I was one of the less vocal “Never Trumpers.” I didn’t ever vote for the man (primaries or election) and I didn’t want him to be the republican nominee or the president. (By the way, saying that I didn’t want Donald Trump to be president DOES NOT mean I wanted Hillary Clinton to be President.)
However, when Trump became the republican nominee, and then the president, the “Never Trump” movement ceased to exist. The idea of Trump never being president ceased to be a movement and ideology when Trump became president. Once the goal is either achieved or defeated in history, the movement ceases to have meaning. It ceases to “be.”
It’s the same with feminism.
Feminism is a movement begun in earnest in the late 19th century. It didn’t pick up steam until the suffrage movement in the UK and US during the early 20th century. To put it succinctly, Feminism got its definition during this era. During this era, Feminism became the ideology that said, “Women should have equal protections and rights under the law.” If you were a Feminist you were someone who claimed that women should have equal protections and rights under the law. Those we might call the “founders” of Feminism are women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emily Davison, Frances Willard, and maybe Mary Wollstonecraft. They are the ones who defined feminism and took it from a few people spouting some random philosophies, to a world-wide movement for a moral and legal right.
There is a very specific and key factor about all this: Feminism specifically targeted the government. Feminism said, “You people in power over us, the government, must recognize the reality that we have certain rights. You, the government, should treat us women exactly the same as you treat men. We should be equal in the eyes of the law.” It was a legal claim. It was an organized attack on specific laws that specifically favored non-women. Feminists said, “Look, according to law, he’s allowed to own property, but she’s not. According to law, he’s allowed to vote for his representatives, but she’s not. That’s objectively unfair, and the law should be equally applied to all, regardless of sex.” This Feminism, which is usually termed “first-wave Feminism,” I call Actual Feminism, or to put it in a radical and crazy way, it’s just Feminism.
I argue that anyone who calls himself or herself a Feminist, but does not define Feminism this way is wrong.
What makes a Movement?
How do I substantiate such a claim? I recently had to think through this idea myself. I worked through a series of questions as follows:
How does one define a movement or a belief? At what point do the actions of a majority claiming to represent a belief, become that belief? An arena where this affects me more than Feminism is Christianity. At what point do the actions or claims of the majority of people calling themselves Christians, actually define Christianity?
In the case of Christianity, my desire is to argue that the actions of a majority wearing the title never change the actual philosophy behind it. Even if all the “Christians” in the world got together and said “Christianity is about making people happy and eating ice-cream,” that wouldn’t make it true. However, in the case of feminism, my desire is to argue that the majority of feminists get to define what feminism is.
How can I justify these contradictory desires, and if I can’t justify the contradiction logically, which desire will I relinquish?
I don’t think I can justify the contradiction logically. I will have to go against one of my two desires. Which one will I relinquish? I will relinquish my view of feminism. How do I conclude this?
I conclude this because there are a few objective historical figures who did and taught things who objectively defined what Christianity is. (Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, Peter the Apostle, and others who wrote the New Testament.) They started the movement. It’s locked in history. They defined Christianity for me. So the actions or opinions of whoever follows does not change that historical basis. Whatever they said Christianity is, is what Christianity is, and no amount of people calling themselves Christians while holding a different philosophy can change that. Similarly, there are historical figures who established and defined the philosophy of feminism. They are the women I’ve been describing (Anthony, Stanton, and others). These women get to define what feminism is, and they did so. Therefore, no matter how many people call themselves Feminists, if they disagree with the views of these Actual Feminists, these “first wave” Feminists, these plain and simple Feminists, then those later followers are wrong, and are not actually Feminists at all. They are something else.
Now I get to explain my title and put it all together. Feminism is finished. You see, the Feminists got what they were fighting for! Women have equal protection under the law. According to the law, women will be treated exactly the same as men. Women get just as many voting rights and property rights, and taxes, and ability to serve on juries, and ability to sue, as men, according to the law. The law has been changed and the law is not sexist anymore.
Since that’s the case, Feminism is done. There’s no need for it. Just as the Never Trump movement died the second that Trump became President, Feminism died the moment the 19th amendment was written. In this case, Feminism dying is a good thing. It means the goal was accomplished.
That does not mean sexism doesn’t exist. It does. That does not mean that certain judges, and certain police officers, and certain men and women do not operate in biased ways, unjustly. They do. It just means that the problem is no longer the LAW. The problem is now solely in individual people. Feminism was trying to change the law, not the people, and it succeeded.
“Modern Day Feminism”
“Well what about modern day feminists?” You say. “Feminists back then weren’t trying to change people, but Feminists today ARE trying to change people? So why aren’t you a modern day feminist?” Well, first of all, using the term “Feminism” for the modern day movement is a misnomer for the reasons I’ve given above. Modern day Feminism is about social reform, not legal reform. It’s fine and dandy to contend for social reform in the public square, but don’t call it Feminism. That just rubs me the wrong way. On a purely linguistic level, “Feminism” can’t be about “equality of the sexes” because the root word of “Feminism” is “female.” It’s not about both sexes, it’s about one particular sex: women. This new lingo is redefining the word not only to take it out of the legal context it was founded in, but also pretending like the root word is irrelevant to its meaning. I love language too much to abuse it this way.
But SECOND of all, and much more importantly, modern day feminism contends for social reform by both blaming and asking the government to fix it. This is the REAL issue. The government can’t change society, it is ill-equipped to change the ideas that people believe, it is designed to change the way that people behave.
The government is concerned with the rule of law. Social ideology at large is shaped by the public square. Businesses, religious institutions, music and art, along with general conversations in the work place are what shape society and culture. These are the things that shape ideas. Beliefs are not shaped by laws. “Feminists” today (I’m going to call them that but use the scare-quotes to clarify that they’re not really feminists…) constantly lobby in Washington to have specific laws written to determine how people should think. But the government can’t do anything about how people think or believe. The government can only do something about how people BEHAVE. It can punish bad behavior and reward good behavior, but it can’t force people to believe something.
The Limits of Government
Government, at its core, is coerced action. The Government’s ultimate power rests in saying, “If you don’t do what we say, we can kill you.” You either behave the way they say, or you behave like a corpse. If they use their power to the fullest extent they can coerce a desired behavior. HOWEVER, they cannot, necessarily, coerce a particular belief. In the early church, Rome could force Christians to say “Caesar is Lord” and kill them if they didn’t say it, but even if they said it, that doesn’t mean they believed it. It’s God who judges the heart. Government can only judge actions.
That’s the reality of government and its limitations. Government is one big gun to your head to behave certain ways. (This is why I favor a small government. Don’t want them holding a gun to my head very often. And I’d rather it be a bb-gun than a .45.) They CAN coerce me to DO certain things. They CANNOT coerce me to BELIEVE anything.
“Feminists” today don’t understand this reality about government. “Feminists” today do not contend for their ideas in a way that lines up with their desired end. “Feminists” today contend for social change in the legal realm. They want government to make people believe something, and unfortunately, government can’t do that. This fundamental stupidity is why I wouldn’t be a feminist even if I agreed with the social change they want enforced (which I don’t).
Feminism is actually finished because the desired end was met. The 19th amendment was written. The law is not specifically sexist anymore. You can only be an actual feminist in the past tense, just like I was a never Trumper. Feminism is finished, and “Feminists” doesn’t understand what they want or how to get it.
Why am I not a feminist? Well, I’m not a Feminist because it was finished before I was born, and I’m not a “Feminist” because, among other reasons, it’s a fundamentally ineffective ideology that doesn’t recognize the abilities and inabilities of government.