Green Room

Feminism, ‘Equality’ and Gay Rights

posted at 6:43 am on May 2, 2009 by

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.

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Conservatives cannot surrender the high ground in this argument and expect to win. And marriage is a hill to die on.

Agreed… but part of keeping that high ground is actually doing what we demand of others: respecting marriage. And as a group, we don’t.

I know, I know… you’ve been married for 20 years. I’ve been married for 15; although this is my second marriage, I did not divorce, I was widowed. But until the divorce rate drops at least into the single digits, we look like – heck, we ARE – hypocrites. Ed’s on the right track, facilitating Marriage Encounter weekends. As a group, we need to do more like that. We don’t need Prejean or any spokesman against gay marriage as much as we need a spokesman in favor of hetero marriage.

Laura on May 2, 2009 at 10:08 AM

Agreed… but part of keeping that high ground is actually doing what we demand of others: respecting marriage. And as a group, we don’t.

We’re collectivists now? As I recall in the last encounter on marriage between you two, Mr. McCain said something to the effect of “who is this we?”

I repeat that: Who is this “group.” Is it Catholics, Protestants, people of religious faith? How do you propose we affect the actions of other people who are distant and entirely unrelated? Why does our argument flounder because somewhere, someone who lends no voice either for or against marriage but is Christian gets a divorce?

Collectivism is absurd Laura. The only thing we need to defend is our position as it relates to ourselves. It is not as if the gay community takes seriously attempts to quash their mind-bendingly vulgar and degenerate brothers and sisters who go about vandalizing Mormon churches and organizing gay sex fairs in the middle of downtown San Francisco. Their gay groupthink does not extend to a defense of the excesses taken by homosexuals.

We already are the spokesmen Laura, and we should not be held accountable if people hear our plea and refuse to change their behavior.

BKennedy on May 2, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Thanks for the input, Laura. I’ve never been much for the “encounter group” approach, but that’s just me.

The Other McCain on May 2, 2009 at 3:21 PM

Has anyone ever noticed that the gay marraige movement never speaks to the unlimited spousal deduction??? At least not that I have seen. As they say…follow the money. Can’t wait for my grandchildren to see the unintended consequences on tis one

ru4real on May 2, 2009 at 9:25 PM

Who is this “group.”

First – heterosexuals, BKennedy. Since we’re the ones who have been getting married so far. Heterosexuals generally do not have a culture of marriage, as the high divorce and cohabitation rates indicate.

Second – self-proclaimed Christians. Since the rates of self-proclaimed Christians doing those things are about equal to that of non-Christians, we are not only not defending marriage adequately, we’re also not doing a good job of defending and promoting the Christian faith or we would not have so many “cultural” Christians. Meaning people who check the census box as Christians but live thoroughly secular lives.

Why does our argument flounder because somewhere, someone who lends no voice either for or against marriage but is Christian gets a divorce?

If it was “someone” “somewhere” that would be an anomaly. But the truth is is entirely normal and mainstream. That’s the problem.

How do you propose we affect the actions of other people who are distant and entirely unrelated? … We already are the spokesmen Laura, and we should not be held accountable if people hear our plea and refuse to change their behavior.

I have not heard any such plea. Where are the ad campaigns that encourage young people to marry? Where are the ad campaigns to discourage divorce? Who’s in charge of that movement? Has Rick Warren or the AFA or similar groups signed on to show support for it? I know a lot of people who are perfectly willing to throw a few bucks in the jar to support campaigns against gay marriage. But where is the reverse campaign – the one where we say, this is what marriage is meant to be and we all need to live accordingly?

Heteros need to find a way to build a strong platform of promoting and defending marriage for ourselves before we can stand on that platform and defend it from others. Stacy, you don’t like the “encounter group” approach, but you do promote marriage in other ways in your personal life. I think that’s great and I laud you for that. I do the same, and support my church which has a strong culture of marriage. Believers who are in churches which do not have a strong culture of marriage ought to start promoting it. (Certainly the promotion of two-parent households will do more to lift children out of poverty than the food banks many churches run; any church which invests time and money fighting poverty ought to be encouraging marriage as part of that effort.)

I just think it would be more effective and less hypocritical for us to have a pro-active campaign to take marriage back for ourselves, rather than a negative campaign to keep it away from other people. Because if heterosexuals generally and Christians specifically had treated marriage with respect, or at least start to treat marriage with respect so that the cultural definition of marriage shifts back to what we want it to be, then same sex marriage won’t even be an issue. It would be unthinkable.

Laura on May 4, 2009 at 10:45 AM