Feminism, ‘Equality’ and Gay Rights
posted at 6:43 am on May 2, 2009 by The Other McCain
Allahpundit has video of the Laura Ingraham interview with Gloria Feldt, in which Feldt begins by saying that “feminism is about justice and equality.” Unfortunately, the interview quickly breaks down into a shouting match after that, and this “justice and equality” argument is never examined as the dangerous idea it is.
By justice, Feldt clearly means “social justice” which, as Friedrich Hayek observed, is a mirage. What Feldt intends is something quite unlike the ideal of justice under the Rule of Law, whereby clear and stable legal standards are neutrally enforced without regard to whether this enforcement benefits any given individual or group. “Social justice,” of the sort that radical egalitarians like Feldt endorse, is quite the opposite. The whole purpose of “social justice” is to pick winners and losers, to benefit one group or punish another, as a means of bringing about a state of “equality” or “fairness.”
But what about Feldt’s ideal of “equality”? It is a glittering generality, a pleasing phrase whose positive connotation Feldt uses as a rhetorical bludgeon against her adversaries: How can you be against equality?
Well, as any student of mathematics knows, two things are equal insofar as they are interchangeable. If Gloria Feldt wishes to assert that she is equal to Peyton Manning, let’s put her in the starting lineup for the Colts this season and see how many TD passes she throws.
Men and women are equal only to the extent that they are identical and fungible, so that a man can be substituted for a woman or vice-versa in all cases. Obviously, men and women are not perfectly identical in this way. There are innate biological differences beginning, of course, with their different functions in the vital work of reproducing the next generation. Other differences — especially the greater average physical size and superior upper-body strength of the male — are often dismissed as irrelevant in our modern technocratic world. This may explain why feminism flourishes in academia. Of this sort of fanatical feminism, we may say of what George Orwell said of British pacifists in World War II: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
It is precisely because men and women are different that they bring to marriage a necessary complementarity. Nor is it accidental, I think, that the ascent of the feminist ideal of androgyny has been accompanied by a rising divorce rate and a general decline of marriage. If men and women are merely identical units of economic production whose value is chiefly in their earning capacity (“Equal Pay For Equal Work!” the feminists demand), then what value is there in a spouse that cannot be obtained from a roommate who splits the rent?
It is the feminist insistence that men and women are equal — identical, interchangeable, fungible — that is the necessary premise of same-sex marriage. Opponents of same-sex marriage can never win the argument if they are unwilling to challenge that premise. Because once you cede “equality,” then you find yourself confronted with the militant demand for “rights,” which I addressed in a January column for The American Spectator, “Gay Rights, Gay Rage”:
The late historian Christopher Lasch was the first to identify (and Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon later examined in depth) how “rights talk” insinuated itself into American culture as a dominant mode of political discourse in the decades following World War II. Because Americans are taught to think of “rights” as something sacred in our civic religion, those accused of violating “rights” are easily demonized, while those who advocate “rights” are sanctified. . . .
“Rights talk” allowed liberals a means of preemptively delegitimizing their opponents and thereby to avoid arguing about policy in terms of necessity, utility and efficacy. If all legal and political conflicts are about “rights,” there is no need to argue about the specific consequences of laws and policies. Merely determine which side of the controversy represents “rights” and the debate ends there.
This is exactly what the advocates of same-sex marriage have done. What they urge is an innovation so drastic and unprecedented that its ultimate consequences for society cannot be argued on the basis of observable experience. We have no social science to tell us what changes occur in a polity over the course of 20, 50 or 100 years after the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Given this forensic problem, opponents of same-sex marriage too often resort to nightmare-scenario speculation (“What about pedophilia? What about bestiality?”) that makes them look bigoted and irrational, allowing the liberal to exult: “A-ha! See, what did I tell you? Hate! Prejudice! Homophobia!”
Thus, the nightmare-scenario arguments are self-defeating for conservatives and, I believe, are evidence of intellectual cowardice. Conservatives are afraid to attack the egalitarian premise, to assert that men and women are different in ways that are profoundly significant, for fear of offending women. Conservatives can easily imagine the Gloria Feldts of the world screaming: “See? These bigots don’t merely hate gays, they hate women, too! They want to turn back the clock and relegate women to second-class citizenship!”
Is this true? Do I hate my wife or wish my daughters to be subject to injustice and oppression? The manifest absurdity of the implied accusation tells me that the feminist is arguing unfairly. Claiming to speak on behalf of all women, feminists set up a rhetorical trap: Either you endorse their ideology and all their policy prescriptions or else you are “anti-woman.” And the gay-rights movement has adopted the same tactic: Disagree with them and you are “anti-gay,” immediately diagnosed as suffering from the mental disorder homophobia, a pathological fear and hatred of homosexuals.
As with the feminist accusation of “misogyny,” I am sure that I suffer no such thing as “homophobia.” And yet this term is promiscuously hurled at critics of the gay-rights movement as if it were a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis. Conservatives fail to attack the argument’s implied premise — that the policies advocated by gay-rights leaders are self-evidently necessary and beneficial — so that opposition can only be explained as a product of irrational bigotry.
During the Civil War battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s corps got into a furious fight for possession of a ridgeline. Casualties were severe, but Meade’s men withstood the assault and were preparing to hold their ground against further Confederate advances when orders arrived from the army commander, Gen. Joe Hooker: “Fall back.”
This command infuriated the hot-tempered Meade: “If he doesn’t think we can hold the top of the hill, how the hell does he expect us to hold the bottom of it?”
Conservatives cannot surrender the high ground in this argument and expect to win. And marriage is a hill to die on.