Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.

In Defense of Women

Spring 1997

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
Doubleday, 1996, x + 275 pgs.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese has had an idea brilliant in its simplicity and common sense. Feminism arouses furious passions, as supporters and opponents incessantly battle one another. Each party remains committed to its own doctrine, and the endless polemics resolve nothing.

Here is where Fox-Genovese comes in. Why not find out from women themselves whether radical feminism adequately represents their concerns? This she proceeded to do, both through extensive personal interviews and analysis of polling data. The results of her research emerge with crystal clarity and will be no surprise to anyone who has glanced at the book's title.

Radical feminism paints a distorted picture of the way many women view their lives. According to the feminist writer Naomi Wolf, "our media-led culture conspires to keep women permanently insecure and anxious because they do not measure up to some abstract and unattainable standard of beauty." Concern with looks, she warned, "literally kills women, frequently through anorexia, sometimes through breast implants" (p. 39).

Contrary to Wolf's portrayal, Fox-Genovese found among the women she interviewed an enjoyment of the "complexities of costuming." "Whatever the frustration and pain, most women clearly value the distinctly female core of their identities" (p. 56).

If one issue serves as a litmus test for radical feminism, it is abortion on demand. Some feminists go so far as to say that "a woman's right to an 'effective abortion' may require killing a baby that survives abortion" (p. 91). Unrestricted access to abortion, to the radicals, "guarantees a woman's freedom" (p. 87).

Our author located no consensus on abortion among her interviewees. And this exactly contravenes feminist dogma. A great many women do not take the unrestricted right to abortion as basic to their freedom. And while most do think abortion justifiable in some cases, they refuse to regard women who oppose abortion as advocates of oppression. And, far from regarding children as a burden, most women, even those with careers, view raising children as essential to their well-being.

Fox-Genovese states her own position on abortion in this way: "Until we agree that at some point during a pregnancy the abortion of a fetus becomes the murder of a baby, we will continue to run the risk of measuring the sanctity of life by the yardstick of dollars and cents" (p. 107).

At one point in her discussion, our author goes astray. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court did not, as she says, impose "new restrictions," such as a waiting period, on abortion (p. 103). Rather, the Court allowed state restrictions to this effect to stand. The decision does not compel the states to impose these limits. And it is surprising that she describes Richard Posner's Sex and Reason as "insightful" (p. 107, n.4). The book defends just the economistic approach to marriage and the family which she opposes. But these are minor criticisms.

How might radical feminists respond to Fox-Genovese's results? Probably, they would allege that women who reject feminist opinions do not properly understand their own interests. Women who do not reject the family are to the radicals victims of "false consciousness," in the Marxist phrase.

But it is the radicals themselves who are the deluded ones. They reject the lived experience of women for the dictates of an abstract ideology unsupported by rational argument. If that is not false consciousness, nothing is. Fox-Genovese's beautifully written book is must reading for anyone interested in feminism and (rather a larger group) for anyone interested in understanding women.


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