The last thing a pro-freedom conference needs is feminism
My heart sank when I received an email from Joshua Eakle, director of marketing for Students For Liberty, which hosts LibertyCon, “the world’s largest international pro-freedom gathering,” and will meet in Miami in October for the first time since Covid.
Eakle reports that many in the freedom movement view feminism as the enemy of freedom, and three panelists will denounce this so-called “toxic attitude” and argue that feminism has a proud pro-freedom history.
Mr. Eakle’s email tells me that
“Iconic feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Harriet Taylor Mill were known proponents of individualism and classical liberalism. This tradition is still alive and well in modern feminist discourse.
I won’t be able to attend the conference, so maybe that’s none of my business, but it’s deeply frustrating to consider the damage that will be done to the freedom movement if feminists are allowed to dictate its terms accusing (so predictably) non-feminists of being “toxic.”
Although she defined herself as an individualist, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was not a classic liberal. She was a romantic, a sexual dissident and an admirer of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Wollstonecraft’s utopianism led her to rejoice in the French Revolution as the realization of her most fervent ideals. After publishing a furious denunciation of Edmund Burke’s anti-revolutionary Reflections on the Revolution in Franceshe traveled to Paris at the end of 1792 to see for herself how society and human nature were radically changing.
Despite her dismay at the mass executions that followed her arrival, with blood literally flowing in the streets, she remained positive about the Revolution, championing her ideals for English readers in her A historical and moral vision of the French Revolutionpublished in 1794. The 1792 essay for which she became famous, A demand for women’s rightsthough often praised for its alleged defense of equality, is a philosophically incoherent and passionately anti-masculine tract written to promote the worst possible interpretation of all male actions, including their protection of women, and to exempt women from all moral responsibility because of their claimed impotence.
Fascinating as a personality, Wollstonecraft cannot be recruited as a libertarian champion.
Harriet Taylor Mill (1807-1858), now chiefly known for her years-long affair with John Stuart Mill, whom she married on her husband’s death, was a radical feminist whom Charlotte Brontë described, after reading her essay on the emancipation of women, as “a woman who yearned for power and had never felt affection” (quoted in Reeves, John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand, p. 272). Far from supporting individual freedom, Taylor Mill was a strong advocate of socialism, which was hugely popular with intellectuals past and present.
She encouraged Mill to rethink his principled support of free enterprise in favor of state ownership of land, the abolition of inheritance, and far-reaching redistribution of wealth (see Reeves, pp. 221-230 ). With Taylor Mill acting as his advisor, Mill revised the third edition of Principles of political economy to include a chapter on “the future of the working classes” that predicted a transition to a more cooperative and socialist future. Mill was concerned about the implications of socialism for personal freedom, but Taylor Mill was not.
Feminism as a collectivist movement has had strong ties to socialism and communism since its inception. Many of the most influential feminists of the 20th century, including Simone De Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Kate Millett, declared their Marxist ideological commitments. It is true that self-identified feminists such as Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia have championed freedom, but their unorthodox ideas, and those of other individualist feminists, are not and have never been close to the feminist mainstream. .
One of the main strategies of feminism is the use of (ever-expanding) state power and international governmental bodies such as the United Nations to restrict freedom in the name of enforced equality, including through extremely burdensome regulations for private companies and public companies. To advance the so-called liberation of women, feminism seeks ever more punitive limitations on private conduct and speech, and has succeeded in eroding the foundations of a free society, especially equality before the law and presumption of innocence. Over the past thirty years, feminism has consistently reinterpreted speech as hate speech, asserting that free speech poses a threat to women.
Because it is grounded in the resentment caused by the belief that human history has been a history of men oppressing women, feminism almost inevitably produces in its adherents a victim mentality, a belief that has been wronged, a nurturing of memories of evil, and an outrageous certainty that most men are misogynists or profit from misogyny. Feminism makes it extremely difficult for its proponents to feel empathy for men or care about their freedoms, which are often reinterpreted as privileges.
Because feminism promotes the belief that achieving political and legal equality is not enough to counter centuries of myths and prejudices about women (as Beauvoir argued in The second sex), feminism almost always includes demands for special pro-feminine measures and anti-male initiatives to aid in the alleged advancement of women, as well as a hyper-vigilance over microaggressions, the stubborn remnants of hatred of women. Feminists tend to define as “toxic” any disagreement with feminism, which makes free debate difficult.
Angry and paranoid, self-righteous and wronged, feminists make dangerous colleagues who are all too ready to misinterpret harmless jokes or gestures, comments or omissions as sexist bashing. If Students For Liberty is willing to bring feminism onto its platform, it will inevitably find itself embroiled in controversies over its failure to adequately promote women, its lack of diversity or female leadership, and its alleged “cold climate.” . He will be told that he has reneged on his duty to defend the freedom of women. It will be said that certain types of arguments and advocacy in the organization make women feel unsafe. Complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct will proliferate, especially against men who fail to apologize for their alleged privilege.
I hope conference attendees will vigorously challenge the panel’s assertion that feminism is a movement for freedom. Their defense of feminism will no doubt be as hollow as their descriptions of Wollstonecraft and Taylor Mill. If Students For Liberty cannot be non-feminist, it will soon cease to be pro-liberty.
This is an excerpt. To read the full article, visit Janice Fiamengo’s blog.
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