Note: This article is also available in Romanian.
When criticising feminism for its many and varied faults and bigotries I have not uncommonly found myself criticised in turn. “Fool! Don’t you realise that feminists are not all the same. There are many different types of feminist, so ranting on about all feminists is just ignorant and irrelevant.”
The first point I make in reply is that I haven’t said “all feminists…,” but just “feminists.” I agree that there is an ambiguity here, since I might be generalising over all feminists or just generalising over some. Feminists, however, are the last people who can complain about this ambiguity. For who has not observed them commit the fallacy of inferring conclusions about all men from premisses about only some men? (Rape culture, anyone?) Exploiting the ambiguity has been the mainstay of their rhetoric for many years. When pressed they retreat to the truth about some men (but fail to retract the conclusion that they have invalidly inferred) and when the pressure lets up they return to using the conclusion about all men.
When I say “feminists this” or “feminists that” I am generalising over the women who have formulated and propagated the central doctrines of modern feminism, and over anyone who subscribes to those doctrines. An illustrative list of the formulators and propagators, in no particular order, would be Greer, Friedan, Faludi, Wolfe, Sharpe, Dworkin, Steinem, Mackinnon, Harding, French, Millett, Segal, Boycott. More recently one might add the contributors to Jezebel and such éminence grises as Amanda Marcotte and Laurie Penny. There are many others, more obscure, who I could add to the list. It is not me that has constructed the central doctrines of feminism: feminists have; so it is not a question of whether you agree with my definition of feminism but whether what you choose to attach the word “feminism” to really is a sort of feminism.
Apparently plenty of women count themselves as feminists but they do not subscribe to the doctrines of feminism (as just defined) and such feminists claim I am being unfair to them. Now, whilst anyone can call themselves a feminist, what matters is what it is to be a feminist in a meaningful sense. For example, there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians who neither know nor subscribe to Christian doctrine. There is no meaningful sense in which they are Christians. The same is true for feminism. Although feminists are not all of exactly the same opinions, to count as a feminist in a meaningful sense one must subscribe to the central doctrines of feminism. Since I am criticising those doctrines I am not being unreasonable when I say “feminists…” in order to generalise over those people.
Sometimes self-appellating feminists deny that there are any central feminist doctrines because, they tell me, “feminism is a matter of to each his own.” Of course, they can’t actually put it in those words, or at least, not in one of them, because to do so requires the correct use of the masculine gender. Consequently they choke on reaching the word “each” as the awful realization dawns that the next word must be “his,” and head off into some garbled circumlocution. But that is what they mean, even when they must garble it. This is a disastrous move to make, since then feminism, by including everybody’s beliefs, becomes empty of distinctive content. To each his own reduces feminism to soulful mood music that may accompany any proposition.
Some such feminists are also Humpty Dumptyists: they believe that words can mean whatever they want them to mean and hence “feminism” can mean whatever they want it to mean.
“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “ I always pay it extra.”
Of course, it doesn’t matter which collections of syllables we use to represent which things, but if you allow the same word now to mean one thing and later another, you can’t pretend to be talking about the same thing now and later. Since “potatoes” refers to potatoes, saying that—while for some people potatoes are root vegetables, for others potatoes are green things that grow in trees—is not profound talk of a different sort of potato-hood but merely talking nonsense.
And that is the point of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty. “Glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument.” If you change the meaning of “glory” so that it does, what then are you going to use when you want to talk about glory? If we are to talk about things rather than merely to play with words, words cannot mean just whatever one wants them to mean when it gets to talking about those things. We can talk about glory and we can talk about nice knock-down arguments and we can talk about feminism, and we can use any words we wish to do so; if, however, having decided on those words, we now start changing what they mean again, we don’t end up with an exciting flexibility of thought, we just end up having no idea what we are talking about.
Now if feminists wish to insist upon it, I would be quite happy to agree that feminism is exactly whatever anyone says it is. If all it is to be a feminist is to call yourself one, without there being anything else in common between feminists, then feminism has no central doctrines: it is just whatever anybody wants it to be. Feminism is vacuous, and as such is defeated. No further obligation to refute its doctrines, all that remains is to spread more widely the appreciation of its vacuity. What a relief! And if a feminist insists that “feminism” is in the hands of Humpty Dumpty, what more need we say (as long as they pay it extra).
By contrast, whereas and insofar as feminists, speaking as such, present themselves as offering truth-evaluable claims, and since asserting a truth-evaluable claim commits one to denying whatever is incompatible with it, that self-presentation commits them to feminism having some distinctive content. So they face a dilemma: either feminism is to each his own, in which case it is vacuous, or it is not vacuous, when feminism cannot be to each his own but must have some distinctive content. And what else can that content be but the central feminist doctrines?
Unfortunately, there are a great many people who count themselves as feminists whilst being unaware of the actual doctrines of feminism. So the extent to which it might be a mistake to say “feminists think such and such” is the extent to which there are people around who call themselves feminists and who either indulge in the sort of nonsense analysed in the last few paragraphs or who don’t take their affiliations to political doctrines sufficiently seriously to bother to find out what the doctrines are. They just accept the feminist propaganda that feminism is about justice and fairness, and since we are all for justice and fairness, count themselves as feminists.
But every tyrant there ever was said they were for justice and fairness. Such people go along with whatever they take to be fashionable opinion and then get cross when they come in for criticism because of the doctrine to which they have allied themselves.
I agree that there are some feminists who could claim to be feminist in a meaningful sense and who are reasonable (Janet Radcliffe Richards, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Cathy Young, for example). On occasion these feminists have tried to make a distinction between themselves and the majority by referring to themselves as “equity feminists,” and the majority as “gender feminists.” Unfortunately, these feminists comprise a tiny minority and their doctrines have nothing to do with central feminist doctrines.
The doctrines put forward by equity feminists consist mainly in pointing out that there is nothing in liberal political philosophy which means it applies only to male humans (not an especially hard thing to do—just requires remembering that the word ‘men’ can refer to all humans).
Faith in there being mainstream feminists who are reasonable and there being serious thinking which underpins most feminist theory is a view that can only be maintained on the basis of ignorance of the central feminist doctrines–and the cover given by equity feminism. Equity feminists have been anathematised and suppressed by gender feminists and their doctrines have been explicitly rejected as being no form of feminism.
It is time to stop feminism as a whole trading on the reasonableness of the equity feminism which it has rejected. Equity feminists should therefore abandon the feminist tag altogether.
In conclusion, to proclaim oneself a feminist is to declare assent to and approval of the central doctrines of feminism and to ally oneself with the reasonably foreseeable consequences of those doctrines. Consequently it is entirely fair to confront such people with the actual doctrines to which they have allied themselves by their decision to call themselves feminist.
For them to reply that those doctrines aren’t feminist because they are a feminist and they don’t recognise them or agree with them is not a defence of a different feminism, but merely a declaration of their ignorance of feminism. Being a useful idiot for female supremacism is not occupying a moral high ground, and ignorance does not excuse it.
Hence, so what if not all feminists are like that? Feminism is.
 If feminism is truly to each his own we must include men as well as women and hence must use the masculine rather than feminine singular possessive pronoun—that is, we use the sex inclusive rather than sex exclusive pronoun, a fact about pronouns we all know but are obliged to pretend we don’t.