Aboutorabi: Liberal feminism isn’t a given

Kathryn Olivarius’s column last Friday (“Back off, faux feminists,” Oct. 29), enthusiastically upbraided “conservative feminists” in the mold of Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. But it did little to illuminate the real disagreements between liberal and conservative claimants to the title of feminism. Instead, it was an exhibition of half-arguments and complacent assumptions, which illustrated, above all else, the intellectual laziness that so animates social discourse on Yale’s campus.

Throughout the op-ed, the author mistook assertion for argument, almost always choosing to breezily dismiss rather than engage with the positions of those conservative women with whom she disagrees. She implied that Palin is guilty of inconsistency for holding a pro-life stance on abortion while supporting the war in Iraq and the use of the death penalty. The equivalence is obviously false; those who support the war and the death penalty do so not out of wanton disrespect for human life, but for the sake of certain other goals — namely, national and domestic security — which hardly relate to the question of abortion.

In another place, Olivarius stated correctly that Senator Harry Reid’s Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, is against abortion even when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. What Olivarius did not do was put forward a reason why Angle’s opinion should be considered anti-feminist. Given that Olivarius had already (albeit with much hesitation) declared that the feminist tent is open to pro-lifers, such an explanation would have been welcome — just as she would have done well to explain why O’Donnell cannot “celebrate her femininity” while at the same time “opposing masturbation, homosexuality, the existence of female soldiers in the army, the legality of contraception and especially the legality of abortion.” If there is a contradiction, it’s not self-evident.

Despite Olivarius’s tepid acceptance of pro-life feminism and her assertion that feminism “means a lot of different things to a lot of people,” her basic attitude — that feminists’ goal of “achieving gender equality” commits them to social and sexual liberalism — is too easy of a conclusion. For “equality” is also a word with many meanings, and it wouldn’t be impossible for a conservative feminist like O’Donnell to argue that her notions of gender norms are perfectly egalitarian. The charges about masturbation and homosexuality are particularly easy to rebut; after all, she’s against them for men as much as women.

What really lies behind O’Donnell’s “feminism” — and conservative feminism in general — is the truly radical belief that men and women can have different and complementary roles without either being higher or lower than the other. When O’Donnell says she “celebrates her femininity,” she is asserting that femininity is something different from masculinity but equally necessary and noble, and that part of what needs to be celebrated in femininity is the miracle of fertility. (Hence, though not exclusively hence, her opposition to contraception and abortion.) This attitude is not self-evidently correct, but neither is it obviously false; it simply represents a fundamentally different understanding of equality from the liberal feminist one.

Though she didn’t offer a definition of gender equality, Olivarius seems to have understood the term as largely synonymous with “gender sameness.” This is the surest way to explain her reflexive certitude that, say, opposing admitting women to military academies is an anti-feminist position, without so much as weighing the arguments that O’Donnell has put on the record. Those arguments are both pragmatic and aesthetic: she worries that co-ed combat training will distract the male students, and that it will erode the differences that, as she has put it, “are what make the relationship between men and women beautiful.”

It would take a longer space than I have left to explore, in any meaningful depth, the arguments for and against the conservative feminists’ attachment to gender norms. I simply hope to leave readers with the impression that there exists a real argument worth having: that which understanding of gender equality is “better” is up for debate.

Here at Yale, alas, we are too ready to take the question as settled. Enlightened intellectuals that we are, we deny in theory and practice that there are any significant differences between the sexes, save the physiological (for however long that lasts). The one exception — that we recognize that men are likelier to be the perpetrators of sexual violence, and women its victims — was recently the subject of a spate of editorials on this page, following a spectacle of vicious buffoonery on Old Campus. Perhaps that recognition should lead us to ponder whether other, less adversarial differences exist as well.

Bijan Aboutorabi is a sophomore in Trumbull College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *needs to be celebrated in femininity is the miracle of fertility*

    The miracle of gestation would be more accurate.

    *that we recognize that men are likelier to be the perpetrators of sexual violence, and women its victims —*

    This is no surprise since they are taught from infancy that their bodies make them avatars of warrior combat, that they are “biologically determined” destined to be the “overhwelmer”.

    http://www.gendercide.org/what_is_gendercide.html

  • The Anti-Yale

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwW15SmdzOU

    Impersonation not “impersination.”

  • RexMottram08

    Well done.

  • River Tam

    It’s okay, you’re (Persian?). You’re allowed to have a moral code – it’s “part of your culture”. Same with me – I’m allowed to be conservative because I’m not white.

    It’s those bible-thumping hicks in middle America who we need to keep in line. White people need to stick together, and all that jazz.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    @River Tam:

    You allude to the heart of the problem. Despite what Liberals **say**, Conservatives (generally) believe that “people are people,” i.e., we all belong to the *human* race and, as members thereof, are entitled to equal treatment under the law (in our case, U.S. law). Ironically, Liberals are far more invested in race, identity politics, special treatment and carve-outs for specified groups. It’s the whole collectivism versus individualism thang.

    In Jerry Brown’s speech last night, he showed he still doesn’t get it: ““I see California once again leading in renewable energy, in public education and openness to every kind of person, whatever their color is,” he said. “I mean, we’re all God’s children.”” What is it about COLOR?

    To your point: Liberals *allow* some groups to maintain, as you put it, a “part of [their] culture.” How. Freakin’. CON-DEE-SCENDING. (Conversely, look at the scathing gender- and identity-based attacks heaped upon those who stray from their Liberal-prescribed roles: Juan Williams, Michelle Malkin, Sarah Palin–and not by them RAAAAAAACIST Conservatives!) One of the worst cases, in my opinion, was Hillary Clinton donning a head-scarf “out of respect” for Islam (on her Mid-East visits). She is a REPRESENTATIVE of the United States! She is an ADVOCATE of Feminism! But yet she kow-tows (or, um… other culturally appropriate English appropriation of foreign-language verb for sucking-up politically) when convenient.

    Ah well. Preaching to the choir. Hey, keep up the good work. The U.S. needs more scientists.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “yet she kow-tows”

    The previous quote represents male, hierartchical thinking.

    Women do not think hierarchically: They network (see Carol Gilligan, “Women’s Ways of Knowing”)

    HILLARY WAS NETWORKING when she wore that scarf: You are offended because you see the world in hierarchies.

    Tsk, Tsk.

  • River Tam

    > Women do not think hierarchically: They network (see Carol Gilligan, “Women’s Ways of Knowing”)
    HILLARY WAS NETWORKING when she wore that scarf: You are offended because you see the world in hierarchies.

    I saw Hillary’s act as kowtowing as well.

    I am female.

    Paul Keane’s brain just exploded.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Imploded !

    Have you capitulated to male hierarchical value systems?

    Would you curtsy or bow for QE2?

  • HGraver

    A wonderful piece. Fantastic writing!

  • Branford73

    I am surprised to see the comment string actually get funny.

    Anyhow, back to the point of the essay, it opens a big topic, i.e. is conservative feminism an oxymoron? Or is it a definite possibility? (I crack myself up.)

    I am certain that if a case can be made for the existence of conservative feminism, Christine O’Donnell does not have the brainpower to make it, nor does Sarah Palin. Now, bring in Lynne Cheney and I’ll listen.

    I would say that I cannot fathom a feminism that would oppose either “the existence of female soldiers in the army” or “the legality of contraception”.

  • River Tam

    > Would you curtsy or bow for QE2?

    Only British citizens bow or curtsy to the queen.

    I kneel at the altar. Otherwise, I offer a handshake.

  • RexMottram08

    >I would say that I cannot fathom a feminism that would oppose either “the existence of female soldiers in the army” or “the legality of contraception”.

    “None of my friends voted for Nixon!”

    http://www.feministsforlife.org/

  • River Tam

    > I am certain that if a case can be made for the existence of conservative feminism, Christine O’Donnell does not have the brainpower to make it, nor does Sarah Palin.

    Can only smart women be liberal feminists as well? Or is that the “default” position?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Let’s suppose you are a British Citizen. If you are a feminist, will you bow to QE2 or curtsy?

  • Branford73

    To my simple brain, the default positions are:
    1) Conservatism means to value traditional social conventions, including gender norms of behavior.
    2) Traditional conventions in the United States include women’s subjugation to men, that women’s primary purpose beyond procreation is to please and support men.
    3) Feminism means to value equal treatment of women, politically and socially.

    Dumb or ignorant people can be either conservative or liberal. They’re just incapable of explaining rationally how they hold their positions. IMO, based only on what I’ve heard them say and seen them do, Palin is not dumb–just ignorant and incurious–while O’Donnell seems to be of a sweet disposition (unlike Chief Mama Grizzly) but both dumb and ignorant. Hence I don’t believe that the inherent contradictions of positions 1 and 2 in opposition to 3 can be reconciled by either Palin or O’Donnell. I picked out Cheney because she’s a conservative woman whose intellect I respect, but whose politics I disagree with.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “If you are a feminist, will you bow to QE2 or curtsy?”

    The answer is: I would refuse to be in the Queen’s presence because feminsim is egalitarian and egalitarians do not belive in hereditary royalty.

    If I was Secretary of State Clinton?

    I would only meet her in private and refuse witnesses (but I’d wear pants).

    PK

  • The Anti-Yale

  • The Anti-Yale

  • The Anti-Yale