Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.
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I don’t believe in equal rights for women; women should have a few extra rights compared to men because women take on the greater responsibility for reproduction. For example, I don’t think men should have a vote when it comes to the question of abortion. I would prefer a world in which women work out the abortion issue and just let the men know how it turned out.
When any group of people takes on extra responsibility, society is often willing to grant those folks some extra rights. That’s why a military drone pilot is legally allowed to take the life of an innocent child that happens to be in the same car as a terrorist. That’s why a police car can exceed the speed limit on the way to a crime in progress but you and I need to come to a full stop at the stop sign.
So in my view, feminists are too conservative. They should be asking for superior rights, not equal rights. I think everyone reading this blog agrees with the feminist goals of, for example, equal pay for equal work, and the idea that women should be able to walk down the street without feeling threatened. Off hand, I can’t think of any feminist goal that is unreasonable. There are real questions on how one measures pay gaps and whatnot, and how one approaches a particular problem, but those are details. Feminists have done a great service for humanity by aggressively improving the situation for women. I’m a fan of their work.
My only objection to feminism is that in order for any group to be politically effective it needs to promote a worldview in which there are two kinds of people: Assholes and victims. Nuance doesn’t work for politics. Political change needs good and evil and no gray area in the middle. So in the feminist political battle, men are automatically included in the asshole category no matter their personal situation. I don’t think that is a conscious decision. It just works out that way.
Consider the issue of men yelling sexual remarks at women on public sidewalks. That situation is usually presented as a problem of men behaving badly to women. For political reasons, you need that grouping because it makes the problem seem extra bad.
But if you start adding context, the men-versus-women worldview starts to break down.
For starters, I don’t know any men who make creepy sexual remarks about women in public. Clearly such men exist. But if we are being objective, those men generally exist in the lower rungs of society’s power ladder. It isn’t the corporate lawyer doing the wolf whistles. It is usually the under-educated laborer who doesn’t have an indoor job, or any job. The female victims in this scenario are, more often than not, among the more attractive humans on earth. Those are the ones that are (usually) attracting the most attention. And in our world, attractiveness is power.
In modern society, power comes from three sources: education, money, and attractiveness. People who have all three are at the top of the power pyramid. People who have any two of the three are next, and the people who have only one are the next level down. The unfortunate people who have no money, attractiveness, or education are at the bottom. So when a construction worker hassles an attractive woman on the street, it is often a case of a less powerful person bothering a more powerful person. You lose that nuance when you represent the situation as a men-versus-women problem. The reality is that the bad behavior is (mostly) limited to a small group of relatively powerless men. I would guess that less than 1% of men would be in that obnoxious category.
Bad behavior on the sidewalk is of course very different from the problem of sexism in the board room. In the workplace, the folks with the power are too-often abusing it. But here again the man-versus-woman view of the world can be misleading. The reality is that power corrupts people no matter the design of their genitalia. In situations in which women have power, such as in the typical suburban family, wives are often horrible to their husbands and freely admit it. So the problem is not so much about gender as it is about power corrupting people of all types.
My point in all of this is that feminism is sexist by design. It has to be that way to be politically effective. You need a big, bad enemy because without it you can’t generate the kind of change you need. I don’t disagree with the strategy because it works, and historically it was in the service of a good cause.
But the long term risk with any good cause is that it can accidentally evolve into the evil it was designed to thwart. I think we are at or near that turning point with feminism. The majority of men in America are already totally onboard with the basic tenets of feminism. When men disagree about the best way to measure pay gaps, or the best system for improvement, we are talking tactics, not goals. As a man, I find it sexist and objectionable to be lumped into the asshole category because of my DNA, especially when I am on the same side as the people calling me an asshole.
In my youth, when old-time feminists were fighting for equal rights I remember thinking they were brave citizens on the correct side of history. In 2014, much of what passes as feminism sounds to my ears like “men are assholes.” The more nuanced reality is that people who either have too much power or too little power can be awful humans regardless of gender. And the people in the middle aren’t much better.
Feminism has evolved from an entirely good movement to one that is half good and half sexism. I think feminism accomplished 80% of what it wanted with the old worldview of men-versus-women. To get the last 20% you need a different approach. I don’t know what that better approach might be, but I hope it doesn’t include labeling allies as assholes.
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book
P.S. The best way to know you missed the point of my post is that you find yourself leaving a comment arguing with my generalities, as in “Unattractive people get hassled on the street too!”