When Is a Feminist Not a Feminist?
Feminism vs. egalitarianism.
Posted December 18, 2015 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Although this post is a response to my call for women to contest leftist scientific narratives, the views reflect those of Paula Wright, the author. I may agree or disagree with some or most. Prior guest posts in this series include "Sexism in Science" and "Conservative Feminism."
“Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes."
“Egalitarianism: The doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”
The two quotes above are sourced from the Oxford Dictionary. On the face of it, feminism and egalitarianism appear to converge. Indeed, it is not unusual to hear feminists appeal to this dictionary definition whenever they are challenged. I will call this the “reasonable person” defence, e.g., What reasonable person could possibly disagree? The point being, they can't. Not if they want to remain reasonable in the eyes of others,
But similarly, what reasonable person could disagree with egalitarianism? Both premises are highly reasonable. But as numerous studies and surveys have demonstrated, a majority of people support egalitarian values but do not identify as feminists.    What's going on? Are these people confused, ignorant, or both?!
It seems the non-feminist (not anti-feminist) egalitarian majority either know or intuitively suspect a crucial difference between the goals of egalitarianism and feminism. Unfortunately, looking to dictionary definitions does not help us articulate what these differences are.
A visit to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us a more detailed description of both concepts. The opening preamble to the egalitarian chapter dovetails nicely with the dictionary definition above. The feminist chapter, however, quickly diverges from the dictionary definition, running off into various strands where the key theme is internal disagreement within feminism about what feminism is. It takes just over 3,000 words before the term patriarchy first appears but when it does, it is neither problematic nor contested.
“Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice. (Hooks 1989, 22)”
Here is the first hint of what differentiates feminism from egalitarianism. You will note there is no mention of equality by Hooks; the goal is “liberation” from “patriarchal domination.”
Ask a feminist what feminism means and you are likely to get one of two responses. The "reasonable person" defence is one, while the other, is what I will call the "atomistic dodge." This entails the feminist stating that feminism is not a monolithic movement, its aims being too complex to pin down. This position personifies intersectional feminism. Note how the descriptions contradict one another. It is easy to get lost in this equivocal maze.
So, rather than trying to discern the differences between feminist factions, I asked what they had in common. The results help us see the difference between egalitarianism and feminism.
In 1963, the liberal feminist Betty Friedan published a book about a “problem with no name.” Seven years later, radical feminists named it “patriarchy." Patriarchy was conceived of as the underlying structure which facilitated men's oppression of women; “a system characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy, and competition, a system that [could not] be reformed but only ripped out root and branch.”
This moment marked a fundamental change in strategy as feminists shifted from a liberal policy of achieving equality through reform, to a radical strategy of trying to dismantle patriarchy. Around this time, Friedan was unceremoniously kicked out of the organisation she had founded because she wasn't radical enough. Since this time, patriarchy has remained central to all subsequent waves of feminism. While it is true that the different factions of feminisms have slightly different conceptions of patriarchy, they all agree on the following:
Patriarchy is a socially constructed phenomenon that enforces notions of sex and gender that equate to male supremacy and female inferiority .
Patriarchy is the mechanism by which all men institutionally oppress all women.
All feminisms are united in the fight against patriarchy (if little else).
But what is patriarchy? Does it even exist? There is a dearth of research on feminist premises which values critical thinking over critical theory, though this is starting to change. Both the existence and origin of patriarchy are assumed by feminists rather than explored, yet the flawed, circular logic of the three premises above represents the ideological bedrock of all feminisms—from radical to intersectional—and social "justice" activism today.
The feminist concept of patriarchy is embellished from the anthropological observation that in many cultures men appear to hold more social, economic, and political "power" compared to females. Feminists assume men grasp for power and resources to dominate women because they hate them (misogyny). My research suggests patriarchy is vastly more complex than feminists have ever imagined and that women have just as much influence in its structure and maintenance as men. As Mary Wollstonecraft noted: “Ladies are not afraid to drive in their own carriages to the doors of cunning men."
Patriarchy is a system that can both oppress and liberate both males and females. It is the human fitness landscape.
And here lies the rub for feminists today. Heterosexual men and women are attracted to one another precisely because of their stereotypical sexual traits. In fact, they are not stereotypical, they are archetypal. Humans are a sexually reproducing species. Men and women have shaped one another physically and psychologically over millions of years via the process of sexual selection. In turn, we create culture as our fitness landscape. There is a simple dynamic to this: Men want power and resources because women want men who have power and resources.
This isn't because women are selfish gold diggers or men shallow aesthetes. Sexual dimorphism and the sexual division of labour are not patriarchically imposed tyrannies. They are an elegant and pragmatic solution for a species that has uniquely helpless infants with unprecedentedly long childhoods. This dynamic between the sexes, of teamwork and strong pair bonds, is one of the foundations of our success as a species. The survival of offspring is at the centre of this—whether we choose to have children or not. The sexes simply cannot be understood except in light of one another and the reason we evolved to cooperate: offspring. It will continue to be so for as long as we remain human.
The feminist legacy of social constructionism and patriarchy theory has taken the capricious, delightful, and, yes, sometimes cruel battle of the sexes and turned it into a war of attrition. The circular logic also has feminism devouring itself from within.
This past year, one of the most iconic women of the 20th century, the radical feminist and intellectual, Germaine Greer, was denied a platform to speak at a UK university. Her crime? Greer does not reject biology wholesale and, while she respects the egalitarian rights of men who want to transition and live and love as a woman, she insists this doesn't actually make them biologically women; they remain trans-women. For this, she was stripped of the right to speak, verbally abused, and labeled a bigot. The middle-class, socialist feminist Laurie Penny went so far as to cast Greer in the same light as people who want to murder homosexuals.
Why should women mind? In 2014, a trans-woman in the US was awarded “working mother of the year” despite neither giving birth or being the primary carer to her children. This year, in 2016, Caitlyn Jenner, who has been living as a woman for a few months, will be awarded “woman of the year” ahead of countless women of substance who have made extraordinary accomplishments while facing actual selection pressures unique to their biological sex. Trans-activists are lobbying for a change of language by midwives to refer to people giving birth as “pregnant persons” not women. At a time when people debate whether a woman drinking the odd glass of wine in pregnancy is child abuse, a trans-women took powerful (not socially constructed) hormones to stimulate lactation. A discussion of the nutritional value of the milk extends to the trans-mother reporting the milk is thick and creamy, which seems to identify it as something other than human breast milk, which is highly dilute and low in fat.
Feminists frequently claim that we live in a rape culture, even though rape and all violent crime in the West are in steady decline and rape prosecution statistics are on a par with other crimes at over 50%.  In the US there is a feminist movement on college campuses to lower the threshold of proof in rape prosecution trials. It is staggering to think these educated people have forgotten terrible lessons within living memory; the bitter crop of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
To balk at this is not hatred or phobia but healthy skepticism. We are all equal before the law under egalitarianism. This is not the case with feminism. It places ideology before people. Individual rights and choices are “problematic”. Women like myself who point out the logical inconsistencies and totalitarian mission creep of feminism are labeled anti-feminist and anti-woman; as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren't. Feminists are identified by their politics, not their sex or gender. They do not speak for women or the majority of egalitarians in society; they speak only for themselves. The dictionary definition of feminism is in serious need of a rewrite.
The egalitarian quest for equality is tangential to feminism. So... which are you?
Paula Wright is an independent researcher in evidence-based sex and gender studies grounded in evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology, ecology. For brevity's sake, she refers to this as Darwinian Gender studies. She left school at 16 with zero qualifications and a recommendation from her career advisor to get a job on the cheese counter at Wal-Mart. After being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult, she went on to complete an undergraduate degree and, due to lack of funding, has continued her research as an independent scholar. She recently co-authored two papers published in The Journal of Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences and has worked with Roy Baumeister. Past mentors include Griet Vandermassen, Helena Cronin and Daniel Nettle. Also a professional actress, Paula is currently performing and developing her one-woman stand-up show "Sexy Isn't Sexist" combining science and stand-up comedy in an unashamed celebration of human sexuality and secondary sexual characteristics.
 Tong, R. (1989). Feminist thought: A more comprehensive introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
 de Beauvoir, S. (1949/1986). The second sex. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Cudd, A., & Holstrom, N. (2011). Capitalism, for against: A feminist debate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
 Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001
Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001
 Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792.