Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Unfortunate Feminism Side Effects

Writing at NRO today, conservative classic Dennis Prager reflects on the enduring legacy of second-wave feminism:
I was in college and graduate school during the heyday of modern feminism. And the central message to women was clear as daylight: You are no different from men. Therefore, among other things, you can enjoy sex just like they do — just for the fun of it, and with many partners. The notion that nearly every woman yearns for something deeper when she has sexual intercourse with a man was dismissed as patriarchal propaganda. The culture may tell her to restrict sex to a man who loves her and might even marry her, but the liberated woman knows better: Sex without any emotional ties or possibility of future commitment can be “empowering.”

Now, modern feminists had a fair point to make: just like men, women can "enjoy sex...just for the fun of it, and with many partners." There's nothing stopping them from doing that, metaphysically speaking, and mid-century Western feminism certainly emancipated many women from feeling guilty about a promiscuous lifestyle. There's something to be said for that, to a certain extent.

But it's a wash. Before, it was more a man's prerogative to be wantonly carnal and not care about it; now it's all equal. Yet what has that accomplished? Now both sexes, by-and-large, are compelled to engage in mindless sexual exploits without emotional attachment or romantic sentiments. It isn't a better world; it's just a more equally bankrupt one. The smart thing would have been to try and make men appreciate the philosophical gravity of sex, not lower women to the lowest common denominator. Feminism fail.

As usual, Wendell Berry says it better than me, if differently, regarding women in the workplace in the late 1980s:

How, I am asking, can women improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization, and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to? And that question is made legitimate by another: How have men improved themselves by submitting to it? The answer is that men have not, and women cannot, improve themselves by submitting to it...

A broader, deeper criticism is necessary. The problem is not just the exploitation of women by men. A greater problem is that women and men alike are consenting to an economy that exploits women and men and everything else.

Berry speaks of the industrial economy's ability to denigrate and devalue both men and women equally; Prager speaks of a societal shift, spurred in part by modern feminism, that trivializes sex even further than it had been trivialized, and that somehow makes a sloppy post-kegger hookup "empowering." In either case, nobody's better; everyone's worse off. You've come a long way, baby. 

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