The Dartmouth Observer
Thursday, August 15, 2002
Clarifications for Dellatorre
I always try to write clearly and concisely, laying out my ideas on top of supporting details. However, if I can trust the debate here, I've actually buried my main thoughts under the flow of my most recent opinion. I will try to disinter them now, in response to Ms. Dellatorre's criticism.
1. Kesler refers to the "strict body/mind distinction" that, he claims, feminism proposes. Kesler fails to acknowldege that many feminists disagree with the "sex/gender" split.
Indeed, I do fail to acknowledge that. Originally, I meant to discuss these other feminisms, going into "First Wave" and "Second Wave," analyzing the role of Enlightenment principles such as individual justice vs. 1960s anti-Establishment sentiment, and other such details of history. However, I chose to cut it. I did not write my opinion on feminism. I wrote my opinion on the type of people who say that men cannot be feminists.
Further, although the sex/gender split does not hold for all feminisms, it does hold for a lot of them--a significant number. To say that I misrepresented feminism because I focused on one major form of it rather than all forms is simply false. It's like saying I misrepresented Christianity, since I did not mention that Lutherans only practice three sacraments while Catholics practice seven. Sure, I didn't run the entire metro system of feminist theory--but I did hit a large number of stops.
2. [T]he idea that men cannot be feminists is rarely a belief claimed by any feminists. I have never encountered an individual who holds to such an extraordinary position, and I have taken plenty of Women's Studies classes with proudly radical feminists. While there may indeed be a few feminists out there who believe such an idea, it is hardly enough to constitute making a generalization regarding all radical feminists.
It gladdens me that Ms. Dellatorre has never encountered such unreasonable feminists. I, however, have not had that good fortune. They are out there, as Mr. Walligore's associate at The Nation has demonstrated. Also, consider Marilyn French:
"The entire system of female oppression rests on ordinary men, who maintain it with a fervor and dedication to duty that any secret police force might envy. What other system can depend on almost half the population to enforce a policy daily, publicly and privately, with utter reliability?" (The War Against Women p182, emphasis added).
I do not know whether Ms. French is the sort of feminist Ms. Dellatorre agrees with. Nonetheless, one influential feminist writer has declared that all men war against women. Not only do such demogogues lurk through the discourse, they hold power within it.
3. [H]e assumes that "radical feminists" (he does not define this word, despite his critique of the inexactitude of language made earlier) claim that men cannot be feminists. . . . While there may indeed be a few feminists out there who believe such an idea, it is hardly enough to constitute making a generalization regarding all radical feminists.
First of all, the bit about "inexactitude of language" is a nice jab, but irrelevant. Further, it wasn't a critique, but mention of an obstacle that must be worked around. When I say "radical feminist," I mean someone who takes feminism to extremes, sometimes irrational extremes. I have always used it this way before, heard others use it this way, and until now, been understood. I did not realize that "radical feminism actually refers to a specific theory of feminism that claims that the fundamental bases of society must be reevaluated and changed to reach a state where women can enjoy freedom and equality." I had unknowingly misused the phrase, and for that I apologize.
Now that I have that bit about language out of the way, my main point: I never assumed all radical feminists claim that men cannot be feminists. If Ms. Dellatorre doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, perhaps she should reread my last paragraph:
"I can only conclude that some more radical feminists do not actually try to solve the problems of gender in society today, but use them as an excuse for some other agenda, either politcal or ideological. For some odd reason, this means making feminism a women's only party. So they answer the question before they even ask it" (emphasis added).
Ms. Dellatorre would do well to back up her assertions about what I have written with real examples. Note that, despite Ms. Dellatorre's claim that I am "lumping feminists into one category," I wrote my opinion cautiously, carefully refering to "some radical feminsts," or in the case of the person at The Nation who answered "no" to the question at hand, "my hypothetical interlocutor" and "my interrogator" (though I must admit some inexactitude there since the person at The Nation answered the question rather than asked it). My caution slipped only when I inadvertently characterized the sex/gender split as a defining feature of feminism rather than a major tenet.
As for lumping a diverse group into one category, consider again the statement from Ms. French: "What other system can depend on almost half the population to enforce a policy daily, publicly and privately, with utter reliability?" It appears here that feminists are not immune from this sin. Even so, that would not excuse my act of stereotyping feminists, had I commited it. I merely present this as an example of what it means to truely lump people together. I ask the readers to compare this to my own writing, and make the judgement they think necessary.
So, in the end, I did not write a polemic about feminism. I used a major (though not universal) tenet of feminism to analyze the question "can a man be a feminist?" and concluded that the answer depends on the man's psychology. I then conjectured on why a feminist (a "more radical feminist") might answer no, and concluded that some self-labelled feminists are willing to throw out intellectual integrity to advance an ideological agenda.
I must wonder how my writing so often goes misinterpreted. Perhaps I've taken the Neal Stephenson approach of subtlety to too far an extreme, and have lost my readers on the way. I will attempt to write more explicitly, to make my ideas accesible to all.