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The Tragedy Of ‘Conservative Feminism’

I thought you might be interested in an exchange Joy McCann, Adobe Walls, JeffS, and I had over at Stacy McCain’s place on Feminism.  It touches on the origins of my thinking on Feminism in general and specifically conservative women who claim to be Feminists.  I’ve been intending since last summer to write a mini-essay on the subject, but have neglected to do so.  So perhaps this will spur me to action…finally.

First of all, let me quote the relevant part of Stacy’s post, which is not really the main subject of what his post is about [I do urge you to read all of it – you’ll find much food for thought]:

Speaking of careers and raging conflagrations . . .

“One thing that is difficult to convey . . . is just how respectable it was to denigrate female competence and intelligence before the women’s movement gained a foothold — and before it was prevalent.”

– Joy McCann, “No, We Aren’t the Party of 1950s Gender Roles

She was spurred to this by a Wall Street Journal column in which James Taranto dared to mention an “overlooked truth about contemporary feminism,” namely its observable hostility to housewives. Joy responds, as always, by asserting her prerogative to define feminism in a manner reminiscent of Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

No man can disagree with Joy McCann about feminism, and any attempt to explain that the word has an etymology and a history — that it describes the radical ideology of a left-wing political movement — is rejected as an infringement upon her prerogative.

As with most ‘conservative feminists’, and unlike with the Leftist kind, Joy’s piece is thoughtful and not malicious towards men in any way, but it is quite wrong-headed in it’s reasoning.

The exchange starts at this point in the Comments section.

I’ll just list my responses and the relevant quotes from those people I am replying to…


I see that Stacy is continuing his argument with the dictionary again. If anyone here is acting like Humpty Dumpty . . . well . . .


Sarah Palin is a real feminist; Hilary Rosen is a fake feminist.

-My response:

By God, Stacy is right: you are trying to say the word means whatever you want it to mean [and the same goes for Mrs. Palin if she describes herself as a Feminist].

This is the kind of behavior Leftists engage in – the distortion of Truth.

A is A; you can call it B, but it will always and forever be A.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘feminism’ thusly: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Right there you see that it is a product of Leftist Thinking because what is being advocated is unrealistic. The sexes are not equal in Nature. What you are also seeing in that definition is that Feminism is [an] idea developed in the sterile laboratory of Leftist minds – in other words, it is an ideology. Conservatives reject ideology because it is, by it’s nature, fantastical, devoid of relevance in the Real World.

-Joy’s response to me:

So do you believe that the sexes are “unequal” because, like Stacy, you confuse “equal” with “fungible” (that is, that equality implies interchageability), or because you believe women are genuinely inferior to men?

-My response:

They are, indeed, unequal in their natural abilities. Males and females are complimentary, the two together making a good team because they bring different qualities and skills to surviving and thriving in life.

I’ll take Woman’s Intuition over Man’s anyday in judging people.

-Joy again:

Complementarity implies symbiosis; symbiosis implies symmetry.

Symmetry implies equality.

So I will take it that you do believe in the equality of the sexes, but don’t like saying it out loud, because to you equality implies sameness, and you can’t wrap your head around the fact that it is no such thing.

-Me again:

The OED defines ‘complementarity’ thusly:

a relationship or situation in which two or more different things improve or emphasize each other’s qualities:

[Example] a culture based on the complementarity of men and women

It defines ‘symbiosis’ as:

[the] interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

Notice the word ‘different’ is present again. So far, so good.

Your reasoning breaks down with the statement, ’symbiosis implies symmetry’

The OED defines ‘symmetry’ thusly:

1 a correct proportion of the parts of a thing; balance; harmony….

2 a a structure that allows an object to be divided into parts of an equal shape and size and similar position to the point or line or plane of division….

3 the repetition of exactly similar parts facing each other or a center.

Notice that with symmetry’s three definitions [I left out the fourth, which concerns Botany] we clearly see that similarity is the spirit behind the definition, not difference [although, to be fair, ‘harmony’ can be the melding of two different parts into a beautific whole].  Symbiosis does not, therefore imply symmetry.

As to you final sentence: equality does, indeed, imply sameness.  The OED And Thesaurus [American Edition, 1996] offers this regarding that word:

n. the state of being equal.

-parity, sameness, uniformity, equivalence, similarity, egalitarianism

Words have specific meanings; A is always A; Humpty Dumpty was a Pinko; the fluff gets up your nose.  Reject the mutated thinking called Leftism.


[quoting JeffS] “And the Narrative says ‘Hilary Rosen good, Sarah Palin bad.’”

Yes, but 1) the Narrative is not the same as the truth, as I’m sure you’ll concede, and 2) the Hilary Rosen vs. Sarah Palin issue has little to do with feminism, since both women wear that label.

Stacy’s mental meanderings aside, feminism is not a left-right issue, unless or until we’re willing to identify which strands within it are helpful, and which are destructive. Because on its own, the proposition that men and women are equal is not particularly controversial, except in the minds of a few folks who are . . . well, confused.

-My response:

Joy wrote: …feminism is not a left-right issue, unless or until we’re willing to identify which strands within it are helpful, and which are destructive.

As with an -ist or -ism, in other words, as with any ideology, Feminism finds it natural resting place on the Left, for, as Russell Kirk pointed out:

…For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order. The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed. In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers….

While there can be no ‘Test Act’, as it were, a person cannot embrace any ideology and still claim to be conservative.

-Adobe Walls responded to Joy’s comment thusly:

You assert that Palin is and Rosen isn’t yet most people who would label themselves feminists would at least dispute that Rosen is not and the majority of them would dispute that Palin is a feminist.

No matter how many times you make the assertion you have already lost this fight. You can no more recapture the word feminism from the left than those who refer to themselves as “classical liberals” can recapture the word liberal from the left. Once upon a time there used to be dragons, they are windmills now (they are actually much harder to slay) accept that or not what is is.

P.S The argument isn’t about whether or not men and woman are equal (they are before the law) but whether or not feminism is left or right.

-The relevant part of JeffS’s response to Joy:

Feminism is a left-right issue, but not because of women rights. It’s a left-right issue because the left has hijacked it. Until you stop pretending otherwise, you have no chance of being on the same screen as NOW President Terry O’Neill as a peer. Which you should be. As long as lefties politicize Feminism™, you won’t be.

-My response:

Adobe: The one flaw in what you wrote is the statement: ‘You can no more recapture the word feminism from the left than those who refer to themselves as “classical liberals” can recapture the word liberal from the left’.

As Stacy pointed out, Feminism has a history that shows it was developed by the Left.

-Another response from Joy:

This is in reply to Bob, Jeff, and Adobe….

If you remove the term “feminism” from the lexicon of Terms That Are Permissible for Conservatives to Use, there is no effective means left to say assert that you stand against sexism, which of course most conservatives do.

Besides which, this attempt to erase the term strikes me as totalitarian in flavor, and therefore about as anti-conservative as it gets.

The concept of women being equal to men shouldn’t be treated as if it were some exotic rarity, and the assertion that it is any such thing drives females away from the conservative movement.

I mean, I get that you guys are having fun doing it, but if the goal is to build up conservatism, I fail to see why you persist in this harmful tack.

Why not simply have bumper stickers printed up that read “Republicans Are Sexists: Vote for the Other Guys!” It amounts to the same thing.

-My response:

Well now, Joy, you’ve crossed over into the theater of the absurd: who here has advocated that the word ‘Feminist’ be banned from the lexicon, the vocabulary, of conservatives?

What I have been arguing is that you cannot be a Feminist, in the actual definition of the word, if you are a conservative and that those women who do are committing an error in their thinking, in their application of Right Reason.

The fact of the matter is the ‘concept of women being equal to men’ is an ‘exotic rarity’; it is a concept that was only developed in the sterile laboratories of minds, like Mary Shelley’s, in the 18th Century.  It is a perversion of the Truth, a mutation of the Reality, known for millennia, that men and women are different biologically, physically, and mentally.

What you mistake for me ‘having fun’ is the fact that, as a true conservative’ I know that one can never take Life too seriously [this belief is also enforced by having been brought up as a Roman Catholic] – those who take it seriously all the time are those who have made themselves incapable of accepting Life for what it is, Tragic and Absurd, and insist on re-engineering it to achieve a fantastical and nonsensical Heaven On Earth.  These types inevitably descend in the madness known as Nihilism.

You’re last sentence is a typical retort from a woman suffering from a mild form, as all women do, of Hysteria.  Why don’t you have a nice lie-down before you make my dinner, like a good girl.

There’s much much more good stuff to be found in the thread. Take note: it’s a bit hard to follow because of the constraints imposed by the Disqus Commenting System, so be prepared to jump around a bit, but I think it well-worth it – especially in understanding how Leftist Thinking has distorted the way good people reach false conclusions.

One Final Note: In a response to something JeffS wrote, Joy replied, in part:

Jeff, the question I asked about equality was directed at Bob, and it had nothing to do with establishing anyone’s bona fides; it had to do with finding out whether there was material disagreement on a fundamental issue.

It was also important to me in terms of considering Bob as a friend, since I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t entrusting my friendship to someone who regarded me as a lower form of life.

So that there is no misunderstanding between myself and Joy and any other women who agree with her: I have never said nor implied that women are a lower form of life.  I must admit to being a bit insulted by the remark [and, therefore, Joy should be thankful we men do not believe the code duello applies to women].  Men and women are different in their natural abilities, skills, and creative thinking.  Neither is, on the whole, superior to the other.  The fact is, as I’ve stated many times, they complement each other, they are Yin and Yang.  Together a man and a woman make a positive force for Good [this is why I believe ‘gay marriage’ is a fiction, a fantastical delusion, and why it is imperative for a mother and father to be present together to raise a child].

The only place where men and women are equal is in the sight of God.

[Originally published on 14 April 2012]

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