To the Editor:
In her articles on “individualist feminism,” Wendy McElroy is offering merely a core-feminist approach in sheep’s clothing, much like “equity” feminism and “equal opportunity” feminism, both of which single women out as androgynous integers needing vindication for centuries of “brutalization,” “exclusion,” “mistreatment,” and so forth, none of which jibes with the truth. Our grandmothers were not that helpless! If one has not studied feminism, such nuances get lost in the shuffle.
The problem with all types of feminism is that men and women are on this earth together, and the trick is not to focus on one or the other as feminism does (and possibly libertarianism tends to do). It is necessary to seek a common good felicitous to the human race, as the Founders had in mind. McElroy’s approach is too one-sided and thus inevitably futile. That there were brave and active women in the past should not require our apostheosizing them now when they’ve already been accorded their due in the melting pot of history (Nightingale, Barton, etc.).
Whether McElroy likes the idea or not, society is not founded on activist, adventurous, manly women but on loving, nurturing, womanly wives, mothers, housewives, teachers of the young, and so forth. As Midge Decter has put it, feminists are merely females who balk at adult womanhood, and the idea of “individualist feminism” comes dangerously close to Tocquevillian dysfunction.
In the end, the big problem for feminism is that good women rear strong sons, and a healthy, natural division of labor serves to foster strong male leaders. Thanks to “sex equality” and bans against “sex discrimination,” we’re not seeing male leadership anymore. Although I am not an Objectivist, I think Ayn Rand would agree with me on this: You can’t have strong men and dominant women at the same time. “Strength” for each has a different frame of reference.
—W. Edward Chynoweth
Wendy McElroy responds:
It is difficult for me to tell how deeply the two of us may disagree on the issue of feminism, as I simply do not hold the beliefs you ascribe to me. Individualist feminists routinely encounter an understandable problem in today’s politically correct environment: namely, the “feminist” label overwhelms the word “individualist,” when exactly the opposite is true. For example, as a feminist, I oppose both affirmative action and sexual harassment laws.
Rather than deal with particulars, however, let me clarify what I consider to be the theoretical foundation of individualist feminism. It is natural rights, based upon a Lockean model. Men and women have equal rights, which should be acknowledged in the same manner by law. This means neither oppression nor privilege. It does not mean equity in the sense of redistributing wealth or power; it means equality under a system that fully reflects the natural rights of both sexes. If such a system existed—embodying neither oppression nor privilege—I would cease to actively call myself a feminist. Unfortunately, government currently treats women differently from men. It generally assumes a protective role toward women, which I believe to be as damaging as an outright denial of rights. As long as the law accords different treatment to women and men, there will be a need to oppose that difference.
Whether women should choose to raise strong sons, as you suggest, is a personal choice every woman must make for herself. My personal lifestyle is rather traditional, but my political emphasis is on choice itself in the broad sense.
I, too, look forward to a day when there is no need to discuss men and women as though two legal categories. I hope to play a small part in bringing such a society about.