Feminism is a good idea but . . .
Women belong in the kitchen. This is not a specific statement about women. It is representative of a more general philosophy about an individual’s place in society. It might also be stated as, “Able bodied men belong in the workforce.” or “Children belong in school.” or even “Smart people should lead.”. Generally society, the individual, or both are usually best served when individuals conform to the roles for which they are naturally more suited.
It wouldn’t be controversial to say that LeBron James or Michael Jordan belong on the basketball court. It wouldn’t be controversial to say that George Patton belonged on the battlefield. It wouldn’t be controversial to say that Pablo Picasso should paint. Feminism is not at odds with the concept of natural, individual human aptitude.
When I went to write the previous paragraph, I intended to include a woman in the examples, but the only good example I could think of was Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Playboy. And, that helps to illuminate the contention feminism has with the concept of roles; women don’t get any! Or, at least not any good ones.
There are obviously many examples of excellent women in history. Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, Oprah Winfrey, various Queens of Egypt, England, Spain, etc. The problem is that when we think about the roles, for all the examples except for Oprah Winfrey (which is why I included her), there are men who were more exemplary in the role. Even in many of the roles for which women seem to be well suited, there are still men who might be considered “greater”, like Gordon Ramsey (most famous chef I could think of) or Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The implication is that men are just better at everything than women, but is that so? The feminist, and the philosopher more generally, have a duty to examine this presumption, but the danger there, especially for feminists, is to jump to the conclusion that it isn’t true, that women are just as competent, that “A woman can do anything a man can do.”. But is THAT so? Can a woman do anything a man can do? Or are we just having a childish, emotional response to a cold, hard fact of life?
Are we being childish? Of course we’re being childish. Trust me. I know childish:
I stayed home with my three children and their mother was the “breadwinner”. I changed diapers. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I potty trained. I taught them their ABCs and 123s. I learned to examine their actions and reactions in search of psychological false start or defect so I could present my finding to them and pose the question of whether they wanted to have that as a part of their psyche going forward and in a way that a young child could comprehend and respond to effectively. I did laundry.
After over a decade of spending most of my days with them, they still like their mom better. People still wonder why I didn’t “get a job”. My own supposed mother had the audacity to ask me, after over a decade as “stay-at-home parent”, what do I want to do with my life? I had a pretty childish, emotional response to that, but I kept it to myself.
Having seen children react childishly, having examined the dynamic thoroughly, and having experienced the impulse myself in the situations in the above paragraph (and at other times), I can say with a good deal of confidence that “A woman can do anything a man can do.” is a childish, emotional response.
Having discarded such a half-formed, inept, and reflexive reaction, we should go back and wonder again: Are men better than women at every-fucking-thing? Really?
If so, why and how so?