Ok, bear with me. Religious folk – particularly fundamentalists – are often at odds with the Social Justice Warrior type of feminist. However, this piece is intended to analyze how the practice of feminism reflects that of religion. Moreover, I seek to highlight the absolutist and faith-based similarities. Onto the dogma!
Feminism as a movement has always struck me as kind of creepy. On the surface, there’s nothing particularly objectionable about the dictionary definition for the term: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. We could quibble about what is meant by equality, but I’m going to charitably assume that equality under the law is a primary aim here. So far so good. I then began to wonder, why not be an equalist? Isn’t that the same thing? Many feminists say no: the real issues are suffered by women, and the focus should remain there. I bring this up because terminology is incredibly important to the movement. Feminists share little love for Merriam Webster and have produced a sprawling new lexicon as well as redefining old words. For your convenience, hyperlinks will be provided for the more esoteric terms.
The idea of feminism draws upon two ideas that underpin much, if not all, of the philosophy: privilege and oppression. Let’s start with privilege. Privilege is the idea that you possess an advantage in life by virtue of just being who you are. Your physical and mental attributes bestow upon you more respect from others, a higher status in society, a voice that is always listened to, and countless other supposed perks. Privilege in this context is essentially Original Sin. The origins of your privilege stem from past events that were in no way under your control. Try as you might, this is not something you can shed. Privilege can only be realized after (often harsh) criticism from your unprivileged peers and consequent confession to your sins of privilege. I mention fellow peers here because they are integral to the social hierarchy of feminism when dealing with any topic tied to certain privileges.
When dealing with the arbitration of privilege, the group is largely akin to Christianity before the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press. Only leaders of the church possessed the scriptures, and only they could understand them (with the masses being largely illiterate and unfamiliar with Latin). So too is how the “priest” class of feminism serves to operate on matters of privilege. Think of feminism’s social stratification as a caste system; your standing in this community is largely decided by your station at birth. Like I mentioned above, you can try to move up or down in the system, but it is generally impossible. The most you can hope to achieve is a more complete realization of the group you occupy. Let’s break down the metrics we can use to determine your place in feminism’s conception of society. The über privileged person is a white, cis gender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, educated, wealthy, thin male. Your privilege determines how much you contribute to systemic oppression of unprivileged groups, so we can consider the aforementioned male the paragon of oppressors. Our priest class consists of those appreciably deviating from the über privileged male. These could be things like being female, a person of color (POC) transgender, etc. I bestow upon this group the title of priest because they possess a monopoly in both determining the magnitude of and repentance required for the “sins” of privilege. This creates a rather unique dynamic in the power structure: gaining more power in the feminist’s “real world” has the effect of diminishing your power and standing within the feminist community.
All this sounds simple (simplistic?) enough, but the priest class – like any group in a position of power – has competition among its members for that power. In feminism, this is correlated with the oppression you experience. When analyzing feminist dogma, oppression presents itself as something akin to god. It is omnipresent, permeating us all and the things we think, say, or do. It is always with us. We can try to question its existence, but those who believe assure us that even a modicum of dissent is futile. You cannot be a Christian if you do not accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Likewise, you will be excommunicated from feminism if you reject systemic oppression critiques from the priest class. For example, claiming patriarchy is dead is an easy matter for feminists to rally around and crush heretics, but the subjective nature of the system makes other topics much harder to adjudicate.
Thanks to intersectionality, we have a way to mix and match marginalizations and privileges to get a more nuanced critique of how important your perspective is among other priests. This is important because being more oppressed than another person gives you the license to direct the narrative as you see fit, silence opponents by telling them to “check their privilege,” and assert your experiences as one of the more authentic voices within the broader dialogue. In fact, it is imperative that your voice is amplified because the status of your worse oppression necessarily means that people must be ignoring you. Let’s pretend I’m having a conversation with another white male social justice warrior (SJW). Wait, back up. Who exactly is this guy? It turns out he’s a male-identifying trans, pansexual, white person. Therefore when it comes to discussing social justice matters, it is evident that I, as a cis white male, should not be allowed to have an independent or dissenting opinion. It’s a good thing that we checked his gender identity – and my privilege! – because the validity of claims in a feminist debate stem from people’s inherent attributes. As such, groups designated as marginalized are free to use the genetic logical fallacy with impunity.
What if I want to help the downtrodden? Believe it or not, I am a vocal proponent of treating men and women equally under the law. At best, I am graciously given the privilege of being an Ally. What does this entail? Essentially, you must be utterly subservient to those deemed less privileged than you. Seriously. Don’t assert yourself. Shut up and listen. Do the bidding of those less privileged. Being an Ally is one of the actions accepted by the priest class to absolve yourself of the sins of privilege. But be careful! Your title of Ally is always conditional on the whims of others. Marginalized groups will not hesitate to treat you with skepticism and question your Ally status. From the male gaze to microaggressions, there are countless subtle phrases and body language that you must self-police to stay in good graces with marginalized groups.
Now, you may find these concerns irrelevant to you personally. But that’s where you’re wrong. Creating the many privileged classes noted above in the über male has the dual effect of making almost every person simultaneously privileged and oppressed. Selecting just a few, you have privileges like being male (50% of the population), heterosexual (~96%), and cis gendered (~99.8%). This is probably the most brilliant tool of feminist ideology. Giving everyone measures of privilege and oppression sweeps us all into a confusing mess of subjective experience. Ardent SJWs are then able to move forward under the premise that essentially all people are guilty, and they can then focus their righteous justice toward the issue that most resonates with them. Additionally, they can emphasize their own measure of privilege to martyr themselves within the community, thereby gaining more feminist street cred.
This is why feminism comes off as being so theological. Much like many people have interpreted the bible different ways over time, feminism provides as many truths as you wish. Its foundation rests on subjective experience of systemic oppression, so the opinions of believers will perpetually be at odds with one another. The concept of using discourse and debate to strengthen and advance a movement is laudable. This is not what we see in feminism. The argument too often stems from experience rather than ideas. We can see this unstable position in action as feminists “progress” to the point of eating their own. I hope this has shed some light on why I find the group disconcerting. Faith in the movement and feeling are what sustain feminism. Barring a correction in their dogma, they will be their own undoing.