A Left-Anarchist Critique of Modern Feminism
I’ve become increasing more critical of modern feminism and more sensitised to the problems faced by men over the last three years or so. Prior to that time I would have called myself a feminist and progressive and, while my values haven’t changed, I no longer call myself either. As a result I am intimately familiar with how powerful cognitive bias and apophenia can be. Prior to my ‘revelatory’ experience I would have brushed off, ignored or not even noticed the million little ways in which men are mistreated, dismissed and misrepresented. Now I see it, though much of it is still – in my opinion – down to hypersensitivity, on both sides.
I have been following many of the ‘social justice’ issues that have been churning to the surface on social media since that period and trying to understand and debate the points with the people who consider themselves activists. There’s very little willingness to engage in debate or even talk about the issues. The preconceptions of these movements – most especially feminism – are treated as though they were holy scripture and to even question them is to be kafkatrapped into a position where every argument against the proposition is taken as evidence that it is true.
Having observed these culture clashes from some distance, most especially in Canada, I started to take more of an interest in the increasingly active Men’s Human Rights Movements, recently joining their site ‘A Voice for Men’ as an observer and interested party. Having watched pundits from the Men’s Rights Movement argue eloquently and factually for some time – the likes of Girl Writes What, Warren Farrell and Janice Fiamengo – I have had high hopes that here might be a counter-voice from which a genuinely egalitarian and humanist movement might emerge.
While there are hints of this within the movement, there are unfortunately also many of the same problems that one witnesses in feminism. A great deal is driven by – understandable – bitterness. Amongst those who genuinely believe in equality there are also a number of loud and vocal kooks. Just as it is easy, but wrong, to dismiss feminism via the form of radical, man-hating, malthusian it’s a cheap shot to dismiss those who are concerned about men and boys via the crazier, gold-hoarding, libertarian, ‘Jesus said women are to serve men’ types.
Unfortunately, in both instances, it does seem like the crazies are running the asylum. In the case of the MHRM that leads to a lot of grumbling and demonisation of ‘libtards’ while in feminism it leads to a lot of grumbling and demonisation of ‘wingnuts’. All the while, here I am, a left-anarchist concerned about the societal harm being done to men and boys and the overreach of feminism.
I believe it is more than possible to criticise modern feminism from a left-anarchist position and that doing so might be more productive to discussion than other approaches, as well as disarming the instant dismissal that comes with the undue associations with the crazier end of America’s right wing.
When I speak of ‘left’ I’m speaking of the traditional concerns of democratic socialism. When I’m talking about anarchism, I mean it with reference to the political ideology, not ‘chaos’. When I speak of feminism I suppose I’m talking about the public feminism that’s driving the discourse. What Christina Hoff Sommers calls ‘Gender feminism’ and what I’ve also heard referred to as ‘NGO Feminism’, combined with the hashtag, Tumblr and university feminism that I call NuFem.
Turning to Scruton as a definitional source then, what we have (paraphrased) is:
- The premise of equality, stated in terms of equal opportunity, egalitarianism and that people have equal rights.
- The position of the state as administrator, and limited to that role. Acting as guarantor of rights and benefits and enforcing law.
- Eliminating or preventing the creation of systems of control. Typically this would be through wealth redistribution, dismantling hereditary power, special groups with special privileges etc.
Note that egalitarianism does not mean homogeneity. That is, Socialism does not advocate that all people are the same, but they should have as close to equal a chance in life as possible. Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome, as it is sometimes phrased. In practical terms examples of this might include heavy investment in public education and medicine.
The belief that it is preferable to minimise or abolish government and for people to self govern. That people are essentially good and that systems of mutual aid can be emergent. That the state is exploitative or vulnerable to being exploited. That human beings are naturally cooperative but that this instinct is frustrated by coercion. That reforms ‘from above’ bear the imprint of the authority that initiates them. That social change must be wrought by revolutionary action.
Note that not all anarchists share all of the beliefs listed above and that many, myself included, believe that a true anarchist society is not possible without mastering the means of production or moving into a post-scarcity world.
Since we’re not talking about equity feminism here, I think we can safely leave that out. Equity feminism would be the advocacy of equality between men and women and, in law that is virtually universal across western civilisation, though the same cannot necessarily be said of men.
When I am talking of gender feminism then, I mean (Scruton):
Feminism is the advocacy of the rights of women and of their social, political and economic equality with men. Originally a movement among the half-emancipated women of the educated classes it has become part of a wider women’s movement which is often activist and which somes bases its stance on the belief that society, as presently known in the west, enshrines a persistent sexism and moreover constantly frustrates the right of a woman to be a person and to control her own destiny
Refined by Christine Hoff Sommers definition of Gender Feminism which could be stated as:
In contrast to equity feminism, Sommers coined the term “Gender feminism” to describe what she contends is a gynocentric and misandric branch of feminism. Gender feminists typically criticize contemporary gender roles and aim to eliminate them altogether. Sommers argues that gender feminism characterizes most of the body of modern feminist theory, and is the prevailing ideology in academia. She argues that while the feminists she designates as gender feminists advocate preferential treatment and portray “all women as victims”, equity feminism provides a viable alternative form of feminism to those who object to elements of gender feminist ideology.
The Oxford English Dictionary would define feminism as:
The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.
It’s important to dissect this a little as it is unclear – save from Hoff Sommers definition – where the objection might lie. This can perhaps most easily be explained by adding emphasis to the OED definition:
The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.
The difference between the advocacy of rights and striving for equality is that advocacy of rights, a women’s movement, an activist group for women can argue for more than equal rights and for preferential treatment. This is no different to any other advocacy group and needn’t be sinister. Cancer charities will agitate for more money from government to support their research, Jewish groups will try to secure funding for Israel and – more sinister perhaps – companies will agitate for tax breaks and looser restrictions. That’s where it gets a bit muddy.
While not sinister there can be a dark side to this. If the cancer charity gets more money, maybe it comes away from HIV/AIDS research. If the Israel lobby is successful, maybe there’s less overseas aid for other countries. If the company secures special privileges then the tax shortfall has to be made elsewhere and deregulation can mean anything from toxic spills to bank collapses.
In the case of feminist activism this can be reflected in the demand for special privileges for women that take away from men, distract and detract from men’s issues and promote women ahead of men in areas of society, legal representation, academia, media presentation and many other areas in life.
What then, could possibly be the objections from a socialist or anarchist perspective on the feminist movement? Keep in mind that we’re talking about today’s visible, feminist movement. The one I called NuFem, the combination of mainstream NGO feminism and the hashtag activists of Tumblr and Twitter.
Equality before the law is already the case in the UK. Women are not excluded from any political office or any job. Employment legislation means they cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their sex and that they have a right to equal pay for equal work (this being the case since 1970). There are a few lagging areas, such as the military, but they are now phasing in female soldiers to the front line.
Which all sounds good in theory – and is – but in practice things are not so equal. Fewer women go for positions in politics and business, through their own choice. This creates a tension between the fact of equality before the law and its unsatisfactory (to feminists) reflection in the public sphere. This has lead to unequal, preferential treatment on the basis of gender. The introduction of quotas has also been confirmed under EU law, at least for non-executive boards of listed companies (40% women). This despite positive discrimination and quotas falling foul of various countries equality legislation (ironically enough). However, the failure of large companies to employ ethnic minorities, the disabled or ‘sufficient’ women could form grounds for a suit and so informal quotas do occur.
This is not equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome. It is a case of people getting positions because of their sex, not because they are the best or most qualified person for the job and means other, more talented individuals will be excluded, purely because they are male.
That’s homogeneity, not equality.
In the case of the military, as with the US military, British female soldiers will only go to the front lines if they volunteer, while men can simply be ordered there. Women are also, at this time, immune to any potential military draft in both countries, though this is more of an issue in the US. That’s not equality either, that’s preferential treatment for women.
Inequalities are also present in law, against men, in cases of alimony, divorce, child custody and child support payments. This is not only bias but is enshrined in law, in many countries and though it was overturned in the UK, thankfully, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it.
Feminism’s failure to argue for equality in cases of feminine advantage and male disadvantage and its unwillingness to lead from the front by disestablishing those advantages means that it offends Socialism’s basic principle of equal rights and opportunities.
The Role of the State
Socialism limits the role of the state to one of administrator and the guarantor of legal rights and benefits. It is responsible – in socialism – for the enforcement of the law in a fair and unbiased manner.
Feminism seeks to use the state as an enforcement arm of its own ideology, not of fair application of the law. While it does seek to change the law through agitation and protest, this results in the state no longer being the guarantor of universal, legal rights and benefits but an ideological police enforcing a singular point of view.
NGO feminism has become incredibly powerful within the public sphere, incontestable not because of fact or science but because it is able to leverage the perceived victim status of women into action and any opposition, on any basis, can be smeared with ‘misogyny’ and ‘sexism’ ending careers and causing damage to political parties. This is, perhaps, exemplified by the manner in which Caroline Criado-Perez was able to use a feminist front to alter the banknotes, replacing one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known with an author of romances. This was accomplished both through perceived unfairness, and by parsing any and all objections as trolling, further using her empowered victim status to push it through.
In the more private sphere, the speed of the internet, most notably Twitter, has lead to many panicked and poorly thought out decisions by private individuals and companies when faced with the near-daily Twitter storms that boil up around perceived prejudice or discrimination – which may or may not exist. It almost doesn’t matter if there’s any substance behind it, the speed and the negative publicity swiftly spirals out of control, even when it’s something ridiculous like #CancelColbert.
Feminism also expects the state to support independent women, when they do not work and to pursue their former partners and fathers of their children in order to demand money, take it directly from their wages or put them in jail. It expects the state to provide ‘safe spaces’ without dissent, while also seeking to invade spaces in order to dissent (reference Warren Farrell or Janice Fiamengo’s attempts to speak on University campuses in Canada or protests and counter-protests around pornography in the UK). Ideological ideas about sex work are promoted by feminists to the detriment and against the testimony of women working in that arena and NGO feminism is in bed with the UK Conservative coalition government in order to enforce the criminalisation of forms of sexuality and the censorship of the internet.
The state is being co-opted on ideological grounds and failing to act as the guarantor of rights to over half its citizens. This is not socialist.
Systems of Control
Socialism seeks to eliminate or prevent the creation of systems of control. Wealth might be redistributed through taxation, education and social investment. When it comes to hereditary power a socialist organisation would seek to remove that hereditary right and when it comes to special groupings, socialism would seek to ensure that they were equal with others in the eyes of the state.
This is not the case with NuFem.
NuFem wants to create, indeed is creating, systems of control and special privilege in every sphere of life. From moralising censorship of the internet and of media that offends mainstream feminist sensibilities (No More Page 3, Lose the Lads Mags etc, etc, etc) to the total domination of Gender and Women’s Studies without alternative points of view being taught, even to the point of extracurricular talks being disrupted and undermined by faculty – without penalty. An attempt to take this to court failed, not because it lacked merit, but because of the prevailing attitude and fear of backlash over ‘misogyny’.
Kirsty Ward’s documentary ‘Blurred Lines’ about a supposed rise in misogynistic and sexist culture was biased and one-sided in a way that would never pass if the topic were political, this on the BBC whose charter demands fairness and this is sadly typical of reporting on these subjects, a stance that rarely gets criticised at all, again because of the toxic and damaging nature of the way that dissent – however calm and rational – is treated.
Feminism has set itself up as more than merely an agent for equitable treatment for women, but as a gatekeeper to academia and the public sphere. It is a de facto censor, a group privileged by the state and which uses the state to enforce its will. It brooks little to no dissent and makes no attempt to seek true equality. It is a group that leverages perceived but no longer factual inequalities into a new position of power through social and media manipulation and the sheer power of accusations of misogyny and sexism to destroy opposition.
These are marks of totalitarianism and minority rule. Not a free and fair society such as socialism would attempt to create.
Anarchism posits naturally emergent relationships and systems in which people can self govern and will naturally aid one another. It provides room for the maximum in personal liberty which isn’t at the expense of others (at least in its leftist form, which is where it differs from libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism).
NuFem assumes that people are bad, without investigating intentions or meaning it presumes to know what people think and how they feel. This is reflected in dogmas such as ‘objectification’ and the immediate presumption that some behaviours reflect misogyny – the hatred of women – when that’s not necessarily true. Feminism is, thus, at total odds with one of the basic tenets of Anarchism. One might argue that it is social conditioning that makes these men act in such a way and shift the blame onto society, but given the current state of gender-relations education and media campaigns, this seems 180 degrees from reality and, to add insult to injury, is calling on the state to educate or indoctrinate with acceptable behaviour.
Top down imposition of a particular social order runs counter to anarchism on such a fundamental level that such social engineering and thought policing is – or should be – completely unacceptable to most who call themselves feminists. Indeed, conventional wisdom would have it that by using the established order and top-down, hierarchical systems such as the police and government, NuFem – at least NGO feminism – should be resisted.
Hashtag activism is a little more anarchistic in that it’s attempting to use disruptive technology to overcome traditional relationships and to apply bottom up, rather than top down pressure (in the short term). However, in so doing it descends into mob rule. It is not the quality or correctness of an argument that carries the day in many cases, but rather the sheer volume of outrage and the perceived worthiness of their victim status. This is revolutionary, but more in the sense of La Terreur than Sametová Revoluce. Some may be willing to accept that, but to me it seems to merely be setting up a new authority, just as illegitimate as – say – the ‘moral authority’ of the Church.
Ultimately the goal of Anarchism would be – in the broadest sense – the maximisation of freedom and the minimisation of state interference, restriction and control over the freedoms of others. The tendency of NuFem to try and control, censor and to use mere offence rather than actual harm as a basis to do so, as well as seeking to enforce a subjective paradigm through existing state force seems – to me – to rule it out as a truly anarchistic ideology.
The accomplishments in terms of legal and societal equality (though it has gone further) seem to have fulfilled the original goals of anarcha-feminism while the puritanical, anti-sex work, anti-sex and anti-pornography stance of NuFem also appears to contradict the free love goals of the likes of Goldman, Emile Armand or de Moura.
While anarcha-feminism has also opposed traditional family and gender roles, NuFem has failed to challenge them in the form they exist that leads to inequality for men and failed to address inequality as it affects men throughout society. A necessary compliment to doing the same for women.
Anarchism is ultimately about the maximisation of freedom but relies on the consent and cooperation of all involved. How it deals with those who transgress is what is most telling about any particular form on anarchism and any particular anarchist.
NuFem’s presumption of intent and focus on emotional rather than actual harm, along with its willingness to be prescriptive and to use force to censor free expression – one of the most fundamental of human rights – makes it incompatible with anarchism in any meaningful way.
Criticism and opposition to feminism is often perceived as being rooted in the right wing and associated with the far right. It is often seen as the purview of religious conservatives, social conservatives and those who see a woman’s place as being barefoot and pregnant, standing at the stove.
I believe in a robust discussion that includes everyone, whether I agree with their point of view or not. However the lack of strong leftist voices related to men’s issues is something that very much limits the potential for progress and allows it to be stereotyped with the gold-hoarding, Cliven Bundy type of person. This is, of course, not to say that this kind of person does not have the right to political participation and to free express, just that if that is all there is, it is counterproductive.
I see leftist and anarchistic views as encouraging and guaranteeing the best possible chances for everyone and to be devoted to the concept of equality before the law and equality of opportunity. It is for these very reasons that I oppose NuFem because it is my understanding, from direct experience and professed ideology and claims, that it is not about equality or even what is best for women. It is another prescriptive, controlling and domineering political position which is not based on sound evidence or a desire for genuine freedom or equality. In many instances it seems to be directly trying to impinge upon and prevent fairness and equality for men, particularly as relates to equality in the courts.
The pursuit of equality and fairness is one thing, but NuFem is overstepping those bounds into thought policing, show trials and mob rule as well as abusing its ‘moral’ position to force potentially very dangerous and regressive changes via government.
Genuine equality and human rights is no longer a gendered issue and feminism is not concerned with men’s issues. Either we need a parallel activism that advocates for men’s rights and against the excesses of feminism (and vice versa) or we need a new, syncretic movement for genuine equality that deals with the facts as they genuinely are and with the interplay between the differences, rights, responsibilities and freedoms of both genders and society in general.