Ugh

I have a really serious problem with this, from Melissa McEwan:

Feminism is an integral part of progressivism.
If you’re not a feminist, you’re not a progressive.
No matter how much you hate Bush.
No matter how much you hate the Iraq war.
No matter how much you hate our current torture policy.
No matter how much you want to restore habeas corpus.
No matter how much you’re totally going to vote for the Democrat in November.
If you’re not a feminist, you’re not a progressive.
You’re a fauxgressive.
End of story.

Liberalism (which, forgetting this progressivism rebranding, is really what McEwan is talking about) is not an all-or-nothing affair. Like all ideologies, it’s a patchwork of many different views on many different policy questions. One can try to simplify it into one unifying premise (“common good”, “positive/negative rights”) but, at the end of the day, it’s a laundry list. It’s a good laundry list, no doubt, and one with which I disagree very rarely. But it’s a laundry list nonetheless, and there’s no reason why one should be required to agree to all of its dictates in order to be a part of the broader coalition.
Take, for instance, the two issues of greatest salience to me: foreign policy and LGBT rights. Suffice it to say, I’m on the left end of the liberal coalition on foreign policy. I think we ought to end the embargo on Cuba and sanctions against Iran, set up embassies in Tehran, Havana, and Pyongyang, and get the hell out of Iraq tout suite. Most mainstream liberal politicians – people like Joe Biden, Jay Rockefeller, even Carl Levin – are well to the right of me on this. But that doesn’t make them not liberals. It makes them less liberal than me on that set of issues, but they’re still liberals. It also shouldn’t be surprising that, like most of the Democratic rank-and-file, I really want federally-recognized gay marriage, a trans-inclusive employment discrimination ban, a repeal of Florida and others states’ adoption bans, and an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, among other things. Every major liberal politician, from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Harry Reid to Nancy Pelosi, is to the right of me on this. The last liberal president, Bill Clinton, actually enacted a lot of the policies (DADT, Defense of Marriage Act) that I want repealed. But just like Biden, Rockefeller, and Levin, they’re all still liberals.
Now I’m sure McEwan will say that feminism is different, that it’s integral to liberalism in ways that gay dignity and foreign policy are not. I’ll grant her gay rights; feminism, as a broader framework, encompasses LGBT equality, and so, by virtue of it sheer breadth, it’s more integral to liberalism. But foreign policy? Really? McEwan sure seems to think so; she derides as “fauxgressives” those who are concerned with the war and making our response to terrorism humane at the expense of feminism. Her co-blogger, Kate Harding, mocks as sexist those who think there are more important concerns than tearing down the patriarchy. Don’t get me wrong; I do not think for a second that feminist concerns are trivial or unimportant. There’s a reason I read Shakesville, Feministe, and Feministing every day; the sexism they document on a regular basis is sickening, and ought to be condemned. But to say that condemning airbrushing of celebrities is more or equally important as stopping torture is absurd. To say that debunking the validity of BMI as a measure is more or equally important as preserving habeus corpus is absurd. To say that getting Mo Dowd to be less of an anti-feminist concern troll is anywhere near the same ballpark as stopping the bloodshed in Iraq is absurd, and a grievous insult to the war dead to boot. For McEwan and Harding to belittle those who put the utmost importance on ending the slaughter of innocents in Iraq, who put the utmost importance on adhering to international norms under the Geneva Conventions, who put the utmost importance on preserving our Constitutional liberties because of those persons’ views on feminist issues is shocking verging on offensive. There’s a case to be made that there are some issues that ought to be deal-breakers, where a wrong view ought to lead to expulsion from the liberal coalition. But that case is orders of magnitude more compelling when applied to foreign policy than to feminism. McEwan and Harding are smart enough that they ought to know that.
So yeah, I understand McEwan’s frustration. As a feminist (albeit a feminist male) it horrifies me when people treat rape as a compliment or as a normal occurrence, when the media promotes unhealthy and unreasonable body images, when Hillary Clinton is treated as domestic help rather than the talented politician she is. But it horrifies me more when our Constitutional and international obligations are blatantly violated. It horrifies me more when the United States government tortures people and the the National Security Council okayed it. It horrifies me more when people are murdered by American guns, as a result of American political decisions. And it offends me that McEwan and Harding thinks that there’s anything approaching parity between the importance of these two sets of issues.

4 thoughts on “Ugh

  1. No, I don’t think Melissa would EVER say this:
    it’s integral to liberalism in ways that gay dignity and foreign policy are not
    Of course those are integral, but so is feminism.
    Look, this is not a zero-sum game here. Just because one asserts that A is a crucial element of something does NOT mean that one is asserting that B is not a crucial element also.
    It may be useful to think of the difference between sufficiency and necessity: if you’re, let’s say, driving a car, then both oil and gas are necessary. But neither one is sufficient. If you have one but not the other, your car will not work. If I then say that gas is necessary, is an integral part of the car’s function, and that without it your car will not work, I have said NOTHING about the oil. I am NOT saying that you don’t need it also, or that it isn’t important.

  2. And what I’m saying is that, if you dictate that feminism, gay rights, a non-belligerent foreign policy, etc. are all necessary components of liberalism, pretty soon you’re going to define liberalism so tightly that ideological purity trumps the ability to get anything done.

  3. And what I’m saying is that, if you dictate that feminism, gay rights, a non-belligerent foreign policy, etc. are all necessary components of liberalism, pretty soon you’re going to define liberalism so tightly that ideological purity trumps the ability to get anything done.
    Why is ideological purity a bad thing when your project is to define an ideology? This isn’t a platform, it’s a political theory. You can reject, accept or ignore liberalism when you actually try to get things done, but you’ve got to have it there in the first place to make those decisions.

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