The Intellectual Death of Critical Feminist Theory
Does 2015 mark the beginning of the end of Critical Feminist Theory? Not feminism in itself, but that branch associated with the Frankfurt School – commonly known as third-wave feminism, or feminism of the cultural Marxist extraction.
The last two months have, from my perspective at least, hit two nails into the coffin containing this dying ideology. On 16 July, Michael Sonmore, writing for The Cut on New York Magazine, said he was glad that his wife is enjoying her extramarital, sexual, relations with other men. He ascribed his contentedness to the fact that he considers himself a feminist. On 4 August, Breitbart ran an article appropriately titled “This […] Interview Has Killed Feminism Forever”, about feminist Radhika Sanghani’s opinion that air conditioning is controlled by sexist men to keep vulnerable female office workers cold.
Speaking for the first ‘nail’: one should realize that their philosophy has reached the point of ridiculousness when it starts prescribing how bedroom affairs need to be conducted.
Sonmore, now a househusband, believes he understands why women are “demanding more for themselves [read: sex with extramarital partners]”, over simply being housewives. Mothers, he believes, are also not complimented for the hard work they do raising their children, while fathers, if they are the primary caregivers, are.
Sonmore says that his “status as a man” depended on the sexual exclusivity of his wife. Monogamy, Sonmore believes, means that he “controlled [his wife’s] sexual expression.” Further, he believes patriarchy rests on the fact that men fear women with “sexual agency”, and worry that the male’s chosen partner won’t choose him back. He goes on to say:
“The point is that it should be women who choose, not men — even the men they’re married to. For my wife, the choice between honoring our vows and fulfilling her desires was a false choice, another trap.”
Ludicrous. Matrimony is an agreement – a contract – with certain express (often found in a prenup) and implied (through custom) provisions. Now, perhaps the most important and widely-recognized implied provision in a marital agreement is sexual exclusivity. It is a rule of thumb in Western civilization to the extent that it is not even negotiated between prospective spouses – it exists by default. Both parties to the marital agreement choose to agree to these terms. Clearly, Sonmore’s wife did make her choice when they gave their vows. There was no “false choice”, for she could easily have told him – and their families – that she seeks to lay outside the marital bed as well. This would be perfectly fine given the fact that an implied provision of a contract can be legitimately excluded through mutual agreement.
But what Sonmore is trying to do is present a universal position: women (not men) are somehow oppressed in marriage. Apparently, marriage means the individual partners can no longer “fulfil” their desires. Sonmore became a feminist when he accepted the fact that his wife was “not rejecting [him], [but] embracing herself.” Feminism, for Sonmore, is when the marital relationship is not equal, but led by the female, who can repudiate her vows.
I am not ranting against any particular sexual preferences here. If something floats your boat, and everyone involved has consented: go for it, enjoy! What bothers me here is the “feminist” dimension Sonmore is attempting to introduce. Although I have never come across cuckoldry being considered feminist per se, I have seen similar themes, such as woman wanting pay for childcare or technologies which can deliver their babies for them – ‘liberation from the tyranny of the womb.’
The second ‘nail’ is more of an injunction against the ‘social justice’ dimension of contemporary feminism. Exactly how privileged do you need to be, as an ‘oppressed and marginalized’ woman, to be complaining about the unsatisfactory setting of your office’s air conditioning system? While school-aged girls are raped and killed by authorities in the Middle East, the liberator-feminists in the West are waging a war on the oppression suffered at the hands of their office handymen. Years ago, actual, first-wave feminists were waging a noble war against the fact that women could not enter the corporate workforce with the same ease as their male counterparts. Now, they are in the Western corporate office – the apex of privileged elitism – saying equal opportunity is not enough.
But what are they actually saying? Sanghani, true to her Critical Feminist Theory roots, offers no solution to the ‘problem’ she has identified. She has decided an instance of patriarchal oppression exists, but she has no alternative in mind. This can be for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is in character for Critical Theorists to not have solutions. They do not even deny this accusation, and are pretty proud of the fact that they simply serve to point out social and cultural inequalities without further ado.
Secondly, Sanghani may believe she has already provided an alternative in the form of the strongly implied undertone: women must control the air conditioning, not men, so that it can be suited to their body temperatures rather than those of their male colleagues.
Lastly, and most obviously, perhaps it isn’t a problem and there are no practical solutions. Should offices separate the male and female workers into separate rooms with different AC settings? Should AC systems be entirely removed? These ‘alternatives’ will give rise to a whole new round of feminist moaning.
“If you believe in equality between men and women, then you’re a feminist” is a common saying used by feminists to swell their numbers, especially with uncertain men. Although more radical second and third-wave feminists have started explicitly excluding men from carrying that label (instead, they call them “allies” or “friends”), the vast majority of the movement still seems to accept males into their ranks. But in light of the contemporary development, or escalation of feminism, can we really still reduce it to that line? With many feminists now calling for public childcare, open relationships and ‘safe spaces’ for women (where they can “remain safe for the sake of [their] emotional and psychological health”), have they not set aside the equality principle? Not only is feminism distinctively about inequality now, but it does not even concern itself with equality as a core principle anymore. If you believe in equality between men and women, you certainly are not necessarily a feminist.
Second and third-wave feminists have departed the domain of the just cause and now espouse totalitarian ideals, which are more or less indistinguishable from cultural Marxism. Their primary goal is to undermine Western civilization (thus far, which is the only force which has liberated women from patriarchal oppression) for its own sake. They do not care about actual issues affecting primarily women, such as their continued subjugation and oppression in the Middle East and large parts of Africa. Even South African feminists care more about cosmopolitan nonissues such as the “gender pay gap”, women not being paid to be mothers, and, in the spirit of this article, expecting women to stay within the marital bounds. On a side note, this goes to show how, even though they (as cultural Marxian feminists) would deny it, South Africa is a Western nation where women are as free as men, with some nice statutory protection.
I believe it is silly for first-wave feminists, of whom there are still many, to continue to refer to themselves as feminists. Their goals, in the West at least, have been achieved, and then some. I rather invite those feminists into the ranks of a genderless movement called individualism. To each his own affairs. Everything the other feminists want, they can have in an individualist society – if they do so with mutual consent. They will reject this deal because they are no longer concerned with consent. Despite the authoritarian “affirmative consent” policies many of them lobby for, which cannot really be seen in the same light as ordinary individual consent, contemporary feminism is about compulsion and tyranny.