Every time my judgment slips and I decide to talk to a feminist (usually a humanities graduate student) I hear the same thing: “Feminism is just about equality.” Sometimes it’s “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
No, it’s not. Let me explain.
“Only that which has no history is capable of being defined” [Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, 2.13]
This quotation is key to meaningful discussion about historical ideologies (such as feminism). Feminism has a history, therefore feminism cannot be defined. Let’s illustrate this with an example. Imagine a young southerner. He admires the confederacy, flies the confederate flag, and so on. When someone criticizes him for this, he says, “The Confederacy was just about state’s rights and liberty.” Is this an adequate answer? Of course not. The Confederacy has a history, so he can’t just define it however he wants. The Confederacy is its history. Feminism is its history. And that history is not merely about equality in any meaningful sense.
What could our hypothetical young southerner do? He could divide the Confederacy into the parts he likes (state’s rights and decentralized government, for instance) and the parts he admits are wrong, call them by different names, and support the parts he likes while rejecting the parts that are wrong. In this manner, in her book “Who Stole Feminism,” Christina Hoff Sommers divides feminism into equality feminism (good) and gender feminism (bad). While her categories can be questioned (what does equality mean? Equality of opportunity? Equality of outcome? Equality of anatomy? Unequal laws to compensate for inequalities of biology?), on the whole it’s a reasonable way to take what you like from something without lying by defining it to be only that part, which is what the feminist lie I quoted at top does.