Sunday, November 14, 2010

Conservative Women Challenge Feminism in the Name of Reality and Common Sense

Sarah Palin has aroused furious and hateful opposition from feminists used to being regarded as speaking for all women because she dares to speak in public from a conservative, rather than a liberal, viewpoint. Contemporary feminism is a decadent and negative version of a once proud movement that made many contributions to modern society.

The angry, anti-family, anti-men, socialist feminism of today may speak for socialists of both sexes but it does not, and never has, spoken for the majority of women. For decades, for example, more women than men have opposed abortion. Yet, since abortion is part of the cultural Marxist assault on the oppressive family, it is a non-negotiable absolute for feminists.

The recent US mid-term elections featured the election of a number of strong, conservative women like Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Governor-elect Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Sarah Palin will one day be regarded as a trailblazer as conservative women increasingly challenge the old, cynical, 60s left-overs for the role of speaking for women.

Interestingly, this trend is going on in Germany as well. This news report describes a new trend in which conservative women move to the attack instead of allowing themselves to be put on the defensive by Marxists using gender to advance their ideology.

They are perhaps the most high-profile women in Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel: Kristina SchrÖder, the young, glamorous minister for families, women and pensioners, and Alice Schwarzer, the seasoned feminist intellectual and campaigner. And they're embroiled in an unseemly, vitriolic war of words over sex, the role of women and feminism. Played out in the mass media, the slanging match is providing titillating fodder for the press - but many German women fear it is also undermining their ongoing struggle for equality.

It all started when SchrÖder - at 33 the youngest member of Merkel's cabinet - attacked the 1970s feminist movement, telling Der Spiegel news magazine on Nov. 7 that early feminism "overlooked the fact that partnership and children can provide happiness." The conservative minister, who's known for her prim and proper attire, went on to say: "For me, emancipation will only be truly reached if a woman can wear make-up and skirts without having her abilities doubted as a result." (See Merkel in TIME's top 10 female leaders.)

Then SchrÖder took a dig at Schwarzer, 67, Germany's doyenne of feminism, claiming that many of Schwarzer's theories were too radical: "For example, that heterosexual sex was hardly possible without the subjugation of women." She added: "It is absurd if something that is fundamental for humanity and its survival should be defined per se as subjugation. That would mean that society can't carry on without the subjugation of women."

The comments provoked a fast and furious response from Schwarzer, author of the 1975 bestseller The Little Difference and Its Big Consequences and publisher of the feminist magazine Emma, who on Nov. 8 posted a fiery open letter on her website accusing the minister of "incompetence." Schwarzer couldn't resist pointing out that it was only thanks to the feminist movement that women like SchrÖder had managed to climb up the career ladder. And in a personal gibe, the feminist icon said the minister was "simply unsuitable" for the job, having failed, Schwarzer claimed, to introduce any policies to improve the rights of women and families in Germany since she was appointed last year: "Chancellor [Merkel] appointed you ... and whatever her motive was, it couldn't have been competence or empathy for women." (See a profile of Angela Merkel.)

Schwarzer's letter, which was published by the mass-market daily Bild, also slammed SchrÖder's initiative to help boys perform better at school and her reluctance to introduce quotas for women in leadership roles, despite the fact that out of 185 board members listed on the DAX stock index, only four are women.

After concluding that SchrÖder was a "hopeless case," Schwarzer delivered another personal blow: "The only exciting news to come out of your ministry this year was your name-change." (SchrÖder traded in her maiden name, Koehler, after getting married in February. SchrÖeder hit back, telling Bild on Nov. 9 that she thought it was a "pity" that Schwarzer had personally attacked her.(Comment on this story.)

Schroder's main point, that heterosexual sex cannot be inherently oppressive since it is essential to the survival of the human race shows that contemporary feminism is not only fighting culture, but also nature and reason. Her views seem moderate and reasonable; those of her opponent seem like a caricature of a crazy feminist drawn by someone opposed to feminism.

Schroder is "a hopeless case" because she took her husband's name and cares about boys succeeding in school? What is this, most normal people would ask, some kind of joke? I wonder if contemporary feminists realize how out of touch they are with ordinary middle-class people. And I wonder if they realize how inevitable it is that - given their extreme ideology - sooner or later the majority of women are going to rise up and tell them that they only speak for themselves.

If you don't believe me, ask a conservative woman. It is not like they are hard to find these days.


Kevin said...

Interesting story in Germany. Sad. I do take issue with your use of the word "feminism," you seem to have defined it as "radical left wing feminism." I say this because you don't consider SchrÖder, or any of the women elected to be feminists. They're fighting for women's rights too, they're feminists, they just have a different vision of the female (and human) good than the left-wingers do.

There is no monolithic feminists movement, there are a multitude of streams and views on women's rights and how to achieve them.

You're quite right that Schwarzer is a cliche stereotype of a 60s anti-male feminist, but, by labeling that particular brand of feminism as feminism-itself, you've only fed into their stereotypes about the right.

Craig Carter said...

I sympathize with the terminological problem; I'm of two minds myself. But the problem is that Schwarzer claims to be a feminist, so any time you or I or anyone else supports "feminism," we are supporting her views along with other views all of which are taken as making up feminism. We have to find a way around this. Any ideas?

Kevin said...

Well that's the problem, really, with broad idea labels, they tend to encompass a broad range of things.

If I say I'm a fan of teleological ethics, that could mean I'm a Virtue Ethicist, or it could mean I'm a Utilitarian, and those are two very different things.

So my ideas. First of all, write about what you think feminism is. Don't simply accept her label, remake the label.

Second, come up with a more specific label (Christian Feminist, Conservative Feminist, Orthodox Feminist... something).

Third, don't simply write in terms of labels, write in terms of ideas. "Schwarzer says this is the ideal for women, but I say this is the ideal for women."

Craig Carter said...

Labels are not necessarily bad; I don't think we should forego them altogether because it would make writing less precise and much more tedious and pedantic. It would inhibit communication in a different way.

The problem I have with modifiers for feminism is that one implies that it is meaningful to say, for example, that "conservative feminism" and "second wave feminism" are two varieties of one thing. I don't think that is the case; I think the differences are so deep that to call them both by the same label is meaningless and misleading.

If you doubt this, try coming up with a definition of "feminism" of which there are variants that could include the conservative to Marxist spectrum.

If you fail, it is an argument against using the modifier approach. If you succeed, I would likely wonder if a Christian is conceding too much in using the commonality identified between the two types of feminism. But that could only be ascertained on the basis of a given definition.

Defining a word (that is, a part of the sentence such as a noun, verb, preposition or particle that cannot be divided into simpler parts and which stands for one thing or idea) every time you use it gets clumsy very fast.

Ideally, we would write long articles using careful definitions to make nuanced distinctions. Unfortunately we know this does not happen in newspapers, magazines, blogs and political ads.

I'm still unsure what the best way forward. Maybe it is to advocate for a Conservative Feminism or a Family Feminism instead of Second Wave Feminism. Or maybe we need to invent a new word for a Christian theological anthropology applied to sex roles and relations.

Kevin said...

It may be, then, that you should simply use feminism in your own way. That is, use feminism to refer to what you think proper feminism is (i.e. "conservative feminism") and deny that word to your opponents (label them as something else). This might initially cause some confusion, but if enough thinkers did it in a powerfully persuasive way I the word "feminism" would start to take on the new meaning. In other words, view your use of the word as a long-term project, instead of a one-off exercise.

Of course, you might view this as dishonest propaganda, which would be a fair critique I think.

As for what you said about labels, I agree that they aren't necessarily a bad thing, but we do have to recognize their limitations. This is especially a problem with broad category terms (left, right, the media, feminism, etc.). It seems to me (to get rather Wittgensteinian) that with such terms, a lot of the time, there can really be no concrete definition. Rather, we tend to have a "sense" of their meaning that is generally agreed upon, but rather fuzzy.

For example, "religion" encompasses such broad systems of belief as Christianity, Hinduism, New Age and The Dreaming (of the Australian Aborigines). I think you would be hard pressed to come up with a definition for the word religion that encompasses all of the things we think of as being religions, yet it seems to remain a useful term for purely practical purposes (I'm actually inclined to think the term "religion" is actually very disingenuous, as it leads to all sorts of false assumptions, such as thinking that Christianity and Hinduism are somehow alike, while Secularism is not, but that's an argument for another time).

I think feminism might be rather like this. There is some core that holds them together, but doesn't necessarily lead to any similarity in actual practice. Perhaps this core is more teleological than idealogical. I don't mean here that the various feminisms share an actual teleology, but that they share a kind of teleological semantics. i.e. all feminisms aim for the female good (just as all ethics aim for the human good) but how that good is spelled out can be radically different depending on the brand of feminism you are speaking of.

Craig Carter said...

You make some points that make me think. Let me get back to you. (I know that kind of goes against the ethos of bogging - thinking first and writing second - but so be it!)