Gulf War 2's Second Casualty

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If the first casualty of war is truth, the second might be contemporary Western feminism. Or so argues Wendy McElroy in an interesting col over at ifeminists.com:

Western feminism rests on the concept of patriarchy ? the class system of male domination and female oppression. The traditional family and family roles are considered to be basic building blocks of patriarchy. This leaves little room for liberated women to embrace men or the family structure.

Western feminists seem to have three options with regard to their Islamic "sisters": 1) open up the definition of feminism and accept them within it; 2) ignore them; and, 3) misrepresent Muslim women in such a manner as to make them politically acceptable.

Noting that Islamic feminists tend to be far more pro-religion and pro-traditional family than their Western counterparts, McElroy concludes that Western feminists will choose option number 3 to reduce cognitive dissonance. In fact, she claims, they've already done this.

If you doubt this, ask yourself: Do you believe "Islamic feminism" is a contradiction in terms … and is your belief based on equating the oppression of Afghan women under the Taliban with the treatment of all women under Islam? If so, you have accepted the prevailing Western feminist view of Islamic feminism.

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  1. Ranald,

    I was going to say that Ms. McElroy is complaining about (capitial F) Feminists as opposed to (lowercase f) feminists. The former being those people who claim to the the voice of feminism and the various outlets for their ideas. The latter being those women who want all women to be free to choose their future and the path they take towards that future. This is similar to the distinction between Libertarian and libertarian.

    However, I reread the article and I don’t see her making the distinction between Feminism and feminism. I think you are right in that “Western feminism” is based on individualism. However, “Western Feminism” is based on the desire to foil the tools and institutions of the “Patriarchy”.

  2. Xmas,

    What if at least some forms of patriarcy stand in the way of individualism, as has been the case?

  3. For your information, I recommend the site

    http://www.angryharry.com/tickertapecurrent.htm
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    for in-depth discussion of the achievments of feminism.

  4. I’m confused. Is “feminism” still a “movement”?

  5. Gary,

    Sure, Feminism has done well in pointing out those institutions of partiarchy that have limited the choices of not only women but also other underpriveledge groups. I’m not going to say Feminism is all bad or all good. In the same way, I cannot say that traditional (or patriarchal) institutions are neither all bad or all good.

    I will say that Feminism, like every other dogmatically driven institution, will go through cycles of fanaticism and revolution and cycles of idealism and realism. Currently, Feminism seems to be a the midst of a revolution. The idealist of the past are being attacked by the realists of the present. That, pretty much, explains Ms. McElroy’s article.

  6. Xmas,

    I can’t think of any patriarchal relationship that doesn’t limit freedom. I mean, it may enhance some types of security, it may also free some women from the having to earn their bread every day in the outside world, but I can’t see how this is freedom if there is a patriarchal authority that demands such. Quite frankly, I can’t see how patriarchy or matriarchy promote any of the values of individuals. Can you give me an example where they do? Thanks

  7. Xmas,

    I can’t think of any patriarchal relationship that doesn’t limit freedom. I mean, it may enhance some types of security, it may also free some women from the having to earn their bread every day in the outside world, but I can’t see how this is freedom if there is a patriarchal authority that demands such. Quite frankly, I can’t see how patriarchy or matriarchy promote any of the values of individuals. Can you give me an example where they do? Thanks

  8. Xmas,

    I can’t think of any patriarchal relationship that doesn’t limit freedom. I mean, it may enhance some types of security, it may also free some women from the having to earn their bread every day in the outside world, but I can’t see how this is freedom if there is a patriarchal authority that demands such. Quite frankly, I can’t see how patriarchy or matriarchy promote any of the values of individuals. Can you give me an example where they do? Thanks

  9. I should have first checked iFeminists.com – they clearly back the individualist view.

    McElroy’s prediction may well be true – that Western Feminism will suffer as a result of this war. Indeed, many elements of the Left are going to be in for a difficult time.

    What intrigues me is the shift in the debate, especially in America: It’s evolving from a Left vs. Right thing, to a statist vs. individualist, or authoritarian vs. libertarian thing.

    I’m not so sure of McElroy’s view that modern feminism grew out of Vietnam era anti-war leftism. (Yeah, leftists capitalized on it.) Rather, I think it has been a natural outgrowth of a general libertarian swing in American culture: perhaps it owes more to the gutsiness of Lucille Ball than to the writings of Betty Friedan and her ilk.

    Who knows what Islam will bring to it?

  10. Ranald H.,

    The modern movement’s genesis springs from the Seneca Falls Convention in NY in 1844 (I think it was 1844). Anyway, it was there that conventioners, male and female called for universal suffrage, etc. Many of the early arguments against suffrage were that women shouldn’t be involved in such a dirty and worldly business, etc. Anyway, the particular group that the author is writing about did of course spring from the radicalism of the 1960s, but that is hardly the birth of the modern feminist movement, at least in eyes. Modern feminism, which included such demands as the right to vote, the right to own and weild private property as one may, etc. was founded at least as early as 1844.

  11. And of course the right to practice profession one can qualify for – a major issue for 19th century feminists.

  12. Wasn’t this the woman who thought that date rape laws were non-sensical and anti-male? Yeah, I know, poisoning the well.

    Whether Western feminism rests on those principles is debateable, unless you think that Western feminism is and only is what is taught in women’s studies courses. A notion which I consider be rather reductionist and well stupid. In fact, as reductionist and stupid as McElroy accuses Western feminists of being.

  13. I had always been led to believe that feminism rested on the concepts of choice and education: That it is just as ‘feminine’ to choose to launch a career as it is to choose to be a full-time mom.

    In other words, western feminism as I understood it was based on individualism, not as a counterfoil to patriarchy. Under a patrio-centric definition, “western” simply means “left”.

    There are patterns in the West amongst religious communities which reflect Islamic feminism, where feminism thrives under it’s own definitions. I can’t therefor accept the notion that religiosity and feminism are incompatible. If “westerns” wish to hold a patent on “the” definition of feminism, they will soon find themselves in the recycling bin along with Marx.

  14. Gary,

    The primary purpose of a patriarchal or matriarchal institution should be to provide a structure in which the individual can grow physically, mentally or socially. The individual does trade freedom for security. But the individual also trades freedom for a chance to grow within the parameters allowed by the institution. The final goal for the individual is to come away from the shelter of the instituion greater than when they joined.

    It’s unfortunate that very few people understand that the goal of family, religion, college, and government should be to help the individual to grow in ways they could never do on their own. As a result, these institutions have been corrupted by the people who claim to be “improving” them.

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