And so, probably, do you. I learned this from Rebecca Searles of the Huffington Post, who recently claimed that you are entitled to call yourself a feminist if and only if your answer to the question, “Do you believe men and women should have equal rights and opportunities?” is “Yes.” Furthermore, says Ms. Searles, if you answer “No,” “you probably suck as a person.”
This raises many questions. If Germaine “males are defective females” Greer and Valerie “Society to Cut Up Men” Solonas, aren’t feminists, what are they? This is not a rhetorical question: Ms. Searles’s proposed definition, while she offers it with too much confidence and too little evidence, is by no means terrible, and she is far from its only proponent. But if we define feminism in a way that excludes the likes of Germaine Greer and Valerie Solonas, we need a word for whatever it is they are. On the flip side, if we accept a sharp distinction between feminists and man-haters, we must also accept a similar distinction between woman haters and equality-minded men’s rights activists of the Warren Farrell variety, and dismiss any attempt to tar the former with the brush of the latter as vigorously as Ms. Searles would presumably dismiss an attempt to tar feminism with the brush of androphobia. Is she OK with this? (Again, not a rhetorical question.)
As I’ve alluded to, I am not, on Ms. Searles’s definition, a feminist. Almost certainly, you aren’t either. In fact, on Ms. Searles’s definition, almost no-one–including the vast majority of self-described feminists, and probably also Ms. Searles herself–is a feminist. To see what I mean, consider these statements:
(1) For sensitive medical procedures (e.g. prostate cancer checks), TSA patdowns, strip searches, etc., one should generally try to match examinees to examiners of the same sex.
(2) There’s no harm in non-intersex bathrooms.
(3) Men should not be allowed to join Daughters of the American Revolution.
If any of these statements are true, the sexes should not have equal rights and opportunities (they should, e.g., be unequal in their right to be members of Daughters of the American Revolution, their opportunity to enter the men’s room, and so on). According to Ms. Searles, therefore, if you believe any of them, you are not a feminist, and your suckiness as a person is probably as high as mine.
“Equal rights and opportunities” is one of those phrases people love to bandy about for the sole reason that it sounds good. But, once you try to define it rigorously, you encounter unexpected difficulty; and if you then try to work out its practical implications completely, you usually end up with something absurd, something totalitarian, or something absurdly totalitarian.
Also, Ms. Searles’s definition gives feminism an air of impartiality and universality which it does not deserve. Imagine a society built by the likes of Valerie Solonas and Germaine Greer, a ruthless matriarchy where men are second-class citizen. Suppose that in this society, a dissident agitated for equal rights for men. Would such a person be a feminist? According to Ms. Searles’s definition, yes. But this is obviously nonsense. After all, the word “feminism” comes from the Latin femina, which means “woman.” And in what sense is our imaginary anti-matriarchalist a “womanist”?
Feminism, as the name reveals, is not really about some abstract ideal of equality. (Not that it would be any better if it were.) Rather, feminism is about, by, and for women. Feminism, for all its pretenses to the contrary, is no more a philosophy or a movement primarily founded on a philosophy than is the tobacco lobby. Rather, feminism is the soapbox of a special interest group. It seeks, mainly for self-interested reasons, to advance what it takes to be the interests of a particular subset of the population, namely women. Actually, scratch that: Feminists hate white, married, fecund, religious, red-state women as much as they hate white, married, fecund, religious, red-state men, i.e. vigorously. No, they represent a particular subset of women: the Sandra Flukes and she-SWIPLs of this world, who spend their lives re-enacting Sex and the City episodes, getting imaginary degrees in victimhood studies, and putting off marriage and motherhood until their mid-thirties, if they ever bow to such reactionary constructs at all. Are the interests of this group compatible with the general interest? Feminists are about as interested in this question as is the tobacco lobby in lung cancer rates.