Thursday, February 28, 2008
Here's a 'feminism has failed' article by Rosie Boycott. The commenters below the piece make most of the substantial points for and against her argument. One line, however, is worth further consideration - 'The world, in short, is still organised to meet the wishes of men.' My response to this sentence is nothing to do with being pro- or anti-feminist. As it happens, I'm pro-. Rather, I am interested in the words 'organised' and 'wishes'. Men have one thing in common - they are not women. Not being a blank slater, I think this involves certain predetermined tendencies, some or all of which may be suppressed or rejected by any given man and none of which need carry any particular moral force. In that context, one can say that it is statistically likely that men will behave thus and women thus, assuming one is discussing a sufficiently large sample. But it would be absurd to say that any individual will behave thus simply because he/she is a man/woman. That is why 'wishes' is such an absurd word to use. It is implying that there are individual men who want things which are, miraculously, realised in the social order. But if she means that men's 'predetermined tendencies' are forming the social order, then 'wishes' must be the wrong word, since, by definition, these are not voluntary and, almost as often as not, drive men in directions in which they would not wish to go. In fact, predetermined tendencies must have some effect on the social order since the sample involved is sufficiently large, but, to repeat, these do not in themselves have any moral force (unless, of course, we decide they do). Which brings me to 'organised'. By whom? Boycott points to child care provisions in Denmark which allow women to work. The assumption here is that what works in Denmark - does it? I don't know - would work here. It might, but the idea that there is some generally better way of organising a society is faulty and dangerous. As with the notion of generalised male wishes, this suffers from the old Enlightenment problem of universal values. It is irrational to assume that what works in one culture would work in another. The irrationality is based on the notion of 'organising' a society. One can organise some things, but one can't organise the inclinations of an entire culture - the desire to do so indicates a failure to understand the meaning of 'culture'. One can, of course, destroy a culture, but that has, in the past, resulted in an enormous number of corpses. Both the word 'wishes' and the word 'organised' betray a quaint style of thought, one that sees a world of conspiracies and power struggles with clearly defined battle lines about which one can have strong, simple opinions. I thought we'd grown out of that, but perhaps not.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:57 am