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A conscientious objector to the Gender War

By Wendy McElroy
web posted June 23, 2003

Future feminists will look back in disbelief at today's false notion of a built-in Gender War between men and women, in much the same way we regard past theories of a flat Earth.

Only, flat-Earthers were generally harmless people. Politically correct feminists can be vicious.

To understand the Gender War, it is necessary to examine each word separately.

What Is Gender?

Politically correct feminists consider "sex" to be a matter of biology; that is, you are physically male or female. By contrast, they believe "gender" is a social construct; that is, your sexuality is defined by society, not biology. By this definition of gender, there are currently about 20 different categories of gender, from heterosexual to lesbian, from transvestite to transgendered.

"Socially constructed" means that everything about your sexuality -- short of the brute biology -- can be transformed by changing your environment. PC feminists claim that everything from the urge to procreate to male-female attraction is created by society. This is different from merely claiming that your environment influences you.

Transforming the environment, therefore, is a political matter. PC feminists contend that the institutions of society -- such as the legal system, churches and the family -- must be deconstructed and rebuilt according to "correct" principles.

What Is the War About?

The current principles are said to be incorrect and anti-woman because men, acting as a class, constructed them. Men define "woman" by her biology -- for example, as a sex partner or mother -- and they force a male definition of gender upon her through their institutions.

In short, PC feminists see the Gender War as a tugging contest between two classes, men and women, for control of "woman." The political interest of men is called "patriarchy (search)," or white male culture. The political interest of women is PC or gender feminism (search).

However, many assumptions of the Gender War are absurdly false, beginning with the rejection of biology's crucial role in human nature. Perhaps the most destructive assumption is that men and women are separate and antagonistic political classes.

There can be valid reasons for dividing women and men into separate classes. For example, doctors often medically separate the sexes to apply different treatments. Women are examined for breast cancer; men for prostrate problems. But medicine does not claim that the basic health interests of men and women as human beings are separate and in conflict. Indeed, the interests of both do not widely diverge. Because of a common biology, the sexes share the same basic approach to nutrition, exercise and common sense lifestyle choices. Health for men and women is roughly defined and pursued in the same manner.

By contrast, politically correct feminism separates men and women into political classes and claims that their common humanity is less important than their genders. Accordingly, men and women not only have no shared political interests -- their interests directly conflict.

Consider freedom of speech. You might assume that all human beings benefit from the uninhibited flow of words and ideas, even offensive ones. But that would be a "male" assumption, coming from male institutions. Freedom of speech is simply a guise by which men "control the dialogue" to oppress women. Thus, PC feminists often dismiss the U.S. Constitution -- including the First Amendment -- as a document written by dead white men and of no importance.

To counter male control of the dialogue, such feminists seek to suppress politically incorrect words and ideas. In the workplace, laws such as those against verbal sexual harassment control words. In academia, ideas are regulated by language codes which categorize criticism or "attacks" on categories of human beings -- other than white males -- as hate speech (search). Even children's textbooks are edited to remove politically incorrect references.

To PC feminists, such censorship is not a violation of freedom of speech. In essence, they claim there is no such freedom; there is only social control through social construction. The real question is: Whose hands will be on the helm? Men's or women's?

This is the key to understanding the cult of victimhood surrounding PC feminism. As long as "male institutions" remain, women are -- by definition and everywhere -- oppressed. In their worldview, the only way to cease being victims is for feminists to grab the helm.

Whenever feminists do grab the helm, men cry out: We have become second-class citizens! We are legally disadvantaged in the workplace by affirmative action (search), ignored as victims of domestic violence in the home, discriminated against in funding for health care, oppressed by family courts that favor a mother's claim to custody ... the list scrolls on.

But protesting men miss the point. Until the "utopian" day when the institutions of society have been reconstructed, gender feminists claim no equality is possible. It is men against us; men win only if women lose, and vice versa. That's the class conflict known as the Gender War.

The only way out of the quagmire is to abandon convoluted social theory and return to common sense. Men and women are first and foremost human beings. Biology is a controlling factor of human nature, albeit not the only one. Men and women act as individuals, not as cogs in some vast class struggle. And, as individuals, we all share the same political interest: freedom.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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