My friend, philosopher Neera Badhwar, sent me some critical comments about my views on feminism. I reprint them here with Neera’s permission.
Expect my reply next week.
I have some comments on your criticisms of feminism. I agree with you that unfairness against men often goes unrecognized, or dismissed without discussion or, worse, supported by some feminists. One unfairness you didn't mention is the way Title IX is used in colleges and universities against male students.
However, I still think that even now women are more often victimized than you acknowledge. (I don’t know how to measure unfairness to women with unfairness to men, so I can’t say who is worse off.)
You rightly describe some of the excesses of the MeToo movement. But I disagree that sexual harassment is - or was - not a big problem for those who are harassed, especially if the harasser is someone with power over the woman. And at least according to one poll, women said that things had improved quite a bit at work since the MeToo movement. You’re probably right that men are now scared to show an interest in a co-worker, but after the dust settles, they will surely be able to see the difference between showing a romantic interest in someone, and harassing her. The same goes for the woman, of course.
More importantly, you leave out some very serious problems for women: rape, domestic abuse, spousal rape (which wasn’t criminalized in all 50 states till 1993), and the criminalization of abortion (which often turns into criminalization of accidental losses of pregnancy). It’s women who are by far the main victims in the first three cases, and women who are the only victims in the 4th case.
Kat Murti complains: “In many parts of the United States, women could not get a mortgage or buy a home on their own, and, once married, did not have equal rights over property held jointly with their husbands, who could legally make major decisions including selling or mortgaging properties without their wives’ consent. Most American women had little control of their own earnings, could not obtain a credit card or open a bank account without a male guardian, and did not have the same access to either business or personal loans as men did. The reason that modern American women do, legally speaking, have these rights today, is because of the feminist movement, not in spite of it.”
You address only one of these problems: not being able to get credit cards without the husband’s consent. You say that in the 1950s most married women were not working, so they would be using a credit card on their husband’s account, i.e., with his money. “It sounds a lot like she plans to spend a lot of money without informing the person who is legally responsible for paying the debt.”
But your response assumes that it’s ok if non-working married women don’t have a joint account with their husbands or an account in their own name. Is women’s domestic labor not worth any amount of money? Putting women in the position of having to ask their husbands for money is demeaning, and worse if the man is unfair. (I doubt many men are like my father, who used to turn over almost his entire paycheck to my housewife mother, since she was running the household and looking after her children. I used to think every husband was like that, and was shocked to discover otherwise. And no, he was not a wimp nor my mother a harridan! They were a traditional couple, with my mother not even addressing my father by his name.)
It's not just married women who were denied credit cards without the man’s consent, but also unmarried, widowed, and divorced women – even if they were working. They had to take a man along to cosign.
Again, it’s worth asking how many non-working wives were not working because society or their husbands frowned upon married women working. And how many married women were expected to do all the housework even if they were working outside the home.
If Kat is right, husbands could sell their joint property without their wives’ consent. Horribly unjust!
Here are some other things women couldn’t do till the late 1960s or 1970s:
Use the birth control pill to control pregnancies (giving even married women this choice was regarded as encouraging women to be immoral – never mind that, by this standard, men had always been encouraged to be immoral).
Get an Ivy League education.
Serve on juries (you might think that’s better than being forced to serve on juries, but again, the reasons for not allowing women were demeaning).
I look forward to your answer.
Neera K. Badhwar
Philosophy, University of Oklahoma (1987-2010)
Affiliate, George Mason University
"If Kat is right, husbands could sell their joint property without their wives’ consent. Horribly unjust!"
Laughs in child support, alimony, and custody outcomes.
Taking the position of feminists from two generations ago and presenting them as though they are equivalent to the modern variant is just intellectually dishonest. The current variant tries to implement demonstrably destructive economics policies, and is fundamentally at odds with our culture of the presumption of innocence.