Discover more from The Harvard Salient
Equality, Equity, and Misogynistic Feminists
How gender activists contribute to the erasure of womanhood
“Female equality,” that resounding battle-cry of the feminist movement, has faded to a dull murmur. The once profound, revolutionary vision—affirming the equal dignity of men and women, offering fair opportunities, and ensuring just treatment for all—sounds quaint to the postmodern ear. Usurping equality is gender “equity,” an enticingly similar word with a radically different meaning. The erasure of two small, seemingly insignificant letters brings a sweeping shift in agenda. The goal is not equal opportunity but identical outcome. To view men and women as equal counterparts is not enough. In fact, if gender is a social construct and the individual an autonomous amalgamation of experiences and preferences, the very concept of female equality is deeply flawed, because it rests on a false dichotomy between men and women. Female equality cannot exist because womanhood and manhood themselves are illusions, relics of bygone eras which dared to insinuate the existence of objective biological categories. In this view, true equity cannot be achieved until the differences between men and women have been utterly erased and the concept of gender becomes so fluid as to be rendered meaningless.
The embrace of equity, however, poses an existential problem for feminism itself. If “man” and “woman” are meaningless classifications that should be abolished, how can feminism, a movement whose very name reeks of that accursed sexual binary, justify its own existence? Does it not implicitly acknowledge the reality of and difference between men and women?
Ah, the postmodern feminist might respond, but feminism is necessary as a temporary solution to address the legacy of the patriarchy. But should not the widespread existence of the patriarchy, or, in other cases, the matriarchy, make us suspect that male and female are indeed real categories? Furthermore, by constantly vilifying the patriarchy and lauding “girl power,” are we not cementing the supposedly false difference between men and women and sowing enmity between the two (allegedly indistinguishable) groups? If equity is really the goal, then why wait? Why not abolish gender now, scratch the feminist project, and focus our efforts entirely on creating a unisex world?
Because we know, although we refuse to admit it, that a unisex world actually favors the patriarchy. When women seek identical outcomes to men, women try to become identical to men, not vice versa. In a rat race world of cutthroat competition, grueling work hours, and insatiable hunger for power and wealth, embracing one’s capacity to bear and raise children is admittedly not the best strategy for professional success. Instead, women are taught to resent and reject this aspect of their identity. They learn to see menstruation not as a natural, healthy bodily process but as a condition to be regulated and suppressed by an artificial pill. Pregnancy is no longer considered a normal and necessary stage in the cycle of life, much less an exciting and beautiful one, but a disease that can and should be ended in a violent, inhumane manner. And for those women who do choose to have children (only when convenient, of course), motherhood is considered at best an avocation or, more commonly, an unfair burden. As this clear antagonism toward female biological processes illustrates, the women’s liberation movement tacitly deems the male body normal and desirable; the female body, in contrast, is a mere obstacle to success. Consider the ramifications of this attitude upon our “unisex” trajectory. If the sole difference between the sexes is women’s burdensome reproductive role, then why would anyone, given the choice, desire to be a woman? Gender equity’s erasure of sexual distinctions will result in the erasure of women.
Feminists must abandon equity, a mere euphemism for the war on women’s bodies, and return to their original goal, equality—a culture of respect for men and women as complementary counterparts.
Misogyny is not dead. In fact, thanks to today’s feminists and gender equity activists, hatred and shame for women and womanhood are thriving. Feminists’ blind, vocal allegiance to abortion and the pill actively teaches girls to resent their own bodies. Combining this commitment to women’s “liberation” with gender equity signals to girls that they are merely less fit versions of men. The impossible, sexist project of trying to make women identical to men must end. Feminists must abandon equity, a mere euphemism for the war on women’s bodies, and return to their original goal, equality—a culture of respect for men and women as complementary counterparts. To counter misogyny and reestablish women’s dignity, celebrating women’s unique contributions and gifts is critical. Encouraging respect for pregnancy and motherhood establishes that women are not “defective men”; instead, they possess abilities that men quite simply do not. Embracing this biological reality in no way detracts from women’s moral and intellectual equality with men, nor does it compel women to conform to superficial stereotypes. Instead, it frees women from the pressure to conform to male standards and places a greater value on women’s unique contributions and experiences.
Ultimately, this true feminist revolution will require the courage and sacrifice of men and women alike. Generations of women have been trained to hate their bodies and covet men’s—no more. Countercultural though it may be, women should accept the importance and beauty of womanhood with grace and joy. Vital, too, is men’s embrace of duty. For too long, manhood has been defined merely as ruthless aggression, vulgarity, and carnal desire. Rejecting this reductionist view, men should prove their dignity by upholding that of women. Rather than objectifying or discounting women, men must view them as companions, friends, and individuals of remarkable worth. By prioritizing their role as husbands and fathers, men can support women’s embrace of femininity and simultaneously restore dignity to their own masculinity. The female body, our culture teaches, is weak, unfit, and burdensome. To restore equal dignity to themselves and their counterparts, men and women must work together to abolish this lie.
A version of this article originally appeared in Matriarchy, the September 2022 issue of the Salient.