Success has ruined feminism

I have often identified myself as a radical feminist. But these days, it is necessary for me to modify that somewhat: I am a radical classical feminist. In short, I believe in feminism as explained by Liz Phair:

Be yourself. If you can get away with it, that is the ultimate feminist act.

Classical feminism is the campaign for equality between men and women, even as the classical civil rights movement was the struggle for equality amongst races in the eyes of the law. To me, this represents a sane and logical development in democracy: the right to self-determination should extend to both genders.

What passes as feminism nowadays, however, is a far cry from any of this. When I hear of “feminism” now, I hear of things like a circle of bloggers taking offense that Penny Arcade went “too far” in their joke about the inherent amorality of games: many games with “collection quests” require you to do a task X times, and then abandon it. The example involved was the freeing of men kept prisoner and used as forced labor. Penny Arcade’s joke was that, in a quest to free five such men, the sixth is callously ignored by the player character, and left to be raped by his cruel jailers.

To be sure, Penny Arcade is very often not what we would call tasteful. However, does this actually have anything to do with feminism? Note carefully how there weren’t even any women in that comic: it was about a male jailer raping a male captive. If anything, it was crude prison humour. It certainly was not a call to rape women, and it certainly did not glorify rape. Yet the simple inclusion of the concept of rape – not even male on female rape, but male on male rape – was enough to set off alarms and cause “feminist” bloggers to raise a fuss.


This has happened because modern feminist activists have passed far beyond the original call of feminism, and into factionalism. No longer content to police abuses of women, they now regard certain concepts in the public purview – such as rape – as their “territory,” and punish outsiders for entering it. In effect, they have become a gang, demanding respect for their “turf.” So sure are they of the inherent rightness of their cause that they have not hesitated in the slightest to apply their standards to other countries and cultures: witness Equality Now’s blind insistence that Japan shelve all its rape games, for promoting a “rape culture.”

Equality Now operated under the assumption that people who see rapes are more likely to commit rapes. It’s an old argument, most notoriously put forth by Jack Thompson in his argument that violent video games cause an increase in violence. But the Japanese games, while questionable, were a reaction to real-life incidents of molestation, not the other way around. Further, scientific studies show that access to hardcore pornography and depictions of simulated rape decrease the incidence of sexual assault in a population, rather than increasing it. In short, whether or not we find pornography abhorrent, the responsible thing to do is to make it available so as to minimize the number of actual rapes on actual women. Taking this porn away will, statistically speaking, increase the incidence of rape. Thus, Equality Now’s work will likely harm the very women they claimed to be protecting.

The entire concept of “rape culture” leading to rapes is not borne out by scientific studies. If anything, it is the opposite of the truth. This makes everything derived from it a clear case of legislating from emotion rather than heeding the actual facts. In the case of Equality Now, it is also a pretty clear case of cultural imperialism.

I wish I could call this an isolated example of how modern feminists ignore the truth because it doesn’t suit their agenda, but there are plenty of others. When Sarah Palin was selected as the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, I definitely understood the liberal backlash against her politics, and against her ignorance of basic science. What I could never understand, as a feminist, was the rush to condemn her personally, for having her career: she was a college-educated woman who managed to climb the ladder of politics while raising a family, with a husband that frequently took time off to stand in for her. Wasn’t this a shining vision of success by the old feminist standards?

“Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.” – Wendy Doniger

Hold on a minute – what? Like it or not, she is biologically a woman. There can be no doubt about that – she gave birth multiple times! And while her politics are, again, abhorrent to liberals, she at least embodies part of what feminism has been demanding for fifty years.

“To any critics who say a woman can’t think and work and carry a baby at the same time, I’d just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave.” – Sarah Palin

“Hey, wasn’t that our line?” screamed Ellen Goodman, standing in for the voices of thousands. And in that reaction we see clearly how feminism has been replaced by sheer factionalism. Rather than accepting the Republican nomination of a woman as a candidate to high office as a measure of progress, “feminists” lined up to protest how this came not directly from their hands, but from the hands of the enemy. Katherine Marsh fumed at the fact that Palin would not be backing subsidies and tax breaks for working mothers.

Isn’t it all backwards?

When did feminism change from “leave me alone to do my own thing” to “you must all obey my standards”?


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  1. Feminism is no longer about anything meaningful, it’s become counter-productive. It became that way because there are two types of people who ascribe to a cause: people who believe in it, and people who just want to tag along for the ride for some reason. The need for the former has diminished in the first world, and the latter now make up the bulk of the party.

    Good luck finding a “classic” or “proper” feminist anymore – they are now called “women” in my parts. Feminism has been more or less redefined to “women come first, because we say so”.

    What earns my ire is that it’s starting to actually influence men, in very negative ways. Those men who are actually trying to fight for classic feminism and who stand up for women as equals.

    Many of the guys in my necks of the woods have re-evaluated their expectations of “the modern woman” in a relationship, to such an extent that they do not want a relationship anymore.

    These modern men wanted empowered females, but not females who acted like the men they were fighting against to help them win their equality. And those men have been largely forgotten and are now treated as part of the problem somehow, scorned because they are no longer needed and women are too proud to want a man empowering them.

    Every time I see a self-proclaimed feminist get self-righteous and defensive when a man half-jokingly tests her, I feel an urge to slap her in the face for him. Because lord knows that if he tried to treat her equally, like a he would treat a man being such a prick, he’d end up in jail.

    • Tangential to your point is an interesting phenomenon: now when a woman says she is apolitical, or “not a feminist,” very often I have to ask her if she believes in equality, because equality (classical feminism) is a political stance. It is odd how people forget this.

      (Perhaps it “should not” be this way, but given that equality was enforced through politics, and must be maintained through political clout, that’s how it is.)

  2. When did feminism change from “leave me alone to do my own thing” to “you must all obey my standards”?

    Isn’t that human nature? Hasn’t this happened to pretty much every successful movement for change or equality? You aren’t black or white or enough. Criticizing Israeli policy makes you an anti-semite. Criticizing American policy or conservative policy or liberal policy makes you UnAmerican. If you are pro-choice you must support all abortions no matter how frivolous or silly. If you are pro-life you must never support an abortion even if that means the death of both mother and child. Thinking for yourself and wanting to be left alone to do your own thing is considered treason by any number of successful movements for change.

    There is always only one right way to do things and if you aren’t doing it the way a small loud clique says then you are a traitor to the team. Given how successful feminism has been, thank God, I think it was only inevitable. What took so long?

    • That’s one for the sociologists, I guess.

  3. I believe that the bloggers protesting the rape culture and rape jokes weren’t speaking on behalf of womanhood as a whole, but on behalf of traumatized, assaulted victims who might experience flashbacks or PSTD-like symptoms as a result of triggers, trying to urge acceptance and tolerance of their issues while being attention to them, and promote an environment where they can feel safe.

    Certainly people who disparaged Palin for having a career are unreasonable, but your attempt to lump those people with all feminists, and equate those people with those protesting rape culture, is disingenuous.

    If you consider yourself a feminist, I am glad not to be the type of feminist you are.

    • I fear your beliefs diverge from reality.

      My point is that when you look at feminism in the media now, absurdity is what you see. The bloggers who spoke out against Penny Arcade as an example of “rape culture” identified themselves as feminists, were identified by others as feminists, and justified their online advocacy by pointing out that they actually do a lot of grassroots feminist activism. In short, they invite us to see the “rape culture” discussion as an extension of that activism. And if you look at the “rape culture” idea outside of the PA debate, you will find that a great many of its most vocal proponents – the ones you would actually encounter if you participated in an online discussion – identify themselves as feminists.

      Those that I noted who disparaged Palin identified themselves as feminists, and that is what made their dissent worth noting. Furthering my point, the media recognizes them as feminists, because they are the ones discussing feminist issues on Slate, WSJ, etc. They are therefore the current face of feminism, as it appears in the media. So indeed, when I talk about feminism as it is now, I am forced to talk about them.

      “Your attempt to lump those people with all feminists . . . ”

      It really isn’t – if you read the whole article you’d see my point is that I’m not like them, and I think they make feminism look bad, but they are the face of feminism as it is recognized currently.

      Don’t try to stretch my point into something it isn’t, and then cry about how unreasonable it is. Perhaps it’s easier to mock me than to come to grips with with the co-opting of the feminist movement. But that argument is just disingenuous.

  4. Crosspost this particular blog post of yours at the phora.

    • You’re welcome to attribute it to me and discuss it.

  5. […] post an occasional philosophical piece, and they’re fascinating (see “Success has ruined feminism” and ”Fiction Supreme“). The rest of the time, he highlights […]

  6. […] a subset, this has a lot of parallels to the ongoing discussion of rape in graphic literature, incidentally: does the mere mention that rape happens in prisons equate to normalizing rape?  If […]

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