July 18, 2008

What do The Feminists believe?

One of the most ironic anti-feminist tropes -- both in the real world and the internets -- is the charge that feminists are dogmatic. We -- so the anti-feminist will say -- are ideological drones, marching in rigid lockstep and rejecting out of hand any attempt to rationally challenge our preconceptions. We're like the Inquisition and the Secret Police, only armed with vaginas. (At least, some of us. I do chuckle a little when my anti-feminists interlocutors start referring to me using female pronouns.) The caricature is so deeply ingrained -- or, if you prefer a metaphor that literally means exactly the opposite thing but makes the same figurative point, so widely dispersed -- that it was even used against me recently by a Princeton philosophy grad student, the sort of person who you'd think would really know much, much better. (For some bonus irony, notice that the charge of dogmatism was used as an ad hominem to support the claim that I was using an ad hominem.)

I find the charge ironic because I have a great deal of trouble thinking of anything substantive that all feminists believe. After 20 minutes of careful through, and some non-trivial assumptions, I've come up with exactly one:

Most, and possibly all, cultures around the world today are sexist.

Note, for the first, that I haven't defined sexism. This is because I don't believe there's any feminist consensus on what sexism is. While feminists do agree that sexism is a problem, there's no agreement on the nature of the problem, much less on particular policies that will improve things.

With some significant assumptions, it's possible to come up with a second:

There should be some legal guarantee preventing the government from interfering with a woman seeking a voluntary abortion during the first six months of a pregnancy.

But since I know, personally, at least one woman who's a dedicative progressive and devoutly anti-abortion Catholic, the assumptions needed to get consensus around this claim are dubious at best.

Now, it would be easy to come up with many more -- the sky is blue (generally), chocolate tastes good, snow is white, puppies are cute, and other inanities. But none of these is characteristic of feminism or feminists. And in no case do we have clear feminist agreement on whatever policy proposal you don't like and want to blame on `The Feminists'.

Unless I'm leaving something out. Can you come up with anything?


Anonymous said...

Great info. I learned a lot of new things here...

Mind Booster

Anonymous said...

Surely feminists need not all share a common dogma to be dogmatic. Consider that if every feminist--however different she may be from other feminists--is individually dogmatic, inflexible and narrow-minded, then it may be said that feminists in general are dogmatic, inflexible and narrow minded. Whether they are additionally dogmatic in regard to precisely the same set of beliefs is beside the point.

If it's true that feminists are as diverse as you say, that's certainly interesting; but it doesn't follow that they aren't often dogmatic.

Noumena said...

First, if the claim is that all feminists are dogmatic, in an individual sense, then it's simply and clearly false.

Second, it doesn't seem to me like `dogmatic' is said, in the first instance, of individuals. Rather, it's said of a community, whose members all share certain beliefs -- and hold those beliefs in a certain way, which I think is what you're really trying to get at.

Suppose we consider the community of intelligent design theorists and (hypothetical) `Darwinists' (that is, mainstream biologists as ID proponents view them). Every individual in this community, ex hypothesi, is dogmatic in the sense you're suggesting -- as individuals, their beliefs are inflexible and narrow-minded, etc. Call this the community of evolution debaters.

Now, are the evolution debaters as a community dogmatic? I would say no -- their beliefs qua evolution debaters are too heterogeneous.

Similarly, in the strictly hypothetical case you consider, I don't feel like we would or should call feminists -- that is, the community of a feminists -- dogmatic. Their beliefs are too heterogeneous.

Let me make this point another way. Take a(nother) look at the comment I link to in the first paragraph of the post. The caricature is not that feminists are, individually, dogmatic and inflexible. The accusation is first and foremost that the site, ie, the community of feminist philosophers, is dogmatic, not that I, individually, am dogmatic.