POP culture

Premises Of Post-Objectivism


WHAT IS FEMINISM?

A response to Glenn Lamont's article in Free Radical no. 39 (1999)

Copyright Thomas Gramstad

Free Radical no. 40 (2000)

Glenn Lamont claims that feminism is incompatible with Objectivism and an invalid concept. I've never seen a definition of feminism that is incompatible with Objectivism. There are feminists who are not Objectivists, and positions called feminist which are incompatible with Objectivism. But I've never seen a definition of feminism which is at the same time representative of feminism and mutually exclusive with Objectivism. I challenge Lamont or anyone to present such a definition. Definitions of feminism are available in feminist literature and in dictionaries.

Neither feminism nor Objectivism/Randianism are monolithic entities. Feminism much less so, for several reasons explored below, one of which being that it wasn't formulated by one person. Even Objectivism, which was formulated essentially by one person, is going through a process of dividing into different groups and interpretations, as Rand's impact and following increases. More people means more positions, more dialogue, more voices, more cacophony. And this is the way the world moves forward, this is the nature of progress.

DEFINING FEMINISM

The following tripartite definition is from the soc.feminism FAQ file (http://www.cs.uu.nl/wais/html/na-dir/feminism/info.html):

    1. The belief that women and men are, and have been, treated
       differently by our society, and that women have frequently
       and systematically been unable to participate fully in all
       social arenas and institutions.
    2. A desire to change that situation.
    3. That this gives a "new" point-of-view on society, when
       eliminating old assumptions about why things are the way
       they are, and looking at it from the perspective that women
       are not inferior and men are not "the norm."

It does not follow the classical Aristotelian genus-species structure of definitions, yet clearly refers to and identifies an aspect of reality.

FEMINISM AS UNION OF IDEOLOGY AND ACTIVISM

Lamont laments (no pun intended) the lack of a sharp genus that can define a concept of feminism. His mistake is the presupposition that such a genus must be an ideology. It isn't, and cannot be, for several reasons all connected to the fact that feminism is just as much a social movement as it is a set of intellectual positions. Feminism describes activism and a commitment to action as much as a range of ideas. Feminist ideas are those that lead to social progress concerning gender relations at a given time and place.

As noted, this range of ideas is bigger - and fuzzier - than a corresponding Randian range of ideas. Objectivism was designed in a hierarchical way as a philosophy, including an emphasis on thought and cognition as fundamental and other mental aspects and activities as derivative. Feminism wasn't designed, but grew out of experiences of certain times, places and factors of social organization. ''Correct thinking about the right ideas'' would be sufficient to call oneself an Objectivist, but it is not enough to be a feminist. Without a commitment to action and social change one is not a feminist, even if one holds feminist ideas. So in feminism there is a form of ''equal worth'' between ideas and activism. Feminism is more than an ideology, more than a philosophy. This is why feminism, unlike Objectivism, cannot be defined by a genus which is only an ideology or a philosophy.

FEMINISM AS HISTORICAL ENTITY AND PROCESS

Feminism is influenced by, sometimes even determined by, its enemies. In some parts of Africa feminism means a fight against female genital mutilation; in the middle ages it would have meant a fight for witches' right to live; in the Western world a hundred years ago it meant a fight for women's right to hold property, to divorce, to vote, to be recognized as adult legal subjects. And in the Western world today it means a fight against tacit and institutionalized collectivist and misogynist beliefs derived from gender roles and other sex-based prejudices.

The common thread running through these different periods and places is captured by the definition above. It involves a theory about and a commitment to men and women being equals, in all spheres of life. Equals in standing, possibility, freedom and range of choice.

This is the core of all feminist theories. This ''core feminism'' or ''core feminist theory'' doesn't prescribe or presuppose neither differences between men and women nor similarities between men and women, nor does it require excluding men or only furthering women's causes.

Feminists, as a rule, assume that there are few if any inherent, unchangeable differences between men and women; only a lot of individual differences and variation. Patriarchalists claim the existence of many universal and immutable differences between men and women, seeking to understate, marginalize and suppress individual differences in an attempt to create two universal gender forms or essences that everybody must be squeezed into. In other words, Lamont's claim that most feminists are polylogists is wrong. Only a minority of feminists are polylogists; but virtually all patriarchalists are polylogists. They follow a schema of rationalizations starting with biological, immutable gender essences that are used to justify polylogist beliefs about men's and women's minds, and from there they move on to justify different treatment and expectations of girls and boys, women and men, pretending that gender roles are natural, inborn and immutable. One typical example is John Gray's Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, which has been concisely and extensively criticized by feminist women and men from Earth (see Kathleen Trigiani, http://web2.airmail.net/ktrig246/out_of_cave/index.html).

ADJECTIVAL FEMINISM

You may agree with the core theory of feminism without fitting into any branch of feminism you know about. You can believe that women and men should be politically, economically and socially equal for your own reasons and hold your own ideas pertaining to how to make it happen. This freedom leads to the diversity of ''adjectival feminisms''. But at the core, feminism remains a theory that men and women should be politically, socially, and economically equal.


   I myself have never been able to figure out precisely what
   feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist
   whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a
   doormat.
This quotation - Rebecca West in The Clarion, 1913 - shows that Lamont is wrong when he claims that the term ''feminism'' was not commonly used in earlier times and that the term was retrofitted by feminists in the 1960s and 70s. The early use of ''feminism'' is well documented.

The soc.feminism Terminologies file lists 16 different types of feminism. They cover a large spectrum and convey the diversity of feminism. Of these, 7 can easily be embraced by Objectivists and Randians, while 5 are clearly incompatible.

A Randian feminism must be individualist. You could use individualist as an adjective (''individualist feminist''). Or - probably better - you can use both as nouns, saying that you are an individualist and a feminist. There is no reason to fear the word feminist.

FEMINISM AS THE VANGUARD OF EQUALITY

Equality must mean equality under the law, but it must also mean philosophical and social equality of men and women in daily life. The latter cannot be achieved by legislation. True liberation and individualism means that all virtues and characteristics are individual human virtues and characteristics, open to anyone who is inclined to pursue and develop them. There are no virtues or psychological characteristics belonging exclusively to males, or to females. As a feminist, I support closing the gender gap, not widening it - thus clearing the road for a free, individualist and diverse future.


The address of this document:
http://www.ifi.uio.no/~thomas/po/whatisfeminism.html

Author's address:
thomas@gramstad.no

Index to the Post-Objectivism web site:
http://www.ifi.uio.no/~thomas/po/articles.html