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[Content warning: child-on-child sexual abuse, rape]

If there is one thing that the history of this blog has shown, it’s that I absolutely love answering strawmanny questions people ask about people with my ideology. (Seriously. Send me lists. It makes my day.)

Future Female Leaders, which identifies itself as “America’s leading social network for young, conservative women,” has some questions for radical feminists. I’m not actually in any way a radical feminist– boring liberalism to the core over here– but I think “radical” is a term which here means “literally in any way at all.” So I consider it to be perfectly valid for me to answer these questions.

1) How is being pro-choice, or pro-abortion, supporting equality for all: mother, father, and baby?

The difference between pro-choice people and pro-life people, in general, is that pro-choice people don’t think a fetus has the same right to life that we give to a human being outside the womb, and pro-life people do.

Certainly there are exceptions– pro-choice people who believe so strongly in bodily autonomy that they think you should be able to kill an innocent person to protect it, pro-life people who are primarily interested in limiting sexual promiscuity– but in general I find that this is the case.

I’m not going to go into the entire issue of how much right to life a fetus should have. (I say “how much” because many pro-choice people think that a fetus has a little bit of a right to life, and that means that it is wrong to, for example, carelessly fail to use birth control so that you have to have an abortion.) But you can understand how, thinking of a fetus as a potential person, a robust right to abortion protects everyone.

The vast majority of men have PIV sometimes when it would be a really bad idea for them to have a baby. They might have PIV with a woman with whom they don’t want to coparent; they might not want children; they might not have the emotional or financial resources to be a parent right now; they might have an infant or young child already. Of course, in those situations, the couple should use highly reliable birth control. But sometimes people don’t have access to highly reliable birth control or make a mistake and don’t use it, and even the most reliable birth control fails. (For example, if every man and every woman in the US paired up into a couple, and every one of those couples used an IUD, we would expect a little less than 150,000 unplanned pregnancies a year.) Therefore, it protects men if they have the option to have their partner end a pregnancy they do not want.

From a pro-choice point of view, a fetus is not a real person like an infant; a fetus is a potential person, like the eggs or sperm currently in your gonads. Our intuitive system of population ethics says that no particular potential person has a right to come into being: if you refrain from PIV on Saturday, you are not harming the child who would have been conceived if you had PIV on Saturday. However, our intuitive system of population ethics also says that it is possible to harm potential people. If before your child was born you had a deficiency in an essential nutrient that caused damage to the egg, and your child lived three weeks in horrible pain that was not treatable with painkillers and then died, you would have harmed your child. It would be a good thing to delay the pregnancy for three months while you get that nutrient deficiency sorted out.

The vast majority of situations where a fetus is aborted cause harm to the potential person. No one wants to be raised by a parent who doesn’t have the money to raise a child, or who doesn’t have the emotional resources to be a loving and supportive parent, or who feels unhappy and resentful about having a kid. Therefore, abortion leads to the best outcomes for the fetus, a potential person, as well.

What if there’s a conflict of interests? What if the father desperately wants the child and the mother does not, or the fetus would be very happy if it became a person but the mother would be very unhappy in that situation? Well, it is impossible to ask for a fetus’s opinion on things, so the fetus cannot make the final choice, regardless of one’s position on population ethics. The mother and father have more-or-less identical interests in the child (they both might have to pay child support, they both might enjoy parenting, and so on), except that the mother has the additional interest that if she continues the pregnancy she has to have a chronic illness for nine months and then perhaps be tortured. Therefore, she gets the final say.

2) Do you really believe that American women are horribly oppressed when there are women in other countries that cannot vote, drive, file for divorce, etc?

Let me try another example which is no doubt close to conservatives’ hearts.

Many conservatives complain about certain aspects of American society, such as high taxes and burdensome regulations. But lots of countries are way worse than America on this front! In North Korea, private sector business is virtually impossible, all property belongs to the state, and the government commands virtually every aspect of the economy. Many countries that are less batshit than North Korea are still awful: they don’t adequately protect property rights, it’s very difficult to start a new business, and the tax burden is extreme. Any businessperson would rather start a business in the United States than in Haiti, Malawi, or Mongolia, to pick three of the Heritage Foundation’s “mostly unfree” countries. Therefore, it doesn’t make any sense to complain about taxes, regulation, and property rights in America.

I think a conservative would have any number of reasonable responses to this, such as:

  • I live in America and thus have a particular concern about conditions in America specifically.
  • I can’t do anything about North Korea, but I can improve conditions in America, such as by voting or writing my congressperson.
  • We’re supposed to be the beacon of the free world that inspires other countries and we’re clearly falling down on the job.
  • I just happen to care more about economics in America, and you shouldn’t yell at people who are doing a good thing if they aren’t doing the best thing when you don’t yell at people who spend all day sitting on their butts playing stupid iPhone games.
  • The fact that things are worse someplace else doesn’t make what’s going on here okay.

That is exactly why many American feminists care about sexism in America.

3) How do you hold yourself on such a pedestal for promoting “equality for all women” but then bash women who do not agree with you?

Feminism is the idea that women should be equal to men, and more generally the idea that we should not have sexist gender roles limiting people’s behavior. It is not the idea that no women are ever wrong, stupid, evil, or ignorant. If you look outside at the world, you will observe the existence of many wrong, stupid, evil, and ignorant women, and that does not disprove feminism.

In fact, the idea that women are all thoughtful, good, and right about everything is the opposite of feminism. Everyone agrees that wrong, stupid, evil, and ignorant men exist. Therefore, if we pretend (in defiance of all evidence) that wrong, stupid, evil and ignorant women don’t exist, we’re treating men and women differently based on their gender, which is sexist.

Therefore, there is nothing contradictory about feminists bashing women whom they disagree with.

4) Why do you consider government restrictions on abortion “politicians being all up in your business” but are happy with politicians and the government dictating which healthcare you must have, what you must learn in school, and taxing you left and right?

I can only answer as one feminist; I imagine many feminists have different opinions on this fundamental question.

I believe all people should have certain basic freedoms, and that the duty of society is to provide people with these freedoms. One of our most basic freedoms is the ability to have control over our own sexual and reproductive lives. Sexuality and reproduction are, for many people, very important, to the point of striking at the heart of who we are as people. It is inappropriate for the government to make this sort of private, important decision for a person.

However, some freedoms cannot be meaningfully exercised if they are just negative freedoms (“freedom from”); they must also be positive freedoms (“freedom to”). (To e clear, the fact that you should have the positive freedom to do something does not mean the positive freedom should necessarily be provided by the government, as opposed to private charities, the market, social norms, etc.) Abortion is, actually, one of those freedoms. You are not free to have an abortion if there is no abortion provider in your state or if you can’t afford to have an abortion, which is why feminists are concerned about abortion access as well as abortion legality.

Healthcare is also private. The government has no right to force you to receive healthcare against your will or without your informed consent; in fact, in many cases, forcing someone to receive healthcare against their will is considered a form of battery. There is considerable debate about the best way to give people the positive freedom to access healthcare, which is mostly irrelevant to this blog post. Unfortunately, we cannot give people the unlimited freedom to access as much healthcare as they want, because there are too few doctors and hospitals; all forms of allocating healthcare involve some form of rationing.

In the United States, the government does not regulate what you have to learn; it simply offers a public option for schooling. More than half of states have no enforced requirements about what children should learn when they are homeschooled, and most of the remaining states merely require that children learn reading, writing and math. Further, education is a proper concern for the state. Children are not yet capable of exercising freedom the way that adults do, and so the state takes a paternalistic attitude towards them. Many adult freedoms can only be fully exercised by people who were properly educated as children (for example, one cannot take advantage of freedom of the press if one can neither read nor write), so a small amount of coercion can result in more freedom of choice overall.

Finally, while taxes do limit people’s control over their own money, they allow the state to provide many essential services, such as police, the military, food stamps, etc. I think that is a tradeoff worth making.

5) Why are you more concerned about fictional characters on fictional television shows getting fictionally raped than real men having their real lives ruined by very false rape accusations? I’m looking at you, Rolling Stone.

False rape accusations are bad. It is wrong to falsely accuse people of rape. Those who knowingly make false accusations to the police should be charged with wasting police time. The Innocence Project is doing excellent work. We should demand reforms to the criminal justice system, including a complete ban on pseudoscientific forensics, so that the only people who go to prison are those who have committed a crime. If someone you know has made a false accusation and has not apologized and made amends, you should, in general, avoid interacting with them in order to provide support to their victim.

Some feminists have claimed that false accusations never happen or are “as rare as a lightning strike.” I point the reader to Scott Alexander’s excellent blog post debunking these statistics. We need to do better, particularly given that false accusations are a common tool of abusers (it’s the RVO part of DARVO). As feminists and anti-abuse advocates, we cannot find ourselves providing comfort to abusers.

That said, I don’t believe anyone’s life was ruined about the A Rape On Campus story, except perhaps the author’s, and she deserves it. A fraternity was vandalized, and all fraternities on UVA campus were briefly suspended; neither is life-ruining. The accuser accused a person who didn’t actually exist, and who therefore does not have a life to be ruined. It seems like the author of this series of questions should also be concerned about the possibility that they’re prioritizing the feelings of fictional characters over those of real people.

Fiction matters because fiction influences our beliefs about the world. It doesn’t do so directly or deterministically or didactically; but it does so profoundly, for all that. Movies glamorized smoking. The CSI TV series made more people interested in crime scene investigation. Advertisers pay for product placement because they think that if fiction depicts a car as cool then people will be more likely to drive it. The murders and rapes and kidnappings in our fiction make us believe the world is more dangerous, even as it becomes safer. Feminists are concerned about the depiction of rape in media not because we think that fictional characters have feelings but because we are concerned that the way rape is depicted on TV can have effects on actual rape victims, perpetrators, and bystanders in real life.

6) Why have you let Lena Dunham become a spokesperson for your cause, a woman who has admitted to taking advantage of her younger sister sexually and doing “anything a sexual predator might do”?

First, Lena Dunham is famous because she wrote that TV show Kylo Ren was in before he hit people with lightsabers. Famous people have a big platform, which means that when they talk about feminism more people listen than when I do. It is not like there was an election and Lena Dunham was voted President of Feminism. We have no power to give Lena Dunham a smaller platform except by not watching her TV show. I already don’t do that, because I have a strict lightsabers-only media policy.

Second, let’s be clear about the actual allegations here: Lena Dunham, age seven, curiously looked at her then-one-year-old sister’s vagina. As a teenager, she occasionally masturbated while her sister was sleeping in her bed. She also at various unspecified (but young) ages gave her sister candy to kiss her. Obviously, you shouldn’t bribe your sister with candy to kiss you, and it’s an enormous boundary violation to masturbate while someone is sleeping in your bed. (The vagina thing is just a seven-year-old being curious.) But there’s a reason that if a child steals a candy bar we don’t send them to prison for shoplifting. Children and teenagers are not fully mentally developed and are not responsible for their actions the same way that adults are. Treating children as if they are identical to adult sex criminals causes people to criminalize ordinary curiosity about sex and to unreasonably punish behavior which, while wrong, does not indicate the child will grow up to be a rapist. It leads to policies that destroy people’s lives.

7) Do you really think being able to walk around topless is a freedom that women need to live a good life?

Is walking around topless a freedom that men need to live a good life?

Men take off their shirts in public because it’s hot out and they’d like to exercise or (sometimes) because they would like to show off how attractive their chests are. These are not particularly important reasons in the grand scheme of things. However, if you’re allowing men to do something and forbidding women to do the same thing, purely because of gender, that is in fact sexist: it’s treating men and women differently for no reason other than their gender.

Some people might object that men experience visual sexual attraction and therefore women shouldn’t take their shirts off. This argument implies that gay and bi men don’t exist, which is a bit strange: at the very least shouldn’t taking your shirt off be taboo if you’re a man in San Francisco? It also implies the nonexistence of straight and bi women who experience visual sexual attraction, which is a bit hard to square with, for example, that girl who bit through her retainer when she saw Erik Killmonger shirtless.

Straight women appreciate this scene in a completely nonsexual fashion.

It is not clear to me why straight and bi men experiencing visual sexual attraction means that women should not take their shirts off. Judging by both my personal experience and straight men’s porn habits, they seem to enjoy looking at women without their shirts on, so if anything it is a favor to them. (I just asked a straight man of my acquaintance and he said “that sounds GREAT! Who is even against that, religious conservatives who are afraid they will go to hell for having boners?”) Certainly some women would prefer that men not look at their chests sexually, but those women are free to leave their shirts on, just as men who don’t want their chests to be looked at sexually can leave their shirts on. No one is proposing a tyranny of mandatory shirtlessness.

I suspect in many cases the problem is not “men experience visual sexual attraction” but “certain men would not appreciate women’s chests in a quiet and polite way, but would instead make rude, upsetting, and perhaps frightening comments.” I think the problem here is clearly with the men who make rude and upsetting comments, and if anyone’s freedom should be curtailed it’s theirs. Perhaps all of us– women who want to go shirtless on a hot day and men who would like to look at shirtless women– should keep spray bottles in our bags and squirt those men when they make rude comments, much like one squirts a cat who is trying to climb on the couch.

But there is another, more important reason for women to have top freedom.

Over the course of their lives, many women feed babies with their breasts. Reliable studies show that breastfeeding is linked to small but real benefits for both mothers and babies. In particular, PROBIT, a large randomized controlled trial of a successful breastfeeding intervention, suggests that breastfeeding may cause a gain of five points of IQ. Breastfeeding is inexpensive and, for many parents, convenient. And I’m sure everyone who’s ever listened to a crying baby in public is happy about the fact that putting a hungry baby to a breast takes far less time than preparing a bottle.

As a culture, we should make breastfeeding as easy for women as possible, if for no other reason than to save the eardrums of those who happen to share an airplane or a restaurant with a baby. It would be unreasonable to demand every building contain a lactation room. Going into the bathroom to feed your baby is humiliating and can result in a long wait time if someone is already in there. Fumbling with nursing covers is difficult for the already sleep-deprived (and, remember, the whole idea here is that we want to put as little time as possible in between the baby being hungry and the baby being fed). And I’m sure we all agree that women with babies should be able to participate in public life.

There’s a simple solution here. It’s that we, as a society, get over ourselves and accept that sometimes, in the process of feeding a baby, you will see a bit of boob or a brief flash of nipple.

Men have two pretty unimportant reasons to show strangers their chests. Women have two pretty unimportant reason and one very important reason. Why, then, is only the latter taboo? Sexism.

8) How do you make supporting the right to abortion a tenant of feminism when the majority of abortions performed worldwide are due to the child being female, or also known as gender-selective abortions?

Sex-selective abortion. The phrase you’re looking for is “sex-selective abortion.” Gender-selective abortions would involve inventing a prenatal test for transness.

It is difficult to estimate how many sex-selective abortions there are in the world, since sex-selective abortions mostly occur in developing countries and often in countries in which sex-selective abortion is illegal. Experts do believe the “missing women” problem is not solely caused by sex-selective abortion. Other causes include female infanticide and inadequate healthcare and nutrition for girls. Therefore, I don’t think it’s possible to reliably state what percentage of world abortions are sex-selective.

It is unclear to me to what extent sex-selective abortion trades off against the other causes of missing women. If it does, then sex-selective abortion might actually be a good thing, because it is better that a potential person not be brought into existence than that a real girl be starved to death.

Clearly, we should fight patriarchy in developing countries as well as developed countries. But it is not clear to me that banning abortion would have this effect. If parents are not allowed to abort female fetuses, they will still value women less than men, and that will have effects throughout their daughter’s life– on the amount she is fed, on her education, on her health, on whether she is abused. Conversely, if we try to create a society in which men and women are valued equally, it will prevent sex-selective abortion and sexist mistreatment of girls and women. The latter seems like a better deal all around.

9) When you say “Teach men not to rape” are you meaning to imply that men have been, in the past, taught TO rape, or that men are the only people capable of rape. Mary-Kay Letourneau, anyone?

You are absolutely right that all people, regardless of gender, should be taught not to commit rape. The erasure of female rapists is a serious issue in modern-day feminism.

The idea that we should teach people not to rape does not necessarily imply that people were, at some point, taught to rape. We have to teach toddlers to pee in the potty, preschoolers not to hit, and teenagers not to drive drunk. This is not because some malicious person is going around teaching people to pee on the floor, hit each other, and drive after six shots of tequila. It is because civilized behavior is often very different from natural behavior.

And are we so sure that no one is teaching men to rape? I suspect that, if they are not taught ethics, many people will use violence, threats, or coercion to get what they want, including sexual things they want. But I– along with most other feminists– believe there is also a cultural role. When we teach women that men always want sex, we’re teaching them to rape men. When we equate masculinity with sexual success, or encourage women to play hard to get and men to play along, or create media depicting men ignoring women’s nonsexual nos as sexy and romantic, we’re teaching men to rape women. When we teach children that they’re not allowed to say “no” to hugs and kisses, food they don’t like and clothing that is uncomfortable, we’re teaching people of all genders that they don’t get to say “no” unless they have a ‘good reason’ and they don’t have to respect a “no” unless the other person has a ‘good reason.’

Finally, while obviously no one of any gender should have sex with their thirteen-year-old student, Mary Kay and Vili Fualaau have been married for thirteen years and have two children, and Fualaau does not consider himself to be a victim. I feel like this is an odd poster child for women raping men.

10) Do you really think the original feminists, the women who fought for the right to vote, would be proud of you fighting for the right to bare your lady parts, abort your children and shame men into submission like you claim they would?

Yes.

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