Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Two Strains of Feminism

Christina Hoff Sommers, always worth reading, has an interesting history of feminism at the American Enterprise Institute's website. It turns out the divide we have watched develop in 20th century feminism, between the radical, women's study kind of feminism--ie, the "approved" version--and the sort ordinary women have in the main taken up in the last decades, stretches back to the dawn of feminist stirrings. I knew of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) as a student of Locke and Enlightenment liberalism, and knew that she traveled in cutting edge circles (read libertine) during her time. Her thought, as developed along the lines of other feminist icons you have heard of--Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony--is the approved doctrine that forms the official history of the feminist struggle for recognition.

But as with the rest of cultural and political history, the progressive Left has airbrushed out inconvenient parts and instead given us the politically correct narrative that is meant to raise our consciousness. And again, as with the rest of the progressive left's agenda, it is an ill fit with the way normal people see the world and live their lives. So it is not too surprising to find another strand of feminism buried in the archives, purposely ignored by the radicals in charge of education. (Reflect here that William Ayers, to maximize his radicalizing intentions, chose a roost in a school of education, where education theory is taught--teaching teachers how to teach). Along side the Rationalist Enlightenment liberalism of Wollstonecraft taken up by the radicals, there was--and Hoff Sommers argues remains--another sort of feminism, one she labels conservative feminism. It seems another influential woman was at work contemporaneously with Wollstonecraft: a woman named Hannah More.

A couple of paragraphs from Hoff Sommers piece:

At the time Wollstonecraft was writing, Hannah More (1745-1833)--novelist, poet, pamphleteer, political activist, evangelical reformer, and abolitionist--was waging a very different campaign to improve the status of women. More is well known to scholars who specialize in eighteenth-century culture. The late UCLA literary historian Mitzi Myers called her a "female crusader infinitely more successful than Wollstonecraft or any other competitor," but More is rarely given the credit she deserves. The story of what she initiated and how she did it is integral to the story of women's quest for freedom. But few contemporary feminist historians have wanted that story to be told.

If Wollstonecraft was the founder of egalitarian feminism, More was the founder of conservative feminism. Like Wollstonecraft, More was a religiously inspired, self-made woman who became an intellectual peer of several of the most accomplished men of her age. But whereas Wollstonecraft befriended Paine and debated Burke, More was a friend and admirer of Burke; a close friend of Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole; and an indispensable ally and confidante to William Wilberforce, a father of British abolitionism.

Concerning the French Revolution, which Wollstonecraft initially championed, More wrote, "From liberty, equality, and the rights of man, good Lord deliver us." And she was surely the most prominent woman of her age. As one biographer notes, "In her time she was better known than Mary Wollstonecraft and her books outsold Jane Austen's many times over." Her various pamphlets sold in the millions and her tract against the French Revolution enjoyed a greater circulation than Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France or Paine's Rights of Man. Some historians credit her political writings with saving England from the kind of brutal revolutionary upheaval that traumatized France.
All this as prologue to what we see playing out before us in the media savaging of Sarah Palin. The NOW gang, with its implanted sisterhood in the media and other elite institutions, regard the conservative feminism of Sarah Palin--and by extension the many millions of women like her--as no feminism at all. As Kathryne Jean Lopez at NRO presents it, the sisterhood sneers, "We're not sisters with her."

Radical ideologists can never let anything come before the idea, not even, and perhaps especially, the real world. The women's studies sisterhood will never relinquish their stranglehold on the orthodoxy, and in doing so will alienate even further the conservative women who have long since settled into the freedom to be themselves and who find the hard edged, elitist, "sanctimonious sermonizers" Camille Paglia speaks of to be overbearing and leading a parade from the past. They will find in Sarah Palin the heroic public figure the gatekeepers have prevented before now, and I suspect the anger we see building is going to be expressed electorally.

Hell hath no fury...


Citizen.VII said...

I wonder about the term "conservative feminism." Is that a term that was used then, or a term that has been invented for now? My gut reaction is that it was not a term used then, because if Hannah More was trying to improve the rights of women, she was not an agent of conservatism. Merriam-Webster defines "conservatism" as "a: disposition in politics to preserve what is established b: a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change"

I more suspect that "conservative feminism" is a modern term that is used to draw connections between modern American conservatism and the work of Hannah More. If I am misunderstanding the matter, feel free to correct me.

Also, thank you for bringing Hannah More to my attention. I am looking forward to researching more of her views and opinions.

Keith (Citizen.VII)

Anonymous said...

I'm sure youre right about the word. The conservative/liberal terminology is of recent vintage, though the dichotomy is not. It matters how reform and change is pursued--total disregard and disdain for the past and all institutions, ala the French Revolution and all its acolites since, versus the slower and more prudent conservators of culture and political society more appreciative of the costs of civilization.

I was hoping to put someone on to looking into More--good luck.