Barry (Ampersand of Alas, a Blog), who posts at this blog and with whom I have engaged in several interesting discussions, has characterized me as an “anti-feminist” on his blog and, most recently, in a thread on the Women’s Studies list about my postings here.
In response to Daphne Patai, who questions this label and points out that I have frequently criticized conservative anti-feminists as well, Barry responds:
Cathy knows I respect her, but it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of her writings about feminism are dedicated to attacking feminism and feminists. Why should the word that accurately and concisely describes Cathy’s position – anti-feminism – be taboo? I think we lose more than we gain when we say that accurate words cannot be used for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
While I don’t think that my feelings can be particularly hurt by any label anyone chooses to slap on me, I think that labeling me (or, say, Wendy McElroy) “anti-feminist” (1) is inaccurate and (2) establishes a rigid ideological definition of what “feminism” is. I also think that, whether or not Barry intends it that way, “anti-feminist” is a pejorative. Indeed, I would say that Barry himself uses it as a pejorative: the section on his blog dedicated to critics of feminism is called “Anti-Feminist Zaniness,” and in this 2004 thread (update: link now corrected), he says, in a partial defense of yours truly, “I’m not saying that … she doesn’t say stupid, anti-feminist things…”
What’s the dictionary meaning of “anti-feminist”? My Webster’s, sadly, offers none, but it defines feminism as “the doctrine advocating social, political and all other rights of women equal to those of men,” as well as “an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.” An anti-feminist, then, must be someone who opposes all that. Meanwhile, here’s what we get from The Free Dictionary:
Anti-feminist: Characterized by ideas or behavior reflecting a disbelief in the economic, political, and social equality of the sexes.
And on the same page, a citation from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2003):
antifeminist – someone who does not believe in the social or economic or political equality of men and women
The American Heritage dictionary, by the way, lists “bigot” and “male chauvinist” as synonyms for “antifeminist.”
I think anyone familiar with my work will know that this does not accurately describe my views.
Here’s what I wrote in the introduction to my 1999 book, Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (the introduction to which is available online at the BarnesandNoble.com website):
Do I still consider myself a feminist? No, if feminism means believing that women in Western industrial nations today are “oppressed” or if it means “solidarity with women,” as essayist Barbara Ehrenreich claimed on National Public Radio in 1994. Yes, if it means that men and women meet each other as equals, as individuals first and foremost; if we remember what British philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards wrote more than fifteen years ago: “No feminist whose concern for women stems from a concern for justice in general can ever legitimately allow her only interest to be the advantage of women.”
I still believe the feminist challenge to woman’s place was right. I think we can take pride in the fact that a woman is now expected to be her own person and make her own way in the world, and that the public sphere is no longer considered a male domain. …
I believe we still need a philosophy to guide us on the journey of an unprecedented transition: a philosophy that is not pro-woman (or pro-man) but pro-fairness; that stresses flexibility and more options for all; that encourages us to treat people, regardless of sex, as human beings. If sentimental traditionalism won’t get us there, neither will the gender warfare that would destroy our common humanity in order to save it. I don’t know if this philosophy should be called feminism or something else. But the biggest impediment to its development is what passes for feminism today.
In the same introduction, I talk about how and where, in my view, the “new feminism” has gone astray. Agree or disagree with me, but I think my critique clearly comes from a feminist point of view.
Personally, I prefer the term “dissident feminist.” If we’re going to assign labels, I could argue that a lot of people currently calling themselves “feminists” are in fact anti-feminists, because they routinely infantilize women (Catharine MacKinnon, for instance, argues that if children cannot meaningfully consent to acting in pornography, then neither can women), or because they don’t really believe in equal treatment for men and women (those, for instance, who argue that women who commit domestic assault ought to be treated differently from men who do the same). If they can claim the title of “feminist,” then surely so can I. I should add, by the way, that quite a few of my “anti-feminist” positions (for instance, on fathers’ rights and on domestic violence as a two-way street) are shared by former National Organization for Women president Karen DeCrow. Is she an “anti-feminist,” too? I should also add that Ceasefire got a largely positive review in the New York Times from feminist law professor Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, while Danielle Crittenden (with whom I am lumped together by Barry’s “anti-feminist” label) slammed it in The Weekly Standard as too pro-feminist.
Yes, I’m critical of “established” feminism — so what? Should critics of the traditional family model based on 1950s-style sex roles be labeled “anti-family”? They often are, but I suspect that Barry doesn’t consider this label fair. Should liberal Catholic groups which take a critical stance toward the present-day Catholic hierarchy and reject Catholic dogma on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, marriage for clergy and women’s roles be called “anti-Catholic”? (Bill Donohue would probably agree, but I doubt that Barry would.) Should people who frequently criticize U.S. policies and regard them as a betrayal of America’s true principles be labeled “anti-American”? Again, I can think of a few people who would do that, but somehow I don’t think that Barry would agree. In fact, I suspect that Barry may not even agree with calling the late Andrea Dworkin “anti-male” (at least, after her death he wrote that his favorite article about her was one in The Guardian titled “She Never Hated Men“). Yet Dworkin’s writing are filled with vitriolic invective against men and maleness that make my critiques of feminism sound like valentines.
Not every critic of feminism objects to the term “anti-feminist” (just as not every feminist objects to being called anti-male: Mary Daly, for instance, proudly designates herself as such). I’m sure Phyllis Schlafly would have no issue with this label. I, on the other hand, find it not only insulting and inflammatory but misleading as well.