Question: Why isn’t there a centre-right feminism?

Why is feminism always left-wing ? And it goes on to brand all right-wing as sexist, racist etc. This version of feminism seems to be the dominant one. Can’t there be a more center-right idea of feminism ? It is pretty clear to me that left-wing feminism has a lot of silent disasters built into it. Gloria steinem said once – “We’re out to tear down the entire fuckin capitalism”. In today’s America, women have achieved a lot. I believe, A big part of that is because of growth in technology+capitalism and that is not given enough credit. Infact it is still demonized.

I got this email yesterday, from a guy who has been a commenter and is someone I’ve argued with both in comments and on email before. It’s also something I hear about often in many different ways: Why is feminism so angry; why is feminism Marxist; why are feminists jholawalis? I shall ignore the hysterical laughter this situation will provoke among my seriously feminist friends because I’m hardly an expert in anything feminist, least of all history or theory, and feel glad I’m approachable enough that people ask me these things! (There’s a whole story in here about the approaches to converting people to your isms but that’s for another time and place.)

And a public service announcement: Most of the things I say here are gleaned from conversations with said serious feminist friends. So bear with me if I’m simplifying too much or too little or whatever. And please, everyone be respectful.

Part I
First off, I have just been reliably informed that ‘there are right-wing feminists!’ I can’t say I can think of any off the top of my head but I’m sure my sources will be happy to help. I believe Madhu Kishwar is one. Though having heard how my feminist friends react to her I think they’d say she isn’t feminist, supporting your claim that there aren’t any.

Second, take a minute to think about socialism/communism, anti-racism and feminism. What’s a one-line definition for each? ‘People are equal regardless of income bracket’ ‘People are equal regardless of skin colour/racial appearance.’ ‘People are equal regardless of gender/sex.’ Notice a pattern there? Believing in the equality of people regardless of x basically means you’re kind of against discrimination of any kind. (Though actually Marxism for example was not very kind to women, if I remember college right, and the black rights movements had some rather sexist aspects to it, and many feminists of colour believe that solidarity to race trumps solidarity to gender, and the discrimination a black woman faces is far closer to that a black man faces than a white woman faces. But I digress.) It’s hardly surprising that there would be common cause between such movements.

Third, think about an unpleasant situation caused by conservative control of society or economics. Women lose their rights over their own bodies. For example, in a conservative right-wing interpretations the Bible says you cannot deny your husband his conjugal rights, you must bear all children you conceive, you cannot use birth control. This basically means that even if you do have access to great jobs in the ‘free’market, you’re screwed because you are pregnant nine months a year. You automatically lose out to male colleagues who don’t have to bear children and drop behind the rest of the market. The market is not free at all; it is actually quite heavily stacked against you.

Which brings me to four, there’s no such thing as a free market, which even the most ardent believers in it will admit to, simply because we don’t start at a tabula rasa. A truly free market means everyone in said market starts at the same place and then runs with whatever native abilities they have. But if you’re too worried about how to feed yourself, where do you have literal energy and neurons to think about which stocks to invest in? If you’re malnourished, how do you actually physically work 16 hours a day? And so on.

At this point said commenter is thinking fuck it man she’s also a bloody commie feminist. So just let me say one last thing before I head over a more coherent response to this question. Watch this. And then tell me capitalism has made women equal in America. I will give you technology though; technology helps most people who have access to it, regardless of gender. But then of course who has access, who controls supply and distribution…

Part II
My best friend, who is the best explainer of feminism I know, had some interesting points to raise.

1. Feminism where? Feminism is not a monolith. Many feminists in the US support the Democratic party which is centre-right. Feminists in China are not left wing. Feminists in Hong Kong are not left wing because the evils of extreme leftism are right across the border and basically everyone is paranoid about it. Feminists in India are more left wing, I think.

2. Feminism is about fairness and social justice, and therefore feminists tend to support social justice and social welfare campaigns beyond those that directly affect women. Thus, feminists tend to support welfarism to some extent (i.e. a safety net for people and a suspicion of meritocracy arguments) which in our binary world must mean we are left-wing. But only if you buy into the idea that there should be only two wings.

3. Feminists tend to read against the grain. Thus, in places where the dominant ideology is right-wing, feminists veer left. And vice versa in places like China.

4. The hegemonic view of feminism is Western feminism, thus people like Gloria Steinem get quoted. Steinem is a feminist icon of her time, and her ideas are still powerful, but feminism has moved on.

5. There is a section of Marxist feminists, particularly in the UK, who find the Marxist conception of class exploitation applicable to the family. Engels was one of the few philosophers to touch on the family. He barely did though, so feminists have extended his idea. However, broadly it is believed, that this explanation–of patriarchy exploiting the labour of women–needs to be supplemented by other explanations.

6. Right-wing parties tend to be conservative, with a paternalistic at best and dangerous at worst attitude to women. Thus, even women who support right-wing economic policies in the US are turned off by their anti-abortion stance and women-get-back-into-the-kitchen undertone. Ditto with the BJP.

I hope that helped!

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21 thoughts on “Question: Why isn’t there a centre-right feminism?

  1. *claps*
    The only thing you left out, I think, is that you didn’t answer the actual question underlying that email, i.e. “why won’t feminists date me when I tell them I’m a conservative?”

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  2. Madhu Kishwar wrote a much-cited essay “Why I do not call myself a feminist”, way before he BJP leaning days. For anyone interested, here: http://www.fullcirclegrp1.com/FA/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Why-I-do-not-call-myself-a-feminist2.pdf

    Google “right-wing feminists’ and there are apparently some around. Tory Feminists, for example (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/jan/08/tory-women-mps-new-feminism). There is a lot of feminist critique about neoliberalism though, and I have sneaking suspicion right-wing feminists fall into this discourse, but they do exist.
    This is also quite a well-written piece on the possibility of right-wing feminism which acknowledges some of the pitfalls that feminism that veers left has to guard against: http://thehussingtonpost.blogspot.hk/2014/03/can-feminist-be-right-wing.html

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    • That is an excellent blog post on that link. This is something which is really not well understood because the popular literature and courses in humanities are all biased and brainwashed and does not consider the opinion of other champions of liberalism. Friedrich hayek, Rober Nozick etc. They had pretty solid arguments against the key flaws in the Rawls view of social justice. It might feeeeel-good but is a gradual road to hell, paved with good intentions :P. In India, that kind of an equality is a far-fetched dream until a full focus is put on the other side. Our nanny-state will never be able to achieve it. BJP is not good at it either. Just a tad bit better.

      I love her – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv5t6rC6yvg

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  3. Hehe. Rand would say “Reality is objective and logic is the way to know it”. The moment you deny this, the objectivist argues that any acknowledgement of Subjectivity is a rationalization of Mysticism.

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