If by Feminism

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about feminism. All right, here is how I feel about feminism:

If when you say feminism you mean the legions of man-haters, the bra burners, the wreckers of free enterprise, that usurps the simple right to association freely given, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the little children from the custody of their natural fathers; if you mean the evil ideology that topples the Christian family from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of #FULLCOMMUNISM, dependency and misanthropy, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say feminism you mean the end of mundane daily street harassment, the cease-and-desist order sent to the stormtroopers of discouragement who prey on the developing minds of young girls, the simple dignity that women be free from discrimination or dominion, that tips the female chin upwards in pride, free from belittlement or badgering from both men and fellow women alike; if you mean the cheer of equality in the eyes of the law; if you mean the commonplace observation that your sisters, your mothers, and your daughters too are all, each and every one human beings due no more and no less the dignity afforded to their brothers, their fathers, their sons; if you mean the rigorous analytical task of isolating, identifying, and curing the many structural and institutional barriers to the natural liberties of women to seek the best ways to flourish in this world we all share; if you mean that grand project, the pursuit of which pours into our hearts and minds untold truths of the complex, often subtle ways in which the vagaries of sex and gender shape and mold both expectations and outcomes, which are used to oppress, dismiss, discount, and ignore, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Family and Embodied Virtue

“Everything in life is luck,” my grandfather used to say, “and the first, and most important luck is who your family is.”

If I become tedious in repeating this it is because both halves have stuck with me.

Virtue is the skill of active living, and this activity is embodied; embodied in the physical acts involved and in the objects of our activity. It is embodied in our relationships, especially the closest, dearest ones.

There is no relationship more natural, more dear than that of family. When we talk of “making your own family”, or of friendships that form the “family you choose” rather than the one you’re born into, we’re implicitly acknowledging the force and centrality of family in a human life. Nowhere are we more vulnerable to luck than in the family we are born into; no open wound festers so much as living with a toxic relationship to one’s family, no scar aches so painfully as cut family ties.

Like philosophers since time immemorial, Andrew Cohen set to work conquering luck at Bleeding Heart Libertarians this week. Channeling a scene from an old Steve Martin movie, he suggests (not for the first time) that we ought to have parent licenses. In other words, you should have to ask some government body for permission before you are allowed to raise a child. But don’t worry! You don’t have to have permission to have a baby—you just better hope you can convince a government official you’re worthy to raise that baby, or into the system they go!

Let us put to the side for the minute just how truly awful child services are already without flooding them with children of willing but “unworthy” parents. What I find truly distasteful in Cohen’s argument is that his default seems to be that family must be justified externally—it’s not a natural state, it’s not the starting point; family must prove itself worthy to the Cohens and the administrators who Cohen would make arbiter of their fates.

I sympathize with the desire to minimize child abuse, but to radically alter the terms of parenthood in order to do so is unconscionable. There is nothing more insidious and technocratic and—frankly—despotic than thinking of family relations something contingent on the approval of a central planner. We are surely most vulnerable to bad luck in the family we are born to, but family is also where we have the best chance of developing genuine, warm human relationships, and attempts to engineer that vulnerability away come at a very steep price. Nearly always, it means making us much more vulnerable.

It is no more worthy to cut off one’s arm to avoid injuring it in the future than it is to tear family relations apart and rebuild them rationally in order to avoid getting hurt by them.