The Contradiction That Rules Feminism by Harvey C. Mansfield

For anyone looking for a perspective on feminism that’s more academic than polemic, I recommendThe Contradiction That Rules Feminism by Harvey C. Mansfield“. Compared to the entertaining polemics found elsewhere in the manosphere, this article manages to be as academically dry as a dusty university professor – while at the same time sarcastically pointing out the contradiction of feminism and feminist policies. It also has some insights I haven’t encountered elsewhere in my digital travels. 

Some quotes from the article:

Feminism was able to change American society from the top down, but that did not prevent feminism from expressing, teaching, and even thriving on a contradiction. Put simply, feminism did not, and still does not, know whether to say that women are capable or vulnerable. If women are capable, they deserve to be independent, particularly of men; if they are vulnerable, they need to be protected, particularly from men (and yet, of course, by men).

One could even say that feminism is all about theory. It wants to reject all previous experience of relations between the sexes and substitute a new status for women in our society unknown in any previous society. Feminists can be diverse but they are all living, practicing theorists leading a revolution of theory applied.

For the fundamental assertion of feminism is that women are equal to men, and equal not as counterparts to men but in every respect.

Nature in the classical tradition refers to the whole of things composed of natures, with distinct definitions, delimiting parts of nature that are also wholes in themselves. Thus men and women each have natures defining them, distinguishing them, and in this case, joining them. As against this sort of thinking, feminism declared its opposition to all such definitions or essences, and crowned “essentialism” as the devil inspiring all oppression of women by men.

In fact, feminism makes a new feminist identity for women, replacing the old feminine mystique .. [with a] new one [which] is to have the same freedom as men. This is what is meant by “having it all”: not to live like a god with no limitations but merely like a male without the hesitations and inhibitions previously imposed on women—and like a woman as well. A woman can become independent of men by learning how to imitate them, thus making actual men dispensable while retaining the use of all their qualities.

To prove that women can do everything men do, the most logical feminists find it necessary to practice their excesses, or at least boast of them—announcing with satisfaction that the murder rate by women is rising or discovering that rape is a gender-neutral crime that women too have the force and malice to commit. A strange independence of men that requires slavish imitation of their faults!

Since a woman can no longer count on the support of her husband—having dispensed with it—she needs to be able to call the police in case of trouble or a social agency in case of penury or a lawyer in case of discrimination. She needs to ensure that her independence is protected and nurtured by an environment that is not “hostile.” The riskier her life, the more protection she needs; so we have the paradox of an enormous increase in women’s liberty combined with a comparable increase in governmental protection to ensure it in case of trouble.

The government, their new husband, takes over the task of providing for their security. Women are no longer the weaker sex, but they remain the more vulnerable sex. The new-old essence of women is vulnerability. Their exciting new sense of risk must be made riskless, their sexual adventures free of misadventure, their newly-acquired manliness given the support of a wife. The trouble with feminist imitation-manliness is that, unlike men, feminist women have no wives.

To compensate for the vulnerability of women, government must not assume that women are equal, as seemed to be its duty at first if women are to be independent, but rather assume they are unequal and make them equal.

Equality is transformed from the presumption or precondition of feminism to its goal, to be reached by equalization of the unequal. The trouble is that equalizing women defines them as unequal because of their vulnerability, which is precisely the presumption of feminism’s enemies—patriarchy and its root cause, essentialism. Hence feminism’s contradiction: presuming women as both equal and unequal to men, and as both lacking a definition and having one.

In so doing [the Federal Office of Civil Rights, or OCR] follows and repeats the contradiction in feminist theory we have seen, for protection against sex discrimination presumes that women are equal to men, whereas protection against sexual harassment and violence presumes that women are more vulnerable than men and thus unequal.

Working with this contradictory transformation of its authority, the OCR has fashioned a campaign of equalization to make women equal without admitting that doing so implies they are unequal.

The notion of an “environment” comfortable to more mature women who want to be let alone becomes much more demanding as it is transformed into one in which sex with an immature woman must be satisfactory rather than botched. Being equal to men, the young woman has like them the right to free sex in a friendly environment … and being unequal to men, she needs protection unlike them so that she can say no at any stage.

The fervent ambition behind it can be seen in the OCR’s warning that one single occurrence of sexual misconduct in a university can be the trigger for declaring it to be harboring that environment.

Universities are now responsible for maintaining the happy situation in which a woman never receives a proposal that offends her because it is unwanted and thus makes her feel vulnerable. Then at last women will truly be equal to men, and the equality that had been merely posited for them by the feminist movement is at last realized and justified.

The OCR regulations are stunning in their presumptuousness. They are asserted with the force of law but were not passed by Congress or considered by the courts, nor were they formulated after a legally required process of hearings and comment. Equally stunning is the docility with which they have been received by the universities. Though there are signs of discomfort, not one has opposed an intrusion upon their self-government in a matter of educational discipline that previously has been left to them.

Then, as to free speech, the new policy requires what amounts to a speech code of impermissible things to say. Innuendo, gestures, remarks, hints that give offense, whether objectively or subjectively, will be punished, particularly if they endorse or imply “sexual stereotypes” of masculinity or femininity. These specifications will be taught to people who may resist them, or indeed to all, in courses of OCR-approved “training.”

Obviously these matters are directed against offenses of men. But women need to be instructed too. Women are inclined to be hesitant about reporting sexual misconduct. They are woefully disposed to take refuge in the shadow of the right of privacy, so insisted upon by many women in other matters. They might doubt that if the unwelcome conduct of a man falls short of a crime, a sensible woman should be required, regardless of her privacy and at the cost of her time and equanimity, to report it. She might think that vindictive justice in this sort of circumstance ranks low on the list of rational motives, though not as low as the duty to provide statistics to the government. At the top of that list one might find the desire to return to one’s studies regardless of an unwelcome experience. But no, she must overcome these doubts.

The OCR’s use of indirect government—getting the universities to punish themselves rather than be punished by the government with loss of funding—is a mode of shaming them into proper behavior. It is almost unnecessary to remind readers that under patriarchy shame was regarded as a woman’s weapon. It is by the woman’s weapon that the woman’s essence is to be destroyed.

Just now many American universities have too few males, sometimes as few as 40% of the students. This is an imbalance particularly harmful to the social life of women students, and universities have to be careful not to alienate the males they need to attract.


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About A Northern Observer

Joe Random Guy who lives north of a lot of things. My image is from the National Archives - Battle of Britain - Aircraft spotter on the roof of a building in London. St. Paul's Cathedral is in the background. 306-NT-901B-3.

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