(Inspired by a comment of Texan99 over at Grim’s. My definitions of feminism are strongly influenced by the many things it meant when it first became a topic for me in the early 70s.  Internal clues tell me that she is my generation, probably two years younger, so her definitions may intersect with mine, and even more with my wife’s.)

From CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity:

People ask: “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?”: or “May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?” They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

The word feminist has always had a variety of meanings.  When writers, historians, and social scientists try to make distinctions such as First Wave, Second Wave, and so forth, they are trying to tease apart the many meanings and impose some structure on them so that we may meaningfully discuss concepts.  They (sometimes) know such distinctions are arbitrary and inexact, yet accept this in order that we may use the terms at all. Yet by describing the differences as a chronology – or even a development – I think they miss widely. It has been a loaded, and therefore imprecise word from the start. Many of the arguments about feminists and feminism have come down to these different understandings. “Oh, if that’s all you mean by feminism, then I don’t disagree. I was thinking of the type of woman…”

And ah, there we have it. Both men and women use the word to reference a picture of a woman they hold in their head, in addition to whatever strictly denotative meaning they hold.  A type of woman.  This may be positive, negative, or mixed, but we are never entirely free of that more emotional and social meaning. (Remember here my prejudice that liberal reasoning is largely social, conservatives less so.  Both conservatives and liberals reason emotionally.) This is not merely a meaning imposed on others. Way back in the early 70s, a woman who described herself as a feminist, or not a feminist, or kind of a feminist, was not only talking about a set of abstract ideas, she was saying that she was smart/ambitious/modern/strong or calm/agreeable/traditional/ or any of a hundred combinations.  A lot of time was spent explaining, which could sometimes make things worse.

It was a discussion about what women should be like and how they should be treated, and as a derivative, what men should be like and how they should be treated. Of course everyone took it personally, and still does. There were dozens of drivers that could swing a person one way or the other. The idea that women have been treated unfairly and this should stop was foundational for many.  The observation that the most visible activists rather obviously had personal issues and some hated men affected others strongly. (Activists for anything are more likely to have “issues” and to hate someone.  That is true of me when I act as an activist, so I can hardly blame others.) “Well, I think women should have equal pay for equal work but I don’t hate men or anything” was close to a cliche. And not a bad one, really, as cliches go. It was a way of quieting the discussion so that people could move on to more productive conversation.

The strident antifeminists, especially the male ones, often clearly had personal issues leaking out of their comments as well. That is still true, and it makes even women who don’t necessarily define themselves as strongly feminist crazy. So, still angry that your wife divorced you, eh, Chuck?

Women wanted to be like their mother.  Or they very much did not want to be like their mother. Or they wanted to please/displease their father or that prince of a brother who kept getting all the glory. They wanted to make sure it was advertised that they wanted to get married, and further, that they wanted to have children.  Or not have children.  Or have them later, after their careers were established. Some liked the specialness of how women were treated in some situations, some hated it, most had mixed feelings. Men advertised how they weren’t one of those terrible MCP’s while simultaneously advertising that they were just fine with being good providers, and protective and brave and all that. Traditionalist parents found they were pleased with their daughter’s achievements and incensed at her obstacles; some women were shocked to find that their whole outlook changed after having children, and later even more shocked to see how schools treated their sons, when they had been taught to expect that it was their daughters who were at risk.

How one felt about abortion, and laws about abortion, sliced through ideas of identity with a double-edged sword, and that was in turn influenced by unspoken but obvious attitudes as to whether having children was even valuable. In contrast to the idea that having children is the most important thing one can do.

We try.  Most of us try to have some clear meaning for the word. Except for me.  I have little idea what the word means and haven’t used it for decades.

31 thoughts on “Feminist”

  1. On the “equal pay” issue, when I applied to medical school, admissions committees openly discriminated against female applicants. The theory was that there was a doctor shortage (soon to be addressed by the Johnson administration by doubling medical schools) and that women were less likely to practice full time and for a full career than men were.

    Now, it is over 50 years later and, guess what, women physicians work about 25% less than male physicians. That data comes from physician recruitment agencies, which have become quite common. Doctors now do not open an office and practice for 50 years in one spot any more. Many, especially young physicians, work as employees and often either part-time or in shift patterns, like police or firemen. Pardon me; fire fighters.

    Male physicians tend to work fewer hours per month than my generation did, so the relative shortage is greater in spite of a vast expansion of medical education.

    Physician assistants and nurse practitioners have filled in considerably with the aging population.

  2. For women the word may not mean much anymore. It does for men. Male feminists have a clear agenda. Destroy Christians, appease the barbarians at the gates in the hopes they’re killed last, and get close enough to women for surreptitious assaults with minimal consequences due to their political correctness.

  3. I always took the term to be political and therefore an attempt to divide into categories with little precision, but create great straw persons (sorry I had to do that) potential. The early spokes persons (last time I’ll do that today) of that movement were generally combative, accusatory and full of anger. Not anyone I would want to be close to. I identify with AVI’s developmental presentation of the term and movement and find the entire mess to parallel the racial rights movement. The results speak for themselves.


  4. Long ago, when Betty Friedan was still pushing her book, “The Feminine Mystique,” my wife and I used to socialize with another couple. The wife read that book and all hell broke loose. She left her husband, moved to the Bay Area and went to law school. He married again and we lost track of him. The wife used to contact my wife and brag about things like having sex on the Golden Gate Bridge. She was not very attractive and I did wonder why this seemed important to her.

    I don’t know what finally became of her. The husband was not particularly masculine but a nice guy who seemed to put up with a lot of crap.

    That was the most extreme reaction to the feminist thing I saw.

    I did meet plenty of strong women. One was a medical school classmate who, as a single mother of 36 with a daughter about 10, went to medical school and became a very successful ophthalmologist. She was a great gal. We had medical fraternities in those days where we did a lot of socializing. She was the only female member of the medical fraternity I belonged to.

    Sadly, she died about 14 years ago. She was about six years older than me. She got married in medical school to a nice guy. Not a classmate or physician.

  5. I thought of myself as a feminist, when to me (and to many other women) it meant equal opportunities for education, to work in whatever field and at whatever level you were qualified for, and to have the same pay and benefits that were offered to men working in that field and level.
    That kind of feminism wasn’t supposed to be an excuse for a woman to be a vengeful, nickle-plated b*tch to those males unfortunate to encounter her in any situation, casual or intimate. Or for middle-class, well-off women to complain endlessly about trivia, while ignoring the brute fact that they are actually pretty well off, in comparison to women in other places and at other times.

  6. Mike K Says: “On the ‘equal pay’ issue, when I applied to medical school, admissions committees openly discriminated against female applicants. The theory was that…women were less likely to practice full time and for a full career than men were. Now, it is over 50 years later and, guess what, women physicians work about 25% less than male physicians.”

    Something similar in the hard sciences:
    University professors knew that a significant fraction of women would eventually marry, have children, and quit their STEM career to raise children. Professors saw this as a waste of their limited time for mentoring students, and especially at the graduate level. (Not to mention the disruption of a professor’s research if a key grad student quits.) It wasn’t hatred of women or a desire to keep them down, although it was often portrayed that way. Every STEM professor I knew liked and unstintingly helped the female majors–with the possible exception of one who was rumored to be hostile to women because he was gay(!)
    On the other hand, Sgt Mom has written about how until recently US military policies mandated that women who got married had to retire from military service regardless of their wishes. I cannot recall to what extent such policies existed in the private sector back in the day.

  7. The real issue with “feminism” really comes down to time; we don’t have anywhere near enough of it in the average lifespan for women to be able to “do it all”, and the dichotomy pisses them off. A man can have a family and a career; women have to make a choice of which they want, and if they go for career first, then family ain’t happening.

    The fix for this will come when we actually extend human lifespan. Until then, people are going to be miserable, because desires do not fit into the reality of life.

    I’m sympathetic to women’s desire to be more than brood mares, but the sad fact is that if they “want more out of life”, well… Kids and the implications make it all too difficult to accomplish.

    Heinlein had a deal in one of his novels, and I forget which (Podkayne of Mars?), where it was common practice for couples to have their babies young, put them in suspended animation, and then raise them when they were economically better able to do so. The ramifications of all that would be… Interesting. I can think of a couple of novels worth of implied effects on just that one idea. So, that’s one path past the issues of “too short a life” to do it all.

    Another might be the idea of an artificial womb, so that you could bank gametes, and then have the baby gestated when you’re in your middle ages–But, that falls down on the fact that raising young kids is a young adult’s game. Just like going to war.

    The whole thing boils down to a mis-match between realizable life potential and desire. Women are going to be pissed at men forever, until there’s some perceived equity over the issues of who sacrifices to raise the next generation.

    And, the added question is going to be “What’s the effect of the population bust…?”, because that’s coming. My guess is that we’re gonna be in full-scale reproduction rate panic mode about 2075, when it becomes abundantly clear that nobody wants to raise kids, in the developed world. Socialism kills societies deader than D-Con, because once you decouple the question of “Who’s gonna take care of me in my old age…?” from reproducing, and you make raising kids punitively expensive, well… The whole thing starts to fall down.

  8. I have a daughter who is 38 and no kids. None of my three daughters have children. My grandchildren are all from my sons.

    Last fall, this daughter mentioned that “Kennedy women have their children late.” This piqued my interest because she has been in a relationship for several years and I thought this might be an indicator of marriage thoughts. Sure enough, the announcement came two weeks ago that she is due next summer. She has multiple degrees and speaks and reads four languages. She lived a year in Spain with a boyfriend she later married but that did not work out. He is a nice guy and they are still friends but, after five years, she gave up. He is asocial and spends all his free time with video games.

    Her comment referred to my own mother who had me the year she was 40 and my sister when she was 43. I was a Depression baby and my parents dated for ten years before marrying. During that relationship, she moved to California for three years, returning to Chicago in 1929.

    My sister had her first child at 35 and her second at 37. Her daughter had her first at 37 and her second at 40.

    So far, no problems although my niece had pre-eclampsia and had a c-section. The consequence most obvious to me is that kids will not know their grandparents but we also are a long lived family. My mother lived to 103 and my paternal grandparents into their 80s. Smoking shortened many lives, including my father’s who died at 65. That effect went through the population in two generations, but is largely over although I have my doubts about marijuana.

  9. A second child may make her a conservative, though only when that one hits ten or so. You may or may not get to see it. Having children is wonderful instruction in what can and cannot be accomplished with people, and how kindness is not always kind.

    You can already see it starting to turn as their first boy hits public school.

  10. and some hated men

    I think at its undercurrent, a LOT of self-described “feminists” have a high amount of misandry in them. This, more than anything else, provides the dividing line between second and certainly third-wave feminism — the degree of sheer misandry applies as a “wave guide” for feminism.

    If you aren’t a hardened misandrist, you are NOT third wave feminist — because in order to be third wave you have to have utterly bought into the notion that there is an eeeeevil patriarchy which does and has ALWAYS served solely to suppress and enslave women. To deny that there are gender ROLES which have undermined the desires of individuals in either group, and demanded sacrifices of those individuals in the name of the role which are difficult if not impossible to avoid.

    These days, the only feminist who has any celebrity (e.g., who calls themselves a feminist, and has celebrity connected specifically to it) who also has and rational capacity at all is Camille Paglia. I don’t agree with her on many things, but I can and do respect her. I cannot say the same for any other self-described feminist in the public spotlight for feminism.

  11. guess what, women physicians work about 25% less than male physicians.

    On the whole, across professions, salaried females on average work about 42h per week. Salaried males on average work 46-48h per week. Not sure how much that has been screwed up by Obama’s workplace regs that make 50k a year an “hourly” position.

  12. My guess is that we’re gonna be in full-scale reproduction rate panic mode about 2075, when it becomes abundantly clear that nobody wants to raise kids, in the developed world.

    We’re already in the middle of that, with one exception. Mormons. They are the only “developed, white group” (including Italians, Greeks, Spaniards as ‘white’, which used to not be automatic) who continues to have larger than replacement value families.

    The future belongs to Latino Catholics, Chinese, and Mormons. The Protestants & Indians (Hindus) are all going to die off in the Third European War vs. Islam.

  13. The original idea of feminism was that a woman should not be denied the opportunity to pursue any particular path in life simply because she was female. That is an idea which most of us can support.

    The devastatingly bad part about how “feminism” has evolved under the tutelage of Leftist abortion aficionados is that the allowable paths for a woman do not include being a mother and home-builder. Any woman who chooses that path has to bear the wrath of the mean girls. The denigration of motherhood by woke “feminists” is ultimately similar in effect to the old neutron bomb — the buildings are still there, but the people are gone. Unless the average woman delivers 2.1 children, that society dies within a few generations (which historically is the blink of an eye). And if the mother does not play her essential role in civilizing her offspring, that society dies even faster.

  14. “My guess is that we’re gonna be in full-scale reproduction rate panic mode about 2075, when it becomes abundantly clear that nobody wants to raise kids, in the developed world.”

    This is the part that interests me the most. We seem to be having an argument over whether one group can force another group to do a task that both groups believe is crucial. Theoretical both groups believe it’s also valuable and honorable. How is it, then, that both men and women aren’t clamoring to compete for the right to do the job of raising kids? Granted, only women can bear them, but that doesn’t answer the question of who puts his or her job on hold and concentrates on diapers for a number of years. Not that the corporate treadmill is a bed of roses, either, but somehow it appears to come with enough rewards that there’s a real competition for that kind of job.

    The message I always pick up from this debate is that raising children is a valuable, fulfilling task that women inexplicably are reluctant to undertake alone on the terms that are offered to them. Statistics tell us that the surest way to crash a population growth rate is to offer education and material opportunities to women. Why can’t we figure out how to let the market set the rate for a real incentive to raise kids instead of, say, running GE? Why don’t more men find it valuable instead of humiliating to consider pursuing this honorable work themselves? Why is it always a great job that needs to be assigned to someone else?

  15. Statistics tell us that the surest way to crash a population growth rate is to offer education and material opportunities to women.

    I think that is true to some extent but the availability of birth control/abortion does not reduce the birth rate to zero. Women have evolved hormonal responses that reward mothering behavior. The improvement in public health has also reduced the need for large families in order to get a few surviving children.

    Probably the strongest factor in killing off, so to speak, the birth rate is the welfare state. People no longer need to create children to care for them in old age. We have also created a very selfish, consumer focused society. An internet friend posted a photo of the home he grew up in on facebook. His father was a fireman and he had a brother, so they were not that poor. The home he posted the photo of was 800 square feet and had one bathroom. I remember lots of homes like that where middle class friends and classmates lived.

    Feminism has also played a part in convincing women that motherhood is slavery. Part of this is the Gramscian destruction of the Bourgeois culture most of us grew up in. There seems to be a determined effort by the political left to destroy the culture and replace it with what ? A utopian society that has never existed ?

    Venezuela is showing us how that turns out.,

  16. I find it hilarious that those who say that the life of a woman is ruined if she raises her kids at home rather than get an outside job invariably, without exception, think that the capitalist system is based purely by and for rapacious corporations who do nothing but grossly exploit their workers.

    Also they never note that the mass employment of women outside the home is only made at all possible by paying lots of lower-class women extremely low wages to spend all day watching other people’s kids.

  17. One factor that should be considered is the impact of credentialism: specifically, the vogue for graduate school as a requirement (or at least assumed requirement) for an increasing number of careers. 8 years in college/grad school is a long time (and sometimes it is more like 5+5 years, or even more) before starting one’s career.

    I know numerous women who have successfully combined serious careers with child-raising. There are a couple of exceptions, but most of them did *not* go to grad school.

  18. “On the other hand, Sgt Mom has written about how until recently US military policies mandated that women who got married had to retire from military service regardless of their wishes. I cannot recall to what extent such policies existed in the private sector back in the day.”

    As far as I can remember, a female soldier was never discharged for being married. They were discharged for being pregnant, married or not.

    It was not merely a choice of do not get pregnant or leave involuntarily. They could (and did in numbers) choose abortion, provided by the military. They did not retire unless they were eligible by length of service or were permanently medically disabled.

    They were administratively discharged, generally with an honorable discharge unless other factors called for a general discharge. For example enlisting, but not completing basic and advanced initial training before becoming pregnant. Even if choosing discharge rather than abortion, the military provided medical care through the pregnancy.

    I believe that they are now allowed to remain on active duty so long as they can show a viable family care plan during deployments after the birth. Viable is in the eye of the beholder. During the pregnacy and for a brief time post delivery, the pregnant soldier, later mother was not depIoyable. I believe the military still provides abortion on demand for those that desire it. I do not know if this procedure has any restrictions based on gestation length or location. At any rate, the military was very happy to help you end your situation that was making you non-deployable, subject to any specific restrictions made by the congress.

    Yes, the military is a great place for social experiments at the cost of effectiveness. Things like single parent families, equal pay for unequal work/danger/abilities and village raising of children.


  19. Why don’t more men find it valuable instead of humiliating to consider pursuing this honorable work themselves?

    In many cases, probably because they realize that their wives are more likely to divorce them if the traditional gender roles in their marriages are reversed. Human nature trumps rationalist good intentions.

  20. I’ve been told by a child care center director that they have tried to hire men, but it never works out, because the parents don’t like or trust them.

  21. I agree that modern feminism, the envious leveling anti-male anti-family kind rather than the old equal-opportunity kind, is destructive. However, I don’t think it’s obvious that modern feminism is more cause than effect. The main causes of the decline in birth rates may be the availability of contraception, together with economic and other technological development that increases the economic returns to women in the economy and therefore the opportunity costs of raising children. It is more expensive to have children than it once was, due to more foregone income for mothers, higher taxes and higher educational costs. In the old agricultural or artisanal economy children were assets at relatively young ages. Now for most families they are huge liabilities until they are well into adulthood.

    There are probably many things that could be done politically and institutionally to slow or reverse the downward trends in family formation and size. I suspect that this will happen eventually, but it won’t happen until there is a political consensus on what the problem and its causes are. We aren’t there yet though perhaps we are getting closer.

  22. “I suspect that this will happen eventually, but it won’t happen until there is a political consensus on what the problem and its causes are.”
    There will never be such consensus, since our politics are so massively divided by urban vs. non-urban interests. Any serious pro-family / pro-children policies are at this point a non-starter for the Democrats, since they will preferentially reward GOP voters Recall the story about the meltdown at Google last week when someone said they were doing something that was family friendly? Guess which congressional district has the fewest children? The one represented by the current Speaker of the House.

    If the GOP had a lick of sense they would have kept top-end income tax rates quite high in their tax bill and added something like a $20K/year fully refundable tax credit for kids under the age of 5. But the national GOP is worthless and stupid.

  23. I’ve been told by a child care center director that they have tried to hire men,

    Can anyone imagine a man wanting teach elementary school ? My youngest daughter’s favorite 8th grade teacher was a man whose wife also taught at that private school. There are a number horror stories in California about male teachers being falsely accused of sexual stuff.

    If the GOP had a lick of sense they would have kept top-end income tax rates quite high in their tax bill and added something like a $20K/year fully refundable tax credit for kids under the age of 5.

    The tax bill was the only part of Trump’s agenda the GOPe supported. Did you notice that? Nothing, and I mean nothing else was passed. The Senate passed some nominations. Flake held up the last 51, which were re-introduced this week.

    The wall thing could have been done before the election, in case anyone has not noticed.

  24. Mike: “The tax bill was the only part of Trump’s agenda the GOPe supported.”
    Yes, like I said, the GOP is worthless and stupid.

  25. the GOP is worthless and stupid.

    Two things about this. One, the GOP has to be taken over, not like Iowahawk says:

    1. Identify a respected institution.
    2. kill it.
    3. gut it.
    4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

    The Tea Party tried but was thwarted by the insiders like Dick Armey.

    The Associated Press reported that in September 2012, Armey agreed to resign by November 2012 in exchange for $8 million in consulting fees paid in annual $400,000 installments.

    So much for Dick Armey. I thought he was going to be a white hat, as Sundance says, but the temptation was too much for him.

    Trump has to build a new party but a third party doesn’t work, as Perot learned. Trump is governing now as if he were a third party president but he needs the party to get anything done in Congress.

    Two, The party, what is left of it, has to learn to deal with the vote harvesting techniques developed by the left.

    Apparently, the guy in NC -9 figured it out but it is not legal there. It is legal in California and, I think, was used in Arizona to steal a couple of elections, CD 2 and the Senate race. I’m not sure it can be stopped without banning mail-in ballots.

    Somebody needs to learn about it and stop it or learn to use it.

  26. Decades ago in the second semester of my college sophomore year I took a course in psychology. Not in my physics/math major class sequence, it was an option in the general education requirements. Turned out not so much about what I’d later understand psychology per se is actually about. Instead of all sorts of labels for behavior, claimed reasons for that behavior, and how to help people change to behave as they ought (whatever that means), my class focused entirely on other threads. We learned lots about how to measure the abilities of human senses and working of the brain. That would enable, for example, better design of an instrument panel from which a pilot could quickly gather information, or print on a page so that most people would find it easier to read. We learned about the best study techniques for short term memory and that there were different techniques for long term memory.

    The class opened new vistas that I had never thought about. This led to my studying not merely to pass a non-major class, but to master the course. I did very well, earning the middle-aged professor’s respect. He knew that I, in turn, appreciated not merely his knowledge, but his general good natured concern to understand people and help them get along with one another. Even though I knew he had different convictions than I did, I highly regarded his teaching.

    Often he lectured on topics not in our text. Thus one day’s topic had no foreshadowing and came as a great surprise. He told us he would prove to us there was no such thing as mother instinct in women. He spent the hour relating field reports. He told of multiple cultures, each with mothering practices and woman’s roles I had never even imagined much less heard actually existed. He told us of polygamy and polyandry and rotation of mates, not as aberrations, but as accepted practice. He told us how the environment of some locale made some practices significantly more difficult than others, of sex imbalances in populations, of many barriers that different groups had adapted to in different ways. I had no reason to doubt the truth of his stories. Indeed, he cited people-groups, locations, times of study. He had data. As a physics student, I respected data. His analysis paralleled what I thought a correct technique from my use of it in physics. I left the class very puzzled. I thought something was not correct. But I was utterly unable to think of any way that would honestly demand a modification of what I’d heard.

    A few days later provided opportunity to consult another older man who had over time gained my respect as not merely learned, but wise. After hearing my story and concern, this pastor-teacher’s response initially seemed as only increasing the puzzle. He asked if I thought of people as animals governed by instinct, superior to animals only because people are smarter. When I declared that I did not find that description adequate, he suggested that I consider the role thinking plays in people. They, unlike animals, are not “hard-wired” with instincts, but instead learn how to survive. For that matter, they learn how to think.

    He went on to help me recognize that instead of thinking of girls as having an innate mother instinct, they, no less than boys, learned how to live. The problem people have in pondering this is not so much that they incorrectly default to some paradigm derived from the idea of instinct. The problem is that they willingly accept as normative what some persons choose to do or what some cultures teach them to do. He added that what we should be doing is teaching girls to grow up to be women and boys to grow up to be men. In both cases we should not look to cultures, ours or others, to define womanhood or manhood. Instead we should acknowledge that God the creator knew what he was doing, and that he gave us a guidebook that tells us what women are and what men are and what womanhood and manhood looks like.

    He concluded by observing the problem people have with this is not that God’s descriptions in the Bible don’t make sense, that they don’t result in healthy societies as well as explain the failures of societies that reject those descriptions. The problem that people have with this is, well, God. Of course that many people either don’t understand what the Bible says or misuse or (intentionally) misrepresent what it says complicates the discussion.

    The capital F Feminists correctly recognize the ridiculousness of an appeal to instinct as a sufficient for deciding how to live. For that matter, in their zeal to allow each individual to create reality per their own personal wishes, they even go on to reject biology. As is the case for evolution, their scheme rests upon a foundation of faith rejecting fact.

    Meanwhile, once in a while one runs into essays which (inadvertently) suggest that maybe the Bible’s definitions actually have something going for them. Two recent examples I ran across this past week (you may need to copy and paste):

  27. Instinct does seem to weight the scale in the same direction over and over again, however. It may not be determinative, but it is influence.

    @ Jonathan – I agree that the low birth rate is not entirely, perhaps not even largely caused by feminism, but by the factors you mention.

  28. I inadvertently posted as “Anonymous” above asking the question why it’s puzzling that more women don’t choose childrearing but so un-puzzling that more men don’t. One explanation clearly could be innate inborn desires. Jordan Petersen often makes the point that in the most gender-egalitarian culture on earth, Sweden, the preference differences between men and women for gender-stereotypical career choices are the most marked. He concludes convincingly that the choices must be highly innate if they become more and more pronounced as men and women become more free to choose them regardless of social pressure to adopt a stereotypical gender role.

    On the other hand, this preference also makes part of my point for me. We spend a lot of time wondering in a more or less disappointed or hostile way why women are increasingly skeptical of the received wisdom that of course it’s a terrific idea to let everything else go and raise kids. If women choose otherwise, there must be some explanation, and many of the offered explanations cast blame on women or women’s movements: women are being shortsighted, women are overlooking their own real best interests, women are lying to themselves about their deepest needs, women are foolishly choosing to embark on professional careers when everyone knows they probably won’t work that hard or shine as much as a man would, women are being led astray by virulent bad-brained modern feminism, by Democrats, by atheism, etc. Many of those arguments may hold some water, but they also assume that women really want to raise kids and men really don’t. Or men might want to, but look how hostile the childrearing environment is for men; why would they choose to try to invade this male-hostile world when the deck is stacked against them by gender stereotypes? They might be really good at it, but no one will give them a fair shot, etc. That is a form of argument that is ridiculed when a feminist makes it. We ought to be careful making it about men as well, or any other potentially stereotyped group. Alternatively, if we’re happy to make it about men, we might want to listen more charitably when it is made about women.

    I don’t think any prescription for societal improvement is likely to succeed as long as it’s based on an assumption that other people should enjoy doing what we would not enjoy doing ourselves, because we assume that they secretly like it and must have been born good at it, while we ourselves have another destiny.

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