of the church, many of them hosted by this very site. Those comments ran through the entire range of quality from poor to excellent. I’m curious as to why the comment counter on this thread wasn’t even into double digits before you challenged me, quite strongly I might say, to refine my questions and stay on topic. Don’t you think it is a little early in the game to start with the tut-tutting?

  13. 13.

    Hi, Mark. Thanks for stopping by again.

    I’m currently swamped and trying very hard to stay away from the Bloggernacle for the next couple of weeks so that I can get through finals, but I did think your comments here deserved a fair response–or, at least, as fair a response as I can
    muster.

    Eve, wow, I don’t know quite how to respond, but for somebody who objects so strongly to allusions to fighting, you sure throw some hard punches. Including, if I may say, one or two that land well below the belt.

    I’m sorry that I overreacted to your fighting allusions. [insert look of abject apology in response to inserted eye-rolling]. In looking back at them now, I can see that I misread them. You’re right–you do have a great deal of credibility with me, and I should have granted you the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m curious as to why the comment counter on this thread wasn’t even into double digits before you challenged me, quite strongly I might say, to refine my questions and stay on topic. Don’t you think it is a little early in the game to start with the tut-tutting?

    Again, I think I misread you here. In the context of your other criticisms of feminism, I read your additional questions as part of a more general complaint about feminist evasion of tough issues, and I reacted with some exasperation, I will admit–hey, I’m really very happy to discuss these questions–I’m clearly not trying to evade the issues you bring up! I didn’t read you as actually posing the questions for consideration and general discussion, and again, I’m sorry for misreading you if that was your intent. Those discussions I am all in favor of. I didn’t intend any tut-tutting about thread-jacking or topic-straying, which I don’t mind, convinced as I am that everything interesting in life happens off topic. So if you’d like to take up one or more of them on this thread or elsewhere, please do.

    Yes, I know people have pointed that out, but I don’t agree. I would argue that feminism, at least in it’s public manifestations, is quite predictable. One of my later questions addresses this point, if we ever get that far. And I hope you will allow me to note the delicious irony. Repeat after me: We are not a monolith. We are not a monolith. We are not a monolith….. :-) Missionaries in the MTC aren’t all the same either, but an outsider could be excused for failing to detect the differences.

    OK, this seems like a fruitful line of discussion. I’m not sure I’m completely understanding you here, and I’m really trying to be more cautious about leaping to unwarranted conclusions, so I wonder if you’d be willing to expand, particularly on your allusion to “delicious irony.”

    It seems to me at the heart of this issue is the question of the relationship between an individual and an organization, such as the Church, or a social movement, such as feminism, and the degree to which affiliation makes an individual responsible for the positions and tendencies of that organization or social movement. Is that a fair statement of what’s at stake here? If this is a line of inquiry you’d like to pursue, could you lay out how you see that relationship between individual and organization and how you see Mormon feminists as adopting a double standard in that regard?

    I’m really glad you’re around, Mark–I appreciate your thoughtful and perceptive observations. I hope you continue to comment. I will definitely respond, but if I take a while to get back into the discussion, please know that I’m not ignoring you. It just may be a week or two before I have the time.

  14. 14.

    Hi, Mark! You have a lot of points ’round these parts; we like you. But, to be fair, bro’, you throw some hard punches yourself.

    You don’t have to read between the lines very much on some of the responses on this thread to see a really repelling smugness and arrogant self-righteousness. I think it is way beyond time for The Movement to get down off the pedestal. The simple fact is, some of feminism’s founders and some of its current leaders and spokeswomen were and are obnoxious people. Why is it out of bounds to point that out?

    I think it’s a pretty safe bet you’re talking, among others, about yours truly, to cite just one example. :) And I confess to a terribly hubristic attitude when it comes to religion, although it’s good to be reminded to watch my tone.

    I agree with you that there are feminist claims that are problematic, inaccurate, and/or immoral, and they receive very little discussion on the bloggernacle. But to be honest, I only blog on topics I’m interested in, and as opposed as I am to some feminists’ claims–that there’s nothing wrong with pornography, for example, or that all heterosexual sex is rape–they’re just not terribly high on my list of posts to write.

    My own encounters with so-called “third-wave” feminism have left me with the impression that it is much more diverse than the impression you’ve apparently gotten from it; maybe further discussion will clarify why our experiences have been so different? As far as I can tell, you’re interested in an apology or refutation of certain “feminist” behaviors and attitudes, but I’m still not entirely sure (a) what the views are exactly (b) who the ring leaders you’d like to see knocked off the pedestal are, and (c) who is obligated to apologize and/or initiate the discussion and why.

    One reason we may be talking past each other is that it’s hard, from my perspective, not to feel you’re putting words in my mouth (“you claim to be a Mormon feminist, therefore you believe women are better than men, etc.”) and then asking me to apologize for things I never said. (Keeping up with apologies I have to give for what I DO say is already more than I can handle!) Maybe you’re not trying to imply that any of us subscribes to the views you label “feminist,” or that any of us is responsible for discussing them, and I’m completely misreading you? Help me out here!

  15. 15.

    I think it is simplistic and a kind of copout to say that feminism stands for equality between men and women and leave it at that. That simply doesn’t tell me anything. When it comes to the sentencing of criminals, men get harsher sentences than women convicted of the same offense. Do feminists advocate harsher sentences for women or lighter sentences for men? In divorce cases when the custody of children is involved, the courts overwhelming favor women. Since I haven’t ever heard feminists denounce this inequality, I have a hard time accepting the pat answer that the movement is all about justice and equality. These are difficult questions, and I’m not even sure that feminism has even bothered to lay out a groundwork for answering them.

    I’ve been meaning to address this comment for a while, but real life has been pretty crazy. I’d say that in my life, and my views, I equate feminism with equality between the sexes.

    To address your counter-examples: I think that things should be equal in these areas as well. I haven’t given a lot of thought to the difference in prison sentences, so I don’t know how I feel things should be rememdied. I probably would espouse longer sentences for women in some cases (more violent crimes) and shorter sentences for men in other cases (misdemeanors, etc).

    I do feel very strongly about the fathers being given equal rights in divorce custody proceedings. For example, my cousin’s wife left him and their two young children a few years ago. She just took off and travelled around the country with another guy, trying to “find herself” or some such thing. My cousin stayed and not only took care of the children, but had to deal with the emotional fall-out of his wife’s decision on their children. After about a year their mother came back and sued for custody. They were awarded joint custody with equal time with the children (every other week, or something like that). It was ridiculous. If he had left to go galivanting around the country with another woman for a year and then come back and tried to get custody he would probably have been given visitation rights, but certainly not equal time with them. And that’s how it should be. He deserves primary custody, because he’s the one who stayed with those kids and took care of them. Their mother should be able to have a relationship with them, but certainly not equal custody. Yet she was granted it because she is the mother. I think this is very discrimanatory to fathers, and very wrong.

    So while it might not be a soapbox I get on often (it just doesn’t come up very often), it is actually quite a soapbox for me. When I say equality, I mean equality, both directions.

  16. 16.

    Hey, Kiskilili. Hi yourself!

    I think it’s a pretty safe bet you’re talking, among others, about yours truly,

    Please don’t take your life savings to Atlantic City, because you are a lousy bettor. You are mistaken, since you are about the last person on earth I would think of as smug and arrogant. And obnoxious doesn’t apply either, unless they changed the dictionary last night and the word now means “delightful” or “barrel of laughs”.

    We are probably speaking past each other because I have failed to make my point clearly. I’ll try to do that now, so this might be long.

    Kiskilili, as I read the responses on your thread, I was a little surprised by how many of the responses could be boiled down to this: “I am a good person, therefore I am a feminist.” That statement may well be true, but it is not self-evidently true, and nobody seemed interested in examining it or subjecting it to peer review. It also has an unspoken corrolary, which is that someone who isn’t a feminist isn’t a good person. It appeared that people were trying to occupy the moral high ground without having earned it. It brought back the feeling I had on my mission, when, during zone conference testimony meetings, there was a parade of people going to the microphone to testify in a self-congratulatory tone about the fact that we were all Saturday’s warriors, spiritual giants, and valiant spirits in the premortal life, held in reserve to come forth at this critical time to warn the heathens. Once my companion leaned forward far enough to be concealed by the pew in front of him and made finger-in-the-throat, gagging motions. It goes without saying that he was my favorite companion.

    I believe that progess is difficult, and that nothing worthwhile comes the easy way. I know that not from the bible or other standard works, nor from the collected sermons of GBH. I’ll cite the highest authority I know, The Princess Bride. My dear, sweet Westly says: “Life is pain, highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Cheap and easy feminism makes me wonder what I am being sold. The comments on the question about the costs of feminism reveal that, at least so far, we have no consensus on the downside results. All good things – knowledge, free agency, prosperity, human love, good health – carry with them significant costs or consequences. Do we really want to claim that Betty Friedan succeeded where Jesus, Mohammed, James Madison, Lincoln and Einstein have failed?

    In my comment # 2 on this thread, I said that I find people much nicer to be around when they exhibit a sense of their own limits. The people who have the best ideas are those who have come to grips with the fact that hard questions need to be asked, that they may well be wrong about many things, and who therefore seek out consistent, honest feedback. Much of what puts me off about feminism as a movement is my perception that it doesn’t respond to feedback in a constructive way, choosing instead to feign outraged innocence.

  17. 17.

    Thanks, Mark–fantastic comment, for all sorts of reasons (complete with a Princess Bride quote)! The story about your mission made me laugh. Now I think we’re understanding one another better. Thanks for coming back and explaining–I, too, hope that we can have some constructive discussion of feminism, and appreciate your input to that discussion.

  18. 18.

    It appeared that people were trying to occupy the moral high ground without having earned it.

    I’m a bit puzzled by this statement, Mark IV. Just how would a feminist “earn” the moral high ground? By becoming a statistic of domestic violence? By being the rape victim in this 2006 case where the court decided that there is no rape under Maryland law if the woman consents to sex prior to penetration and then withdraws the consent after penetration – no matter how much the man is hurting her?

    The court explained its reasoning thus:

    This approach to rape developed because a virgin was considered a valuable asset, the value residing in men’s ability to gain absolute ownership of the totality of her sexual and reproductive functions. Any infringement upon this totality through premarital sexual relations rendered the asset less valuable and might even turn it into a liability.

    (my emphasis)

    As long as courts in the U.S. are still handing down opinions based on the theory that women are objects and that a woman’s greatest asset is her virginity, feminists have the moral high ground.

  19. 19.

    Ahh, specific circumstances to which we can apply our various notions of “feminism”! :)

    As a general point, I can see, on the one hand, that, for example, if a feminist proclaims an interest in justice, this implies that those who did not reach the same conclusions are not interested in (or are opposed to?) justice. I obviously have particular views of how justice is implemented, but I am willing to listen to “non-feminist” perspectives on how/why alternate situations could be considered just.

  20. 20.

    ECS, you have done me the honor of taking me seriously, and I am happy to reply.

    It is one thing to feel outrage or offense at injustice. (Just to be very clear, I think the judge in the case you cite is in serious need of a grip.) It is another thing entirely to put forward serious proposals and initiatives that we hope will alleviate the injustice and which can be evaluated and examined. When a proposal is on the table, we would be silly to judge it by the level of outrage expressed by the party which drafted the proposal. We need to avoid the natural tendency to think that our sense of injustice automatically exempts us from criticism and makes our ideas better than anybody else’s. Bertrand Russell wrote a skeptical essay describing this common phenomenon called The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed.

    So, in answer to your question: How does one gain the moral high ground? I would say that we do that by acknowledging offense but not relying upon it for our moral authority. That is earned by doing the hard work of thinking, persuading, evaluating, and revising our agendas, subject to new data.

    Your last paragraph makes me wish I had gone to law school, just so I could learn how to do those rhetorical tricks. I think the best I can do is this: To the extent feminism has been instrumental in creating a legal environment in which a man can be forced to provide financially for a child he didn’t father, and that relies upon the idea that a man’s greatest asset is his billfold, feminists have the moral low ground.

  21. 21.

    Mark IV – I’m not following you. What do you mean “creating a legal environment where a man can be forced to provide financially for a child he didn’t father”? You’d be on stronger ground if you pointed out that fathers seem to have fewer “rights” in divorce and custody disputes than mothers (which, I think, Vada mentioned in a comment somewhere). Feminists, however, may agree with you on this point. :)

    Perhaps it’s my female perspective getting in the way, but I don’t have near as much sympathy for a man being financially obligated to a child than for a woman who has been raped by the legal system. (Furthermore, men routinely default on their child support obligations with no consequence, and can easily move to another country to avoid them altogether. But I’m getting carried away here.)

    To address your real question, I agree that expressing outrage and haughty moral condemnation can be obnoxious and distracting, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the act that precipitated the outrage in the first place. Out of curiousity, what do you think the feminist “agenda” is?

  22. 22.

    ECS,

    I’m content to allow feminists to define their own agendas. I think AmyB’s point on a parallel thread is a very good one. She understands feminism as something that helps her live meaningfully, and I think that is the case with many others as well, and I think they are to be applauded. Others, like Seraphine and Lynnette, are interested in the academic work that provides feminism with an intellectual foundation. I see that work as useful and legitimate, like scholarly work in botany or math. As far as public policy goes, I think feminism has completely outsourced its agenda-making function to the Democratic National Committee, and since politics is the art of compromise, feminism has done quite a lot of compromising. Two decades of careful argument and work in the area of sexual harassment went directly into the dumpster when the women in the Clinton administration and every prominent feminist spokeswoman in the country lined up to defend the president’s behavior, thereby becoming complicit in his predations and abasing themselves in a way that was every bit as degrading and low down as anything Ms. Lewinsky ever did. I trust you will agree that a claim to the moral high ground becomes difficult to sustain in such an environment. Besides, from a distance, it is hard for an outsider to see the difference between the high ground and a high horse.

    I remain fascinated by your contention, as I understand it, that membership in a particular group generates an entitlement that one’s opinion deserves special consideration. That is the argument I understand you to be making in the case of feminism. I find that troubling in many ways, mostly because it serves to reinforce many of the most offensive stereotypes about women, e.g., women are just naturally better, women can’t be bothered to trouble their pretty heads with boring stuff like rational argument or linear thought, etc. A recent poll showed that lots of people in the U.S. are unwilling to even contemplate voting for a Mormon for president. In my opinion, that is an outrage and as a Mormon, I am an aggrieved party. If I were to argue that since I belong to the group called “Mormons”, my opinions on a wide range of issues should be valued more highly than the opinions of someone who belongs to the group called “Thursday Night Bowling League”, I would be accused, quite deservedly, of insufferable sanctimony. It is hard for me to believe that someone as smart and as unsanctimonious as you actually believes this, so I am left to conclude that a misunderstanding exists, and I am willing to hear further explanations. I will repeat again my contention that arguments need to be made, and that when people assume their own moral superiority, discussion has stopped. At that point, we are all just engaged in a headlong sprint to see who gets to be first in line at the rameumptom.

    Vada, # 15,

    I think our intentions are very close together, but we probably differ in the implementation. For my part, I don’t think the word “equality” is adequate to describe what needs to be done because it comes into conflict with another important principle, “fairness”. For instance, I think it is reasonable to expect that employers offer a generous maternity leave to a woman who has just given birth. But we can’t argue for maternity leave on the basis of equality, because most people in the workforce (men, unmarried women, women past child-bearing age) will never get that benefit. So it makes more sense to me to appeal to our ideal of fairness. Our approach to affirmative action is built entirely upon the premise that sometimes we need to treat people UNequally in order to treat them fairly. That may look like unnecessary hair-splitting, but I think those are important distinctions that need to be made.

    Kiskilili, # 14

    One reason we may be talking past each other is that it’s hard, from my perspective, not to feel you’re putting words in my mouth

    Well, I apologize for that, because it certainly is not my intention. I’m just asking questions, trying to understand and make sense of the words I hear. For instance, it is quite common to hear feminists in the church express ambivalent feelings towards Joseph Smith, and sometimes those feelings are expressed in terms of contempt or vilification. Those feelings arise from the suspicion that he was something of a sexual libertine who deceived his wife and abused his position of religious authority in order to seduce women. All fair enough, I guess, especially if we discount any claim to divine sanction. But many of those people will excoriate JS and then, in the next breath, claim Martin Luther King, Jr., as a hero. Without meaning to degrade the reputation of MLK (I think both he and JS are authentic heroes), we can safely say that his record in the Don Juan and wife cheating department far exceeds the more modest mark established by our founding prophet. So, I ask myself, what is going on? And when these same people then go on at length about their exquisitely tuned sense of fairness and justice, it becomes a little bit more than I am willing to swallow whole. As one of my favorite bloggers might put it, we have reached the point where the observed reality is at such variance with the plain meaning of the words that the words themselves are rendered meaningless.

  23. 23.

    I remain fascinated by your contention, as I understand it, that membership in a particular group generates an entitlement that one’s opinion deserves special consideration. That is the argument I understand you to be making in the case of feminism.

    ECS can clarify her thoughts, but I think feminists who claim morality superiority aren’t going to claim moral superiority based on their membership in a group. I think they would say their moral superiority stems from the fact that they are trying to change immoral practices that others aren’t (or, at least haven’t been for much of history) willing to address.

  24. 24.

    Mark, that’s a fair question about Joseph Smith versus Martin Luther King, Jr., and whether there’s a double standard going on. On maybe a similar note, I’m also thinking about the fact that Augustine, whom I’m really quite fond of, is horribly misogynistic, but I usually just roll my eyes and ignore what he has to say on those matters. But it’s harder for me to do that with JS, and I’m thinking about why.

    When it comes to people like Augustine or Martin Luther King, Jr., or even Bill Clinton, I can say that I strongly disagree with some of their views or the decisions they made in their personal lives, yet still respect and value what they accomplished. To some extent, that’s true of Joseph Smith as well. But it’s trickier. As a Mormon, I don’t feel like there’s as much room for me to say that I value what he did even while disagreeing with his teachings and personal behavior in the matter of polygamy–because he presented it as the will of God, and the Church continues to interpret it in that light. So if I seem more troubled by JS than others, it’s not because I see his behavior per se as more problematic, but because it raises painful questions for me in a way that MLK’s behavior doesn’t.

  25. 25.

    Hi, Mark – that wasn’t my point at all. Thanks to Seraphine for clarifying.

    And I completely disagree with your contention that any progress made eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace went into the “dumpster” with Monica Lewinsky. In order to be sexually harassed, the sexual advances must be “unwelcome”. I’m sure we can agree that Monica Lewinsky was old enough to make her own decisions and that Bill Clinton’s sexual advances were not “unwelcome”, so I’m not getting the connection.

  26. 26.

    Seraphine, # 23

    feminists who claim morality superiority. . .

    I hope you can understand that my problem lies precisely with the way you have framed that sentence, Seraphine. There are all kinds of people who seek to change immoral practices who never think of themselves in those terms. Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Alcoholics Anonymous, LDS Humanitarian Services — none of these organizations claim any special status over other people, and if they did, it would actually detract from their mission.

    I will hasten to add that I don’t think you or ECS claim moral superiority, either. There has been enough of a personal connection built up through online interaction and in other ways that I have complete trust in the good will, good sense, and humility of both of you. I’m just saying that a disinterested third party who listened to much of what passes for feminist rhetoric could justifiably conclude that feminists as a group are quite satisfied with themselves.

    Lynnette, # 24

    Thanks, Lynnette. I agree, JS is a little trickier. One of my personal heroes, Martin Luther, was an anti-semite through and through. Nonetheless, I’m glad he makes an appearance in the Random Quotes part of ZD now and then. My point in making the comparison was to demonstrate that these are not bright line, good vs. evil issues, and that we ought to be careful about demanding purity in others which we do not have ourselves. People keep telling me that nuanced discussions like this take place all the time, but I guess I just keep missing them.

    ECS # 25

    ECS, OK, scratch Lewinsky. Next up, Kathleen Willie, who went to the White House looking for a job and all she got for her trouble was a presidential grope in the hallway. No surprise there, really, lots of people could have told her she should have expected that. And something else that was, sadly, not surprising was that none — none — of the feminist groups in America offered her sympathy or support, and many of them thought she should just shut up and go away. Two facts are, in my opinion, beyond dispute. 1)The former president treated women like disposable objects, and 2)women’s groups were some of his most loyal supporters. You might be able to reconcile those two points in a way that doesn’t involve compromise of principle for the sake of political expediency. I, however, cannot.

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