“Is it me or does it seem to be getting warmer up here…” Today’s story begins in Greece. It’s a story so old that it was old long before people realized that it’s easier to remember stories if you write them down.
You know the story. It’s the tale of Icarus, given the power of flight with wings of feathers and wax. All he needed to do—to successfully escape his captivity—is keep from flying too close to the sun. But he was giddy with his new-found power. He ignored his limitations.
And that was his downfall, figuratively and literally. Throughout history, the story of Icarus has been used to remind us of the perils of hubris.
Yes, you should have ambition. Yes, your ambition should be great. Yes, you should expect to accomplish great things, if that is what you desire.
But in your ambition and quest for greatness, do not presume powers that you do not have.
Who knows how many millions of times throughout history, in dramas great and small, the lesson of Icarus has been played and played again? This is one of those dramas.
Take a look at the stage, now, where you can see our characters gathering.
Today, the part of Icarus will be played today by Stefan Molyneux.
The wings of wax will be played by his belief in his own analytical powers.
And the part of the sun will be played by Dr. Sharon Presley and other selected luminaries.
The real deal
There are other important people involved and I’ll get to them soon. I’m singling Dr. Presley out only because of my own love of irony.
You see, I have documented Molyneux’s efforts to become recognized as an important figure in the libertarian world. Unfortunately, his theories seem to have been mostly rejected. His self-published books not particularly well received. He is an exciting speaker and has been invited to make more appearances lately but for the most part his growing claim to fame seems to be interviewing other people about their ideas.
Dr. Presley, on the other hand, is an actual, famous libertarian. In fact, she co-founded the very first nationwide libertarian organization in the US. Today she is national co-coordinator for the Association of Libertarian Feminists. She was one of its founding members as well.
What is particularly ironic to me is that there is another glaring disparity between Molyneux and Dr. Presley. Molyneux tends to promote himself as a leading thinker in psychology and, once again, that is a field in which Presley is a bonafide Famous Person. She studied under Dr. Stanley Milgram, author of the study Obedience to Authority, one of psychology’s most influential studies. She has spent her career teaching psychology and critical thinking while continuing her research in obedience and resistance to authority, women resisters to authority, and gender issues.
Stefan Molyneux writes books about his views on the psychology of parenting and relationships and stuff. He releases them on PDF files, which is nice because you can download them and they’re free. Presley produces work like Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre, which was published by an actual publisher and won an American Library Association Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title, 2005.
In short, while Mr. Molyneux desires so desperately to be recognized, Dr. Presley and her colleagues in this story are The Real Deal.
My point (and I do have one…)
It turns out that Dr. Presley is only one of a group of certified luminaries who were enjoying a lovely day in the firmament when Stefan Molyneux went flapping by. In fairness to them, I should also be spewing out their CVs here as well, but I’m going to have to say if there are any names below you don’t recognize, go have fun with that Google program and see what you find out. I think you’re starting to get the picture and I’m equally sure you wish I would stop babbling and get on with it.
And so I shall. That was the setup. What follows is the story.
In one of his videos, Stefan decided it would be fun to define feminism as “socialism with panties.” It got an understandably negative reaction. Maybe that’s what he wanted. All press is good press, right?
So then he decided to make a video defending that statement…
That may not have been his best move. Not with those wings of wax. Because that’s when a whole bunch of people of actual accomplishment decided to turn up the heat and offer Mr. Molyneux a very unpleasant landing.
An Open Letter to Stefan Molyneux and Other Anti-Feminists
Stefan Molyneux’s recent video, a defense of his statement that “feminism is socialism with panties” (from which he takes his title) is not so much an enlightening philosophical speech as an ill-informed rant. The title of the video is intellectually dishonest, dismissing generations of women and men struggling for equality as panty-wearing socialists. The title panders to vulgar misogynists and is insulting to all women, feminists or not, and to anyone else who believes in equality between the sexes. The ideas expressed in this video and other videos of his that discuss feminism in a negative way are not only inaccurate but also dangerous, negatively influencing society’s perception of what feminism really is.
Because Molyneux’s anti-feminist views are unfortunately shared by many libertarian men and some libertarian women, we think it is important to take a stand and point out what is wrong and misguided about these views. Each one of the individuals signing this document has seen libertarian and conservative men attacking feminism without knowing what it means; men who have read nothing more than a few newspapers articles or anti-feminist rants by others and have no idea of feminism’s rich and varied history. Their views, founded on little more than opinion, are merely knee-jerk “politically incorrect” responses that lack critical thinking and thoughtful analysis.
Anti-feminist libertarian and conservative comments abound on Facebook and other social media. These include the usual clichés such as “man-hater,” and “feminazis” as well as such claims as, for example, “feminists are so trapped in their victimhood thinking that they see potential male oppressors everywhere and blame everything that is wrong with their lives on ‘sexism’ and ‘patriarchy.’” Men who are supportive of feminist concerns are attacked as “little wussy boys” and “worse” than the feminists themselves. One man even called the Association of Libertarian Feminists an “oxymoron.” These childish and uninformed remarks by anti-feminist men not only show how little they know about feminism, but how little regard they have for women and women’s rights.
Some anti-feminists even call feminism “collectivist” because it is a movement. This is a strange misuse of the term. They confuse “collective action” with “collectivism.” The former simply means individuals working together for a common purpose, as for example, libertarianism or abolitionism. The philosophy of “collectivism” says that group goals are more important than individual goals. But the raison d’etre of feminism is to achieve equal individual rights for every woman; to allow individual women to pursue their lives as they see fit rather than submit to cultural stereotypes.
Feminism is, by common definition, “the belief that women and men are equal and should be equally valued as human beings and have equal rights.” From a libertarian point of view, this stance should not be in the least controversial since libertarians also believe in equal rights for all. Indeed, given this definition of feminism, all libertarians, if they are consistent, should also be feminists. This definition is the essence of feminism to which every stripe of feminist from Marxist to libertarian, from radical to liberal, will agree. What feminists differ upon is how to achieve this goal of equality and equal rights. But the anti-feminist libertarians, knowing little about the wide range of views within feminism, selectively choose those feminist views they find abhorrent and attack those views as if they represented all of feminism. Yet when liberals do the same to libertarians, misrepresenting a few of the most uncompassionate as representative of the whole, these same anti-feminist libertarians howl. This is an inconsistent, hypocritical, and unfair treatment of both of these rich and vibrant intellectual traditions.
Molyneux is only the latest in a long line of these uncritical anti-feminists. We use his videos as a starting point for analysis only because he is currently one of the most visible anti-feminist libertarians. Like other anti-feminists, he fails to actually define feminism before he attacks. He simply implies that the ones he selectively chooses to talk about constitute feminism. Though Molyneux admits it isn’t accurate to say that all feminists are socialists, he still defends his statement that “feminism is socialism with panties” and continues to talk as if all feminists are indeed socialists. This is more than an offensive accusation unsupported by sound reasoning; it represents the kind of sexist thinking feminism tries to combat. By using this sleight-of-hand, he continues to encourage his listeners to systematically categorize all “feminist” concerns as pitiful socialist garbage to be derided and dismissed.
In representing feminism as a primarily socialist-dominated movement, Molyneux ignores feminists of any other political ideology, including a long history of individualist feminists. His definition of socialism is as unclear as his definition of feminism; he uses the term interchangeably with “Marxism” without qualifying exactly what kind of socialists he is accusing feminists of being. What is clear is his belief that socialists of any kind are unappealing and deserving of ridicule.
Molyneux also uses the term “gender” incorrectly. He talks about the “two genders” but “gender” is not interchangeable with “sex.” Social scientists generally define “gender” in terms of psychological factors, i.e., societal views of gender, one’s self-perception, etc. In fact there is a whole range of non-binary gender perceptions; including “transgender” people who do not fit into the standard “male” and “female” categories. Even the term “sex,” which refers to anatomical distinctions, is more complex than simply “male” and “female” because some people are “intersex” with physiological elements of both female and male reproductive characteristics. These people may call themselves “male” or “female” for convenience but many do not feel comfortable doing so.
There is a belief among such anti-feminists that feminism is inherently sexist because it emphasizes women. This is like saying that those who oppose discrimination against people of color are racists. Such anti-feminist thinking then assumes that women must desire preferential treatment. This is a typical claim made by anti-feminist men in articles and posts in social media, couched under the misdirecting plea, “but we’re all individuals.” It is similar to the claim that LGBTQ folks want preferential treatment simply because they want the same marriage rights as anyone else. Yet it is important to note that it is not women who have created the gender rights gap; it is a culture and society that has long seen women as secondary to men. Both culture and the government have been the biggest challenges feminists have faced in seeking equality. Government, reflecting the historical cultural prejudices against women, has enforced laws (opinions backed with guns, as Molyneux muses) against women since the beginning of the United States. Feminists, in working for equality, are therefore not working to support the state but rather desire to change it in order to eliminate the need for feminism. However, if libertarians categorically reject every attempt to challenge the presence of privilege in our culture, we should not be too shocked when feminists believe that the force of law is required to create a more humane and bearable space in which to exist.
Contrary to what the anti-feminists such as Molyneux claim, feminists have in fact played a major role in some of the most significant triumphs for individual liberty against state and private aggression in the last two centuries. In the 19th century, they were in the forefront of major movements for individual freedom, including abolitionism, suffrage for women, individual conscience in regard to religion and sexual activity, and the protection of minority rights. Every woman today who has a college education, owns property, or votes can thank these feminists. In the 20th century, feminists were in the forefront of not only the vote for women and the civil rights movement, but also in the fight against discriminatory laws that kept women from having credit in their own name, police policies that treat victims of rape and domestic abuse as responsible for their own victimization, actions and laws that harm people whose identities, sexual preferences, and orientations do not match the mainstream, and let us not forget reproductive freedom!
The radical feminist activists that Molyneux and other anti-feminists so unthinkingly sneer at have almost always been primarily concerned with challenging and resisting patriarchal laws—abortion laws, rather famously—and with building non-state grassroots institutions (e.g., consciousness raising groups, battered women’s shelters, rape crisis centers, underground abortion networks, women’s self-help clinics, and an array of critical “awareness”/anti-sexist cultural campaigns and groups), a number of which, especially the medically-focused efforts, were in fact constantly targeted by the regulatory state for criminalization and destruction.
In his “feminists are socialists in panties” video, Molyneux states that feminists are state-serving “creatures” and “Frankensteins,” whose primary agenda is receiving preferential treatment from the government and society, an erroneous and insulting view. He commits the error that Frédéric Bastiat defines as the core error of socialists, by “confusing the distinction between government and society.” He misrepresents the feminist stance as categorically anti-family and requiring state intervention to fulfill. No matter that many feminists have actually long discussed how to apply their feminist views to marriage and family, with the intent to raise children in a non-stereotypical way that affords them the richest opportunities as adults. Their aim is not to raise children through the state as Plato asserted, but typically to raise them healthfully in an individual family with two parents. Only a handful of feminists have actually seriously talked about dismantling the family, primarily during the Second Wave, contrary to what anti-feminists like Molyneux claim.
Molyneux portrays feminists as ruthless women, quick to cut each other down and unwilling to support successful women who deviate from the underlying socialist ideology of feminism. He claims that this is why feminists never discuss Ayn Rand or Margaret Thatcher, who he sees as “neo-conservatives” that are “anti-government” and therefore can be dismissed. In actuality, Rand, is not a neo-conservative; her importance for women has even led to a scholarly book, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, published by a prestigious and well-known university press. In his rant against “ruthless” feminists, Molyneux even implies that because they did not rally to the cause of Bachmann’s candidacy that this is further proof of their cutthroat ideology. He thus implies that women should unconditionally support and praise each other despite differences in political views, even when the women themselves hold anti-feminist positions. The fact that Molyneux himself does nothing of the sort—he frequently attacks Ron Paul, a man, for example—is apparently beside the point. But unbeknownst to Molyneux, many feminists did in fact defend Bachmann, Clinton, and Palin from charges that veered from political disagreement to overt sexist dismissal.
In his video “The Life and Death of Radical Feminism,” Molyneux propounds the belligerently conservative argument that women taking on paid jobs won’t spend enough time with their children and thus will harm their development. This argument is fallacious on several grounds. First, it mysteriously leaves out one parent from the equation—the father. In fact, social science research shows that fathers have considerable impact on their children and that more interaction with their children is desirable. Second, there is a copious social science literature showing that children are not harmed when the mother works outside the home. A more important factor is whether the mother is satisfied with her situation, whether working outside the home or within. Third, it denies individual autonomy to women, chastising them for wanting to have a life or career outside the home and asserting that they should sacrifice their aspirations in order to allegedly achieve anti-authoritarian kids. Once again, this bears no resemblance to actual psychological research findings. The factors that have the most impact on authoritarian or anti-authoritarian views in children are warmth and non-punitive childrearing methods that teach empathy, not whether or not the mother stays at home. To blame moms for everything bad that happens to the children is yet another example of not only sexism but outright misogyny.
Molyneux, like many conservatives, seems to think that the 1950s was a golden age for families. The idea that the 1950s nuclear family was a model for liberated childhood or somehow ushered in the social movements of the 1960s is simply bizarre. Spanking, the abusive disciplinary action that Molyneux abhors, was far more prevalent in the 50s than it is now. In the 1950s, the spanking rate was 99%; the rate has been going down ever since. Isn’t this a curiously contradictory view? Furthermore, in the books and research about the student movements of the 60s, the main correlation between activism and parenting was having a parent who was also a political or social activist, not having a traditional nuclear family.
Anti-feminists have no idea what feminists really want. Feminists are not women who want to be treated as men. Feminists are people who want to be treated as people, people who should not be discriminated against. Feminism isn’t socialism. Feminism is actually more about individualism and the desire to be evaluated based on one’s merit’s and not on one’s sex or gender.
Yes, there are feminists who are socialists. There are also feminists who are anarchists and feminists who are libertarians and feminists who really have no political ideology but know that they deserve to be treated equally to men. There are feminists who wear panties and feminists who wear boxers because not all feminists have an underwear preference and not all feminists are women.
The majority of Molyneux’s arguments against feminism as well as his accusation that “feminism is socialism with panties” are grounded in flawed and misogynistic rhetoric as are the arguments of other anti-feminists. In reality, feminism attracts a diverse group of people just as any other idea or philosophy does. To attempt to diminish the impact of feminism and redefine it as an objectionable philosophy is repugnant. The statement itself is inherently sexist and is the kind of thinking that feminism—true feminism—works to change.
This is a collective rejoinder written and agreed upon by the following signers
Christine-Marie L. Dixon
Charles H. Johnson
Ross Miller Kenyon
Read the update! The Stefan Molyneux/anti-feminist flap takes flight!
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