The founding fathers get a free pass. The feminists? Not so much.

The founding fathers get a free pass. The feminists? Not so much. November 3, 2012

Painting by Junius Brutus Stearns

It is more than acceptable in our society to quote one of the founding fathers to prove a point. I see liberals and conservatives do this alike, and, even though I rarely quote these men, I am not necessarily going to criticize those who do (so if you’re going to skip straight to the comments and argue with me about why it’s okay to quote the founding fathers, save it).

But many of our founding fathers were racists and slave-owners. This is undeniable. We know this, yet we quote their words anyway. Why?

Well, those quoting ol’ George and Thomas and the rest might  say, “Well, not ALL of our founding fathers owned slaves. In fact, some were abolitionists.” A great point here.

Others might say, “Even those who did own slaves had some good, revolutionary ideas. We shouldn’t throw out the good.” This I would agree with as well, although, I believe any good George Washington said must be interpreted in light of the fact that he owned over three hundred slaves, etc. We cannot ignore the horrible aspects of the lives of these men, but we can acknowledge intelligent things they may have said.

The general public okay with quoting the founding fathers. Most see them as having some degree of authority over how we currently run our country–whether you’re using them to oppose gun control or asserting that “all men are created equal.”

Yet, I’ve been into more arguments than I count in which someone has said to me, concerning feminism, “Well, feminists hate men.”

When I object to this, they provide examples: “Andrea Dworkin says all sex is rape!” “Mary Daly was a female supremacist!” etc., etc.

I often respond the way many do when confronted about the founding fathers. First, not all feminists are Andrea Dworkin or Mary Daly. In fact, radical feminists who actually believe in female supremacy are a fringe group who are widely criticized by the wider feminist movement. Many, if not most, feminists love the men in their lives–their brothers, their fathers, their partners, or their friends–and want to see them freed from the oppressive standards and from the hatred and fear that patriarchy tries to impose on them. Many, if not most, feminists would say that reversing the system of domination so that women are in charge would not solve anything. Domination is domination. The goal is not matriarchy, but equality or justice.

Even feminists who do seem to believe that men are inferior, like Dworkin or Daly, have good things to say, just like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did. Dworkin criticized the objectification of women and relentlessly fought against sexual harassment and rape. Daly was a highly influential feminist theologian. We can recognize their contributions to the feminist movement, but filter those contributions through their flaws (man-hating not being the only flaw. Mary Daly was extremely transphobic, for example. Many feminists were and are racists and classist. Some second-wave feminists, in order to prove they didn’t hate men, blatantly discriminated against lesbians, etc.). It’s part of critical thinking.

But these arguments never seem to be enough, even for the very people who quote our founding fathers with authority.

I could even go further and remind them that, unlike some of the founding fathers, no feminist ever started a movement that led to the genocide or enslavement of men. That many of the “man-haters” spoke from a place of oppression or had a experienced marginalization or abuse. That many examples of feminist “man-hating” were meant to be hyperbolic or metaphorical–for example, when modern feminists joke that viagra shouldn’t be covered by health insurance. They are not literally arguing for this, but are making a point.

Still, this doesn’t matter. I am demanded to account for every man-hating feminist that a Google-search can come up with. My points are dismissed. My decision to self-identify as an advocate of feminism is criticized. I encounter this from conservatives, from liberals, from complementarians, and from egalitarians. 

I believe this says volumes about the power structure in our society. Why is it so widely acceptable to quote the founding fathers but not the feminists?

The founding fathers can only be accused of hating black people (and women, and Native Americans…).

The feminists can be accused of hating all men (especially white men).

One form of hate is obviously more socially acceptable than the other. The group that it is less socially acceptable to hate (and please note: I am not advocating hate at all, but pointing out an inconsistency) is the group that is in power: white men.


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