Imagine if someone uttered the following statement “Women are irrational creatures. Due to their propensity to be emotional, they are not responsible for their actions.” I suspect people would think I was quoting from a popular elizabethan or medieval discussion of women and most would write this statement off as sexist, misogynist and old fashioned.
Well, I suggest you check out the news because such views are apparently alive and well in New Zealand. To see my point let me put down two not-so-hypothetical cases.
A man abandoned his three year old daughter in an Australian train station, he clearly was distressed yet immediately there was outrage at the fact that a father would abandon his child in this manner.
(Of course, later we discover that Nai Yun Xue murdered his wife and was on the run in the US but the outrage that was poured out and expressed in the media regarding the fact of abandonment preceded this knowledge.)
Now turn to a second case, a woman abandoned her baby in an airport in New Zealand. Again, we do not yet know all the details, all we know is that the woman appeared distressed.
Unlike the man who abandoned the child in a public place, where others would likely notice her, this woman dumped her baby in a rubbish bin, where people are unlikely to see her, where in fact she very possible could have died.
What’s the response in the second case? Sympathy, empathy, understanding, discussion over women’s hormones, speculation into culture and her family situation. We are already being prepped to swallow that the woman is not really culpable for the action, we are told heart tugging stories about how they were reunited all peppered with terms like “its all very sad” – very different from the angry, absolute, terminology aimed at Nai Yun Xue.
What’s the difference? I cannot see any.
As far as I can tell in the first case the abandoner was a man and the second it was a woman and women have emotions that effect their judgement and culpability.
As a person who has researched the abortion issue extensively I have noted that what passes for sexism and misogyny is frequently embraced and even promoted by certain quarters to promote the ideals of those who claim to be favour of women. They will condemn statements like the above quote in popular theological writings of the past as patronising and insulting yet when there are benefits to women from being treated as full rational agents they seem quite willing to buy into this line of thought as long as it enables women to avoid criticism.
The problem is you cannot have it both ways. Accepting that women, like men, are rational moral agents means that not only do they have rights but that women can intelligibly be said to have duties. Possession of moral agency means that one’s actions can be subject to moral criticism, that one can be held culpable for ones misdeeds.
If women are moral agents then we can ask if they have duties to their offspring. We can ask if a woman, even if she is suffering emotional stress, is required to provide for the children she brought into existence. Asking these questions and holding women to the same standards as men, far from being degrading to women, actually respects them as moral agents.
But of course admitting this means that feminists are forced to face another question. It means that if a fetus is a human being then a woman may have a responsibility to not kill it. One cannot, as is common in moral literature, simply dismiss any criticisms of women as sexist nor can one appeal simply to the emotional plight of women who have abortions; one needs to actually ask serious moral questions.
This is a question that is too hard for some feminists to fathom; hence, they would rather buy into the very misogynist trends they condemn in traditional theology and treat women as emotional, irrational, beings who are incapable of moral choices rather than allow people to question the political stances they have advocated in the name of women.