Feminism as Ethical Practice

My good friend Chana of The Merely Real left an interesting comment on my post about chivalry:

I wonder if there’s a way to salvage the idea of “[Chivalry] is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you” in a world with privilege and power dynamics. Certainly this should apply in all interpersonal relationships and along all axes of power, but if we’re examining the gender relation in particular, maybe a revisited chivalry would be something like, “avoid the harm that comes from your privilege” and that would end up in men doing things like acknowledging Schrodinger’s Rapist, because their size and power and societal stuff makes them scary to women, and giving women extra space and time, and being extra careful about consent, avoiding coercion by all means possible, looking only for enthusiastic consent and taking the responsibility of saying no if it looks like maybe she’s only saying yes because she’s scared, and things like that. Could that work?

And there are definitely parallels in other power relations. Don’t do microagressive shit. Don’t use words you know hurt people. Etc. But maybe chivalry really has too much paternalistic “taking care of you” baggage to function that way.

Well, I think there is. I touched on it briefly in the post; chivalry, if it can be deprived of the patriarchal aspects and becomes an attitude of respect and ethical behavior based on one’s morals rather than archaic gender binaries, what we’ve got is a feminist ethics. This is a huge aspect of the thesis I’m writing, so, to spare you the brunt of my philosospeak, I’m going to try and lay out here, briefly, what this means.

My premise is one that is essentially similar to Chana’s favorite, Richard Carrier’s, that being that philosophy, done well, necessarily leads to humanism, and then feminism. At its most basic, before we add on the layers, feminism is the point of view that women and men should be equal. Now, I ascribe to a more progressive feminism that doesn’t want just equality, but a full breakdown of patriarchy, but equality is pretty much the first thing feminism declared itself for. Now, as Carrier and plenty of others have noted, being against equality in this matter means that you are a sexist. End of. I don’t need to rail off quotes from Hume, Rousseau, Founding Fathers, et al to have to prove that everyone having the same rights and freedoms as everyone else is a moral good. We know it is.

Feminism is a moral good. Feminism, at its best, instructs us to check our privilege and work to break down unjust power dynamics. At its best, it will allow us to navigate our world in much the way that contemporary defenders of chivalry believe that system operates, but when we present our ethics as based in feminism, we not only manage to move past chivalry, which, as Chana said, is far too wrapped up in its baggage, and allow us to present feminism, which has plenty of silly stigma of its own, most of which has been created out of fear tactics and straight up lies, as a moral good that takes the place of old paternalistic points of view. It is a necessary step to making the kind of equal, just world that we want to believe is possible.

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One thought on “Feminism as Ethical Practice

  1. What do you think about the Non Aggression Principle (NAP) as a means for both sexes to be chivalrous with each other (and amongst themselves)?

    As you point out, chivalry was historically tied to men’s power over women, both physically and socially. In this post feminist/ socialised age (the two being intimately linked) women are able to remain (pseudo) independent of men by getting the state to confiscate money from everyone at gunpoint and give some of it to her in the form of ‘free stuff’ paid for by the state.

    In this sense at least it is now women who hold increasing amounts of power over men – that power being the state’s legal right to initiate force against everyone and consequently its willingness (in fact, eagerness) to step in and replace the role of the ‘husband’ for young woman, and step in and replace the role of ‘father’ for her children too.

    Instead of relying on a husband to bring home the bacon, the post feminist woman can rely on the violent state to steal bacon from everybody else and give her some of it.

    The Non Aggression Principle in this case would mean women rejecting this use of force against men (wielded, as it currently is, through a coercive and violent state). Men and women could *both* embrace the NAP and mutually reject the initiation of force against each other, via the state.

    This could be seen as ‘mutual chivalry’… or to put it another way, civilised, morally acceptable behaviour 🙂

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