Updated: Nov 3, 2021
The conservative feminist and author of a forthcoming book Feminism Against Progress is frustrated by her own side's failure to engage more intelligently with traditional feminist arguments.
"The result" she says, "is, regrettably, a Right-wing treatment of the women’s movement that is often as ignorant of what it decries as modern liberal feminists are of the conservative case against abortion.
We can do better. And we must, because today defending women’s interests is properly, and rightly, a defence of the family. Which is to say of all humans including men – understood as relational beings.
This isn’t easy to see from a conservative vantage-point that blames feminism for many modern societal ills. Some of this critique is not without justice. But nor is the women’s movement without justice.
I don’t believe in progress, in the ‘arc of history’ sense. Nor do I believe that there exists an eternal conspiracy against women, called ‘patriarchy’. Worked free of these fairy tales, what we think of today as ‘feminism’ is a story of economic transitions.
Specifically, it’s a story of how men and women re-negotiated life in common, in response first to the transition into the industrial era, then into twentieth-century market society. If everyone today seems to be arguing about men and women again, it’s because we’re in the throes of another economic transition."
The economic transition she refers to here is the internet whose effect is to devalue relations between men and women still further, in this instance to a flick across a screen "in a hell of transactional sexuality ordered not to love, or meaning, or the future, but to bare, squalid, hyper-mediated commerce."
Harrington calls this bio-libertarianism, an internalised, radical individualistic belief that "sex is merely a fun leisure activity that can be managed via contract theory." And the consequences for all of us are stark:
'The pursuit of freedom is not just delivering diminishing returns. It has long since turned against women. It is now turning against life itself. What we need to face this challenge is not more freedom. It’s more and better obligations. That means, for feminists, a reckoning with some of the unpaid debts of the age of emancipation. It also means that we’ve run out of road for the kind of movement that seeks to pry women free of our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons."
To arrest this downward slide, she calls instead for us to "stop treating the question of family as a women’s issue. It’s a human one. And we need to accept that men and women are equal in dignity and personhood but different in physiology. The core question is how we reconcile our interests.
At the centre of this is how we understand marriage. The twentieth-century consumer society trivialised and individualised marriage, as a vehicle for personal fulfilment. That no longer works. But marriage does, if we pry it free of the ‘patriarchy’ baggage and treat it as the first and most crucial step in a fightback against radical atomisation, and for life in common."
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