Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Feminist Wager

When contemporary feminism arrived on the scene some four decades ago it did not brand itself a recruiting tool for radical political causes.

Quite the contrary. It promised that if women became feminists, and if they worked to undermine the gender inequalities that pervaded American culture, they would be rewarded with rich, more satisfying, and happier relationships.

It convinced them that their relationships were oppressing them, and that they were of little real value. It's easier to walk away from something that is worthless.

Relationships based on inequality were intrinsically oppressive, and any woman who was enjoying her oppression was a tool of the patriarchy... sorely in need of liberation.

Yet, traditional relationships were all that most women knew. Women who refused to honor the traditional and unspoken relationship contract might find themselves alone. How could feminists persuade women to live according to its precepts?

Whether they understood it this way or not, feminists chose to offer women a wager. Women were told, and many were convinced, that if they gave up something of little value they might possibly discover bliss in a new egalitarian relationship.

Feminists seemed to suggest that even if this heavenly relationship was not attainable, women were wrong not to take the chance. How could you hang on to something that was making you miserable when that meant foreclosing the possibility of finding something that would make you ecstatic?

Perhaps you have guessed where I am going with this. To my mind, this resembles what is now commonly called Pascal's wager. Link here.

Named after its author, seventeenth century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, it was originally addressed to people who refused to believe in God because they could not know rationally whether or not God existed.

If God did not exist they could do what they pleased, because the promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell were removed. But if God did exist, and if God could grant them eternal life, they would do better to behave like good Christians... even if that meant not succumbing to each and every transitory temptation.

In his effort to convince people to be better Christians, Pascal posited that they could see their choice as a wager. They would wager a finite amount of mundane pleasures, pleasures that would not be that difficult to abandon because they were really not a very good thing, against the hope and promise of eternal life.

Wagering a finite loss against the possibility of an infinite gain would seem like a good bet. Even if there is no God and there is no Heaven, all you have lost is a few minor pleasures that are, in truth, not really very enjoyable anyway.

The feminist wager is a variation on this theme. Women were persuaded to abandon old fashioned relationship behavior, which was not really worth very much and which was not making them happy, in order to open themselves to the possibility that they could find relationships that would be perfectly egalitarian and fully satisfying.

Of course, feminists could not promise that such heavenly bliss existed; only that it might exist. A woman who maintained her identity as a traditional housewife could never gain access to that bliss. A woman who was liberated might.

The feminist wager was based on hope and a prayer. It was also sustained by fictional representations of good relationships, happy endings, and couples living in egalitarian harmony.

The new Jack and the new Jill both had careers; they shared child rearing tasks; they both had orgasms; they worked side by side making dinner, doing laundry, and cleaning the dishes.

To say that it has not worked out as feminists promised begs the question. They were not promising bliss; they were promising the possibility of bliss.

But how would women go about preparing for this possibility. Of course, they would have to step outside of traditional gender roles. If they had careers they would not be dependent on men. They would not be a burden; they would not represent a financial obligation. This would make it possible for men to love them for who they really were.

In reality, this dream of equality, or of sameness, does not lead to better relationships. It precludes them. When a woman tells a man that all she wants from him is love, he will feel like less of a man. And if she makes him feel like less of a man, he is going to find someone who is going to make him feel more like a man.

When a woman declares her independence and autonomy, a man will hear her saying that her only true loyalty is to herself. He will fear that her independence will lead her to abandon him. 

Feminists have been especially interested in women's sexual behavior. They have taken grievous offense at the fact that women are more modest and reserved about the expression of their sexuality, that they are less aware of what gives them pleasure, and that they are generally sexually deprived. Especially when compared with men.

If it is impossible to maintain modesty and at the same time have a satisfying sex life-- such was the feminist contention-- then women could improve their chances at having blissful relationships by having sex as men did.

They should have multiple partners, and undertake to explore their sexuality fully. In this way they could be great lovers for their future husbands.

A marriage of sexual equals would bring both partners bliss between the sheets, and thus would be more durable than the old style marriages that were being sacrificed on the altar of infidelity.

Is this true? Apparently not. According to the available research a woman who has more sexual partners before her marriage will be more likely to experience marital disruption than will a woman who has had fewer sexual partners. Link here.

Of course, there are many possible reasons for this phenomenon. Many feminists will attribute it to unenlightened attitudes and vestigial patriarchal tendencies. On the other hand, these statistics do explain why so many young women are so concerned about what is called their: "number."

Feminism tried to open the possibility for a relationship utopia. True believing feminists will never give up the dream because they do not care whether it comes about this century or next.

Most women, however, are more concerned with their everyday lives.

Many have discovered that the relationships and marriages that they abandoned were better than the difficulties of being a single parent with a career.

Too many women bought the promise of utopia only to find themselves living in a feminist dystopia.

8 comments:

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Oh....Great....

....you HAD to bring up THIS topic.

It's rather interesting that the feminists have attempted to overthrow everything humanity has proven just for their own....well....maybe not....their own....purposes.

But then again, if you step outside of the 'box' they would like to put you in, you can see what's going on.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Come up;
And see the World stripped bare.
The free-indeed;
They breath a rarified air. -- Newsboys, Cornelius]

Proud Hindu said...

Ever travel to regions of the world where there is no Feminism?

My Mother grew up there and she's happy to be out. So is my Dad for that matter.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Proud Hindu
RE: Well....


....I'm not surprised at that. Setee doesn't seem proper to me. That is if I'm properly correlating your pronounced 'faith' vis-a-vis your mother.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. Welcome to the New World....

....and you're welcome to practice your 'faith' and express it as well....HERE. Unlike Saudi Arabia or Iran.

P.P.S. However, if you decide that in order to practice your 'faith', you need to 'kill' or even 'suppress' all those who disagree with you....

....have a care.

My oath is to 'uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, foreign AND domestic.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

When Proud Hindu suggests that we think about the way women are treated in other parts of the world, I would like to remind him that much of the progress women have made in the West has not been associated with feminism, and certainly not with the brand of American feminism that emerged in the early 1970s.

The most important advance for women was giving them the right to choose their husbands freely. That right dates to 17th century England and America. I speculate that it really goes back as far as the Protestant Reformation.

It was not initiated by contemporary feminists.

We can certainly grant an earlier version of feminism the victory that gave women the vote, but whatever the good things that feminism has accomplished, it has become, in today's America, a way of indoctrinating women in leftist and radical ideology.

And, by the way, how many of America's feminists cheered when Afghanistan and its women were liberated from the Taliban? How many of them want us to stay there to ensure that the Taliban never again has the power to oppress them? And how many of today's feminists are protesting the treatment of women in other parts of the world?

I only want to say that there are forces in Western cultures, especially Anglo-American cultures that are friendly toward women and that have been receptive to those who have championed women's rights without trying to turn everyone into a Marxist.

Proud Hindu said...

"And, by the way, how many of America's feminists cheered when Afghanistan and its women were liberated from the Taliban? How many of them want us to stay there to ensure that the Taliban never again has the power to oppress them? And how many of today's feminists are protesting the treatment of women in other parts of the world?"

SO MANY.

I have no idea where this meme that global Feminists are not protesting treatment of women in "other" parts of the world.

What is your American media feeding you?

As someone who has travelled the globe extensively it is FEMINISTS and other WOMEN who are working tirelessly around the world to better the life of women. This work is given media and news coverage, unlike here.

There is a whole world outside of the United States. A whole, big, wide world.

When I returned to the US from South Asia I was astounded at how flimsy the media and news reporting are here in regards to womens' issues worldwide.

Indeed, mainstream US was far behind what South Asia already knew was going on for years in Afghanistan.

What a shame, and what a sham.

MajorSensible said...

Dr. Schneiderman,

An excellent post.

It seems to me that now that the Feminist wager has been proven to be "a sucker's bet", that is, that "liberated" women are in many cases more empty and unfulfilled, feminists have "upped the ante" by promoting lesbian sexual encounters and bisexuality as the new road to satisfaction.

Pop culture is now pushing the lesbian experience as more than "okay". Katy Perry's popular song joyfully declares "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It". The appalling bed-hopping television drama Gray's Anatomy features a formerly-straight female entering into a lesbian relationship (partially as a sociopolitical statement, partially because they ran out of characters to have "hook up".

Anne Heche is a notable real-world example. Somehow she convinced herself, and the world, that she was a lesbian during her long-term relationship with Ellen DeGeneres. Since then she has somehow "changed her mind" and returned to heterosexual relationships.

What is your opinion on this? Am I off base?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

It's difficult to say whether feminists are encouraging lesbian experiences or whether they are representing experiences that many young women have had... or both.

Since feminists are in the vanguard of those who are arguing that all sexual experiences are just about the same... since they are all about pleasure and since one form of pleasure is just as valid as another... it is clear, to me at least, that this would encourage all forms of sexual experimentation.

As I recall the theory that all sexual acts are created equal because they all produce pleasure was invented by Michel Foucault, who was quite openly gay. Did he have a vested personal interest in persuading people that all orientations are the same? It is difficult to argue the contrary.

Yet, it is far more common for women to experiment with other women, and to find it less traumatic than would straight men who engage in gay actions.

For some members of the gay community, there is a special thrill that accompanies seducing a straight person. They are not trying to convert anyone to their orientation.

The other factor that has encouraged women to experiment with lesbian sex is the fear of infection, especially HIV, but also herpes.

For that and other more obvious reasons, women feel safer with women, they feel less exposed and potentially in less danger.

If I recall correctly, the vogue of women experimenting with women corresponds to the increased danger of STDs.

Did feminists and other radical thinkers work to encourage this. I would have to say that they did.

Were they simply in it for their personal pleasure. Perhaps so, but there was probably also a political motive, in the sense that radical leftists wanted to undermine the structure of the traditional family, and thus, in their minds, capitalism and patriarchy.

How better to induce people to join their cause than to seduce them, mind and body.

This is off the top of my head, but I hope it clarifies some of the issues.

Anonymous said...

Dr. S,

Good post. I remember that a rule of thumb while I was in college was if I was going meet a girl for a date and she read Ms. magazine, 50/50 chance for some "fun". A Cosmo reader was almost sure thing and Good Houskeeping reader
was looking for her Mrs. degree.

Keep up good work.