Boundary issues: Feminism vs civic accountability - HBR Talk 27

Over the last several weeks of our accountability series, we’ve been examining the list of talking points given on the website for the Women’s March. Fifth on that list is “Civil Rights.”

Civil rights is a feminist issue? Really? 

To clarify my incredulity, let’s first get an understanding of the concepts under consideration here, beginning with the distinction between civil rights, and human rights. 

Merriam-Webster defines the term “Human Rights” as “Rights regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons.” 

The same source defines Civil Rights as “the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially: the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress.”

These definitions explain what what these two concepts are, but what is the purpose of enumerating human and civil rights? What do we accomplish in doing so?

Human rights considerations define the nature and boundaries of individual human autonomy within society. The most basic iteration of this is in the adage, “Your rights end where my nose begins.”

Civil rights considerations define the boundaries between citizen autonomy and authority, and the government’s combined responsibility and authority. They are the limitations which protect citizens from oppression at the hands of government entities which would abuse authority, often under the guise of said responsibility, using it as a means by which to imply justification for infringement on the citizen’s rightful autonomy. 

Human rights considerations influence the determination of civil rights considerations. For example, the human right to liberty is the basis for the civil right of suffrage, which guarantees the citizen does not face government restriction or obligation without representation of his interests as determined by his participation in his society’s representative selection and appointment process. Your freedom is protected by your right to vote for the people who pass laws affecting your autonomy within your society. 

Nowhere in the definitions or purpose of these rights is the concept divided by gender, with one sex being excluded from consideration, or one sex designated to be of greater concern than the other. 

So what is feminism’s history with respect to civil rights? 

Beginning with suffrage, they’ve spent more than a hundred years pushing society to gender the concept to exclude men from consideration as human beings, and women from any related obligation or accountability should they violate another person's human rights. This is because at the most basic level, they fail to understand these concepts, as well as compassion and autonomy, substituting instead a belief system warped by overexposure to misguided acrimony.

They begin by deeming women as a demographic a “victim class” in relation to men as a demographic. They then define autonomy, compassion, and civil and human rights considerations as a zero-sum game between the sexes, as if one’s autonomy enslaves the other, compassion for one necessitates callousness toward the other, and recognition of the rights of one relies on infringement against those of the other. They then treat the sacrifice of men’s rights and autonomy in the name of compassion for and protection of women’s rights and autonomy as a form of reparations for said victimization. This enables them to ignore the injustice of demographic-based exclusion of men from human rights activism.

For decades, suffrage history has been presented as if, before suffragette agitation, no women could vote, and at the very least, all white men could. As it turns out, that narrative is false. When the UK suffragettes began agitating, about 1 in 4 UK men could vote. Meanwhile, a few years ago, a document was discovered that listed English women voters in an election which took place in 1843, 75 years prior to legislation recognizing women's voting rights in 1918. 

At that time, suffrage for men was not universal, but limited to the upper classes who could meet property ownership standards and pay a fee, with various groups agitating for parliamentary reform throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Women who could vote faced the same standards as men, save for one: They were not subject to the draft. Contrary to feminist promulgation, women were also part of that long-standing suffrage movement to expand voting rights to the average citizen. Unlike the suffragettes, the suffragists fought for voting rights for both sexes.

In the U.S., voting rights evolved during colonial times, with voting largely governed by the same standards as England, for obvious reasons, and women were not universally barred from voting as we’re told. Even after the U.S. became a nation, voting rights continued to evolve throughout the 19th century, with states slowly letting go of property ownership requirements over the course of decades. There were laws barring certain ethnic backgrounds from citizenship and therefore voting rights, and various stipulations, including Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, which prevented the vast majority of American minorities of either sex from voting until their rights were guaranteed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s 45 years after wealthy white women nagged and terrorized legislators into securing theirs using arguments that included opposition to the recognition of minority men’s suffrage.

But hey, after that they started to take a more even approach, right?

How ‘bout we go ask good old Due Process.

Throughout their history, feminists have treated the civil right of due process not as a fundamental part of the citizen’s protection against government abuse of authority, but as a barrier to women’s legal interests. 

They have exploited traditional gender roles and stereotypes to criminalize being the male subject of a woman’s regret, right down to demonizing men’s presumption of female agency in the context of sexual interaction. 

Step by step, they’ve chipped away at various aspects of due process in intimate partner and sexual violence cases. Exclusion of exculpatory evidence, overriding the right to confront one’s accuser, flipping the approach from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent, demanding criminal culpability be arbitrated by civil courts at lower standards of evidence… feminists have fought tooth and nail against civil rights in these cases, with disastrous results, as the Innocence Project can tell you. 

Or… ask Georgia’s state legislature and you’ll learn that feminists have even gone so far as to oppose legislation that would mandate the handling of criminal sexual assault allegations by police instead of civilian investigators. Several states where the National Organization for Women has torpedoed equally shared parenting bills can attest to the fact that they have vehemently opposed efforts to prevent the unfounded presumption of guilt as domestic violence perpetrators from being used against fathers in child custody cases. Certainly we can’t admit that men have as much right to fair treatment in any courtroom as women do, can we? And it’s not like those relationships are important, is it? Just because there’s no evidence to back the accusation doesn’t mean children shouldn’t be denied the benefit of their fathers’ mentoring, right feminists?  

As we discussed in the accountability gap series episodes on gender disparity in criminal court, this has led not only to a gender disparity in rates of violent crime arrests and everything that follows, but has exacerbated racial disparities in those areas. It has also opened the door for the state to excuse infringing those same areas of due process in other areas of criminal law… and while there is not a direct causative relationship, there are areas of infringement that have occurred concurrently with those lobbied for by feminists. For instance, in prescription drug cases, the state can ignore your otherwise federally protected medical privacy rights, and in all drug cases, your bodily autonomy rights are completely ignored. Your right to the presumption of innocence gets brutally shoved aside when the IRS wants to confiscate your personal property in the midst of a tax dispute before it is ever proved that you are guilty of anything. These infringements are egregious enough that any civil rights movement worth its salt should be demanding reforms to rein in the agencies involved… but instead, feminists have fought to exploit the power of federal law to facilitate such violations in cases where government is involved in conflict between a man and a woman.

But at least feminists, being the political activists that they are, recognize the fundamental value of freedom of speech, right? After all, that is a part of the foundation of all civil rights. Without it, there is no right to criticize one’s government and therefore no right to lobby for government reform, no freedom of the press, not even a right to public assembly regardless of how peacefully you do it… and don’t even think about freedom of religion, because without the right to free speech, there’s a big hole in protection of that right. So of course, feminists being first-rate civil rights activists, would fully support freedom of speech, don’t you think?

Eh… no.

Groups like Women Action Media, Crash Override, and Feminist Frequency have spent the last few years viciously attacking the concept of free speech. They start with, as I described earlier, that failure to understand compassion, autonomy, accountability, and rights, followed up by their zero-sum view of these concepts. Then, they deem their viewpoint the only possible manifestation of compassion for women, and the only valid characterization of men. They treat any alternative viewpoint as an offense against women as a demographic and a victim class, rather than an idea to openly, honestly evaluate and criticize.

They equate their own aversion to criticism of their assertions with injurious attack, then treat disagreement with their viewpoint as an act of violent aggression by whoever expresses it. When one of their fellow believers chooses to remain silent rather than test their beliefs in open debate, feminists ignore the independent choice of that individual and treat the criticism they’re avoiding as suppression of their speech. It is on this basis that they demand suppression of political speech with which they disagree. 

To date, they have successfully influenced some of the most popular social media platforms to censor nonfeminist perspectives, particularly those expressed by men in relation to men’s experiences, making this yet another area where feminists have falsely gendered a genderless issue to the detriment of men. They have decided that in order for women’s free speech right to be considered recognized and accommodated, the feminist perspective must be the only perspective that is allowed a voice in public forums, even when other women disagree with it. Their main excuse for this stems from a failure to understand what censorship is, what freedom is, and why the bill of rights exists. They argue that suppression of speech by a non-government entity is not censorship, and therefore it is not unethical for a private entity to present its product as a free platform for public speech while suppressing political commentary its administrators find objectionable.  

What have they gotten wrong?

Your civil rights were not defined and described by the founding fathers of the United States of America for the purpose of making the U.S. federal government the arbiter and therefore limiter of those rights. It was not to enact government provision of your rights, but to protect you from government infringement on your personal autonomy in violation of your rights. That your rights and freedoms are not government-granted, but innate, invalidates the view of censorship, a control placed on freedom of speech, as something only government can do. 

Under the system created by the U.S.’s founders, individual freedom of thought and speech are a vital aspects of the right and responsibility of citizens to keep their government in check as a means of preventing the slow decay of our system into despotism. A government that cannot be criticized cannot be prevented from wrongfully appropriating power to which it is not entitled. That invalidates the view of specifically political censorship as an ethical choice. 

In other words, under the philosophy behind the American system of government and politics there is no way for anyone to ethically advocate for political censorship of public speech by any public platform, government-run or not.

Feminists’ gendering suffrage, attacking due process, and misguided approach to public speech all point to one question: What business, really, does the Women’s March, a feminist organization, have exploiting the concept of Civil Rights as one of their talking points? If they’re going to so heinously abuse these concepts, why should we trust anything they say about them at all?