Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Can conservatives and libertarians be feminists?

Short answer: Of course!

Long answer: Some feminists don’t think so, but they’re wrong. Here’s an excerpt of a discussion I had on the Hopkins Feminists page explaining why. As always, names are changed, my comments are in regular font, and other people’s comments are in colored italics.

Opinions on this? If we can glean value from competing perspectives, is the critique of feminism as a left-wing political tool constructive? Can there be a right-wing feminist movement?

(I'm not sure how Politico is as a source, but it seems fairly neutral in terms of right-wing/left-wing politics.)

Chrissy: I think she makes a good point that it has been used as a political tool. It would be great if feminism transcended politics because it was universally supported and accepted. Until that's the case, there is always going to be someone using it for political gain. I also think her definition of feminism is to narrow. "A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses." I think that is a good start, but shouldn't it include advocating for the equality of all people and against the structures in society that prevent that?

James: I thought we already had words for right-wing feminism? Like "white feminism" and "trans-exclusionary radical feminism."

I mean like, I don't even have to google things she's said in the past to start poking holes in her argument that she's promoting a new useful perspective on feminism, when it's really just a conservative flavor that already exists. She provides the proof right in this article. Stuff like: "She pushed for school choice, which Democrats largely oppose, saying it benefits low-income mothers and daughters." No, it allows gentrification and urban re-segregation to accelerate by removing the responsibility to improve schools used by the poorest urban residents who can't afford any transportation.

The article actually points out that OTC birth control from a Republican perspective is just a plot, because Republicans do their best to keep OTC medicines off ACA plans.
She supports a 20-week abortion plan.

Then if you do go looking for other things she said, she doesn't even support pay equality legislation. (http://www.ibtimes.com/carly-fiorina-women-speech-ex-hp...)

Feminism that ignores the intersection with class is just shoddy and empty.

I mean, at least she says she supports transgender rights, but given she used the phrase "open to transgenders," it doesn't sound like she has her heart or mind in it and is just picking up the current political wind.

Me: I think the answer to your question is yes, there can be a right-wing feminist movement, it's just that John and others who think like him would oppose the right-wing parts of it. I'm very not-right-wing myself, but I totally support school choice and OTC birth control. Far from ignoring the intersection with class, I think both ideas would make life better for both women and the poor. That doesn't make me less of a feminist, it just means I disagree with John on economic and philosophical issues which reasonable, well-intentioned people (and even reasonable, well-intentioned feminists) can and do disagree.

Emily: First of all, Chrissy, I agree that Carly Fiorina's definition of a feminist is too narrow; also, my initial reaction was to agree with you, James, about what "GOP feminism" might mean and about what Carly Fiorina specifically means by it. However, after some thought I also imagined the possibility that a right wing feminist movement could be based on intersectional interests but with a more liberal economic slant (like what Andrew Doris pointed out). I was inspired more by this idea than by Ms. Fiorina's statements when I made my post.

So, thank you for helping me feel out my own ideas about this subject! I actually think we are all on similar pages with regard to this idea, if not this politician. I suppose that for now, we can all agree that in the current, extremely partisan political climate right wing feminism = "white" feminism, but in a world where anything is possible, right wing feminism could actually be an alternative way for all feminists to approach the issues they are interested in.

Alexis: Just real quick: I'm not sure that a "liberal economic slant" is compatible with thoroughgoing feminism. Like, if capitalism is the system under which black, poor, and female people are exploited for their labor, how can that system be feminist?

Emily: That is also a good point

Me: You presuppose the contested point, Alexis. Your comment boils down to "if this left-leaning, anti-capitalist theory about which economic system is best for black/poor/female people is correct, how can capitalism be feminist?" But the whole debate is about whether that theory is correct in the first place, which seems like a matter better debated by economists than sociologists. By analogy, the US's foreign policy towards ISIS will also likely have enormous implications for the wellbeing of poor, brown women in that region - but of course feminists can disagree on what the best foreign policy is, too.

We can't go around promising people that "feminism is just about equality between men and women!" and then pretend the implications of that in all sectors of policy, ethics, academics and life are obvious and straightforward. Smart people draw different implications from that shared starting point. The less divergence you tolerate within the boundaries of the definition, the more assumptions feminist arguments are predicated upon, and the less morally compelling the feminist cause becomes. So either you narrow the sales pitch and admit that feminism is an highly contentious set of mostly-left-wing ideas which many reasonable people can and do think are wrong, or you open the gates to people you might disagree with on a whole host of peripheral issues in an attempt to get results on the areas of consensus.

If you choose the former approach, that’s fine, but you should make sure to specify and publicize just what the defining criteria of feminism are from the start. You should also realize that feminism will lose much of the mainstream appeal it has recently gathered from people who believe men and women are equal, but don’t share your conception of equality in practice. And when people start making #WhyI’mNotAFeminist movements on Twitter because they disagree with you on the minimum wage or tax rates or healthcare or what have you, you can no longer accuse them of misunderstanding what feminism means, because you were the one who defined it in a way which excluded them.

Or, you could choose the latter approach, and allow feminism to become a bigger tent on issues that aren't quintessentially feminist turf. This is my approach. No two of us in this group agree on every issue that intersects with gender equality. If we were each to exclude and disown anyone who differed from our stances on any of these issues, we'd wind up with the "no true Scotsman" fallacy wherein we all insist we’re the pure ones and they’re the traitors. It's the Judean People's Front attacking the People's Front of Judea, and it's not productive.

As a libertarian, I happen to believe some of the non-libertarian tendencies occasionally expressed by members of this group are actually counterproductive to women's rights and welfare. If I were nitpicky and looking for a fight, I suppose I could dismiss these ideas as "statist feminism," or some other pejorative prefix meant to be read as "not real" feminism. I refrain from that because the reasons I disagree with those ideologies have little to do with feminism's essential correctness, and I don't think the infighting which would result on this page would be helpful towards the advancement of the very many feminist issues I care deeply about.

Carly Fiorina is wrong about an awful lot, but if she says she's a feminist, I’ll welcome her to the discussion about what that means.

Also, here are examples of some awesome free-market feminist websites, for any who are interested:

Alexis: Sure, I guess if we disagree on what capitalism is, then fine. But we do, and I think that there is no capitalism without the exploitation of labor (where does value come from) and that fundamental to the exploitation of labor is the exploitation of women's bodies through reproductive labor. So you can try to have a feminist free market, but as long as it produces wealth, that wealth is coming from somewhere, and I bet it's the bodies of women and non-white and poor people, and to me that's not feminist.

: ^Second what Alexis said, and expand reproductive labor to all intimate labor - from childbearing/rearing to nursing to sex work to house/hotel cleaning. Capitalism consistently puts women in jobs where they are expected to provide care and intimacy, and underpays them because that emotional attachment means employees are more likely to go above and beyond for free, and less likely to complain openly or strike. The same thing can happen to men (women aren't "more emotional" that's BS) but women are put in these jobs and roles at an extremely disproportionate rate.

Here is another concrete example of feminism without an analysis of class: if a you are "pro-choice" but support economic policies that make abortion unaffordable for millions of women, you are not pro-choice, full stop. http://thinkprogress.org/.../cost-abortion-investigation/

And far from creating conditions of freedom, libertarianism simply further privatizes coercion. The workplace is already a site of ubiquitous violence against and coercion of women; in fact many libertarians are OK with a boss having the 'right' to tell a worker, "fuck me or you're fired" (quoting from the article below).

Libertarianism is 'freedom' for a tiny minority to immiserate, exploit, and literally rape the vast majority of ordinary people. It cannot be "feminist" if "feminism" is to remain a meaningful word:


Me: I’ll engage each of the arguments you made, but as I’ll explain at the end, I think they’re besides the point.

Response to Emily - the labor theory of value is one of the most soundly refuted tenets of Marxism. I could labor all day in my backyard making mud pies, but if nobody wants those pies, I wouldn't have created anything valuable. Labor has no inherent worth, and it can be invested into both productive and non-productive ventures. Markets are that system by which labor is funneled into the most productive, in-demand ventures, as identified by the democratic signaling of millions of aggregated economic transactions. Of course markets produce wealth, and of course that wealth comes from somewhere – which are both very good things, and especially for the least-wealthy!

Response to James - I wholly agree with you that “women are put in these jobs and roles at an extremely disproportionate rate,” and that’s problematic. I disagree that is capitalism’s doing. I think it’s patriarchy’s doing. Capitalism operating under conditions of prevailing patriarchal social norms may lead to suboptimal results without being the root cause of those outcomes. By challenging and eroding these pressures and expectations, we can have a society in which those jobs you mentioned are both more evenly divided by gender and more accurately priced/compensated on an open market, that is still fully compatible with capitalism. In fact, without some sort of market pricing mechanism, I’m curious how you propose to compensate people who do those sorts of jobs.

Response to Sam - If you oppose the myriad of state regulations that artificially restrict supply and purposefully drive up the price of important health services like abortion, you’ll find no stronger allies than libertarians. Most cost barriers to abortion access result from punitive state intervention by social conservatives deliberately trying to price people out of the market, not any natural scarcity in the services demanded. Women should not have to “struggle to navigate a maze of state laws that make it increasingly burdensome and expensive to get an abortion,” as your article rightly lamented, because abortion is nobody’s business but theirs and their doctors, and there should be rather few laws on the subject.

That said, the right to an abortion is a negative right – a subset of the general right to do as you please without harming others – not a positive claim to other people’s time, energies, expertise or resources. Abortions would be vastly cheaper and more accessible in a free market, but they would not be free, and they can never be free, so somebody somewhere will always have to pay for them. That person should be the person receiving the service, because every alternative requires violence. Being pro-choice does not necessitate a willingness to pay for other people’s choices, nor to coerce others into paying for those choices – full stop.

But again, all of this is besides the point. As it relates to the original post that started this thread, it’s totally reasonable for us to disagree vehemently on these abstract philosophical issues. It’s unreasonable, or at least unwise, to use these issues as a litmus test for feminism. Far from “feminism without an analysis of class,” mine seems like feminism with a thoughtful and detailed analysis of class that just so happens to differ from your analysis. If what you’re saying when you pit capitalism (or libertarian economics, or even just modest market reform) as contradictory to feminism is “you can’t be a feminist unless you’re also a radical socialist,” I think that’s wildly out of touch with what even most self-described feminists in this country believe, and certainly out of sync with the way feminism has been marketed to on-the-fence converts in recent years. More importantly, it’s counterproductive to our shared objectives, which disappoints me more than encountering yet more people who think we libertarians are psychopaths who hate the poor.

Emily: It seems a bit empty jargon-y to say that "the labor theory of value is one of the most soundly refuted tenets of Marxism" (of course: capitalism makes sure that, as you say, labor and value are disconnected by the market) and then say "Of course markets produce wealth, and of course that wealth comes from somewhere – which are both very good things, and especially for the least-wealthy!" Where do you think value comes from? Especially when you subscribe to that logic in saying things like "but [abortions] would not be free, and they can never be free, so somebody somewhere will always have to pay for them." Value will always come from someone somewhere (or something, which is where anticapitalism and environmentalism high five); so unless you're proposing a system whereby all women prosper from the exploitation of men, your feminism-without-class grosses me out, because some women are going to get trampled.

And really, whatever you want to call it, if you are espousing an analysis of women's exploitation AGAINST an analysis of class, I'm not on board with it. I want what's good for all women, I don't just want women to have equal opportunities to become exploiters of others (including other women).

I let her have the last word at that, but I’ll update it if others comment and I feel compelled to respond again.

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