*Don't Be a Feminist*: Highlights
The title essay of Don’t Be a Feminist: Essays on Genuine Justice is called “Don’t Be a Feminist: A Letter to My Daughter.” While the book is a thematic selection of my best EconLog essays from 2005-2022, the first piece is entirely new. As you’d expect, I write this essay as if I’m speaking directly to Valeria Caplan, my youngest child. To pique your interest, here are a few highlights. (endnotes omitted throughout)
You’re growing up, and before long you’re going to hear about an idea called “feminism.” Most of those who talk about this idea will speak as if feminism is obviously true. They will speak as if feminism is entitled to your support. And they will speak as if you have to be evil to oppose feminism. As I write this, you’re still too young to read it. But I want to get my thoughts down on paper now so they’re waiting for you when you’re ready.
As you’ve probably heard, Vali, I am one of feminism’s opponents. And since I am your father, you know I’m not evil.
Standard dictionary definitions of “feminism” are plainly wrong:
1. Defining Feminism
To start, what is “feminism”? Many casually define it as “the view that men and women should be treated equally” or even “the radical notion that women are people.” However, virtually all non-feminists in the United States believe exactly the same thing. In this careful 2016 survey, for example, only 33% of men said they were feminists, yet 94% of men agreed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.”
So what? Well, the whole point of a definition is to distinguish one concept from all the others. Any sensible definition of feminism must therefore specify what feminists believe that non-feminists disbelieve. Defining feminism as “the view that men and women should be treated equally” makes about as much sense as defining feminism as “the view that the sky is blue.” Sure, feminists believe in the blueness of the sky – but who doesn’t?
I keep coming back to the blatant fact that men are overrepresented at the bottom as well as the top of society:
Thoughtful feminists, however, blame male failure on male behavior. Far more males are imprisoned because… far more males commit crimes. Far more males are homeless because… males are far more likely to live lives of idleness and substance abuse. Men do most of the nasty, dangerous work because… they value money over job satisfaction. Men do the most physically demanding jobs because… they are better at that kind of work. And when thoughtful feminists say such things, they are almost surely right.
Once you blame male failure on male behavior, however, you should consider the possibility that male behavior also explains male success. And again, it almost surely does. Men are more likely to pursue careers in science, tech, and politics, and more likely to start their own businesses. This alone accounts for much of the success gap. Similarly, men are more likely to put their careers above their families. (Not me, as you know; but I’m an outlier).
Is “patriarchy bad for everyone”?
When I identify “Society treats men more fairly than women” as the core feminist doctrine, a few critics object, “No, the core feminist doctrine is that patriarchy is bad for both genders.” Which raises two questions. First, do we actually live in a “patriarchy”? Second, assuming we live in a patriarchy, is it really bad for both genders?
Why I wrote my daughter this exact essay:
Suppose I’m thoroughly right about feminism. Still, Vali, you could fairly ask, “Dad, why do you care so much about what I think about this issue?” I’ve written you precisely one essay-length letter. Why was the topic, “Don’t be a feminist,” instead of “Don’t be a socialist,” or “Don’t be a pessimist”? And why didn’t I write the same letter to your brothers?
My answer: Out of all the letters I could write to you, this one will do you the most good. And as your father, I am eager to help you.
I end the essay with a prediction. You might deem it a self-reversing prophesy, but I prophesize that many of my critics will lack the impulse control to make me wrong.
I’m perfectly happy to grant that #NotAllFeminists are fanatics. Most self-identified feminists are probably just regular people who don’t like to see women mistreated. Unfortunately, most vocal feminists are fanatics – and rank-and-file feminists tend to defer to them. If this sounds overly grim, try googling reactions to this very essay. I predict that almost all of the feminist responses won’t just fail to engage my main arguments. They will have an hysterical tone, and heap personal abuse on a man they never met because he challenged their worldview. I wouldn’t be surprised if they claimed I was a bad father.
In case there is any doubt, I really do not want my daughter to be a feminist. Critics, if you desire to dash this dream of mine, remember that one day a bright young Caplan lady will likely read your critique. If your treatment of me seems unfair to her, she is unlikely to listen closely to anything else you have to say.