Blog By Barry

January 15, 2009

Quote: A bit more on malebashing

Filed under: Anti-feminists and their pals, Feminism, sexism, etc — Ampersand @ 12:38 am

This post is quoted from “A Feminist Theory of Malebashing,” by Susan H. Williams and David C. Williams, published in 1996 in Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. The original article has lots of footnotes, which I have rather lazily omitted.

Nicholas Davidson, a well-known critic of feminism, opines in the journal Society that malebashing – he calls it “female chauvinism” – is inevitable in all forms of feminism. He begins by recognizing that liberal feminism rests on the claim that there is no essential difference between men and women. He calls this idea “unisexism” and acknowledges that it does not on its face bash males. But then he makes this startling leap of logic:

The original definition [of feminism] described feminism as “the theory that women should have political, economic, and social rights equal to those of men.’ This theory presumes that women do not, in fact, have rights equal to men…. If women do not have rights equal to men, the inescapable conclusion, which no feminist will dispute, is that women are oppressed…. From the perception that women are oppressed follows the perception that men are the oppressors. Society is held to be dominated by men for their selfish benefit. Note that the “oppressed’ and the “oppressor’ are moral categories – the oppressed are victims who have done nothing to deserve their fate, the oppressors are villains who have done nothing to deserve their privilege. The theory that women lack equal rights inexorably generates the proposition that women are oppressed and men are oppressors…. Reduced to simplest terms, this sets up the following equation: women good, men bad – hence women are better than men. Unisexism thus generates female chauvinism, despite the evident contradiction between these two points of view.

Again, Davidson cites no actual feminists to substantiate this tortured argument. Instead, he relies on logical derivation. He begins with the uncontroversial proposition that feminists, by definition, believe in equal rights for women. From this simple idea, he purports to logically derive his conclusion that all feminists believe all men are villains and all women innocent victims. Unfortunately, none of his logical steps follow from the premise. Attention to the actual writing of real feminists might have saved him from his logical errors.

Davidson’s first step is to say that feminists who believe women should have equal rights necessarily believe they do not presently have equal rights. That conclusion does not follow from the premise: one could believe that women do have equal rights, and they should have those rights. To be sure, many feminists do not believe women presently have equal rights, but perhaps some feminists do. Therefore, it is not the case that all feminists must follow Davidson even to this first step.

Davidson next argues that if one believes that women do not have equal rights, then one must also believe they are oppressed and men are their oppressors. Not only that – here the claims start to come thick and fast – women are not at all responsible for the present state of affairs and men are entirely responsible. Further, women (presumably all women, since they all lack equal rights) are victims, and men (presumably all men, since they all have superior standing) are villains. In short, “women good, men bad.” At this point, most feminists have already left the train at an earlier stop; Davidson is travelling alone with only a minute subset of feminists and mistakenly concluding that they represent all of feminism. Presumably he made that mistake because he never asked for any of the passengers’ names or their views.

Perhaps the overwhelming majority of feminists agree that some men have acted in ways that oppress some women, to sustain the system of unequal rights. But that limited conclusion does not drag us by force of logic to accept “women good, men bad.” First, consistent with their fundamental commitment to equality, feminists may believe that sexism is a system of role socialization that oppresses us all. Under this view, men are victims along with women, even though they may wield more power and disproportionately support the system of unequal rights. Others may believe that men bear some responsibility but role socialization offers a partial moral excuse. Still others may believe that some men are oppressive villains, but they oppress both men (especially gay men and men of color) and women. Still others believe that some or perhaps all women have internalized some or most of the sexism in their society, and so they are complicit in the system of gender hierarchy. Other feminists may believe all or some combination of the above, and still others may not be sure what they think. Of course, some feminists may also adopt the view that Davidson ascribes to them, but to tell, one would need to consult their writings, rather than relying on caricature. In short, the issue of moral responsibility for the present state of affairs may be enormously complex for feminists.


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