You might have noticed how “gender critical feminists” are happy about Baroness Nicholson “standing for women’s rights”. And you might think they are simply taking the piss.
No, they are not necessarily taking the piss. And the Baroness herself is not lying when she claims she was protecting women all along. This was her answer to “why did you vote against gay marriage”:
To understand why she is saying this, we need to understand the traditional conservative concept of women’s rights.
This does not mean I am defending that concept – I am saying we must understand it. There is a concept, somewhat-forgotten in social justice circles, of “steel-manning” the opponents’ position in order to be able to oppose it meaningfully, and I will try to do this here. I want this to be a steel-man and not a straw-man, so any conservatives are welcome to correct me.
(Also, full disclosure for biases: the author is a civil libertarian, a liberal leaning center-center-left by European standards, and not a socialist. The author also was a right-libertarian twenty years ago, and so got to talk to tradcons a lot while disagreeing with them on a lot of social policy).
To start with: many people on the left think that traditional conservatives (or “tradcons”) don’t care about women’s rights at all. That their idea of women is “go back to the kitchen” (and also somehow “you’re already equal, shut up”). That tradcons’ idea is to control women’s bodies and women’s lives.
But this is not how tradcons see themselves and not how their thought operated. This view comes from a conflation of two things:
- The words and actions of certain MRAs, MGTOWs, and assorted “alt right” figures who really do believe this tripe. Actual tradcons often loathe these figures even more than we do.
- The actual effects of tradcon policies. For example, when one bans abortion and limits contraception, the end result is control over women’s bodies. So, the left-winger concludes, the tradcons’ aim is to control women’s bodies.
However, if we let these things form our view of what tradcons actually want, we do not have a real view of the opponent. And without such a real view, it is easier to fail at resistance.
Let’s look at the abortion/contraception example in more detail. In a recent Alabama bill to ban abortion after six weeks, the leading figures were Representative Terri Collins and Governor Kay Ivey. Would one really expect them to want women, including themselves, to be brought back into the kitchen?
I found an article overviewing the “white women” advancing “American misogyny”. It is a great factual overview, but I am not sure how useful it is to limit this to white women, given Candace Owens. And I am not sure how useful it is to signpost this as “misogyny” before analysing why these women think they are actually protecting women. And, moreover, why many activists who see themselves as feminists find a lot in common with the tradcon view.
So here is the tradcon concept of women’s rights and social position, as far as I could work it out:
- A woman is, by nature, delicate. A man is, by nature, a powerful brute. (Woman and man are defined, of course, in the purely traditional way).
- A woman is the only kind of human capable of gestating children and, thus, of creating human life. This makes her delicacy even more worthy of special protection, as she is doing the most important work in society. Thus, “women and children first”.
- In the marriage bond, a man is placed under socially-enforceable obligation to provide for a woman and their children. This both protects women (who are delicate) and civilizes men (who are brutes). The social respectability afforded to the married man is a reward that motivates him to submit to the civilizing influence of providing for his wife in marriage. Marriage also creates the optimal environment for rearing of children, by bringing humans of such different natures together in harmony.
- The heterosexual act (they recognize only penis-involving acts as proper sex) is between a natural brute and a natural delicate creature, which brings it vert close to rape by its nature. However, the marriage bond tempers its impact and makes it acceptable.
- Male homosexuality is just brutal men being brutal together; there is no civilizing influence of women there. Gay marriage removed protection from women, because men get the social respectability of being married without the obligation to provide for a woman and without her civilizing influence. (Explains the Baroness’ position).
- Woman’s delicacy is a great asset to society. Delicate women deserve special protection from men, and thus segregated spaces are extremely important. (As for butch women and trans men, they remain women, but have rejected the delicacy and therefore do not need the protection. Let them use the men’s. Explains the Forstater-Stock positions about trans men and butch women).
- Women are the victims in the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution gave men easy sex without the responsibilities of marriage. It gave women the “happiness” of being merely used by men – and also the pill, which messes up their body. (Note how the “gender-critical” criticism of hormone therapy for trans people, and of puberty blockers for children. tends to apply to hormonal contraception).
- Women are the victims in abortion. (This is a key difference from the alt-right view which tends to position women as killers when they have abortions). The availability of abortion helps men pressure women into sex, the shirk their responsibility by inducing the woman to have an abortion. Abortion does significant damage to a woman’s body.
- Women and girls are the victims of sexualization of youth, done by pornography and also by explicit sex education. Because of these, men and boys pressure women and girls into degrading sex acts.
One can notice similarity between these positions and radical feminist positions. It is not a coincidence that Mary Daly was productively employed by a conservative university. Of course there are differences too, but the fundamentals are pretty close – which makes alliances natural. And both sides of such an alliance will sincerely believe they are working to protect women’s rights.
There appear to be two big differences: abortion and the view of lesbianism. However, if you review the points above, you won’t find much ground for opposition to lesbianism, except the matter of reproduction. A woman choosing to be with another woman is either rejecting her reproductive responsibilities or else, opting for donor-assisted reproduction, creates a deliberately fatherless child. And fatherlessness, from the tradcon POV (for which they do cite evidence), is a bad thing for a child.
However, reproductive duty is not that critical in modern society. (Well, unless one is a racist and believes that one needs to “outbreed” “invaders” or else there will be a “great replacement”. But tradcons are, as a rule, not consciously racist and so do not propose anything like this).
If we exclude reproductive duty, it actually makes sense for some women to be so delicate that they just can’t live with any man. as all men are brutes by nature. These specially delicate women form the category of “lesbian”, and some of them provide companionship to each other. (Whatever they do in bed is of no consequence for the tradcon, it is not seen as “sex” anyway, but it would be bad for women if it emulates men’s brutish acts – which we learn also from Sheila Jeffreys).
On this basis, I think that tradcons are changing to offer sincere, not just tactical, acceptance to lesbians. At least when these lesbians don’t do the “leather stuff” and don’t claim to be parents together.
And so, if feminist-identified activists agree to overlook abortion for now, exactly nothing prevents them from accepting the traditional conservative view of women’s rights. And then they “work together” to protect and enhance these rights.
The political power differential makes the feminist-identified activists the subservient, auxiliary side. But they “unsee” this fact, especially since the tradcons are eager to claim some friendship and equal alliance.
Moreover, the tradcon way of thinking is quite logical and coherent, and has centuries of thought behind it – so we can expect the feminist-identified activists in this alliance to shift on abortion gradually. From “key demand” they already shifted to “overlooking differences” – and many of them will be sincerely pro-life within the coming years.