Feminism and the Lure of Ideology

An article by Kay Hymowitz in City Journal on the gender gap highlights just one way in which ideological expectations deceive many people.  In all fairness I must add that Hymowitz probably considers herself a feminist, albeit of an individualist or conservative sort. I know and respect many like her. Fundamentally we may not disagree. My only concern is with the pitfalls of a closed political belief system that can afflict even good causes. In recent years, for example, there has emerged an anti-feminist “patriarchalist” movement (which I view with just as much trepidation as anything dreamed up by Gloria Steinem). Reacting against one “ism” with another is not necessarily a solution to the problem.

Eric Voegelin condemned ideology as a way of “gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one’s power… as a substitute for the human self that has been lost.” Alienated individuals try to assert their new identity through a political faith. The question is not whether “alienation” occurs, but why. According to the progressive, it is due to “oppression,” be it racial, economic or sexual. For Voegelin, alienation comes about with the loss of traditional moral certainties which previously defined the roles and rules of people in a healthy culture. Ideology for a Christian, no matter how benign, seems out of place, since it implies a lack of transcendental principles and instead focuses what properly belongs to faith on very finite goals.

There is a difference between the individual aims of the women’s movement, which in some instances may be laudable, and a modern totalitarian fashion which is never to be questioned. I can agree with feminist opposition to pornography, though I would add that the sex industry exploits men as much as it does women. That is because right and wrong is about individual human beings, not members of arbitrary groups or classes. The danger is that people can be co-opted when movements that adopt feminism, environmentalism, populism, etc., seek good things in the wrong way. They very often accept bad things along the way—like socially conservative Christians who endorsed nationalized healthcare insurance and found themselves supporting federally funded abortion.

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