Can of worms, (re-)open!
The originators and leading advocates of feminism have always seen themselves, and properly so, as part of the Progressive Left. Feminists have therefore contested any and all attempts by conservatives to co-opt and redefine the term “feminism” as something compatible with conservatism. Yet there are many soi-disant conservatives who, desirous of seeming fashionably modern and perhaps insufficiently knowledgeable of feminism’s leftist origins, persist in claiming that conservatives who reject feminism – as all actual conservative do – are guilty of throwing out the good feminist baby with the bad feminist bathwater.[...]
This is what the self-declared “conservative feminists” refuse to acknowledge: Feminism has no meaning outside the context of rights and equality. Once you begin defining the roles and relations of men and women in such terms, you have taken an irretrievable step down the slippery slope toward radical egalitarianism. The very fact that people who call themselves conservatives are incapable of recognizing what should be self-evident – that the radical conclusion of the egalitarian argument is implicit in its premises – should profoundly trouble those concerned about the future prospects of conservatism in America. [...]
Americans have been so rigorously indoctrinated about the sacredness of equality as a political, legal and social principle that one fears they’ve actually begun to believe that this kind of equality is possible or desirable, which is lunacy.
Men and women are different, and the differences are so obvious, intrinsic and profound that to prohibit “discrimination” between the sexes is to require people to pretend to believe in a transparent falsehood. No sane person could actually believe that men and women are equal – that is to say, fungible – in this way, and therefore the entirety of the feminist worldview is premised on a susceptibility to insanity.
Okay, here’t goes: Stacy’s mistake here — and it’s been a consistent one in his critiques on feminism over the years — is to allow the feminist project to conflate egalitarianism with equality before the law, the latter making up much of the basis for first wave feminism, which concerned itself with de jure inequalities and suffrage. Equality before the law — and the protestation of officially mandated inequalities that stand in the way of such an equitable arrangement — is a perfectly classically liberal / constitutionally conservative concept. And it differs importantly from the idea that men and women are fungible, which as Stacy notes (correctly) is absurd.
And this is precisely why feminism shouldn’t be surrendered to those whom I’ve called the “establishment feminists,” whose goal has been to turn what was originally a classically liberal concept into a progressive morass of grievance peddling and cut-throat identity politics. Stacy would deny that one can be a conservative and a feminist simultaneously; in fact, he admonishes that “[c]onservatives who defend feminism are not merely wasting their own time, but wasting the time of those of us who are required to leave aside useful work in order to refute their misguided arguments.”
Conversely, my position has always been that, to be a feminist in the original sense (what Christina Hoff Sommers has termed “equity feminism”), one need merely be a classical liberal / legal conservative: because feminism itself was born of Enlightenment principles of individual justice — an idea that permeated the then “radical” thinking of of Founders and Framers — one can’t NOT be a feminist, if one pledges fidelity to the foundational ideas upon which this country was constructed. And that’s because first-wave feminism desired that women be granted the same legal and moral rights as men — and the opportunity to vote their interests in the political process.
That the term feminism has been corrupted — just as the terms “liberal” or “tolerance” or “fairness” have been corrupted — does not mean we as classical liberals / legal conservatives need give up the fight to take back ownership. In fact, ceding ownership over such terms has enabled the left to claim the mantle of being liberal, tolerant, and fair — to claim that it is they who are advocates of the equal rights of women, even as their corruption of feminism has rendered them particularly cynical special pleaders — which of necessity suggests of their political opponents the obverse: legal conservatives / classical liberals — now framed as racist, homophobic, misogynistic and patriarchal right-wingers — must be illiberal, intolerant, unfair, and resistant to allowing the “equal rights” of women.
It has been my argument here over the course of the last ten years that by rejecting and then countering the left’s attempts to usurp the language of individual liberty, we as conservatives are able to then forcefully and consistently make the case that the left’s entire political facade is based on the ideological perversion of what are fundamentally classical liberal principles.
Stacy’s argument, conversely, concedes the game by conceding the term — an admission on his part that the designation “feminist” has become so completely corrupted that we as conservatives should distance ourselves from it. That is, because feminism, as it has been appropriated by the academic left, has become one fulcrum for a particular political bloc with aims toward radical egalitarianism (and there are various splinter groups representing various ideas, among them notions of social identity construction, gender fluidity, etc.), it is Stacy’s contention that what is now feminism is inherently anti-conservative.
And it is. But then, that’s because what is now “feminism” has so diverged from the origins of the feminist impulse that it is a perversion and, in fact, a direct rejection, of the principles from which it sprung.
Conservatives need constantly to remind people that such perversions of the language — easy deconstructions and refigurations that then disguise themselves beneath terms that they hope will continue to elicit positive connotations (liberal, fairness, tolerance, equality, diversity) — are how the left routinely pretends to seize a moral high ground they have not otherwise earned, capitalizing on the veneer such terms carry that redound to our foundational ideals of individual liberty and equality before the law while those who’ve usurped the terms simultaneously and ironically work to replace individual autonomy with political collectivism, and an legislated inequality that redounds to their favor.
Pointing out the mechanisms of progressive leftism is what helps to expose it and, one hopes, defeat it. Surrendering to it — whether it’s by allowing the term “racist” to be misused as a political weapon, or by allowing the term “feminism” to be appropriated and reconfigured to mean feminine supremacy or the dissolution of existential or ontological differences between the sexes — only assures that, somewhere down the road, the left will appropriate yet other liberal (in the true sense) terms, and in so doing, reap the benefits that convention has attached to them while simultaneously working to undermine the very ideas that animate them in an attempt to build their centrally-planned and controlled political Utopia.