Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma: Identity Politics and Feminism

Although the ideology of identity politics remains hegemonic in the academy and in many social institutions, a growing—and arguably necessary—body of critique has been emerging. These critiques have emanated both from the arbiters of the so-called silent majority and from those on the Left who are concerned by the displacement of class by identity and by the unremitting politics of grievance. It is time to interrogate these important critiques in the context of the woman question.

From the outset, feminism inherited a problem by virtue of its existence. This problem dates back to the early modern feminists, who were not called feminists but woman’s rights activists. Political philosopher Carole Pateman calls this problem Wollstonecraft’s dilemma, after intellectual pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

The dilemma is this: feminism calls for equality with men and it does so under the sign of difference. It says we women over here—marked by our exclusion from the social contract—want to be equal. In other words, we call forth difference, we collectivize and politicize that difference and give it a name—feminism—in order to argue for its precise opposite: equality.

Historian Nancy Cott has written about how this dilemma affected the formation of modern feminism in the early twentieth century, when the term first entered general usage in the Anglophone world. For Cott, the early feminists wanted equality with men, but also a recognition of what made them different from men. They promoted gender consciousness, while hoping to abolish gender roles. Just over a hundred years later, Wollstonecraft’s dilemma is still with us. It may be irresolvable—although I explore possible ways of resolving it in two forthcoming papers—but it represents the fertile coming together of opposites that philosophically and politically animates feminism.

What Does This Have to Do with Identity Politics?

The identity woman—like black or homosexual—has to be politically created, in order to defend itself against its constitutive exclusion. This is what Michel Foucault and Judith Butler mean they talk about the social construction of homosexuality or gender. Women are created as the second sex, the Other and, on this basis, we seek to reverse our devaluation, starting from the devalued place, which we also attempt to revalue, hence the focus on difference.

Feminism grew out of the contradiction between a society based on freedom and equality for all—the great promise of the European Enlightenment—and the denial of these same rights to women, among others. This gave rise to the woman’s rights movement (in the singular), as it was then known.

The identity in identity politics was assigned to women, not chosen by us: even though the identity was taken up by feminists, turned on its head and politicized. This is where neo-conservative, new right, alt-right and intellectual dark web critics get it wrong. Feminists—like any other minority or oppressed group—didn’t choose the sign of their exclusion, and they didn’t choose the meaning—real or imagined—attached to their difference. That’s why feminists—even those like myself who cringe at the excesses of identity politics—cannot simply get rid of it.

Feminism is a politics of identity, the identity woman, which has, more recently, been pluralized, to reflect the many and varied women for whom the movement speaks.

From Wollstonecraft to the suffragettes, from Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan to Kate Millet and Shulamith Firestone—who bequeathed us with the wonderful expression that having a baby is like “shitting a pumpkin”—to our own glorious Germaine Greer, feminists have held widely divergent opinions and have all had an ability to speak truth to power. However, this discourse followed rules that seem all but forgotten in today’s online culture wars.

When an icon of second-wave feminism like Germaine Greer is deplatformed because she doesn’t hold the correct opinion on something, we know that free thought and free speech are in serious danger.

We used to have a variety of feminisms. I was taught the academic taxonomy in my first year women’s studies class. We learnt that there were liberal feminists, socialist feminists, radical feminists, eco-feminists and black feminists (who also called themselves womanists) and, later, there was a curious category of feminist who didn’t believe in categories: the postmodern feminist. There were fruitful discussions and provocative ideas, debates and arguments across these schools of thought, embedded as they were in the intellectual and political histories of liberalism, socialism, civil rights and more.

But now that internal diversity is gone. This is partly a result of the destruction of women’s studies in the university—the different schools of feminist thought are no longer represented and taught—and partly due to a new ideological uniformity and conformity. Women’s studies became gender studies—and then gender was deconstructed out of existence.

The postmodernist deconstruction of gender—the post-Judith Butler world in which feminism, at least in the academy, was no longer about women but rather about gender and, above all, gender fluidity—came together with the modernist, small “l” liberal-progressive feminist agenda of rights and equality, which was fundamentally geared towards liberating women from the domestic sphere, through participation in paid work. These intellectual developments dovetailed with economic ones, such as the rise of neoliberalism, which didn’t just invite women into paid work but virtually compelled them. Women’s employment was crucial if the middle and working classes wanted to maintain their standard of living. In the current era of austerity, even single mothers are forced into paid work, turning many of them into working poor.  As Joan Williams points out in her recent book on class, many working class families view women’s paid work as a burden that has been imposed upon them, infringing upon and undermining family life, rather than a harbinger of liberation.

The current confluence of ideas, then, involves the combination of postmodernist and modernist tropes. The legitimate—but inadequate—feminist desire to liberate women from the confines of domesticity dovetailed with the postmodern critique deconstructing the category of women. Together, these two ideologies blew the late second-wave focus on motherhood out of the water.

So, from its high point in the late 70s and early 80s—when feminist scholars integrated the insights of the second wave to produce a prodigious efflorescence of writing on motherhood, including Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering, Nancy Friday’s My Mother/My Self, Jane Lazarre’s The Mother Knot and Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking—we have shifted to a curious silence.

What happened to this burgeoning of academic feminist work on motherhood?

Judith Butler happened. After Butler, it became problematic to talk about women—so we spent all our time deconstructing women and exposing women’s sins. We could describe feminists as bigots, we could attack ourselves and others for false universalizing or essentialism—a period defined by what Carole Pateman called “essentialist hunting.” But we could not develop a feminist theory of women—especially of mothers—after postmodernism. Talking about women’s experiences in general became taboo. There was an obsessive and often disingenuous focus on marginality—disingenuous because the same white, middle-class women as always were doing most of the talking, and because marginality cannot be the end goal of a liberation movement. This has resulted in a truly absurd situation: focusing on women has become an essentialist taboo within women’s studies.

In the flagship feminist journal Signs, Samira Kawash elegantly sums up the situation:

by the late 1990s … “difference feminism” had been eclipsed and was no longer a serious topic of discussion in feminist graduate programs or in the academic feminist press. The deconstruction of “woman” and the poststructuralist accounts of gender and power left motherhood to the side, an embarrassing theoretical relic of an earlier naïve view of the essential woman and her shadow, the essential mother.

Motherhood

Two things get us into trouble when we try to talk about motherhood. First, the current culture wars, informed by two decades of postmodernism in the academy, have made it difficult to claim our reproductive biology as distinctively female without being critiqued as essentialist or, more recently, transphobic. Second, the older, classically liberal feminist agenda to grant rights to women as abstract, sexless individuals has, for the most part, suggested that women should transcend our roles in the home as wives and mothers.

Feminism has always been more comfortable separating mothers and children than developing a politics of care and connection, a feminist politics of motherhood.

As a matricentric feminist—a term coined by Andrea O’Reilly—this is clear to me. It was necessary to prize apart the categories of woman and mother, which—for most of human history, in most cultures—were one and the same. Women in the West fought hard to gain their freedom as individuals with legally recognized and socially sanctioned property in the person: an awkwardly legalistic phrase that forms the bedrock of the rights of every western woman (although it remains an academically disputed category).

This prying apart of the category of woman from those of wife and mother was not only an integral dimension of the feminist project—it was arguably the most fundamental part of that project. It involved gaining control over our bodies and their sexual use, our fertility, our properties, estates and income and—ultimately—over our preferences and desires, with a view to contributing to the social order. We take this for granted today, but the recognition of women as sovereign individuals was a massive historical achievement, for which we should thank our foremothers. It was a very recent—and remains a fragile—development, which is what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so terrifying. We understand, even if unconsciously, how contingent and vulnerable our individual rights are. Look at Alabama, where egregious laws undermining women’s abortion rights—and thus their bodily autonomy—have been enacted recently.

Until we can say no to motherhood—and to marriage and sexual union—we cannot say yes to it. We had to insist on civil autonomy—in property in the person—before we could properly choose motherhood.

But this feminist emphasis leaves us with a conundrum: how do we articulate a feminist politics of motherhood? If women have rightly fought hard against enforced motherhood under patriarchy—and the fight is not over—what comes next?

This is a difficult question, given the ongoing structural constraints and inequities of motherhood.

As I argue in my new book, motherhood is a critical turning point in the loss of equality for women: career trajectories, income, leisure, even sleep all decline after motherhood, and, for most women, never regains their former upward trajectories, but, at best, plateau or, more typically, decline. The pay gap is an especially pronounced example of this. Because of the unpaid family work they undertake, women have much lower superannuation balances on average than men, and older divorced women, who have prioritized care of husbands and children over paid work, are especially at risk of poverty. Indeed, older divorced women are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. In my book, I argue that women are granted a normative freedom as individuals, but this freedom has a shelf life bounded by first-time motherhood.

As I’ve written in more detail elsewhere, while women are free as individuals in modern western societies, they are constrained as mothers—and these two phenomena are related. Motherhood marks a turning point and leaves women vulnerable to poverty if they are not married or partnered—a fact that casts a long shadow over the paradigm of consent hegemonic in the West. We are not free to be in something if we are not free to leave it. I call this arrangement the new sexual contract. Women used to be passed from father to husband, to honor and obey, and there were no other socially permissible roles—spinster aunts and widows notwithstanding. Now, we enjoy legal equality and civil rights, but we also experience a pronounced inequality that primarily takes root after motherhood—and which, in large part, explains declining fertility across the West.

In my view, we need a basic income—a small but livable income paid to every mother, in recognition of the valuable work she performs for society. The single parent family is one of the fastest growing family structures across the western world and women head 80–90% of these families. Because of the sexual contract, these families are unjustly vulnerable to poverty.

We need economic redistribution to support women who are mothers, especially single mothers.

At the level of feminist theory and practice, we need a maternal or matricentric feminism that recognizes the value of maternal care and fights for women’s rights to be with their children. Liberation cannot be attained through the neoliberal path of paid work alone—and mothers are rarely able to meet ideal worker norms anyway. The neoliberal choice should be supported, but a long-hours work culture, premised on the twentieth century norm of the male breadwinner, who had a wife at home—’er indoors—who took care of all the unpaid work, is not the answer for all women (even if it is for some with interesting, well-paid jobs). We need to connect a feminist politics of autonomy with an ethic of care. Twenty years ago, in The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer asserted that we need to make “dignified motherhood a feminist priority.” She was right.

In addition to finding ways for women to have greater autonomy and equality in the workplace and in the public sphere, feminism needs to find room for and value women’s mothering. We need to support women’s desire to be with their children, to mother in situ not in absentia. This calls for much more profound change to the social order. This is not about women being like men—the abstract individuals of the social contract—but women exercising their reproductive capacities, should they so choose, without paying an unjust price for it. We need to connect equality with difference and autonomy with care.

That is how we will resolve Wollstonecraft’s dilemma.

This is an edited and abridged version of a lecture delivered for the La Trobe University Ideas and Society series on the topic “Feminism, Yes. But What Kind of Feminism?

If you enjoy our articles, be a part of our growth and help us produce more writing for you:

51 comments

  1. Here is the secondary basis for “FEMINISM” :: Every biological woman (female) has micro-orofice which secrete glandular molecules which migrate into olfaction the male (hetero) cannot but be aroused biologically, sexually. Naturally, males moderate this behavior when encounter with a woman (female) whom has no interest in this process with a man (male) human. This is likely the conjunction for the history (objective reality) following: Services for Sex Workers in London Sexual & Reproductive …
    The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital

    Hang Massive – Luminous Emptiness [Official Video]

    Response to Vox “Feminist Philosopher” Dr. Kate Manne of Cornell
    Like Life Itself, Sustainable Development is Fractal – Triple Pundit
    (Women are probably no less sustaintainable than men.)

    Systematic review of facility-based sexual and reproductive health services for female sex workers in Africa

    What you need to know about BEES, the SECRETS to their SUPERFOOD and ANTI-GRAVITY
    Full Picture
    Episode 95: WoSo, Interviews w/ Katie Barnes on transphobia, & Susan Shepard on sex-trafficking + sport — BURN IT ALL DOWN

    Discontinuity (Postmodernism)
    |
    The Information Philosopher ~-* Scroll for the video, Molecular Visualizations…

  2. Why do some authors insist on seeing Postmodernism and Identity Politics as synonymous? The are not.

    Here’s Foucault on ‘sexual identity politics (interviewed): “If identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think they have to ‘uncover’ their ‘own identity’ and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is ‘Does this thing conform to my identity?’ then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility.”

    He doesn’t sound like a guy advocating for sexual identity politics to me at all. I do wish people would stop equating the two. They’re not the same.

  3. I agree with some points of this article. Modern feminism like social justice is destroying freedom of speech and spreading ignorance. Identity politics likewise is furthering the divide among various groups.

    But many points I feel are argued poorly. The author mentions “we need a basic income – a small but lovable income paid to every mother.” Yet she links to an article talking about universal basic income. UBI is something that makes some sense as a replacement for many of the current failing welfare systems. The author in that linked article mentions how, “conditional welfare assistance creates a disincentive to work through removal of benefits in response to paid work.” Yet UBI removes that disincentive. By choosing wording that focuses on women, the author gives the impression that we should only help single female parents and not single male parents. Unless that is the authors actual perspective, in which case that source has nothing to do with her point.

    This represents one of my biggest problems with social movements. The wording that is chosen gives the impression that we need plans that will solely focus on one group over the other, yet the author hints that men (the other) are being harmed by the current system. This only creates further alienation and makes the other (men) want to fight back against this. Which muddles the whole idea of equality.

    1. “By choosing wording that focuses on women, the author gives the impression that we should only help single female parents and not single male parents.”
      Yeah, I got a hint of that as well.

  4. “They promoted gender consciousness, while hoping to abolish gender roles”

    What’s the point of making a point of gender if it is to have no consequences in terms of social roles within the social contract? Why recognize the distinction if it is not to make a difference? So the real question is just what sort of a difference do you intend it to make?

  5. “The identity in identity politics was assigned to women, not chosen by us”

    But that’s misses the entire basis of the objection to identity politics, namely that Foucault rejected the idea of the autonomous individual and the idea of universal values. It’s the same issue with critical race theory.
    The problem is not whether the idea of ‘women’ is entirely construct and imposed, natural and biological or some combination of both and whether organisation on that basis is valid, but whether an appeal to a common humanity & universal is possible or if there is only ‘power’.

  6. What a relief to see a learned, up to date round up of the effects of neoliberalism and identity politics on women and especially mothers. We are erased so we cannot describe the lost opportunities and poverty, the punitive nature of welfare with surveillance and the harm done to our children as well. And to tie this to a late eighteen century dilemma merely underscores how the definition of citizen developed then still fails to work for more than 50% of citizens who are women. It’s been a long slog trying to have the idea that women are people, let alone citizens, accepted as the comments here show. Most people still haven’t grasped it.

    And then along came identity politics which oddly leaves the category “man” intact and entire and smashes up the category, “woman” which now means whatever men want it to mean. Pesky reality-based biology means we all know exactly who’s who hence slamming a fine scholar for the audacity to politely describe the phenomenon.

    Thanks, Dr Bueskens. We’re lucky to have your work.

    4
    1
    1. Oh, please! Janet, you have seen your options regarding parenthood increase three-fold in the past 60 years while men have, and have always had, exactly 1 option. Women can follow a career to the exclusion of motherhood, become mothers and pursue a career, or become mothers and abandon a career. All options are available regardless of what the man in the relationship wants. The one-off, anecdotal example aside, men have the option to work full time and that’s it.

      Aaaaand, if the whole family thing doesn’t work out, well you can take the kids, keep the house, keep your career and have the state work your ex-husband to death trying to afford alimony and child support. Gosh, and to think I almost forgot about that option….that makes 4 for you, 1 for men.

      The comments here more accurately reflect the fact that many men are sick to death of watching society bestow benefits upon women, often at the expense of men as pointed out elsewhere in the comments, only to have some of you turn around, tell us we’re toxic, tell us to shut up and sit down, and then demand more.

      6
      1
      1. Well, why aren’t men doing something about that? Women did not get here by passively sitting at home and waiting for the clouds to open en hand them these possibilities. We made it happen. And most of us would love it if more men seriously started doing the same.

        1. Quite a lot of us do try to do something about it, by writing comments, writing articles, reasoning with the people around us, and so on.

          1. “Quite a lot of us do try to do something about it”

            But those things are not enough. One must master Victimhood. The self-pity, the oppression narrative, the marches, the endless nagging. Women seem to be able to do it instinctively tho of course most don’t. POC need training and our professional minority people often do it quite well.

  7. “We need economic redistribution to support women who are mothers, especially single mothers.”

    Well at least the author is honest. She wants more of the same. The same destruction of the traditional family in favor of what we typically see in welfare cities — crime and hopelessness. I hope the feminists eat each other.

      1. From reality, where identity politics has wreaked horrors upon our society. Academics wouldn’t understand. You don’t deal with the consequences of your actions. Everyone else does, though.

          1. The author is arguing for identity politics, just an identity politics which specifically includes women. You apparently read the piece and didn’t understand it. And calling someone a troll for expressing an opinion is … trollish.

  8. After thinking it over longer, I think I put my finger on the problem: this article posits that motherhood is something harmful that happens to women. It’s not. The article does, however, assume that goals for all women should be set by the masculinoid cohort of feminists, and set with this cohort’s interests in mind.

    1. I got that sense too, Harland. Strong, independent, self-assured and stable women (you know…the old feminist ideal) overwhelmingly value motherhood and rightly see it as a net good for family and society. They also have sons, fathers, and/or husbands that they value and love. The disconnect between modern feminists and modern women is profound. This is why it’s public presence is largely relegated to amateur hour research on sexual harassment in STEM, screechy blogs (Feminist Current), flash-in-the-pan eat-its-own-young social movements (MeToo, The Women’s March), and the occasional, unenlightened op-ed piece.

    2. ” this article posits that motherhood is something harmful that happens to women. … The article does, however, assume that goals for all women should be set by the masculinoid cohort of feminists, and set with this cohort’s interests in mind.”

      No, you’ve got it backwards. The article has this:

      “At the level of feminist theory and practice, we need a maternal or matricentric feminism that recognizes the value of maternal care and fights for women’s rights to be with their children.”

      The author just wants money for women who have kids.

  9. “Look at Alabama, where egregious laws undermining women’s abortion rights—and thus their bodily autonomy—have been enacted recently.”

    Instead of mentioning any of the world’s really misogynist places, she just has to take a cheap shot at the state where over a quarter of the population is Afro-American. #stuffbeckysays

    “Until we can say no to motherhood—and to marriage and sexual union—we cannot say yes to it.”

    Most women want to be mothers. Feminists don’t represent them. Feminists represent the interests of a small minority of masculinoid women. Instead of making society a better place for everyone, they insist that society must change to accommodate them, regardless of the harm it does to women and men at large. This is the source of much of everyone’s resistance to feminists, the coercion that must take place for these goals to be achieved.

    “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children…because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”

    — French feminist Simone de Beauvoir

    “motherhood is a critical turning point in the loss of equality for women: career trajectories, income, leisure, even sleep all decline after motherhood”

    Who said these are goals for any women but feminists? What would most women rather have, a career trajectory or a family that loves her? The career trajectory in which she gets to spend most of her time doing what she loves best: caring for her family? Instead she is supposed to go out and care about some asshole boss and have no energy left to spend on her family.

    “Motherhood marks a turning point and leaves women vulnerable to poverty if they are not married or partnered—a fact that casts a long shadow over the paradigm of consent hegemonic in the West.”

    When was this written, the 1950s? The state’s payments have taken the place of the man as provider, and the ability of the state to coerce men into payments to women without even DNA tests to confirm paternity. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. And the author uses this ignorance to advocate for even more free money.

  10. Feminism truly is cancer. The fake gender pay gap, fake rape statistics. The blatant man-hating, the destruction of the family unit.

    The author lives in the same city as me, Melbourne, a hotbed of far-left feminist insanity. Trust me, it’s astonishing the number of raving feminists I’ve met in this city who think any allegation from a woman against a man is to be believed. Thank goodness my girlfriend thinks it’s utter foolishness.

    Again, we see feminism for what it is: The author wants free money from the government, mass redistribution of money from men to women, through the power of the state. Men pay more tax, because we work more hours, don’t major in gender studies nonsense, commute longer, do all the dangerous jobs in society, work more overtime, work more shiftwork. Yet it’s never enough for feminists who demand we give women free money from our hard earned taxes.

    Feminism doesn’t want equality; feminism wants preferential treatment for women in all areas of life. It’s not enough that the Victorian government indoctrinates children — through “Safe Schools” — in radical gender ideology (gender is “non-binary”, feelings based, and hence there are an infinite number of genders… true postmodern drivel from John Money to Kate Millet, Simone whatshername, and the lesbian man-hater Bindel). It’s not enough men and boys a denigrated through the “Respectful Relationships” programme in schools, either.

    it’s never enough for feminism. Claims that biology is “oppressing” women is laughable. It’s a problem solved by the family unit, solved by a man who’s willing and able to provide for his wife and children. It’s a problem solved by women choosing a good man to marry.

    Petra, when will we discuss women killing their children more than men in Australia? In NZ, too. When do we ever have that discussion? Or will we continue to discuss “toxic masculinity” giving women a complete pass?

    https://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/children-most-often-killed-mothers

    https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi255

    Absolute cancer. This is why most women aren’t feminists.

    4
    3
    1. That’s a very nuanced parody of the typical woke Melburnian beardy dudebro, you’ve got going there. If you hadn’t assured us of your femininity performing girlfriend, I would’ve taken you seriously as an incel. Well done. You’ve got a brilliant future in comedy though you may need to cut down on your pseudo intellectual comments – they don’t resonate with commercial media audiences.

      1. You neither addressed nor engaged with any of the points the poster raised. You merely used the lowest form of debate, name-calling. How shameful for a feminist that her intellectual cupboard is so bare that she must resort to this sort of thing. The shame.

        1. Most reasonable people would have stopped reading at ‘feminism is a cancer’, realised the type of person who says such a thing and that trying to refute the ‘argument’ point by point is like mud wrestling a pig.
          Some people aren’t worth responding to in detail, not because you think as hominems are ok but simply because life’s too short.

          2
          3
          1. If Mark means “cancer” in the sense that modern feminism is a net destructive social growth that inhibits the best functioning of other social elements, then he’s entirely correct. Modern feminism has but 2 aims: 1) blame and denigrate men past and present for all female inconvenience, and 2) ensure that all women have every available opportunity to freely kill their unborn children at any time for any reason.

            In fact, THE largest issue facing most women in western societies for the past 50 years has been affordable day care – period! Affordable or free day care would allow low income women to earn more, get off of welfare, move up the career ladder quicker, and not have to rely on lazy, worthless or abusive men for financial security.

            And yet, here we are in 2019 with day care costing between $1000 – $1500 per month per child. And feminists routinely disparage conservatives as only caring about children before they’re born. Pathetic irony.

            3
            1
  11. “The identity in identity politics was assigned to women, not chosen by us”

    This isn’t true in the slightest, and I’m shocked to see a feminist say it. A woman is one who identifies as a woman, no more, no less. This is why the pussy hats were banned from the Women’s March.

    Oh wait, did a TERF write this column?

      1. What? How on earth is Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist either misogynistic or homophobic? The term is most often (maybe exclusively) attributed to women who are not at all fine with trans women (men) occupying female only spaces. I know it’s intended as a slur but a few women actually feel the term accurately describes their thinking…and I agree with them.

          1. … Oh, and is it not the sweetest of ironies that it is we Patriarchs who most strongly defend women’s rights to spaces where penises are not welcome? Does that make us TERPs (Trans Excluding Radical Patriarchs)? Or does it merely indicate sanity?

            1. Which part of what I said did you not understand? The part where I said TxxF was a slur? Or the part where I said it was a homophobic and misogynistic slur? Did you misread and then make a fool of yourself? Or were you already a fool and then misread?

        1. Try reading it again JD. You either do not understand what misogynistic or homophobic mean. Or you don’t understand what slur means. Perhaps it is both. And you most certainly do not understand gender criticism. But then you’re not coming across as very bright anyway. Maybe you’re just a really hateful little man.

  12. Interesting article. It reflects and elucidates the mental gymnastics that recent and contemporary feminists have been twisting themselves up in as they attempt to square the circle of the irrefutable male/female dichotomy. The definition of Equality and Equity are apparently very confusing for feminists. I look forward to seeing the two papers that discuss whether or not the dilemma can be reconciled. I don’t see much hope for it, myself.

    Every decision we make has consequences. Only females can have children. Having a child will never be a choice without consequence, and we must continue to reproduce.

    The idea that women’s lives are interrupted by having children is like saying you are unwell when you get sick.
    It cannot be the case that the role of government is to respond to the career choices of every woman, and make sure they don’t face any life altering consequences for the life altering decisions they face.

    If a 35 year old female executive making $150,000 / yr decides to leave the workforce and raise her child for 3 years, should her taxpayer-provided subsidy be the same as amount she was earning in order to raise that child in the standard of living that she is accustomed to? What if a janitor making $30k decides to do the same? When the exec goes back to work with 3 years missing from her CV, should she be re-hired and paid at the same rate as her colleagues who did not leave? What if one of those colleagues is you?

    What if she decides to have 4 more children over the next 4 years, and doesn’t go back to work at all? I’m assuming the taxpayer owes her $150,000/yr to keep up with her now-extinct career, or does that number go up with each child? Does that last until her death, or just until social security kicks in?

    Motherhood is of course work, but it isn’t “labor” in the business sense.This is a critical distinction. By the way, most fathers see their entire paycheck go toward their family. If raising a child is work the state should recognize, then surely paying for a child is also a state role that should be subsidized, no? Shouldn’t men therefor be paid by the Gov’t for their contribution? If they get to spend 8 hours a week with their kids, are they paid for this like a part time job? What if a woman is a single mom but has a relative who is delighted to help raise the children in their retirement. Seems like a surefire way to get a check from the gov’t and maybe some cash work on the side?

    Also, is it possible that some mothers are terrible at the job? Do they get paid the same by the taxpayer? Who’s tracking this, exactly?

    Critics of feminism will soften their tone when feminists take ownership of the fact that equality means only one thing: equal standing under the law. Otherwise, we must take responsibility for our own decisions. Men who skip out on their families are widely and rightly reviled and held to account by law when possible. Women who have children they don’t want or can’t take care of are not victims to be taken care of by the government.

  13. «we need a basic income—a small but livable income paid to every mother» – I have no words!

    Dear Petra! Have you ever heard of the devastating results of state aid to a single mom? Have you ever thought about unhappy children who grew up in such conditions?
    Sorry, you finally convinced me that modern feminists hate all women …

    2
    1
    1. To say nothing of all the children that are harmed by growing up without fathers. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” What can feminists ever do to show remorse for being responsible for a gargantuan catastrophe like this?

      3
      1
        1. I’m saying that the state’s policies (crafted by feminists) cause mothers not to need fathers. This incentive naturally worked as designed, and caused many children to grow up fatherless. This action has caused tremendous harm. Boys without fathers grow up violent, and girls without fathers grow up needy and attention-seeking. You didn’t address the point raised, which is what can feminism do to atone for this great crime against humanity?

  14. “Wollenscraft’s Dilemma,” at least as described, is no dilemma. If A and B are of the same kind, and we are talking about the treatment of kinds, then trivially A and B are going to receive equal treatment because A=B. I’m not even sure we would ever bother to call it equal treatment of A and B if A=B (e.g., would we bother to say, “Men and men receive equal treatment”?).

    It’s not a problem for equality between A and B to claim that A and B are different, it’s a necessary condition on the possibility of equal treatment between different kinds.

    1. cd,

      Except that women aren’t exactly like men but for some ideological differences. A ban on abortion has zero effect on a man’s body throughout his life.

      An aim of feminism is building a society where women can be on equal footing (their difficulties and particularities recognized at their just value) the way most things are designed for men. Literally, our standards are designed for men (safety standards, meds, construction & sizing). Our notions of strength and weakness are also based on men. Not on an integrated view of both.
      The workplace and our ideology (true or not) about it also goes in that direction. We literally view daycare as a tool for women when most kids have two parents and the dad can/will benefit for it as well.

      1. The fundamental idea is logically confused. This logical confusion is independent of the details of women or men. The “dilemma” is actually describing a necessary pre-condition of equality between kinds. Equality here means that two different kinds are treated equally in the morally relevant ways. It is true that any group A is treated the same as the group A, but that is trivial–that’s why we never bother to point out that there is equality between A and A. It’s like pointing out that Canadians are Canadians. But then this “Wollenscraft’s Dilemma” is that (1) group B is not group A but if it became the same as group A it would be treated the same as group A; and (2) if group B is not group A, it might not be treated the same as A. Sure, if A and B are different, they might be treated differently, including in ways that could be unjust; but also it is only if group B is not group A that it can be treated equally in any interesting sense. So a necessary precondition on the possibility of equality is called a “dilemma.”

Leave a Reply

Inline
Inline