Send Women Back to the Sink Before They Kill Our Kids

Happy Day-after-Hallowe’en!

Had a good (but busy) time the past two weekends, at the Alabama Philosophical Society and the Mises Institute conference on imperialism respectively. And this coming weekend I’ll be at Tulane to give a talk on free will.

But now, on to some blog business:

I’ve complained before (see here, here, and here) that religious conservatives’ attitude toward women is too often one that regards womanhood as fundamentally other-oriented and thereby encourages women’s subordination to the demands of men and of families. (I’ve also suggested that one of Rand’s valuable, though partly inadvertent, contributions to the cause of feminism is her revival of the 19th-century libertarians’ insight that an ethics of self-sacrifice contributes to the subjection of women.)       

Sharon Valerii wears army boots Larry Beane’s piece on LRC today illustrates the point I’m making. Commenting on the case of a female U.S. soldier in Iraq who ran over a small boy because she’d been trained not to stop, Beane writes:

First of all, as a traditionalist Christian, I have to say that this is not the proper vocation for a woman. We strain the gnat by exempting women from combat duty, but swallow the camel by training them like men (and usually with men), dressing them in masculine fatigues and boots, outfitting them with weapons, putting them in trucks in combat zones, and expecting (even ordering) them to run over little children.

This is not the biblical understanding of womanhood.

God has designed the female body from the womb up. Even her arms bend differently than those of a man to accommodate her hips. Women are completely designed around the uterus. Their very bodies are temples where the miracle of life begins and is nurtured – the safest and most gentle environment for humanity on the planet. Women are equipped with breasts to feed and nourish babies once they have been delivered from the womb. Women are the cultivators of life, the primary teachers of the human race, the defenders of civilization. Theirs truly are the hands that rule the world by rocking the cradle.

But how many mothers are away from the cradle, neglecting their roles as the teachers and civilizers of youth, doing something “more fulfilling” – such as driving supply trucks in Iraq? And what has happened since women in large numbers have abdicated their vocation as defenders of civilization? Well, we now live in a society that expects mothers to be soldiers and to kill children – and they do it. Their maternal instincts and godly vocation of nurturer do not override their orders to kill.

On this, three points:

Slave Girl movie poster 1. To say that women are “completely designed around the uterus” is to reduce women, insultingly, to a biological function, and specifically an other-directed one, and to take that function as determining their destiny; it is to say that women’s function is to serve others. But an entity whose primary function is service to others is a natural slave. Calling women’s bodies “temples” and telling them that they “rule the world” does little to soften the insult. If, as I venture to suppose, women are persons, then, just as with men, a woman’s central and ruling faculty is her reason, not her uterus. In Aristotelean terms, the reproductive capacity belongs to the nutritive soul, not the rational soul, and so its operation is subordinate to the needs of reason and not vice versa.

Nor will it be any defense to say that men, too, are destined primarily to service. For a) that would make men slaves as well, which is no improvement; and b) in any case the religious conservative’s claim is generally that women are especially oriented toward service, and adding as an afterthought “oh yeah, but men are too, somewhat” does little to counteract the overall tendency toward the subjection of women in particular.

2. Beane’s argument seems to be this: women’s primary function is nurturing; hence, when women are encouraged to neglect nurturing in favour of seeking a fulfilling career, this goes against the natural order, and the result of this unnatural deviation is that women end up doing bad things like running over innocent children. But first, the inference from the perils of careers that require being desensitized to inflicting death on the innocent to the perils of careers, period, seems a rather heroic leap. And second, even if women’s running over children were an argument against women valuing careers, why wouldn’t men’s running over children – which presumably also happens – thereby be an argument against men valuing careers?

Now it’s obvious from Beane’s overall discussion that he thinks running over innocent children is wrong whether it’s done by a man or by a woman. I am happy to say that this is a point on which Beane and I are in complete agreement. But given that fact, it’s hard to see how this is a special problem about women in military roles. The purported fact that women are divinely ordained to be walking wombs can’t be the reason why it’s wrong for them to run over children, because it’s wrong for men to do so as well, even though men aren’t walking wombs. Well, whatever the reason is for its being wrong for men to run over children, why can’t that be the reason it’s wrong for women to do so as well?

Beane does suggest an argument to show that women’s focus on careers can be blamed not only for women’s but also for men’s running over children: “Most men no longer have examples of manly and honorable fathers and grandfathers, not having been taught by their mothers from the cradle to revere chivalry and decency, nor to defend life and to protect the weak. No, our mothers are too busy wearing army boots.” But this won’t do; for it suggests that male violence against the innocent is a recent development, a product of women’s liberation from the role of compulsory homemaker. A glance at history suggests otherwise: when the Israelites “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8: 26), men, women, and children, was it because their mothers had been too career-minded to teach them chivalry? What about the Athenians in Melos? What about the Romans, well, anywhere? When the French soldiers at Agincourt killed “the poys and the luggage,” were their mothers all in army boots? The patriarchal family has reigned for millennia without preventing male violence against the innocent; indeed, male violence against the innocent has been a not infrequent occurrence within the patriarchal family itself.

Jael and Sisera 3. While I don’t regard the Bible as an authority one way or the other on such matters, it’s perhaps worth noting that it’s not entirely clear that the “Biblical understanding of womanhood” consistently places nurturing first. When Lazarus’s sister Martha is pursuing her feminine nurturing duties, “cumbered about much serving,” and complains that her sister Mary is neglecting her household chores by pursuing religious studies with Jesus instead, Jesus famously takes Mary’s side. (Luke 10: 39-42) One could read this as a vindication of a woman’s choice to reject homemaking in favour of some other vocation.

The Catholic Church, of course, has traditionally interpreted this passage as licensing only the choice of nun – another nurturing role – as an alternative to wife and mother, but this interpretation is hardly inevitable. After all there is also the prophetess Deborah, who (though herself in fact a wife and – unless Judges 5:7 is metaphorical – a mother as well) “judged Israel at that time. … and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4-5) Hardly a conventionally feminine role! Moreover, she even participated in military operations: when Barak “went up with ten thousand men at his feet” we are told that “Deborah went up with him.” (Judges 4:10) We’re not told that Deborah was personally involved in acts of warfare; but we are told this (Judges 5:24-27) about another woman, in terms of high praise:

Blessed above women shall Jael
the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;
and with the hammer she smote Sisera,
she smote off his head,
when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
at her feet he bowed, he fell:
where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

In short, Jael and Deborah wore army boots. Whether they did so in just or unjust wars is hard to determine given the Bible’s narrative vagueness, but they certainly did so with the Bible’s approval.

The Sound of Cylons

Cylon down on his luck Check out this funny song and video comparing the old and new versions of Galactica.

Since it’s on the new Galactica’s website, you can guess who wins.

It is done, Imperious Leader!

No Fly Zone

Blockade from Star Wars A new Iron Curtain has descended across the planet: our Prince President now plans to “deny access to space to anyone ‘hostile to U.S. interests’.” (Conical hat tip to Lew Rockwell.)

Think about what that means. “Space,” in this context, signifies the entire universe beyond planet Earth. There lies the hope of freedom, the future of humankind – except that nobody on Earth can go there without Bush’s permission.

Bush’s One World policy: you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.

Politics Against Politics

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’ve argued, some would say ad nauseam, that the libertarian struggle against statist oppression needs to be integrated (or re-integrated) with traditionally left-wing struggles against various sorts of non-state oppression such as patriarchy, racism, bossism, etc.

My position finds support, albeit in a less than straightforward way, in Rothbard’s article “Contempt for the Usual” in the May 1971 issue of Libertarian Forum.

This might seem an odd article for me to cite on behalf of my leftist heresy, since the article is a sustained attack on cultural leftism generally and feminism in particular. But I maintain that Rothbard’s arguments, no doubt malgré lui, actually support my position.

Here are some crucial excerpts:

For apart from the tendency on the Left to employ coercion, the Left seems to be constitutionally incapable of leaving people alone in the most fundamental sense; it seems incapable of refraining from a continual pestering, haranguing and harassment of everyone in sight or earshot. … The Left is incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of the average person’s peaceful pursuit of his own goals and his own values in his quietly sensible life. Maoist poster Many libertarians who are enamoured of the principles of Maoism point out that, in theory at least, the decentralized communes and eternal self-and-mutual-criticism sessions are supposed to be voluntary and not imposed by violence. Even granting this point, Maoism at its best, forswearing violence, would be well-nigh intolerable to most of us, and certainly to anyone wishing to pursue a truly individualist life. For Maoism depends on a continual badgering, harassing, and pestering of every person in one’s purview to bring him into the full scale of values, attitudes, and convictions held by the rest of his neighbors. … The point is that in the Maoist world, even at its most civilized, the propaganda barrage is everywhere.

To put it another way: one crucial and permanent difference between libertarians and the Left is in their vision of a future society. Libertarians want the end of politics; they wish to abolish politics forever, so that each individual may live his life unmolested and as he sees fit. But the Left, in contrast, wants to politicize everything; for the Left, every individual action, no matter how trivial or picayune, becomes a “political” act, to be examined, criticized, denounced, and rehabilitated in accordance with the Left’s standards. … The Women’s Lib movement, of course, has been in the forefront of this elevating of hectoring and pestering into a universal moral obligation. …

One would hope that the free society of the future would be free, not only of aggressive violence, but also of self-righteous and arrogant nagging and harassment. “Mind your own business” implies that each person attend well to his own affairs, and allow every other man the same privilege. It is a morality of basic civility, of courtesy, of civilized life, of respect for the dignity of every individual. It does not encompass all of morality, but by God it is a necessary ingredient to a truly rational and civilized social ethic. …

The crucial point here is that those libertarians whose only philosophy is to oppose coercive violence are missing a great deal of the essence of the ideological struggles of our time. The trouble with the Left is not simply its propensity for coercion; it is also, and in some sense more fundamentally, its hatred of excellence and individuality, its hostility to the division of labor, its itch for total uniformity, and its dedication to the Universal and Permanent Pester. And as it looks around the world, it finds that the main object of its hatred is the Middle American, the man who quietly holds all of the values which it cannot tolerate. … [O]ne of the great and unfilled tasks of the rationalist intellectual, the true intellectual if you will, is to come to the aid of the bourgeoisie, to rescue the Middle American from his triumphant tormentors. … In the name of truth and reason, we must rise up as the shield and the hammer of the average American.

So how does all this support my position? Well, notice that Rothbard here treats the principle of minding one’s own business as broader than the non-aggression principle; he criticises “those libertarians whose only philosophy is to oppose coercive violence” for not recognising that minding one’s own business implies a rejection “not only of aggressive violence, but also of self-righteous and arrogant nagging and harassment,” even when such nagging and harassment involve no use of force against person or property.

Q. Do you know the women's movement has no sense of humor? A. No ... but hum a few bars and I'll fake it! In short, then, Rothbard in effect agrees that a pervasive attitude of such “intolerable” Maoist-style criticism, even if peaceful, would be a form of oppression, and one that libertarians should be concerned to combat just as much as they combat actual aggression. And this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been saying too. Restrictive cultural attitudes and practices can be oppressive even if nonviolent, and should be combated (albeit, of course, nonviolently) by libertarians for some of the same sorts of reasons that violent oppression should be combated.

Of course, Rothbard’s point might seem to support mine only generically, not specifically – since he identifies feminism, rather than patriarchy, as an instance of the form of oppression he’s concerned to combat. As Rothbard sees it, “the Middle American, the man who quietly holds all of the values which [the Left] cannot tolerate,” is inoffensively minding his own business, while feminists and other leftists who attack his values are refusing to mind their own business, and are instead subjecting the ordinary mainstream American to “a continual badgering, harassing, and pestering … to bring him into the full scale of values, attitudes, and convictions held by the rest of his neighbors.”

I think this is the wrong way to understand the nature of the complaints that feminists and other leftists are bringing. That’s not to say, of course, that we feminists et al. are never guilty of the sort of thing Rothbard is referring to; any ideology can be, and every ideology surely has been, defended in obnoxious, officious, and intrusive ways, and feminism is no exception. But the question is whether that’s the whole story, or even the main story, with the feminist criticisms that Rothbard is talking about, and I claim it isn’t. The way to understand the criticisms that we feminists bring is to see that from our point of view it is patriarchy that refuses to leave people alone – that the process by which patriarchal attitudes are promoted, inculcated, and reinforced amounts precisely to “a continual badgering, harassing, and pestering of every person [especially women] in one’s purview to bring [her] into the full scale of [patriarchal] values, attitudes, and convictions held by the rest of [her] neighbors.”

The point of feminist criticism is thus not to politicise the reproduction of male supremacy but rather to identify the political character it already possesses, and the aim of a feminist political movement (understanding “political” here to denote any organised movement for social change, whether peaceful or violent) is to defend women against such oppression, to serve as their “shield and hammer.” And ditto, mutatis mutandis, for the defence of workers, gays, ethnic minorities, etc., against various forms of oppression which, while indeed often supported by violent means (statist or otherwise), are by no means confined to such means. To whatever extent Rothbard’s “Middle Americans” are complicit in such oppression, they are to that extent not minding their own business – and leftist attempts to correct their attitudes are then strictly defensive, in service rather than violation of “a morality of basic civility, of courtesy, of civilized life, of respect for the dignity of every individual.”

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