Who’s sorry now? The sad life of a feminist doctoral candidate in philosophy.
Committed to a worldview in which the self is defined by victimization, feminists are generally biased and poor thinkers. The reason is simple and clear: per their agenda, which they assume is always applicable, they do not consider contexts objectively. On the contrary, they perceive, and therefore reason and evaluate, in a priori terms. Hence the endless fallacies and delusions with which feminist thought abounds.
Feminists conceive of themselves as advanced thinkers, advocates of a just cause: ending the oppression of women which supposedly has gone on for millennia. In reality, with very few exceptions — Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff-Summers — feminists are reductionists who suffer from an erroneous perspective. As such, they are far from being on the side of truth and justice, but rather ignorant and unjust, and indeed, their own burden, through nobody’s fault save their own.
Take, for example, the writer Becca Rothfeld. This bluestocking is a pure product of the resentment-driven American academy, and from her writing it is manifest that she causes herself a great deal of needless anxiety. Here she is in her “Can Feminist Scholarship Stop Sexism?,” a June 2017 essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education:
This year, my first in a Ph.D. program, I counted how many times I said “Sorry!” in a single day and found that the tally reached upwards of 30. Each “Sorry,” pronounced with bubbly inflection, was an apology for more than whatever I was ostensibly apologizing for: speaking in seminar, again, even though that’s what you’re supposed to do in seminar, or disagreeing, again, even though the discipline of philosophy trades in opposition. These local apologies were part of a global apology for existing in the male-dominated discipline of analytic philosophy: for being the wayward creature I am, 5-foot-2 and female but brash and contrarian.
How often have I been punished for this? If I can be sufficiently helpless or self-deprecating or infantile, if I can affix enough implied exclamation marks to whatever harsh verdicts I deliver, perhaps I can offset the offense of pairing intellectual facility with femininity. Or so I have often reasoned. I can eviscerate your novel or your argument, but don’t worry: I’m too ditzy to drive!(!!!!!)
How exhausting it is to have to defend your right to excel, and to take on the additional burden of having to explain that you shoulder this burden at all. Sometimes I find myself enmeshed in a nested doll of apologies, apologizing for apologizing until apology supplants apologia and the seed of self that once grounded it and “Sorry!” is all that’s left. The female cogito, the basis of a brutal gender dualism, is this: I’m sorry, therefore I am. We’re allowed to exist in the first place only because we’re pre-emptively sorry for it.
My experience is not an unusual one. Most women in the academy or the literary world have at one point or another been cast as headstrong girls who talk too much and too loudly, whose demands are voraciously great: too much, crazy, hysterical, shrill.
Despite being a PhD candidate at Harvard and, as she says, “an aspirational analytic philosopher,” Rothfeld leads one to wonder how she could pass Philosophy 101. With their maternal endowment, women are naturally more sensitive to other people’s feelings than men. Accordingly, as we learn from the vast research on the subject, women are higher in agreeableness than men, just as they are less assertive. More than men, woman want to be liked, and so they are more inclined to apologize. Feminists, of course, believe that this is merely owing to “patriarchal conditioning.” Some combination of nature and culture, with the former preponderant, and the latter a reflection thereof to a significant extent, is much more likely.
There is much evidence that women in “egalitarian cultures” are higher in neuroticism than women in “inegalitarian cultures.” Of this Rothfeld is a typical example. Like so many women, she feels inclined to apologize for asserting herself. Her femininity, it may be said, is in conflict with her professionalism. But it does not follow that Rothfeld is a victim of men, or that men require apology from her. In intellectual contexts, as in life generally, competitive self-assertion is the rule of the game. “Every talent must unfold itself in fighting,” said Nietzsche, who knew well that this world is a place of unforgiving self-interest. In Thomas Carlyle’s words, “No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.” People, indeed, are ever in pursuit of their own ends, often ruthlessly. Though this is naturally an anxious affair, in which insecurity and self-doubt are necessarily common, by claiming that there is “a brutal gender dualism,” whose essence is “I’m sorry, therefore I am,” Rothfeld only reveals her extravagant self-pity, immaturity, and lack of self-reliance. Faced with an obstacle to overcome — a vital part of growing up, to be sure — she ironically comes off as a damsel in distress: too weak to hang with the guys, and therefore “a victim.”
We hear such complaints from feminists constantly these days. Such women are terribly lacking in self-awareness. Like men, only they can assert themselves. This is a challenge. Therefore, women are “oppressed,” feminists would have us believe. Behind this one detects sheer weakness and a desire — akin to traditional chivalry — that things be made more accommodating — that is, less assertive — for women. As a traditionalist in eros, I have no problem with chivalry in principle, but women cannot have it and equality: if women want to be equal, then they must be just that. “How exhausting it is to have to defend your right to excel.” This really means: “What hard work it is to try to excel.” Quite so, and exhausting enough; but then, who says one has to try in the first place? Though pretty tall at six-three, I am generally outmatched by basketball players who are six-eight or thereabouts. Yet I need not play the game. If I do, I can do my best with what I have to work with, but only an ignoble character would cry foul because the going is tough or because others are naturally better at blocking shots and grabbing rebounds.
Among ourselves, we men are typically direct and straightforward, assuming, that is, that a man is not a product of feminine conditioning, now an unusual occurrence, alas. If a man makes a stupid argument, then another man will probably say it is stupid, and before our feminine time, it would have been considered unmanly to believe the reproof is inaccurate or wrong (in a moral sense) just because it hurts someone’s feelings. Traditional masculinity subordinates feeling, especially when the truth of some important subject is at stake. Otherwise we may wind up lost in sentimental delusion, a strong enough propensity in this harsh world.
Women do not work like this. They are, as a rule, much less straightforward than men. Thus, it seems abusive for a man to call a woman’s argument stupid, although few people — or anyway much fewer people — would say the same of one man calling another man’s argument stupid. And yet, feminists say they want equality. The intractable problem, again, is that when it comes to conflict, women are quite unlike men. Sarah Hoyt, in her thoughtful essay, “Is Feminism Being Lost in Translation?” notes that “Women, even in situations of distress or need — or particularly then — and even when they’re supposed to be in a position of authority, tend to phrase their orders as requests.” “The problem,” says Hoyt, “is that most men (and a few… women) simply don’t understand the bowing and scraping of female-language. We certainly don’t understand them as orders.” But regardless of our gender, we can, I think, grasp how such politeness serves to mitigate social tension. Nor is it surprising that women, being more attuned to the feelings of other people than men are, would use such “bowing and scraping language.”
More difficult to understand, because it is so subtle and so negative, is the fact that women, in dealing with conflict, tend to employ subterfuge more than men do. As women themselves know only too well, more than men, women are inclined to be cunning and manipulative. That is true in general, and all the more so in regard to anxious situations. And this aspect of women, this inner fox, we might say, is precisely why so many women prefer to have male “friends” and male bosses. It is simply not the way of women to clear the air, not right away, that is. When they do, it is often a rather heated proceeding, the long-suppressed feelings finally welling forth. Then, after a big to-do, one may learn that what was really upsetting the woman was something other than the reason she initially gave. This rather complicated way of handling things is characteristic of women, and not at all of men. Indeed, it is because woman is weaker than man that the difference exists. Male directness presupposes the willingness to go to blows, a way of settling disputes to which women, who bear within themselves the future of the species, sensibly are not inclined.
“Most women in the academy or the literary world,” according to Rothfeld, “have at one point or another been cast as… girls… whose demands are voraciously great: too much, crazy, hysterical, shrill.” If these women are like Rothfeld herself — and, sorry to say, in my own experience with intellectual women many if not most are — it is fair to reply: Why should they not have been so cast? “Hysterical” and “shrill,” perhaps even a touch “crazy,” is precisely how Rothfeld, a typical feminist, appears when she tells us that “these local apologies were part of a global apology for existing in the male-dominated discipline of analytic philosophy: for being the wayward creature I am, 5-foot-2 and female but brash and contrarian.” A global apology! Enough, or too much. Of course, Rothfeld provides no substantive support for why she believes she has to “apologize” for being in philosophy and defend her right to excel. No matter for most academics and intellectuals: woman’s oppression is a sacred cow. Nor should we expect the ordinary male academic — a distinctly weak and singularly wretched figure — to stand up to academia’s matriarchy.
For the rest of us, Rothfeld, like most feminists, merely confirms the kernel of truth in the old male prejudices: that women are not equal (but require special treatment), that they are illogical, that they are overly emotional, and that, therefore, they do not really want equality of opportunity, but rather the contrary: equality of outcome, or in effect, traditional chivalry. One rather doubts that Rothfeld is truly “brash and contrary.” If she were, why bother with so much apology? Rather that she just wants to appear so in her vanity. Actually possessing those traits is too much hard work. Hence her pretense of being a victim.
Having gone to graduate school in English, I know Rothfeld’s type only too well. Finding in seminar that the men tend to talk more than the women — the former having taking the initiative to do so — they believe that this difference means they are “oppressed” or some such thing. With this judgment they are, of course, just imitating their female professors: the herd-like feminists who gave them to understand that there is a kind of moral sophistication in believing they are victims. Such women recall Dr. Johnson’s caricature, the critic Dick Minim: they know just enough to appear knowledgeable to fellow petty conformists — on whose opinion their own sense of value desperately depends — all while humorously lacking the commonsense of ordinary people.
Philosophy, like virtually all human endeavor at the highest level, is indeed “male-dominated.” IQ tests unfailingly show that men preponderate the extremes of intelligence: there are more male geniuses, just as there are more male dunces. The ability to excel at philosophy — the most abstract of subjects — is exceedingly rare, and almost invariably male. But though philosophy’s great minds, from Plato and Aristotle up through the late Hilary Putnam and Jerry Fodor, are almost entirely male, this does not mean that women’s lesser accomplishments constitute evidence of sexism, misogyny, or whatever. It is 2018, and the world still awaits a woman composer, and a political thinker, of even minor importance. Does this suggest discrimination? Not unless you’re an ideologue.
Besides, few feminists seem to realize that men feel a greater need to prove themselves than women, that we have, as it were, a greater performative burden, so that men’s greater achievements are only to be expected. An obsessive, even ruthless devotion to one’s ambition — why is it that this is so much more common among men than women? Because unlike women, men are not extraordinarily valuable just because we exist. Women certainly are, and the reason is clear: they are the future, life itself. In most cases, indeed, a man’s constant striving amounts to little more than being able to win over a woman and provide for a family — if he is so lucky, as a majority of men have not been in history. Where feminists see the historical subjection of women, it would be much more productive to ask: What was all the toil from which women were “excluded” for?
It is significant that feminists are generally middle and upper-class women. In our country, feminism has long been a radical movement, a product of our post-World War Two affluence and moral decadence. Although they are always griping about how bad they have it, most feminists, upon close examination, prove to be spoiled, permanent adolescents. They are not the victims of history, but rather its chief beneficiaries. Consider that today women work and vote and own their own property. They are also admitted into universities and get well-paying jobs because they are women. They earn more degrees than men, including at the graduate level. They pay much less into the welfare state yet get much more from it. They drive the world economy by controlling the household economy.
All this while, as in the past, any woman who is not physically grotesque may find that there are countless men everywhere in the world who are happy to do things for her in order to win her favor: a profound reflection of women’s natural power, which is quite far from men’s own experience.
Finally, every nation depends for its existence on a largely male military, some of whom must pay the ultimate price: Death. And this so that members of the professional class like Rothfeld can live lives of unprecedented ease and comfort. Nor is there anyone more ungrateful for that sacrifice than the feminist with her cant about “toxic masculinity.”
There is indeed a plague of whiny women afflicting the Western world. Like every academic subject, philosophy was bound to bear it out eventually. It is these low feminist types who want us to believe that women’s history is nothing but subjection. It is this insidious belief that inspires so much enmity and distrust between the sexes. And yet, for all that influence, a moment’s honest thought suffices to show that, given man’s superior physical strength and the harsh living conditions that prevailed until fairly recently in human history, a severe division of labor was long essential between the sexes. Paranoid like conspiracy theorists, feminists imply that men somehow chose to be the stronger sex, as if we had a kind of God-like power. There we were behind the scenes from the beginning, our purpose having been to enslave women and render them miserable.
What is never mentioned in this poisonous story is that men since time immemorial have worked themselves to death and laid down their lives for the sake of women and their children. Along with resentment, ingratitude is the essence of feminism. Like children who never had to do chores, feminists are marked by perpetual dissatisfaction, which surfaces in all manner of fits and tantrums, although the frequent highbrow mediums may make the underlying character of feminism difficult for some to perceive. Taken together, the resentment and the ingratitude indicate the fundamental childishness of feminist doctrine, which is a testament to a civilization corrupted by its own affluence.
It is telling that we do not find cheap, querulous thinking in the manner of Rothfeld in the fine women philosophers of the past: Susanne K. Langer, Phillipa Foot, Elisabeth Anscombe, Hannah Arendt, Iris Murdoch. That was a better time. Moreover, those women all had fine intellects, while Rothfeld, who clearly does not think well, is probably in her philosophy PhD program mainly because politically correct Harvard wants feminist bluestockings on board. After all, if you don’t admit such women into the programs and hire them on the faculty, then, like the husband and the nagging wife, you shall have to answer to endless complaints, the inescapable business of the feminist lobby. Meanwhile, most feminist writing and scholarship remains a melodramatic embarrassment; a kind of unwitting self-parody or soap opera for middling women with intellectual pretensions.
Photo: Detail of: Image:Bluestockings.jpg - Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo, Richard Samuel 1778 (National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)