Badhwar on Feminism: A Rejoinder
A while back, my friend Neera Badhwar wrote this critique of my views on feminism. I replied here. Now I’m giving Neera the last word.
Bryan has graciously given me the last word on the topic of women and feminism. I will focus on his unjustified assumptions about various social ills, as well as his unjustified inferences from some of my statements in my Reply I, and even from the data he provides to buttress his position.
Some readers were puzzled with my discussion of conditions for women as far back as the 1950s in my Reply I. I discussed them because Bryan discussed them in one or more of his blogs.
1. In response to my Reply I, Bryan asks: “If we don’t know who is more unfairly treated, men or women, why do feminists focus on unfairness towards women, rather than all humans?”
Both libertarian and mainstream feminists have long deplored patriarchy and gender-role stereotypes for their unfairness to both men and women. See especially Kat Murti’s response to your blogs and chapter on feminism, and the articles at libertarianism.org. In addition, there are other organizations that women belong to, such as the Marshall Project or the Innocence Project, that address the horrors of our carceral system – a system created largely by men. So there’s no reason why the primary concern of feminists should not be with women’s oppression. A better question is: Why have so few men attacked the patriarchal structure of society, given its oppression of both men and women? Could it be that the benefits of patriarchy have long outweighed the problems it creates for men?
Bryan responds to my complaint that women are the main victims of rape, sexual assault, spousal abuse etc. by pointing out that men also get raped and assaulted in prison, and we don’t know how many women vs. men get raped. Fair enough, but it’s worth noting that it’s nearly always men who rape both men and women - and engage in spousal rape and abuse. Why don’t decent men speak up against such men – and in defense of their victims?
2. Bryan asks “why can’t we trust unregulated offices to set a reasonable level of emotional safety”? He thinks that it should be legal to have workplaces that say, “Accusations not welcome here.”
I agree that this should be legal. But such a workplace is not one that sets “a reasonable level of emotional safety”. Rather, it’s a workplace that offers sanctuary for sexual assaulters and harassers, since it will countenance no complaints from their victims. Bryan thinks that hypersensitive women merit “harsh punishment” (by whom? the state?), but is silent on what hyposensitive men, or even men actually guilty of sexual assault or harassment, merit.
He seems to think that it’s hypersensitive, complaining women who are responsible for the crash in workplace romances since 1995, and posts a chart that supposedly supports his contention. But there were few complaints about harassment – or even assault – on the job that far back. There are far better explanations for the crash in workplace romances: they can be messy, especially if they end, and online dating sites provide a ready avenue for meeting potential partners. These are now even more popular than meeting potential partners through family (8% down since 1995, according to Bryan’s chart – exactly the same percentage as in the workplace!), or through friends (13% down - an even greater crash than in the workplace). Bryan’s chart does not support his assumption.
3. Bryan argues that bankers who required women to have their husbands co-sign an application for a credit card or for a loan were acting rationally. This is true if women didn’t have a bank account in their own names or a joint account with their husbands. But as I asked in my Reply I, why didn’t they have their own accounts, or joint accounts with their husbands? Why were women treated like children, or like their husbands’ subordinates or servants? Why was their domestic labor treated as economically worthless?
Bryan doesn’t answer these questions, or my further question about how many married women were expected to do all the housework even if they were working outside the home. Instead, he counters with the claim, “The way that a couple divides up paid and unpaid labor is up to them.”
But what justifies his assumption (a) that the couple decided that domestic labor should be unpaid, or (c) that the couple decided that a woman who works outside the home must do all the housework too? Only an abused woman would go along with these arrangements. And only unjust men would try to impose such arrangements on their wives or partners. In any case, how is a libertarian like Bryan so comfortable with the notion of unpaid labor?
Bryan labels my remarks and questions about these issues as being good only from the “fairness police” perspective,” but not from “the perspective of voluntarism and tolerance”. But how did mutual respect and fairness in a marriage become a police issue? I said nothing about the police enforcing norms of respect and fairness.
Again, in response to my statement that my father would turn over almost his entire paycheck to my mother, since she was the one running the household and looking after the children, Bryan asks if it wasn’t demeaning for my father to ask my mother for money. But did I suggest that he didn’t keep any money for himself, or that he didn’t have a bank account? Or that he was treated like the inferior partner in the marriage? No, quite the opposite.
4. In another blog, Bryan cites some research that purportedly shows that women are more emotional and less logical than men. I’m not familiar with this research, but it’s worth noting the big question missing from Bryan’s blog: when women report that they are more emotional than men, could it be that they are comparing themselves to emotionally unintelligent men? Men who lack empathy or the capacity to love deeply? Men are certainly perceived by both men and women to be relatively deficient in these areas. And real-world evidence supports this perception. For most of the violence and mayhem in our lives is caused by emotionally unintelligent, irrational men acting on nasty emotions: rage, vindictiveness, jealousy, envy, the very antitheses of empathy and love.
5. In my first reply, I pointed out that allowing women to use the birth control pill to control pregnancies was seen at one time as encouraging women to be immoral. I added that by this standard men had always been encouraged to be immoral. Bryan answers, “I don’t recall ever being so encouraged.” I guess I should have explained further: if freedom from unwanted pregnancies encouraged women to be immoral, then, since men never had to worry about getting pregnant, they had always been encouraged to be immoral.
6. Bryan complains about “the legal asymmetry where women are free to abort an unwanted child, but men are not free to refuse to support an unwanted child.”
Well, for good or ill, it’s women who become pregnant, so what to do with their pregnancies has to be their choice. Should a woman be compelled to have an abortion even if she believes that it is immoral just because the man who impregnated her doesn’t want to support his child? Or should the child be left to starve if she can’t support it without the man’s help? I agree that if she can support it, she shouldn’t ask the man who didn’t want the child for help. But how many women in such circumstances do? The only two women I know who chose to have children out of wedlock told the men in question that they were not expected to contribute anything.
In response to my complaint about the criminalization of abortion (which often turns into criminalization of accidental losses of pregnancy), Bryan answers: “Rightly or wrongly, states that ban abortion once again put women and men in the same boat.”
In other words, siccing government agents on women’s bodies – indeed, even little girls’ bodies – or imprisoning them for years because they aborted a fetus – or had a miscarriage –is no worse than requiring men to pay for the children they fathered. I thought only a misogynist could take this position, not someone with Bryan’s benevolent, joyful, and compassionate disposition. I also thought that no libertarian could, consistently, accept this further, invasive extension of government power over our lives. I have to conclude that Bryan wrote this without thinking through the logical implications of his statement.
Bryan denies that I’ve shown that “women are (or were) more victimized than I initially acknowledged.” He says: “As long as we stick to a modest, common-sense bar, however, horrible mistreatment by gender is, at least in Western societies, thankfully rare.”
I wish he was right. But bans or severe restrictions on abortion in 14 states, and severe punishments for violating them, show he is not. Women are obviously more victimized than he acknowledged or acknowledges. Feminists still have a lot of work to do.
Behold, a master class on how to lose your audience:
"Why don’t decent men speak up against such men [rapists]– and in defense of their [rape] victims?"
How can you take someone seriously who implies that rape is not illegal with a heavy penalty, or that "decent men" or even average men don't think rape is horrific and vile, and consider rapists monsters? She is clearly so divorced from reality, either in her conception of men or her definition of "rape", that she is hardly worth reading.
"In any case, how is a libertarian like Bryan so comfortable with the notion of unpaid labor?"
Slightly off topic, but I don't see any reason a libertarian would be uncomfortable with the notion of unpaid labor. I've seen people online complain about the existence of unpaid internships as being unjust and exploitative, but it seems to me that when a person chooses to do an unpaid internship despite clearly having the option to work somewhere like McDonald's that they must be getting some other non monetary compensation that they feel is worthwhile.
If I'm living alone and I do all the housework, I receive no pay for my labor, and yet there is clearly no injustice. If I then get married and continue to do all the housework, my partner has not wronged me in any conceivable way.