Mary Harrington, Reactionary Feminist


Came upon an article today by Marry Harrington, who calls herself a "reactionary feminist." I found it quite interesting.

Harrington notes quite rightly, that mainstream feminism rejects conservative or even just non-progressive women. As she puts it,

"I also learned that membership in the feminist club comes with small print. You cannot pursue feminist goals without signing up to a larger bundle of commitments under the banner of “progress,” such as climate justice, ­racial- and gender-minority rights, wealth redistribution, and so on. Reject those, and you will be excommunicated from the coalition of the righteous."

That's very true, and it has irritated me for quite some time. If I want to promote the situation of women, why do I have to sign up for every other progressive cause? This is especially galling with the embrace by N.O.W. and other mainstream feminist organizations of the trans agenda. To me, that is a complete non sequitar.

Harrington also points out that women's "sexual liberation" has gotten us the mantra "sex work is work," and the spectacle of 18 high school graduates establishing their OnlyFans page as a rite of passage or at least in lieu of a steady job. Sexual liberation has gotten us to the point where "something like 71 percent of men under 40 had choked, gagged or spat on a partner during sex, many inspired by porn to do so. Do a similar proportion of women under 40 enjoy being treated like that?"

In trying to build her progressive utopia, Harrington learned some hard lessons--lessons I've learned as well:

"In the web start-up I cofounded in the mid-2000s, we set out to divide the work of realizing our vision among five cofounders and to coordinate our activities non-hierarchically. What we got was not a self-­organizing cooperative but muddled objectives and tacit power games. These came to a head in bitter interpersonal conflicts, which helped prevent the project from getting beyond first-round funding. In that implosion I lost my best friend, my social circle and identity, and most of my anti-authoritarian idealism. Around the same time, I also discovered that the supposedly ­egalitarian and sexually liberated all-lesbian community I lived in was in fact hierarchical and riddled with competition. Whether the issue was who was cleaning the kitchen or who was sleeping with whom, excluding males from the household did not vanquish rivalry and exploitation. My attempts to escape hierarchy had only ensnared me in new hierarchies, just less visible than the traditional kind."

What did she do? Apparently she grew out her hair, got married to a man, and became happy. And in doing so, she came to some interesting conclusions:

"Marriage, for example, is often framed as a patriarchal institution aimed at controlling women’s sexuality. But because premarital sex carries much greater risks for women than for men, social norms in favor of marriage as a precondition for sex, benefit women (and children) at least as much as men. It is not clear that feminist efforts to smash those norms have delivered greater happiness for women." Amen to that. Monogamous, faithful marriage is THE peace treaty between male and female interests, I believe.

But perhaps her most eloquent words are reserved for how contemporary (not first wave) feminism has abandoned women by devaluing motherhood and making it, if anything, harder for feminists to embrace motherhood. Persuasively, she suggests this is not just a problem for modern feminists on th, but also a problem for conservatives, who consistently vote against anything that would help mothers have more time with their children:

"Deafness to the possibility that many mothers don’t want to be any more liberated from our children is evident among both social (that is, left-wing) and economic (that is, right-wing) liberals. Its roots are in an anthropology that depicts humans as radically atomized and in flight from all constraint—constraints of convention, the past, each other, and our own bodies. Motherhood reveals the limits of this anthropology. It may seem obvious that physical self-ownership is fundamental to individual freedom; but the moment you become pregnant, your self-ownership is compromised. To be pregnant is to be radically unfree (if by “free” we mean unconstrained).Do women have bodily autonomy, or not? Inasmuch as modernity—in its liberal or conservative ­outworkings—takes the pursuit of autonomy as its metric of progress, it struggles to make sense of motherhood. Both liberal and conservative feminisms share this basic commitment to freedom and progress. Both feminisms marginalize mothers, albeit in different ways."

Very well said. I agree that there are positions on the left and positions on the right that are antithetical to what I feel is feminism, which is why I wrote the AEROW Manifesto.

More from Harrington on the inadequacy of the right and the left to lift women:

"Left feminism seeks to challenge all sex-based constraints in the name of male-female sameness. It rejects sex differences in favor of a “blank slate” theory of personality and treats women who prefer domestic to career activities as class traitors. At its most thoroughgoing, it argues for a transactional approach to women’s sexual and reproductive lives, one that normalizes prostitution, legitimates pornography as a career, frames gestation as “parasitic,” and proposes surrogacy as the template for family life.

"Its pursuit of sameness has culminated in the surreal spectacle of a feminism that seeks to liberate women from the need to be female. Recent moves to abolish biological sex in law have been hailed as victories in an “­intersectional” progressive project, and resistance is decried as “gate­keeping womanhood based on physiological traits.” This despite the fact that abolishing sex segregation is clearly to the detriment of females on sports teams or in changing rooms, prisons, and women’s refuges. Such effects are of little concern to wealthy women who benefit from a “gender-neutral” culture in their workplaces and are unlikely to find themselves incarcerated or fleeing domestic violence.

"Right feminism is less radically atomistic but no more coherent. Feminist conservatives tend to embrace a mix of pro-life, pro-fertility, pro-­liberty, and pro-capitalism stances—a cocktail that idealizes feminine sex roles while undermining the social and economic conditions that once made these roles broadly workable.

"Consider the argument made ­recently by AEI’s Angela Rachidi, who criticized Sen. Romney’s proposed child allowance on the grounds that, if it were implemented, “more than one third of unmarried women would reduce their employment by at least one hour per week”—in other words, single moms could spend an extra hour with their kids each week, without suffering financially.

"The upshot is a muddled doctrine that protests the killing of babies in utero, while resisting policies that would improve the lives of those babies once born. A true pro-child policy would not resist state action to support family formation or extend maternity leave beyond a brutally short few weeks.

"Right feminism thus echoes the marginalization of mothers we observe on the left: Both treat motherhood as a problem to be solved. Liberal or conservative, a feminism that prioritizes freedom will always laud women for transcending our constraints, while overlooking the (usually female) drudges who enable that. The domain of care will remain second-class. Women will succeed at feminism only insofar as we succeed at not being mothers.

"The gap between the number of children American women want and the number they have has been growing for more than a decade. As we reach the far end of the industrial era, the anthropology of freedom that powered that era is delivering a nightmare of sterility and leaving women politically homeless.

"As economic growth comes ­unmoored from mass prosperity, liberal feminism is serving the interests of the overclass, whose members can afford to subcontract domesticity. Conservative feminism serves a dwindling middle class, whose members can still afford to choose between subcontracting domesticity and raising a family on a single income. Neither feminism acknowledges that “progress,” insofar as it entails freedom from obligation and constraint, is hostile to mothers. Inescapably, a feminism that supports mothers today finds that it must oppose progress."

Amen, amen! So what does Harrington suggest?

"we need a movement grounded in pragmatic realities. Male and female bodies are different; humans can’t change sex; most women want to have children; ­heterosexuality is the default human condition; outsourcing domestic chores is a movement to reintroduce a servant class; children do better in stable two-parent families; and our hyperfocus on individual freedom is a central factor in the plummeting of birthrates worldwide. Against technological developments that promise to free us from love, longing, and human nature itself, restating these truths is an act of feminist resistance.

We are liberated enough. What we need is more and better obligations: a feminism that seeks the proper limits on freedom for both sexes. . . . A reactionary feminism seeks to honor women by accepting as givens the things that make us human: our bodies and our relationships. It asks how we might frame our obligations justly, between the sexes, in the interest of the common good. Women must negotiate new social and economic conditions, not in a spirit of zero-sum conflict with men, but alongside our friends, husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. The aim is not to return to some imagined perfect past, but to reach a future unshackled from the dystopian pursuit of progress. The only escape from a nightmare of atomization and war between the sexes is the recognition that we are embodied creatures, and that interdependence is not oppression but the very thing that makes us human."

This is where Harrington ends her essay. There is a lot of sense in what she says. But now we must find that path.