Forget the Will to Power
The question whether feminism is good or bad is not a question about power.
Feminism itself is all about power, of course. We can even define it as the sociopolitical struggle for women’s power. As such, feminism is diametrically opposed to men’s power. It is, in a sense, a war against men. But this does not tell us anything about whether feminism is good or bad.
Is feminism bad for men? Yes. The basis of feminism is that men have an unfair advantage in society. The will to get rid of that advantage, be it real or not, is unlikely to be good for men.1 Yet is it relevant whether feminism is bad for men?
Consider that, in Western societies, men and women have the same democratic rights. Their political equality is a sociological fact because the value of a democratic vote does not depend on the voter’s sex. A vote is a vote, no matter whether the voter was born with a Y chromosome or not.
Since women constitute a substantial part of the electorate, their interests cannot be neglected in political discussions. Therefore, the only reasonable discussion we can have is one that aims at maximizing societal well-being—maximizing the well-being of all men and women in our society.
Feminism may be bad for men, but if it is not as bad for men as it is good for women, then men have no chance of winning rational arguments in their fight against feminism. “I want more male power” or “I feel unfairly treated as a man” is not an argument. It is an impotent expression of will and emotion, respectively. One might as well start crying or throw a temper tantrum.
A good argument against feminism must explain why gender equality decreases societal well-being or why traditional values are better for both men and women. An argument that fails to do so is ethically worthless.
Having now ascertained that the will to power is a useless concept here,2 we can ask again: Is feminism good or bad? To answer this question, let us take a closer look at the nuclear family and sexual polarity.
The nuclear family has been a crucial element of societal well-being for a long time because it integrates many aspects of happiness including love, security, sexual polarity, belonging, and child rearing. People in happy families live relatively happy lives. If a man who likes his traditional role as a father loves his wife who likes her traditional role as a mother, there is no need for gender equality; it would only destroy a harmonious system. Yet this picture is idealistic, of course.
The nuclear family is brittle and many families break apart. What is a woman to do if she has no family, or if she does not want to conform to the traditional family ideal? Before feminism, a man without a family could still live a comparably good life; most women, on the other hand, were doomed. With little to no political and economic power, a woman had no life beyond her family, nor could she build one. She could either suffer a miserable family life, or leave and suffer alone. Feminism empowered women enough to create lives on their own, which has certainly increased their well-being. But is that all?
Feminism could only gain substantial traction by criticizing traditional values. Women’s rights could not have been granted without a shift in societal values. To truly appreciate their new duties to vote, work, and accumulate wealth, women had to disregard their old duties to cook, clean, and raise children. Are voting and accumulating wealth so much more fun and fulfilling than cooking and raising children?
But the issue is not what activities are more enjoyable than others. The real problem is that when a lifestyle is socially shamed, that lifestyle becomes less rewarding (at least for the majority; not for a minority that gains pleasure from going against social norms and conditioning). If generations of women are told that being a housewife is degrading, they will be less motivated to adopt that lifestyle and less positive about it when they do. The evidence shows that “American women have become unhappier just as they have been making unprecedented gains in income, education, accomplishment, and autonomy” (Pinker, 2018, p. 284).
More generally, the feminist devaluation of traditional gender roles and the pressure on women to join the workforce ruin the already labile nuclear family and with that a critical element of societal well-being. Not to mention that children are suffering from this development,3 and the suffering children of today are the criminals, mental health patients, and abusive parents of tomorrow.4
Feminism is thus both a solution to the problem of unstable or undesired families and its amplification. By making families even more unstable and undesirable, feminism is an answer to a problem that it simultaneously alleviates and reinforces. New freedoms do not come for free.
Disregarding LGBTQ exceptions, women are attracted to masculine qualities and men are attracted to feminine qualities. Due to sexual selection, there is a strong sexual polarity between masculine men and feminine women; this is why we feel so passionately attracted to each other. To motivate procreation, evolution equipped our brains with reward systems that make us happy when we engage in pair bonding, be it short-term mating or long-term dating. The greater our sexual attraction, the more active those reward systems are. In other words, sexual polarity makes mating and dating more pleasurable.
Feminism, however, decreases sexual polarity through androgynization—the blending of masculine and feminine qualities in all people. While women are urged to develop masculine traits by entering competitive environments like business and politics, men are told to be sensitive, show emotions, and embrace their ‘feminine side’. This produces emasculated men with mediocre feminine qualities and defeminized women with mediocre masculine qualities.
With their sexual polarity weakened, men and women are less eager to socialize, have sex,5 and fall in love.6 This might increase social isolation, sexual frustration, and mental health problems. Good for consumerism, the attention economy, and the porn industry; bad for human well-being.
Furthermore, sexual selection made the exercise of sexual qualities intrinsically rewarding. It feels good for most men to be aggressive, competitive, and violent, whereas gossiping about other people, talking about their emotions, and crying like girls does not. Women, too, have evolved reward mechanisms that make them happy when they exercise feminine qualities. Personally, to give a rather bigoted example, I have not been to a hairdresser in ten years because I see it as a boring waste of time and money (and I don’t mind the skinhead look), yet many women I know—warning: sampling bias!—spend hours every month getting their hair, nails, brows, and God knows what done, and they enjoy it! Socially enforced behavior? Absolutely, but likely also biologically motivated.
In sum, spiritual androgynization and sexual depolarization might reduce general societal well-being. This pertains to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals because the latter tend to form sexually polarized relationships, too.
Granted, the androgynization of society may improve the well-being of non-binary sexual minorities by making them feel less different, misunderstood, and excluded. Still, it is not a given that their increase in well-being outweighs the negative effects on the social majority. How can it be ethical to pathologize the social majority’s sexuality not just by shaming femininity to be ‘oppressive’ and masculinity to be ‘toxic’7 but also by normalizing gender dysphoria?
Rather than accommodating our entire society to the interests of sexual minorities, the better option would be to inspire compassionate understanding, though not through sociopolitical warfare, and to provide them with psychological support. Pedophiles are also a sexual minority, and nobody is trying to adjust society to their needs—for the good reason that this would obviously impair societal well-being.
A serious argument against my point could be that traditional social conditioning (raising boys and girls to conform to masculine and feminine stereotypes, respectively) evolved to promote cooperation but not happiness in a society. For example, it may be useful to rear boys to chronically suppress their emotions, but we know that this corrupts their mental health. Similarly, the feminine stereotype can cause psychological problems in girls whose reward systems differ from that of the average girl. The same problem applies to a large portion of homosexuals, transsexuals, etc. To optimize social conditioning, we have to impartially evaluate all aspects of human well-being, especially the relevant sociology, psychology, and biology.
Although I doubt that a rational case can be made against the first two waves of feminism (the fight for political, legal, and economic8 equality), this blog post was only a rough draft of two relevant yet biasedly selected factors out of… I don’t know, a hundred? I have really no business making conclusions here. And since my conclusion is so inconclusive, consider these three tips for criticizing feminism:
- By criticizing straw feminism, especially ludicrous forms of social media feminism, you demonstrate a lack of arguments and a weak rational frame.
- ‘Rights’ are verbalizations of group values and as such useless for solving arguments between groups; this goes for feminists as well as men’s rights activists.
- ‘Fairness’ is a tribal value based on common-sense morality, not an objective measure of ethical value; only utilitarianism can provide such a measure, although justice may be a valuable heuristic.
- Sex and Human Nature (Edward O. Wilson)
- What Can Hunter-Gatherers Teach Us about Equality?
- The Sociology of Rationality: A Question
- I disagree that the patriarchy, narrowly defined, is “also bad for men.” Is monarchy bad for kings? Are privileges bad for the privileged? No and no.
- If you cannot get over thinking in terms of power, try at least to be grateful for women’s will to power—for giving men the opportunity to strengthen their masculine wills in resistance against social feminization. That’s mindcoolness anyway.
- Update 1: This claim is not only ridiculously simplistic, but probably also wrong. What causes childhood suffering? Parental neglect? Well, parents today spend more time with their children than in earlier decades. Violent abuse? According to Steven Pinker (2018, p. 229), the victimization of children in the US, including corporal punishment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and bullying at school, has declined over the past two decades. What else?
- Update 2: This is a false generalization. An evidence review from the University of London concluded that “the difference between children from intact and non-intact families is a small one, and the majority of children will not be adversely affected in the long-term” (Ann Mooney, et al., 2009, p. 3); “dimensions of family functioning and some socio-economic factors have a greater influence than family structure on child well-being” (ibid., p. 21).
- Numerous studies show a decline in sexual frequency in the US, e.g., Twenge et al., 2017a; Twenge et al., 2017b; Abma et al., 2017, although they do not prove that the cause is feminism.
- I have no data to prove that last point.
- I apologize for the straw man. I know that every reasonable leftist has a more nuanced view than that.
- Economic equality in a meritocratic, not in a socialist sense: not equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity (in the loose sense of basic education and lack of systematic discrimination).