By Vladimir Ivlev
“I want to look at politics with an eye unclouded by philosophy.”
Hannah Arendt, “Zur Person”
It is way too easy for people swept in the typhoon of cultural change to keep themselves occupied by the surface level contradictions found within said paradigm shifts. Those who consider themselves to be in the trenches of the culture war often amass previously heard arguments into their political arsenal to avert themselves from experiencing the excruciating stigmata of self-doubt that losing an online argument often leads to. Either that or succumb to a self-destructive ideological leap of faith. But rarely do you find someone trying to embrace political ideologies that directly scare them or break their trance of idle conformity, for the sake of greater knowledge and self-actualization. I am however not putting myself on a pedestal by proclaiming that I fully comprehend the far-reaches of modern feminism, as it is just as ridden with sectarianism and surreal escapism as left-wing authoritarian philosophies (which is why more often than not they go hand in hand). But, by engaging with its advocates, I have pinpointed a certain underlying trend that not only justifies but necessitates their tactics of antagonism. This is not a conversion moment, I have not become a born-again intersectional feminist. In no way am I defending their tactics. But understanding the necessity of them provides insight into dealing with modern political discourse.
Experiencing centuries of alienation from the political sphere would allow modern feminists to deconstruct normative values with impunity. Alienation is usually reciprocal, inducing distrust and hatred towards the perceived normative. Postmodern feminism’s distrust of the grand narrative colossus that is the hetero-patriarchy led them to believe that any structural change, any methodology of thought is male-centric, since the foundations were laid out before the acquisition of civil rights. Reason, the scientific method, egalitarianism and progress are inventions made without taking in account the will of the female. Because of this, the modern feminist movement has adopted antagonistic tactics ranging from forcing guilt, “sins of the father” arguments, guilt by association, hasty generalizations, privilege theory, censorship and ad hominem. This view of the world, while childishly identitarian and disgustingly reductionist, is what also made modern feminism so surgically efficient and popular (discounting its symbiosis with neoliberalism). Evaluating the fact that this alienation necessitates antagonism gives access to 3 key insights: 1) Equality as a false God, 2) The feminist propensity for praxis over theory, and 3) Emancipation is unreachable. We will be discussing these points in the 3 sections below.
1) Equality as a false God
Egalitarian feminism, ushered in by Mary Wollstonecraft, although dignified, humanistic and emancipating was a spectacular failure. To the extent that any mention of the egalitarian position in feminist arguments is greeted by pure resentment. The justification for that is one that was mentioned previously, the male-centric foundations of society. Modern feminists do not want an equal slice of the pie, because the entire pie is rotten, from its production to its consumption. Mary Wollstonecraft proposed that the equal distribution of opportunity and emancipation for women won’t just provide them the justified dignity of their personhood but it will also serve as a benefit to the males and the entire human race. And of course, as human failures usually go, an inspiring and life-affirming philosophy such as this had absolutely no effect. The feminist movement was completely ineffective up until antagonism was introduced as a core tactic, somewhere around the time of the Suffragettes. Wollstonecraft desperately pleaded for men “to appeal to their understandings; and, as a fellow-creature, claim, in the name of my sex, some interest in their hearts. I entreat them to assist to emancipate their companion, to make her a help meet for them! Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience…”. And yet such a heart-wrenching plea fell upon deaf ears. On the other hand, modern feminism’s demands that seem to be at the expense of men, did not go unnoticed, as if feminists finally learned how to talk to children. This is because antagonism, the oppressor/oppressed narrative: sells. While compromise doesn’t. It forces a guaranteed response from the audience. The fundamental emotional response of anxiety is what drives modern politics, while emancipatory politics require effort to understand. For this reason, I am skeptical that the patriarchy is solely to blame for egalitarian feminism’s failure, as antagonism and panic is a unisex universal human condition. Because of this, modern antagonistic feminism matches perfectly with the current neoliberal capitalist political framework, where competition takes precedence over cooperation, which is also instinctual and unisex. I hope I don’t have to disclaim that I am not justifying human nature as a moral right, which is a naturalistic fallacy, but instinctual behavior is popular and only popularity affects politics.
From this we can conclude that antagonism is an essential defense mechanism guaranteeing the survival of the feminist movement. Any other more reasonable or lenient tactic would lack the efficiency and the capacity for cultural osmosis. Then, we can infer that intersectional feminism (the integration of all identitarian movements into one chaotic and often sectarian ideology) is the ultimate conclusion of said defense mechanism, for the constant creation of new categories for the oppressor class (white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered) acts as fuel and motor for the spread of the feminist idea, perpetrated by relentless resentment, segregation and self-loathing.
2) Praxis over Theory
I have a tendency to judge people on their individual merit rather than as a member of a group, a distasteful quality to have in the modern political landscape. But the following argument makes sense given the socio-political conditions that feminists find themselves in. While rich educated males had the opportunity to exploit their complacent lifestyle and write theory, women did not have that opportunity until recently. Because of that, and the constant alienation and threat they situate themselves in, women interested in politics have a greater propensity for activism, for valuing praxis over theory. In the “Zur Person” interview, when Hannah Arendt says, “I want to look at politics with an eye unclouded by philosophy,” she describes the above sentiment perfectly. This of course resembles a hasty generalization and deviations do exist (Hannah Arendt being ironically one of them), but as you analyze the feminist movement you begin to understand that for their agenda to be successful they require to uphold certain mindsets (e.g. rotten pie and antagonism). The “preference for activism” disposition undoubtedly stems from those mindsets, so it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that most intersectional feminists have it.
The implications of such tendency often manifest themselves in apparent contradictions in their arguments, double-standards and fallacies, yet they gain the ability to be more efficient as a political movement. Modern feminists are less interested in truth and more so in cultural power or “soft power”, the constant struggle for radicalization through propagation and demagoguery. Their suspicion of discourse outside of the pre-allowed set of values can be explained by that. As well as what I call the POMOSD phenomenon (Post-Modernist Stress Disorder), where they find themselves incapable of experiencing a piece of media without politicizing it, whether warranted or not (see: http://www.cracked.com/article_24452_5-ways-disney-has-actually-gotten-more-sexist-over-time.html). After all, the pie is rotten to the core.
3) Emancipation is Unreachable
What the last two sections taught us is that antagonism is the centerpiece of modern politics. It’s Public Relations 101, yet it leads us to a disturbing conclusion. “The ultimate difference between a truly radical emancipatory politics and populist politics is that the former is active, it imposes and enforces its vision, while populism is fundamentally re-active, the result of a reaction to a disturbing intruder.” – Slavoj Žižek, “First As Tragedy, Then As Farce” (2008). This reaction is the fundamental feeling of panic, the shieldmaiden of alienation, followed by the vanguards of resentment and paranoia. Thus, having antagonism as the only possible successful tactic for political change leaves with the realization that emancipation is impossible. If that statement chills you to the bone, do not worry, it’s a sign that you retain some semblance of sanity. The pie is rotten, yet by setting that as the core premise of your movement you are rendered incapable of ever freeing yourself, you are dictated by re-action and you act thusly. The “intruder” must be removed, yet “his” replacement is a bridge you do not cross. And the rest of us are left with nothing but the “Thirst for Annihilation”. From all the modern feminist works I have read, from Judith Butler, Mary Poovey, Virginia Muller to Jean Grimshaw they seem to be all but too competent and willing to deconstruct and criticize, but when it comes to “imposing and enforcing their vision” and what that particular vision is, a disturbing vacuum is left in its place. Whether Mary Wollstonecraft’s vision of an egalitarian utopia is naïve or not, what sets her above modern feminists is her ability to criticize and provide alternatives. Its plausible that through adopting a mindset of relentless deconstruction, modern feminism has become incapable of “constructing” values from the nihilistic wasteland they leave behind.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. “Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” Gutenberg,Org, Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 4 Jan. 2001, www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/3420/pg3420-images.html.
Falco, Maria J. “Feminist Interpretations of Mary Wollstonecraft”. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.
“Zur Person” Hannah Arendt Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsoImQfVsO4&t=249s
Nye, Joseph S. Bound to Lead: the Changing Nature of American Power. Basic Books, 1990.
Zizek, Slavoj. “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce”. Verso Books, 2009