Are we failing to articulate a moral case for women's liberation?

(44 Posts)

Just stumbled across this article about George Lakoff's views on politics and framing, and it made me wonder whether feminism is falling into the same trap as the 'progressives', that of failing to articulate a moral philosophy.

Do we do the things he attributes to "the left" e.g. restating the patriarchal viewpoint as part of an attempt to discredit it with logic? But accidentally reinforcing it instead. The tone of the piece struck me as him having rather an androcentric approach himself...

freyasnow Tue 04-Feb-14 00:57:18

There are a lot of people who write and discuss what has gone wrong on the left, have the left used the wrong tactics etc.

Surely what has actually happened globally, for the last seventy years, is that in a variety of countries, where democratic left wing governments were elected or were about to be elected, the US government, sometimes with the assistance of other Western governments, (either overtly or covertly) sent in military power, the CIA, people trained in torture techniques and so on, to overthrow those governments and millions of people have been murdered as a consequence? This is surely a very well documented matter of historical fact?

So the reason that the left (feminist or otherwise) doesn't make a strong case is because opportunities to develop genuinely left wing democratic countries and try out different ways of finding solutions through experience have not been allowed to happen, and that most of the people who would be our influential left wing thinkers have been brutally murdered, so don't have the opportunity to say anything at all. What we're actually talking about in terms of the article are a group of progressive people within right wing countries like the US and the UK, who will tinker at the edges of what is a very aggressive system. And like all aggressive systems, it operates a process of mystification to justify itself, so using logic against it doesn't always help. When he says people are afraid to speak up, he probably doesn't mean that literally, but people in many countries have good reason to literally fear speaking up.

FairPhyllis Tue 04-Feb-14 10:01:31

I think that the gay rights movement has quite successfully articulated a moral cause by framing themselves as the successor to the black civil rights movement. I think feminism could do a lot worse than to frame itself as a women's civil rights movement.

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Tue 04-Feb-14 10:26:37

Freya, when I think of left-of-centre governments, I think of the Scandinavians rather than Central and South American revolutionaries like Chavez and Castro. They are surely the real model for workable, people-centric governments and social structures, and look at how successfully they have ridden out the recent financial upheavals.

The problem I see with those models is that, certainly in the UK and US, we don't want to pay for them. Redistribution of wealth is seen as taking from good, honest grafters and giving to the feckless underclass.

DuskAndShiver Tue 04-Feb-14 11:03:51

This is so relevant to so much on here right now! Especially the Amnesty thing. Arguing about studies, trying to get people to read studies - it just doesn't work.

"You have to go up a level, to the moral level. You have to say, this is somebody who's interested in male domination. That's what liberals are afraid to do."

This is absolutely right.

I know someone who has always known this instinctively, he is incredibly inspiring because while being bitingly logical he is not bogged down in washy faux-"rationalism" which is just a sort of guilt-ridden weak way of always entertaining your enemies because you are afraid they will bitch about you. This is absolutely key:

"They don't understand their own moral system or the other guy's, they don't know what's at stake, they don't know about framing, they don't know about metaphors, they don't understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don't understand how vital emotion is, "

YES.

We cannot move the overton window by saying "yes, but" and making concessions. We have to say: THIS IS HOW IT IS.

It is wrong to use women
It is wrong to allow people to be poor and hungry
It is wrong not to care for our children
It is wrong to bring girls up to think their purpose is to be used for sex

DuskAndShiver Tue 04-Feb-14 11:04:50

I quoted too much, because I wanted to highlight "they don't understand the extent to which emotion is rational" - a whole world of yes to this.

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 04-Feb-14 12:08:43

I agree with dusk.

I have said things like "it is wrong to treat women like that" and all I got was "yeah but it's a cultural thing" and "yeah but you are talking from some middle-class privileged perspective" and "yeah but I don't like these extreme views". Made me SHOUT with rage. And I am still angry. angry

freyasnow Tue 04-Feb-14 12:18:13

ASA, the US has prevented left wing democracies in various countries on every continent including Europe. I wasn't talking about Castro because a. Cuba is not a democracy and b. the US hasn't removed him.

Yes, the Scandinavian countries are more left wing than us, but ultimately part of their success is based on owning energy supplies which gives them a level of wealth most similar countries don't have and that they are relatively mono cultural. We would have at least 30 more models for working out different ways of organising left wing societies, often based in much more multi cultural societies, if there had not been military intervention.

Scandinavian countries have a workable model in the sense that the US does not currently want to bring down their governments.

grimbletart Tue 04-Feb-14 12:49:10

I think we bandy about left and right too simplistically. For example, I agree entirely with those four statements Dusky made, but I am not left wing. For me, it's more to do with the most effective way of achieving those four things she states i.e. what works works. Forget the labels because as soon as you label someone "left" or "right" it seems you are obliged to trust or distrust what they say or do according to where you see yourself on the political spectrum. Just leads - to give a simplistic example - to where a good idea by Labour is automatically dissed by Tories and vice-versa, rather than being examined pragmatically on its merits.

Mind you, with Lakoff coming from the US, where the Republicans have more than the statistically expected share of total wing-nuts this would tend to scupper my views grin

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Tue 04-Feb-14 13:05:31

Would anyone disagree that the Scandies currently have the fairest, most gender-neutral societies and thus a decent framework for other countries to adopt? If this is the case, what does feminism see as the issues that prevent other western democracies becoming more like them? Is it just multiculturalism? They seem happier with the concept of wealth distribution. What makes this appealing to them and yet an anathema to the UK and US?

Freyalright Tue 04-Feb-14 13:21:31

Scandinavia seems to do a lot right but they are fairly racist societies. I was shocked when visiting friends in Norway and Sweden.

freyasnow Tue 04-Feb-14 13:31:08

ASA, I think that they potentially have systems that other countries at a similar level of economic development could adopt, if those countries were some way along the path towards that left wing attitude already. I don't think the US is anywhere near that point, but we could be.

I would say that the Scandinavian countries are defined by social attitudes that value children and family life highly and see that as the basis of the community. The US puts a high value on family but sees it as a private concern, separated from the community, while we put an extremely low value on family life. It would require a great shifting of social attitudes in the UK. We are talking about Scandinavian countries that have some combination of affordable housing, free high quality childcare, pay for SAHMs of young children, free higher education with high participation rates and businesses that value family life. It would require a huge change in social attitudes. The other issue is that wealth is concentrated in the UK with the very rich, and it would require redistribution of wealth.

I think it's problematic to look to other political systems and say 'they're quite good, let's be like them'. That implies that what we want is incremental change within the same system. I don't want that. Obviously it would be a great by-product, but the goal IMO is women's liberation.

For the same reasons, no, I don't want to consider women's liberation as the successor to the civil rights movement, personally.

Dervel Wed 05-Feb-14 10:28:27

First I have come across this framing concept I must do more reading, and thanks to Buffy for the link. What has been apparent to me for a long time although not particular to feminism is that we (in Western thought at least) tend to put the cart before the horse in argument and debate.

Logic is used terribly and we end up putting the cart before the horse far far too often. Whenever an argument is produced we often shore up our own positions with facts and try to dismantle the seemingly rational positions of our opponents. It is after all easier to destroy than to create the same is true of ideas and thought.

Valid logic at least as far as Wittgenstein's formalisation of it is great to communicate an idea, but actually logic in and of itself proves fuck and all in roughly that order, as valid logic requires a supposition which one either agrees with or doesn't. The suppositions we use are almost always informed about how feel about a subject, and it is actually very rare to sway a persons opinion with logic.

Emotions or more precisely how we feel about something is much more crucial. Say take the gender pay divide. There is no argument or logic beyond that it is simply not fair. You don't need to dress it up or faff and argue in fact attempts to do so obsfucate the strength of the position. One either feels fairness is critical or one doesn't. Not everything in life is black and white, but pretty much EVERY foundation pillar in feminism is: equal rights and pay is good, rape and objectification is evil, etc etc.

In fact nobody can argue against the basic positions without outing themselves as a bit of a shit. All too often though they get to side step that by spouting what they see as a righteous position to undermine.

rosabud Wed 05-Feb-14 19:57:59

I agree with Dusk on the 'This is how it is' points. I also think that the main reason we are failing to make a moral case for women's liberation is because women cannot be liberated TO anything until they are liberated FROM being objectified as the sex class - which covers everything from being objectified in porn to having to groom more intensively than men. The reason we cannot make a moral case for being lberated FROM objectification is because those who do not want women to be free from objectifation have successfully muddled up the morality of being objectified with the morality of sex itself (ie Victorian morals around sex as taboo, not a good thing etc). Thus any attempt to say that sexual objectification of women (or girls being allowed to grow up thinking they are just for sex, as Dusk puts it) is morally wrong will be countered with "there is nothing immoral about sex and women are morally allowed to have sex these days THEREFORE they can choose to pose for Page 3/act in porn films/sell sex/shave their armpits if they want to."

This sort of links to that thread we had a while back on how the sexual liberation of the 1960s may not have liberated women from sexual restrictions as much as it actually liberated women to make them more available for men's sexual pleasure/objectification.

So we are failing to make a moral case but, worse, those who want to continue oppressing women are making a moral case against us!!

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Wed 05-Feb-14 22:35:03

Wouldn't you be better served by making an economic case, rather than a moral one? Which do you think would influence those in power more?

Did you read the piece?

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Wed 05-Feb-14 22:52:23

Yes, I did. But I am not sure that morals as defined by Lakoff exist within the current political system. Even the UK Labour Party abandoned them in pursuit of allowing a few people to get stinking rich. We seem to be driven by fear, uncertainty and the pursuit of economic growth, not whether our fellow man is able to eat without resorting to a food bank. I am not sure morality cuts it any more.

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Wed 05-Feb-14 23:09:01

He is talking about the nurturant-family model for a framework that possesses 'empathy, interdependence, co-operation, communication, authority that is legitimate...' as if these are something that everybody wants. But that patently isn't true. I have spent some time working in the USA. I talk to colleagues who are by no means rich. As a Brit, an NHS seems the moral thing to do, and it would certainly improve the lives of millions of people over there. And yet they don't want it. A God-fearing, Jesus loving Christian society with a moderate President is rejecting Obamacare because (and I know this is an over-simplification) it isn't how they do things. So their morality is not our morality. So how do you build a moral framework that appeals to everyone, when everyone wants something different?

DuskAndShiver Wed 05-Feb-14 23:23:54

Artetas, you are staggeringly bad at reading.

It's about the power that morality has (any morality) as opposed to argument (any argument)

It's like love - if I wanted to take something for my children because I love them so much, and so did you for yours because you love them so much, we are both right (even if we can't both have the thing) - because love of two different things (or children) doesn't mean that they can't both be valid

but if you said "I want the thing for my child who is the apple of my eye, my reason for living since I lost my job and my home, and the freshest dearest most innocent person I know" I would make a rubbish job of countering it by saying "I want it for my child who, if she performs according to projections, will do exceptionally well in her SATs"

You just can't get over the knee-jerk pull of faux-logic - you can't even read the article properly because it is trying to get you to think in a different way

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Wed 05-Feb-14 23:55:15

And you are a staggeringly rude poster. This is a discussion. A to-ing and fro-ing of ideas. Others can come in with suggestions, different point of view, disagreements. You just seem to steam in with insults and a superiority complex. So I really can't be arsed to discuss with you. I'll wait until someone a bit less arrogant pops along.

DuskAndShiver Thu 06-Feb-14 10:22:39

Sorry, that was rude, it was an unacceptably blunt observation

I read it as saying that appealing to morality, which is emotional at core, not rational, will trump appealing to logic. Regardless of topic.

So my late grandmother (much beloved) would probably say that women should not work once they have children, because morally it is right that they should be there with those children, because nobody loves their children as much or cares for them better than their mother will.

I might say, but Nan, I can see why you would feel that way, but those feelings are socially constructed you see, because nobody can prove that mothers are actually more nurturing and loving than fathers are, it's just that capitalist-patriachy has always wanted to control women's sexuality and a very successful way of doing so was to create this compelling fiction about women being nurturing.

While I think my analysis is quite correct, it won't have made any difference to my Nan's emotional instinct that the "right thing" is for mothers to stay at home with their children.

Whereas a moral case might be "Nan it's not fair that so many women end up stuck in abusive marriages because they haven't been allowed to be independent" Or "Money is being stolen from women because they aren't allowed the same chances as men" or something.

Does that makes sense as an analogy?

ArtetasSwollenAnkle Fri 07-Feb-14 09:12:47

Just saw this, Dusk. Accepted. Thank you.

DonkeySkin Fri 07-Feb-14 11:20:00

I agree with Dusk that being conciliatory and making concessions only weakens the feminist position - it makes it sound as though women's liberation is a matter for debate, not a moral case.

And I agree with Buffy that trying to make that case by appealing to 'logic' is also a flawed strategy, as 'logical' analysis about the way the world works is and always has been defined by men, according to male interests.

But we are in a bind because making the case for women's liberation and human rights on the basis of women being human is a difficult one when the male is defined as the default human. As rosabud notes, women are the sex class, and anything you do to us along the axis of sex (pornification/objectification, prostitution, reproductive exploitation and control) is all part of the natural use of women - the harm just disappears, and people refuse to see it. Amnesty's recent position on prostitution is proof of that - where's the harm in millions of people of one sex being turned into a commodity to be bought and sold for sexual use by millions of people of the other sex? There's no injustice here - it's all just part of the way the world works!

One thing you rarely hear these days from feminists is the notion that women have a right to pursue women's liberation as an all-encompassing and transformational goal. The trend is to shrink feminism so that it's not a threat and or a world-changing movement - it is merely a series of adjustments that will make the current system more fair and equitable, which everyone already agrees with anyway (see Caitlin Moran) - who would be against a vague notion of equality for all people? The understanding that for women to truly free and 'equal' human beings, the world will have to be transformed in profound ways, and men will have to be divested of so much of their unearned and undeserved power, is rarely to be found in modern feminism.

I think, in trying to gain equality by appealing to 'logic', feminists have forgotten the fact that women do not need to convince men of the righteousness of our cause - as half of the population, we have the right to work towards the kind of world we would like to live in. We have the right not to live in a world shaped by the mass distribution of violent pornography, in which the trade in female bodies is a billion-dollar market, in which we are routinely paid less for the work we do and never paid at all for doing most of the world's reproductive and domestic labour.

I loved this speech by Finn Mackay given at last year's Feminism in London conference:

Our movement is indeed a threat. It is indeed threatening. For what is the point of a social movement that doesn’t envision a different world, what is the point of a social movement that doesn’t try everything in its power to make that vision a reality?

www.feministtimes.com/finn-mackay-feminism-threat/

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