Saturday, April 18, 2009

Feminism: Caught Between Politics and Morality

Feminism has the distinction of being both a moral position and a political movement. But its adherents have difficulty seeing both (a) that aims conflict, and (b) which should have priority, when they do (inevitably) conflict.

My example starts here, with a "joke." Bitch PhD, a well-known feminist blogger, posted a letter from her boyfriend in which he pokes fun at "teabaggers." The letter ends with the boyfriend calling Ann Coulter a "a pre-op T-girl" and "a pleasant enough fellow."

It is this passage that provoked outrage in the online feminist community. Also, check out the comments on Bitch PhD's original post. Lots of people got upset about (a) using Coulter's appearance to criticize her, and (b) even worse, putting that criticism in a trans-phobic context.

I share the concerns of these feminists, if not the entirety of their politics. At feministe, a blogger wondered "Why is the lefty hatefuck in effigy so exclusively a liberal-dude-on-right-wing-woman phenomenon?"

Well, I'll tell you why, in two parts. The first part is this: when you're doing politics, you inevitably play by politics rules. And the rules of politics, in short, permit the absolute denigration and destruction of an opponent's entire person. That's not my rule; I don't even think it is a good rule, which is one reason I shy away from mainstream politics; but it is still part of the rules.

In the context of politics, one can be evil and dishonest, as long as one is devoting one's energies to the achievement of "noble" ends. One can torture and rationalize that torture, as long as it is for the greater good. That is politics in a nutshell.

The second part of my explanation is as follows: men are socialized to be attack dogs, and in the context of politics this tendency really shines through. At the same time, the misogyny that "good liberal men" are smart enough to hide when they're trying to pick up women on the college campus comes through when they think they have a safe target: a political enemy.

The political rules permit misogyny. Morality -- and basic decency -- do not. Feminism is caught between politics and morality. The foot soldiers of feminism, invariably men, are willing to toss aside the moral aspects of feminism to achieve its political goals (I think of the feminist bloggers as the priestesses of the movement, not pejoratively.) And they're undoubtedly confused that they don't receive a pat on their head for their willingness to go the distance.

Bitch PhD has yet to retract the post, and she probably won't. Now you know why.

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