All or nothing.

Feminists, You Can't Pick Your Battles

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Shikha Dalmia -- who, I should note, in the interests of full disclosure, is a colleague of my husband’s and a charming dinner companion, as well as a Bloomberg View contributor -- recently wrote a column for Reason magazine and the Week about affirmative consent laws. I’ve already said my piece about affirmative-consent laws, to which I will just add this: I am disturbed as hell by the number of feminists I’ve seen defending these laws on the grounds that of course they will rarely be enforced. Why pass laws you don’t intend to enforce? Unenforceable laws weaken our whole legal framework by conceding that really, the whole thing is just an arbitrary exercise of power by authorities -- a theory of justice that has not, I must point out, generally redounded to the benefit of women and minorities. It is, in the words of P.J. O’Rourke, “Pinning a ‘kick me!’ sign on the backside of the majesty of the law."

But Dalmia makes a different argument:

The truth is that, except in the first flush of infatuation, both partners are rarely equally excited. At any given moment, one person wants sex more passionately than the other. What's more, whether due to nurture or nature, there is usually a difference in tempo between men and women, with women generally requiring more "convincing." And someone who requires convincing is not yet in a position to offer "affirmative" much less "enthusiastic" consent. That doesn't mean that the final experience is unsatisfying -- but it does mean that initially one has to be coaxed out of one's comfort zone. Affirmative consent would criminalize that.

This invited a response, titled "Consent Laws Are Ruining Sex, Says Writer Who Probably Has Awful Sex," from feminist site Jezebel.

"This argument is bad and dumb for many reasons," writes Erin Gloria Ryan, adding that the assumption that a man trying to convince a tired woman to have sex "while she wonders to herself if this is what she really wanted is an assessment of heterosexual intercourse so grim that I feel a great deal of pity for the person whose life experiences have led to those conclusions. And even if that were the sexual status quo, why on earth would we defend it?"

Ryan goes on: "Secondly, the writer assumes that men are always the sexual assailants and women are always the victims and that rape always occurs in the context of a heterosexual coupling, which is so far from being an accurate statement that it's damaging to male victims of sexual assault and victims of female assailants."

One hardly even knows where to begin with this. First of all, there’s the awful reading comprehension, which converted “sometimes one partner wants sex more than the other, and coaxes the other person into it, which can sometimes lead to great sex that you’d have regretted missing” into “close your eyes and think of your children.”

And then there’s the sex shaming.

This is the sort of thing that feminists are supposed to be against. It frequently gets deployed against left-leaning feminists, and for that matter, any woman who argues that women belong in the workplace but might have trouble staying there because things are still just a teensy bit stacked against them.

A certain sort of male commenter seems to take it as a given that any woman who argues that we need further progress toward equality is a frigid, castrating she-male whose husband or boyfriend would be too spineless and weak to satisfy them sexually even if they weren’t so busy polishing their Precious Moments figurines. And though they seem to think this is so obvious as to go without saying, they don’t; they write you four-page, one-paragraph e-mails or pepper your comments section with ALL CAPS!!!

When guys do this to them, left feminists easily recognize it for what it is: reactionary, misogynist bile spewed by angry people who couldn’t think of an actual argument. So why does Erin Gloria Ryan feel free to deploy it against a woman with whom she disagrees? Why didn’t her colleagues at Jezebel take her aside and say, “Hey, that’s not how we roll. We’re against sex shaming, remember?”

This is not the first time I’ve run into this idea that all’s fair as long as you restrict it to conservatives. Although the exact post seems to be lost to the mists of Internet time, I’ll never forget when a woman at a major feminist site accused me of holding the political opinions I do because -- wait for it -- I was trying to catch a man. Or the liberal men too numerous to count, or at least bother counting up over the years, who have hailed me with every misogynist slur you could imagine, and a few I’m sure you couldn’t.

This is the exact opposite of the way things should work. If you want to argue for a principle, you need to embody that principle consistently -- at least, if you want to convince anyone else. Libertarians who argue that private charity can make up for government safety nets should be giving more of their income to private welfare charities than any other group. Conservatives who think that abortion should be completely illegal should not go and obtain them for their own daughters. People who oppose school choice should not send their children to private schools or relocate to an affluent suburb when they have kids. And feminists who are against sex shaming should be outraged when it happens to people whose ideas they despise, as outraged as they certainly are when it happens to one of their own. Otherwise, people just smirk at your “principle” and see it for what it is: something between sheer tribal hypocrisy and a lie.

Here’s what feminism actually means, or should: Women -- all women -- are just as entitled to hold opinions as anyone else. And here’s the really crazy part: They’re entitled to hold opinions that are completely different from yours, even if you are also a woman. And while you are absolutely entitled to argue that those ideas are immoral, impractical, befuddled, benighted, unscrupulous, intolerable and downright wrongheaded, you should not make disparaging remarks about the speaker's sex life. If you do, you should feel ashamed of yourself. And in this case, so should any feminists who manage to call out every third-tier state Republican campaign worker for misogynist comments but don’t find the time to condemn one at one of their own Internet homes.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net