The foundation of linguistic determinism,, defines feminism as, “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” I’ve described before how equality is an insufficient measure of defining feminism, and its failure becomes much more stark as time goes by. For instance, women are now as equally incapable as men of getting abortions as in certain US states. Feminism can’t be about equality because the issues facing women are distinct from the issues facing men. It’s a buzzword abused by the left just as tragically as “freedom” is by the right. I don’t mean to completely disparage the term (nor “freedom”, to be perfectly honest) since it does have its uses, but setting up equality as the goal of feminism is to ignore what feminists have been demanding for centuries.

We too can serve under capitalism to support the military industrial complex!

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 demanding a place for women in formal education. She argued that preventing women from becoming educated and then calling them dumb is a cruel, self-fulfilling prophecy. Modern examples would be certain vocations being hostile to women, preventing their participation, and then pointing to their menses as the reason they can’t participate, ignorant again of this gatekeeping hostility. To be clear, equal access to education is a significant portion of this argument, but the goal isn’t the equality in and of itself; it’s the education.

Similarly, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 with a less specific, but much more illuminating assertion. She posits that keeping women at home creates an unnamed ennui within them that can only be solved by their participation in the work force. This again requires an equality of opportunity, but Friedan is still not making an argument for equality, but an argument in repudiation of this mystique – that women ought to content themselves with the purpose intrinsic to cooking and cleaning. It’s a “mystique” because of its unnamed quality: up until this point, women were considered biologically-inclined to domesticity, so this role must be the only thing that could possibly matter to them. The language didn’t exist at the time to argue against this narrative.

Probably just a bout of hysteria

Strangely enough, the language was already there. Towards what end does one use an education or a vocation? Today we might say that the answer is money, but we’ve also forgotten that money is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The answer is actually to create meaning within our lives. Friedan recognized that forced domesticity is deeply unfulfilling – what are the results of the feminine mystique if not a lifelong existential crisis?

Existential philosophers have been talking about the angst of an unfulfilled life since before the suffragette movement (though, notably, not before Wollstonecraft). Victor Frankl recognized the necessity of meaning to existence. Albert Camus recognized the importance of embracing it even in the face of absurdity. Friedrich Nietzsche asked us to devote our lives to creating it. Existentialism is the pursuit of self-actualization in a universe that is actively trying to suppress it, whether through death or, in this instance, the patriarchy.

As Heidegger would say, women only exist authentically in a Being-Toward-Patriarchy

This is what the patriarchy is. It’s not the fancy name given to an unequal system; it’s the name of the cultural norms that systematically repress the existential potential of women. Consider the aforementioned criminalization of abortion. “Pro-life” is a harmful misnomer because it hides the reality of its repression. Consider Judith Thomson’s defense of abortion:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.

Do you have the right to choose to remove yourself from this situation that you did not consent to, regardless of the consequences on the life of this violinist? Of course you do. Perhaps the death of this violinist is no cause for jubilation, but the choice is still crucially yours. There’s a reason that critics of the pro-life movement call it “forced birth” rather than pro-life, because it more accurately describes what they’re advocating. The life of the unborn child, regardless of whether or not life begins at conception, has always been irrelevant to the woman’s right to choose.

Well that was a wasted nine months…

The distinction is important because we can see now that being forced to give birth is actually massively detrimental to a woman’s ability to live her own subjectively meaningful life. In a lot of cases, it’s not just forced birth, but forced motherhood. If she so chooses, motherhood can indisputably be hugely rewarding, but if not, she is tragically left with a Kierkegaardian mystique as her life is determined by outside forces.

Having your life defined by the powerful majority is not solely the purview of women. Black liberation movements are about reversing the historical suppression of self-actualization through Jim Crow, red-lining, and police brutality. It’s hard to live your best life when you’re being incarcerated by an unjust penal system. The queer focus on recognizing and accepting the different is about the ability of the different to live out their own self-actualization, even if their version of self-actualization isn’t exactly what Maslow might have had in mind. I think it’s a safe generalization to make that all social movements demanding equal rights are in reality simply asking for the opportunity to live their lives in the way they find most meaningful without some jerk forcing them into a box outside of that meaning. Hell, even Oscar Wilde recognized that under capitalism we are limited in our ability to self-actualize because we’re too busy labouring for the profits of others. You’re not going to be living your passion if you have to serve coffee to assholes in order to eke out increasing rent payments.

Noted socialist, Oscar Wilde. Albert Einstein was a socialist too, for your historical socialists lesson of the day!

One of the rare beautiful things about individualism is its recognition that our meaning ought not be determined by the collective. It’s even quite libertarian to insist that there be no suppression on the expression of that meaning (undeniably within reason). This is why modern day libertarians insist that current oppression is either rooted in biological inclination or in self-selected out-group culture – if the conditions were socially imposed, the cognitive dissonance would become too great.

Human beings, all of us, are meaning-seeking creatures. We want to lead fulfilling lives. It’s honestly such a simple, basic thesis that it ought to be glaringly obvious. It’s just that social structures have been implemented over time to prioritize the meaning of certain groups over others. The high school football player who rapes his female classmate is protected because his future, his ability to make meaning, is threatened by the legitimate consequences of his actions. He can go on to play college ball, and now she can’t get an abortion and is stuck with the life that was involuntarily thrusted upon her. His meaning is prioritized; her meaning is superfluous. It’s an unbalanced existentialism.

That’s patriarchy. Smashing it is feminism.