Elizabeth Magaletta replies to Michael Healy on Feminism

by Elizabeth Magaletta

Michael Healy’s disagreement with my argument has, as it seems to me, two roots: he does not perceive that masculinism confers on men more than ego benefits, nor that all men benefit from living in a masculinist culture, regardless of whether they are themselves guilty of chauvinistic attitudes. But they do; and so it cannot be claimed that women need defense only from “certain” men and that feminism is therefore unnecessary.

For example: if I live in a society in which the laws against domestic violence are spottily and reluctantly enforced, I can, regardless of whether he actually beats me, be said to lack protection from my husband. Now a neutralist such as Healy might here point out that, if my husband is not a batterer, I don’t need such protection. But whether he is a batterer or not is beyond my control. By failing to effectively or consistently punish wife-beating, society has left the decision of whether to beat me up to my husband. I am at his mercy. This is not to belittle the goodwill of men who would never do such a thing, but only to note that for society to leave women to rely, individually, on such goodwill, means putting them in an unacceptable state of helpless dependence. All women, therefore, need protection from all men. We must always be on our guard, because the level of protection extended to women at any given time is contingent on a wide and dynamic range of social and political factors. The name for this rationally vigilant stance is feminism.

It might seem that we are now far afield from the points I brought in my original essay. But think of what the social factors might be, which would prevent society from protecting women from oppression. Surely the prevalence of what I have called “masculinism” would be close to the top of the list. I do not accuse masculinists of wishing to deny women protection from oppression and abuse; but if woman is found inferior, or if her worth is somehow relativized to man’s, her claim to such protection is lessened considerably. The problem, then, is not simply one of “insulting” or “denigrating” one or the other sex—of hurting people’s feelings—but rather one of human rights and civil liberties.

Healy notes, though, that some feminists insult and denigrate men. Granted. But these attacks generally stay on the level of middle-class Western academic or political discourse, whereas for millennia masculinist “insults” have been the ideological foundation of systems in which women are disenfranchised, denied education, raped, enslaved, tortured, forcibly sterilized, starved, mutilated, imprisoned, beaten and killed. One major source of resistance to feminism is that many people, although shocked at these injustices, perpetrated against women by men, do not see that they are all, to a greater or lesser degree, perpetrated against women considered as women. My statement that all women need protection from all men does not mean that every man is the kind of man from whom all women need protection; it does mean that every woman needs protection from that kind of man. Feminism works to change both laws and attitudes and thereby to keep women secure in their rights. It also, quite naturally, participates in the debate as to what kinds of things are oppressive of women. The range of answers given to this question sometimes runs to extremes. These extremes do not invalidate feminism as such.

Elizabeth Magaletta, Junior, classics and philosophy