Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lori Ziganto's semantic games

Recently, Lori Ziganto has recently attempted to redefine the term "feminism." Ziganto most recently writes,
I was taking the term feminist back, not because it’s a necessary or even a desirable term, but so that the LEFT can no longer use it and can no longer continue to use identity politics as a wedge and a way to put people in race based and gender based boxes.
Regarding the meaning of that term, Ziganto writes,
Sarah Palin and the women of the GOP are “true feminists,” in the original intent of the word, yes. And the fact that the faux feminists on the Left are so up in arms about them using the term, which they have bastardized beyond recognition, attests to that fact.
I wonder if any of her readers have wondered what Ziganto means by "feminism"? What is "the original intent" of that word? If "faux feminists" have "bastardized" that term "beyond recognition," then surely Ziganto knows what its original meaning was. And though I do not have encyclopedic knowledge of Ziganto's collected prose, I have read many of her feminism-related posts, and I do not recall her ever defining the term for us.  So, what was the original intent of the word?  I have a feeling that Ziganto will never answer that question for us, for either she actually doesn't know and only claims to, or she believes she knows but will learn that she is actually mistaken.

But certain passages in Ziganto's latest post about feminism are suggestive of what meaning she has in mind. Ziganto writes:
My point was that conservative women are strong, capable and are fed up at having faux feminists (who are actually Femisogynists) constantly claim that they speak for us as they strive to turn all women into perpetual victims, at the mercy of big strong daddy government. We are also tired of motherhood being diminished and considered a detriment instead of an attribute.
Ziganto also writes:
We don’t rely on a victim mentality; we rely on ourselves and the love of our families. We don’t invent sexism with insane claims that marriage itself is sexist. We have no problem taking our husbands’ names, as we aren’t cuckoo pants and thus, realize that marriage isn’t some nefarious plot, but rather a loving bond. We want to share our name with our children, whom we don’t consider punishments.
Ziganto also criticizes "faux feminists" for embracing metaethical moral relativism and with it a tolerant attitude toward the oppression and abuse of women in certain Islamic countries.

So who is the enemy, according to Ziganto?  Her post suggests that the enemy
  1. Accepts metaethical moral relativism, 
  2. Strives to turn all women into perpetual victims, 
  3. Relies on a victim mentality rather than themselves and the love of family, 
  4. Supports leaving women at the mercy of big strong daddy government, 
  5. Believes that marriage itself is sexist, 
  6. Is opposed to women taking their husband's names, 
  7. Fails to realize that marriage is a loving bond, 
  8. Considers children to be punishments, and 
  9. Diminishes motherhood.  
    (The "real" feminists, then, are just the opposite.)  Now, we ought to ask at least two questions: first, does anyone satsifying Ziganto's description actually exist? and second, if so, are they representative of feminists?  To the first question, it is probably safe to answer in the affirmative.  There are around seven billion people on the planet, so surely someone satisfies this description.  To the second question, however, it is safe to answer in the negative.

    Unlike Ziganto, I have offered a definition of feminism.  According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
    Classical liberalism or libertarianism . . . holds that women and men are self-owners capable of acquiring property rights over things. As such women and men, equally, have the right to freedom from coercive interference with their person and property. This right to freedom from coercive interference consists in, at least, rights to freedom of conscience and expression, freedom to control what happens to one's body, freedom of association, freedom to acquire, control and transfer property, freedom of contract, as well as the right to compensation when rights are violated. The state's role is, exclusively, to protect citizens from coercive interference by protecting their rights. Some reject even a limited state, however, holding that nongovernmental means of protecting rights are to be preferred.
    The classical liberal or libertarian feminist simply holds that classical liberalism is true.  Now, the careful reader will note that this feminist view entails virtually nothing on Ziganto's ridiculous list.  As a feminist myself, the only item on Ziganto's list I might endorse is (6).  But think about it: why must a woman take her husband's name?  Why shouldn't the man take his wife's name?  The practice is obviously completely arbitrary and therefore without merit and indefensible.

    As a feminist who rejects metaethical moral relativism, I am opposed to any effort anywhere in the world to oppress and abuse women.  I do not favor making women into perpetual victims; I do favor uncovering the ways in which society makes women into victims so that it can be addressed by the law.  Leaving women at the mercy of government is not the same as believing that government ought to protect the equal rights of all citizens, including women.  I don't believe that marriage is sexist, but I believe that many marriages are.  The right to freedom to control what happens to one's body also guarantees a woman's right to be a mother if she autonomously chooses.  Ziganto's inclusion on the list of the idea that children are punishments is based on her willful misunderstanding of a statement made by President Obama and is therefore a piece of partisan political bullshit that I shall not address.  And finally, to actually suggest that feminists fail to recognize the value of the loving bonds with family members and spouses is absurd.

    By suggesting that the list is representative of feminism, Ziganto has already redefined the term.  Her argument against feminism is in fact a semantic game.  By changing the meaning of "feminism" so that it refers exclusively to radical forms of feminism which may not have any actual adherents, she is committing the straw man fallacy. Think about it: which form of feminism is more likely to have more adherents, a moderate form, or a radical form?  And by trying to take the term back, as she puts it, Ziganto is doing the very thing she abhors, i.e., using identity politics as a wedge.

    This isn't the only semantic game Ziganto has been playing lately.  Ziganto recently published this adolescent attack on Meghan McCain.  Now, McCain and I aren't exactly playing on the same team, but I have a hell of a lot more respect for McCain than I do Ziganto because McCain is usually more nuanced in her thinking. Regarding Rand Paul's primary win in Tennessee, McCain writes:
    Paul’s nomination could have been a moment of triumph for the Tea Party movement, as well as for Republicans, but instead it was an embarrassment. And I felt the disappointment firsthand, given that I agree with and support numerous things the Tea Party represents. Like many Americans, I’m angered by the intense spending going on under the Obama administration. But when the movement was given the opportunity to present specific solutions and answer real questions, its leaders nominated someone who—yet again—revealed weird, racist undertones, no matter how he wants to spin it. 
    I respect Paul’s ideological commitment to libertarianism, of which it’s quite obvious he’s a die-hard supporter, even if there are reasons there’s no real libertarian senator. And I, too, believe that the government should stay out of people’s lives as much as possible. Yet Paul seems to be taking these beliefs to an extreme, one that’s making even fellow Republicans uneasy.
    Why Does Paul give McCain the willies?  Immediately after his primary victory, Paul did an interview with Rachel Maddow in which he seemed to indicate that the government has no right to prohibit private discrimination on the basis of race.  This put him at odds with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is rather extraordinary.

    McCain goes on to indicate which team she's on:
    Paul’s role within the Republican Party (if any) has yet to be determined. But one thing I am sure of is that, until we start nominating candidates who have more realistic views of the complex world we live in and stop seeing things strictly in black and white (no pun intended), we are going to continue losing elections and becoming punch lines for late-night talk-show hosts.
    So, plainly, McCain is urging the Republican Party to moderate its stances for its own good.  That seems like excellent advice to me.

    How did Ziganto take this advice? Well, she said the following, among other things:
    As always, Meghan McCain is concerned only with Meghan McCain. And being thought of as “cool” and “hip” and “edgy” so that the right people, in her mind, will like her. She has yet to learn that they only pretend to like her as long as they can use her to bash Republicans. She obviously doesn’t realize yet that is the only reason she is paid – such a depressing thought – for her alleged writing.

    She also has yet to learn that the “I’m so brave, I speak my own mind” line doesn’t work when one always takes the easy route and never, ever says anything actually brave. You see, Meghan, you can’t claim to be an individual nor a rebel. You have proven yourself to be a sheep — in cute shoes, yes, but a sheep nonetheless.
    That's right, Ziganto went straight for the ad hominem fallacy dangling in front of her mind like a carrot. Even if McCain's motivation for writing is the desire to be thought of as cool, hip, and edgy, her analysis may be perfectly sound.  But there's something more interesting going on here. McCain probably doesn't give a flying fuck what Ziganto has to say about her.  But surely McCain's attempt to combat the radicalization of the Republican Party has its significant detractors.  David Frum was made to pay for his opposition to the epistemic closure of the Republican Party.  Some would plausibly say that Frum's willingness to call out Republicans took courage.  Well, then, how could Ziganto characterize McCain's willingness to challenge the radical elements of the Republican Party as anything other than courageous? How can that be the "easy route" for McCain? Her father was the Republican Party's nominee for President in 2008, for fuck's sake, and only after shedding his maverick reputation to become one of the most conservative members of the Republican Party.  For Ziganto, the brave thing to do would be to simply go along with the people in charge of the Republican Party right now—the people who led the party to their Waterloo over health care reform, the epistemically closed Party of No that panders to Tea Partiers who would take the party even further to the right.  That would be brave, if by "brave," we meant "cowardly."

    People like me use people like Frum and McCain to bash Republicans like Ziganto and Paul, i.e., right-wing extremists. And we should. Such work is noble, for it hastens the day when rational, mature, principled conservatives will take their party back.

    (By the way, what does Ziganto mean when she refers to McCain's "alleged" writing?  Does she mean to say that McCain's writing isn't actually writing?  Is she serious?)  

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