I just finished watching The Glorias, a biopic about feminist Gloria Steinem. It was interesting and well-produced – I’m assuming it’s historically accurate, I don’t really know. The reason why “Gloria” is plural – according to the producers of the film – is two-fold:
- To tell the story about Steinem’s life, they use four different women to portray her at different stages of life. They even interact with one another as glimpses of Steinem’s own introspection and inner dialogue.
- All the women who eventually took a stand for the rights of women are said to be a “Gloria” – ie. following in Steinem’s footsteps.
Steinem herself played a role in producing the film, and (spoiler alert!) she appears in the film at the end giving her speech at the Woman’s March in Washington in 2017. So this film is definitely about Steinem, her work, and the impact it had on society. Whether you consider yourself a feminist or not, it’s worth understanding how she and other feminists viewed the world, wanted it changed, and why.
Setting aside the issue of abortion for a moment, the film really solidified something for me about one impression I’ve had about feminists (and why I’m turned off by them). And that is this: women turning to the state to rescue them from “the patriarchy.” I’ve never understood this! Not because I don’t believe their complaints were legitimate (I think many were), but because they were seeking out from the state “protections” that traditionalism offered, but failed to provide. They exchanged the failure of patriarchy in the home and church for patriarchy from the state. Oddly enough, a major complaint that partriarchalists have of feminism is that it supplanted a husband for the state. So I imagine some of my feminist and feminist-sympathizing readers will take issue with my agreement with this complaint.
Feminists didn’t stop here, of course, because women began running for political office. If this movie is any indication, I can see why Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 was so devastating for them. Even Steinem and veteran feminists must know that they exchanged traditionalist patriarchy for statist patriarchy – though I’m sure they wouldn’t characterize it that way. I say this because, based on the film, it appears as though the feminist agenda was to turn the statist patriarchy into a statist matriarchy by way of female representation in government.
Steinem and the feminist movement certainly can be credited with getting certain legitimate rights of women recognized to some degree. (Remember, I’ve set aside abortion). I’m thinking here of the right to contract without a male co-signer, no-fault divorce, and some other things I’m sure I’m failing to remember. And yet, the way they achieved these things were only through the necessity of the state.
Here’s my frustration with feminism: the presupposition that women can’t achieve a status of equal dignity with men without the coercion and legal violence of the state.
The only way for feminism to maintain their achievements is for the state to become a matriarchy, because they can’t figure out how to make the rights of women work without legal-monopolized force/violence. They can’t imagine a world where a woman has a natural right to her own property. The state must provide that for her. How is this fundamentally any different from a male co-signer on a loan?
The feminist view is that women have a state-provided positive right to whatever the state deems appropriate. That’s tenuous at best! Especially if the state is patriarchal. Unfortunately, they believe women’s rights will be secured under a matriarchy. And since feminists have historically seen a “free market” or “capitalism” as being the “greedy scourge” on society that makes men jerks, then this means a Socialist matriarchy.
This is another reason why I’m not feminist; economic illiteracy, and a denial of “capitalism” for being just about “greedy men.” (This is a hangover of Victorian ideology – it’s strange that they kept this, and dumped other Victorian ideas as being false).
For me personally, there’s a bit of irony here. I didn’t become persuaded of market anarchism – the idea of a completely unregulated economy – until hearing from so-called “left libertarians” Gary Chartier, Roderick Long, and their colleagues at Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS). It was hearing from them how an unregulated market could produce social justice for women (and other marginalized groups) that I was convinced the state is in fact an enemy of free women. This is why you’ll hear me use the term “freed market” as opposed to “capitalism.” As Chartier points out, the term “capitalism” often refers to “whatever system we have now,” and like many feminists, I oppose the system we have now.
Back to the movie …
I would like to know more about the rift between Steinem and Betty Friedan. The movie touches only briefly on it, saying that Friedan saw Steinem as an opportunist. The movie paints Friedan as the “jealous has-been.” I somehow doubt that’s the whole story and since Friedan later expressed a regret that she didn’t make clear her respect for marriage and the family more, I wonder what else she might have to say on feminism. What this movie shows is Steinem was really good at rallying people for a cause, but in this process has disenfranchised many women who still hold to traditional values. If the feminist movement was worth its salt, it would respect those women who voluntarily make choices of a more traditional nature.
As for abortion, if you follow me you know my position on this. But the movie hits home the fact, again, that feminists are looking to the state to be their providers. To provide “resources” through welfare and entitlement spending. To provide “access” to abortion because women should control their own bodies. To provide jobs because starting your own magazine and making it profitable is a pain when you want to use it for pure shock value. (I’m referring to Steinem’s magazine, Ms.)
As someone starting her own business teaching online courses, yes! It’s hard! That’s the point! Hard work is only worth doing if it’s meaningful. And persuading people it’s of value to them can be difficult. Did Steinem suppose that women shouldn’t have to work hard to be successful?! This should be a huge disappointment to women who have worked hard, or who have no choice but to work hard. If women shouldn’t have to work hard, then feminists only seek the privileged status they accuse men of having. This is hypocritical.
On abortion … women absolutely should control their own bodies! But the idea that we can’t control getting pregnant, is a lie. Bodily autonomy is supposedly such a big issue for feminists, and yet they peddle this lie that pregnancy is something outside of our control, and so we need state-protected access to abortion in order to get control. This is very similar to the patriarchalist lie that women have no say in whether they should get pregnant or not. The concept that a husband controls the woman’s body and decides when she should or should not be pregnant is reprehensible.
So why do feminists treat a woman’s body as though it’s a victim of nature? Does this sound like control? It doesn’t to me. It sounds out of control. Feminists lie to women about what bodily autonomy means. Because if they told the truth, they’d have to acknowledge things like property rights, the right of self-defense, the law of unintended consequences, and a myriad of other natural law concepts they threw out because they were “patriarchal” or “capitalistic” or just “invented by men.” (God forbid men were on to something!)
And – I mentioned this in my debate with Walter Block – arguing that women need abortion to resolve rape is another lie. It’s crumbs from the table. In the movie, they complain that (white male) politicians and law professors minimized rape as being “minor assault.” I don’t doubt this is true. But this is why they argued the need for abortion. Because getting the state to acknowledge the true magnitude of rape was a steeper climb than getting them to permit abortion. (Which can be argued as letting irresponsible men off the hook!) But we can’t grasp the magnitude of rape until we accept the rights of the fetus. And accepting the rights of the fetus undermines feminist achievements; it means (in their view) admitting the patriarchy is right – they can’t do that; feminists need the state.
And what stinks, is that many, not all, but many of their complaints are legitimate. And those are getting swept up in the culture war. Steinem was apparently really good at riling up women. And that’s certainly an effective way to create a movement. But Steinem’s contribution undermined female contributions from early proponents of women’s rights who argued for women’s rights apart from the state, thereby providing a firm ground to stand on, and not the flimsy state as woman’s new husband. This is highly irritating to me as a woman who knows there’s an argument for the natural rights of women – including regarding our bodily autonomy and pregnancy. But feminists made women dependent upon the state – thereby not achieving real respect for the rights and freedom for women. In this manner, Steinem’s efforts – unfortunately – are an epic failure. Women have only enjoyed an illusion of freedom and not actual freedom.
Steinem was right about this: “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Feminists need to come to terms with the fact that they didn’t achieve what they set out to do. Despite all this, I do recommend people watch the film. It’s a useful perspective which, if we remove the state as a potential solution, we might actually start to see real solutions to the very real problems the film speaks about.
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