Feminism, sex-differences and chivalry

On which side should the men’s movement focus its activism — on the similarities or differences between the sexes?

The thinkers among us will stay abreast of both sides of the argument, however in the realm of activism most will take up a position one way or the other.

Arguments for sameness or difference rest on a more fundamental dyad, the biological and cultural – topics that have been tackled extensively in manosphere discussion circles, though I’m not sure we have gained good mileage from them in the fight against gynocentrism.

Regardless of whether we fixate on biological imperatives, or on the biology-shaping power of culture, the gender war rages on unchecked.

So just for a moment, let’s partition-out the hard scientific discussions of biology vs. culture, and pay more attention to the rhetorical leverage points of sexual politics – to those emotive generalizations about sameness/difference. All feminist reasoning, all female privilege, and all misandry start from there.

Departing from the usual MRA emphasis on differences, real and significant biological ones, this article will make a case for focusing on the similarities, on the things men and women have in common as the most effective basis for tackling gynocentrism. Emphasizing only differences between the sexes, as old-school MRAs and new MGTOW like to do, will not reach the goal of defeating feminist propaganda and the anti-male culture created by same. Let’s look at some rationale for this move.

Difference Feminism as the order of the day

I am here going to chart three changes within socialist feminism over the last fifteen years. It has, I argue, moved in large part from androgyny to gender difference, and from Marxism or revolutionary socialism towards an accommodation with, if reform of, the political and social system we know now. [Socialist Feminism: From Androgyny to Gynocentrism, Equality to Difference – 1995]

In this quote, feminist Judith Evans makes an observation many are familiar with; that today’s feminism is more concerned with promoting sexual differences than androgyny. While obvious to astute observers, I will argue that feminist ideology and feminist activism has not traveled in a linear fashion from androgyny to gynocentrism as Evans suggests, but more accurately has always enjoyed it both ways.

Ernest B. Bax observed this fact well over a century ago:

Modern Feminism would fain achieve the feat of eating its cake and having it too. When political and economic rights are in question, such as involve gain and social standing, the assumption of inferiority magically disappears before the strident assertion of the dogma of the equality of woman with man – her mental and moral equality certainly! When, however, the question is of a different character – for example, for the relieving of some vile female criminal of the penalty of her misdeeds-then Sentimental Feminism comes into play, then the whole plaidoyer is based on the chivalric sentiment of deference and consideration for poor, weak woman.” [Chapter V: The “Chivalry” Fake, in The Fraud of Feminism 1913]

Feminists only claim equality with men in so far as it has agreeable consequences for women. And this applies all along the line… I would advise woman’s-righters to choose the one side or the other. If they stick to the weakness of woman physically as ground for woman’s privileges and immunities, let them give up prating of equality otherwise. If they contend for equality let it at least be an even equality all round. [‘Female Suffrage’ – in Social Democrat, Vol.8, no.9, pp.533-545 1904].

The bulk of the advocates of woman’s rights are simply working, not for equality, but for female ascendency. It is all very well to say they repudiate chivalry. They are ready enough to invoke it politically when they want to get a law passed in their favour – while socially, to my certain knowledge, many of them claim it as a right every whit as much as ordinary women. [‘No Misogyny But True Equality’ – in To-day, pp.115-121 1887]

Reading through Bax’s articles it’s clear that feminists argued in both directions, especially enjoying the difference narrative, proving that sentimental appeals to sex-difference were the approach that gained women the most. Why?

Because differences, especially those implying weakness and vulnerability, evoke chivalry.

And chivalry brings goodies!

Meme juxtaposes equalist vs difference arguments: indicates difference is the stronger social power

Meme juxtaposes equalist vs difference arguments: indicates difference is the stronger social power

MRAs need to catch up with this fact and realize that whenever we promote difference, be it biological or cultural in origin, we play into feminist word-games and provide them with the basis for arguing chivalric treatment for women.

Commentaries on men and women’s different natures and the corollary of why men and women should be treated differently (read special treatments for women) appear throughout history. The claims are that men and women are different due to cultural training (e.g. men are trained in patriarchy and violence; women in softness and subservience), or they are biologically different (e.g. men are testosterone poisoned, and women give birth and need special help), thus, we must discriminate to better serve those differences, say feminists.

Whenever old school MRAs thrash their swords around yelling “WE ARE BIOLOGICALLY DIFFERENT!!” they play right into the rhetoric and remedies of feminists. In fact, many of the more prominent stars in the MRM specialize in promoting difference, arguing for biological differences over culturally implanted ones, and not realizing that they end up with a conclusion of difference that gets exploited equally by feminists – it matters not whether the difference is of cultural or biological origin.

Conversely, when we discuss that men and women have a massive overlapping area of shared humanity – the discussion changes to one of equal value, concern and empathy for men.

Males and females, for example, are both among the homeless, both are among the mentally ill, both can be poor or disabled. Men and women equally experience all emotions- jealousy, pride, elation, fear, anxiety, depression, or joy, and they equally suffer heart attacks, diabetes, strokes, broken bones, malaria or the common cold. Both suffer the impact of environmental degradation and pollution, and so on.

Despite that massive area of overlap, you can already read the “difference” argument being exploited by protofeminist Modesta Pozzo in the year 1590;

Don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.” [The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men – 1590]

And it doesn’t stop with Pozzo. The same language can be seen by virtually all feminist writers from her day to the present, including revered feminist philosophers like Julia Kristeva or Iris M. Young, through to the “difference feminists” of today. The historical lineup, all milking difference, is unbroken.

Take for instance the language of popular “equity” feminist Christina Hoff-Sommers who, while helpfully deconstructing many feminist myths, is happy to promote sex-differences as a basis for seeking chivalry for women.

Sommers demonstrates the sex-differences perspective in an interview with Emily Esfahani Smith. “Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes,” explains Sommers, “and given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want.” “If women give up on chivalry, it will be gone,” says Sommers, and “If boys can get away with being boorish, they will, happily. Women will pay the price.”1

The historical benefit to women of the difference argument has far outweighed the sameness argument because difference enlists the traditions of damselling, white knighting, and romantic chivalry. The sameness argument fails to tap into those medieval powers and thus affords far less reach for gynocentric tentacles.

* * *

Feminists are among the most rigid enforcers of gender stereotypes on the planet – all while championing “varieties of masculinities/femininities” which “don’t fit the binary.” However, those varieties are something they tend to spout for window dressing, in passing, before going on to enforce strict gender stereotypes in most everything they say.

Some MRAs miss the fact that most feminists today are difference feminists or cultural feminists – feminists who believe first and foremost in reinforcing real or perceived differences between men and women. Many of us labor under the assumption that feminists promote a polymorphous perverse (androgynous) identity — which they never did with any consistency.

And for feminists it doesn’t matter if the differences are of biological origin (many feminists subscribe to Evolutionary psychology) or the result of cultural conditioning – selling any differences of sexed behavior allows them to argue for special treatments for women and harsh treatment for men, regardless of whether the differences are congenital or cultural.

As men’s rights activists, we would do well to emphasize the biological/behavioral overlap between the sexes – that we all feel emotions, all think, fall in love, catch a common cold, and seek intimate human bonds – and with that we can defeat calls for preferential treatments of women arising from differences. Let’s move on from the task of defeating ‘feminist androgyny,’ which appears to be an activism dead-end.

This article contends that some MRAs place the focus on differences between men and women and that that approach is an activism cul-de-sac. But before adopting the alternative strategy of highlighting male and female behavioral similarities, we need first to observe how feminists have used the difference narrative to their advantage; only then will we see the urgency.

So next time you see an argument for difference or sameness, stop and ask yourself who stands the greatest chance of benefiting from it. And if you are advocating for difference, ask yourself if you are helping to promote men’s human rights or instead promoting a return to the good-ol-days of strictly demarcated gender roles.


[1] Emily Esfahani Smith, ‘Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance’ The Atlantic, Dec 10 2012
For more on Hoff-Sommers’ views on chivalry, see “The Acculturated Podcast: Ladies and Gentlemen”

Feature image by Steven Lilley