Home / Blog / Article


July 3 2017

If You Have to Be a Man-Hating Feminist, At Least Be an Analytic Philosopher

by Charlotte Allen

I read the online version of the campus trade-paper The Chronicle of Higher Education pretty regularly to keep up with the latest ideological follies in overpriced academia.

So when I saw this headline--"Can Feminist Scholarship Stop Sexism?"--I decided I'd struck gold.

And sure enough, author Becca Rothfeld, a philosophy grad student at Harvard, didn't disappoint:

Most women in the academy or the literary world have at one point or another been cast as headstrong girls who talk too much and too loudly, whose demands are voraciously great: too much, crazy, hysterical, shrill....

When killjoys refuse to identify cheerfully with the roles forced upon us, to enjoy our weddings or our domestic assignments, to agree with men’s arguments or praise their accomplishments, we are reprimanded for our obstinacy, as if the vagaries of identity were voluntary. The presumption of whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, and cis-sexuality functions as a mandate. To depart from these categories is to pose a rude interruption.

When killjoys refuse to identify cheerfully with the roles forced upon us, to enjoy our weddings or our domestic assignments, to agree with men’s arguments or praise their accomplishments, we are reprimanded for our obstinacy, as if the vagaries of identity were voluntary. The presumption of whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, and cis-sexuality functions as a mandate. To depart from these categories is to pose a rude interruption.

Oh boy, thought I. Here's someone who can't even be happy at her own wedding.

Rothfeld was reviewing a book called Living a Feminist Life, which sounds like the reason only 23 percent of women define themselves as feminists. The author, Sara Ahmed, directed the Center for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, University of London, until 2016, when she resigned to protest the way the college handled some sexual harassment charges against staffters. Ahmed also has a blog, feministkilljoys, which is must-reading if you're into turgid and meandering--but very feminist!- prose. Here are some samples from the book:

'White male genealogy is protected by the assumption that anyone who challenges that genealogy suffers from self-obsession."

"The question of how to live a feminist life is alive as a question as well as being a life question."

"A body in touch with a world can become a body that fears the touch of a world."

But strangely enough, Rothfeld didn't give Living a Feminist Life a rave rview: That was because Rothfeld's specialty is analytic philosophy, the branch of philsophy that, thanks to its pioneers G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, dominates the philosophical Anglosphere and prizes clear writing and logcial thinking above all else. So Rothfeld wrote:

...I thought Living a Feminist Life sloppy and imprecise.

Gee, rhat was exactly my reaction! Rothfeld continues:

For instance, why does Ahmed so often use the word "bodies" ("only certain bodies are speaking at an event," "some bodies are in an instant judged as suspicious") when she seems to mean something like persons?

Maybe she relies on this terminology unthinkingly, just because it’s trendy. ("Bodies" are "regulated" or "surveilled" in "disciplinary" "networks," etc.) Or does she mean to emphasize her materialism? Yet much of the book presupposes that categories founded on the basis of physical identity are constructions: that is, they are aphysical. If we accepted that femininity has an anatomical basis, we would have difficulty swallowing much of Ahmed’s platform. So at the very least, "a body" is not obviously synonymous enough with a "person" to warrant the employment of the word without justification.

Or consider this passage: "A norm is something that can be inhabited. I think of a norm as rather like a room or dwelling." How is a norm any more like these things than anything else, except trivially?

But please don't  get the idea that just because Rothfeld's analytic-philosophical training led her to reject dreary feminist writing styles, she hadn't rejected the underlying permise of feminism, which is relentless antagonism toward the male sex. Her review ended as follows--and she was talking about men:

One day we will devour them whole, and we will not be sorry.

Yikes! But if you have to be a man-hating feminist, at least be a man-hating feminist analytic philosopher.

Most women in the academy or the literary world have at one point or another been cast as headstrong girls who talk too much and too loudly, whose demands are voraciously great: too much, crazy, hysterical, shril
Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us