On this week’s episode, Erika Bachiochi joins the podcast to help us take a deep dive look at feminism and consider whether the moral vision that undergirded the movement years ago is the same one that drives today’s modern feminism. We also discuss the development of feminist thought over the years and how a proper view of women’s rights includes a concrete responsibility to others.
Erika Bachiochi is a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and is a legal scholar specializing in Equal Protection jurisprudence, feminist legal theory, Catholic social teaching, and sexual ethics. A 2018 visiting scholar at Harvard Law School, she is also a Senior Fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge, MA, where she founded and directs the Wollstonecraft Project. Her newest book, The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, was published by Notre Dame University Press in 2021, and was named a finalist for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s 2022 Conservative Book of the Year award.
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg. And on today’s podcast, we take a deep dive look at feminism — is the moral vision that undergirded the movement years ago the same as today’s modern feminism. Well in this episode, we’ll get into the development of feminist thought over the years and how a proper view of women’s rights includes the concrete responsibility to others. And joining us to talk about this is Erika Bachiochi. Erika Bachiochi is a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and is a legal scholar specializing in equal protection, jurisprudence, feminist legal theory, Catholic social teaching, and sexual ethics. A 2018 visiting scholar at Harvard Law School, she is a senior fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute and her newest book, “The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision” was published in 2021. It’s actually been named a finalist for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s 2022 conservative book of the year award. So first of all, Erika, a big congratulations on how well your book has done. And thank you so much for joining us on She Thinks.
Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Now we are talking about a very broad, a very big issue, this issue of feminism. And I know you go over this in the book, I thought we had talked about the origins of feminism in order to even compare it to modern feminism. So where does one begin and what would you say are some of the virtues that we saw with feminism when it first started?
Yeah, so feminism itself, even the term is sort of a fraught term because it sort of postdates the origins of what I would call the early Women’s Rights Movement. So I think feminism was coined in probably the early 20th century, but I trace sort of the thought of women’s rights back to Mary Wollstonecraft who’s a late 18th century thinker, a British philosopher. And I trace her thought and sort of her vision, which is what the lost vision of my book is trying to reclaim through the first wave of the women’s movement. We know them as the suffragists of the mid to late 19th century, but they were up to all sorts of other things as well, which we can talk about.
And then I sort of show how there was a real sort of split, a real philosophical split between what I then trace as the Wollstonecraftean strain up through modern times. And then really a Millean or Lockean strain, which is sort of a more libertarian strain, I guess you would call it rather than the communitarian strain I see in Wollstonecraft’s thought. And I trace that also up through modern times.
And so let’s start with that first wave as you call it. So what were some of the fundamental things that women were trying to achieve when it came to rights in that timeframe?
Yeah, so they’re really leaning, if you look at Seneca Falls and even before, they’re really trying to with the Industrial Revolution, I mean, it’s fascinating that this first wave of feminism comes to be right around the time of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of liberalism and sort of the promotion of kind of the individual, the individual male especially, but the individual. And so they’re sort of both responding and then sort of making use of that movement to argue for their own rights. And so the very first thing they do is they argue for joint property ownership. During agrarian times, women and men were very much collaborative, interdependent kind of workers in the agrarian homestead, but as men move out to become wage earners with the industrial revolution and also poor women, of course, as well, there begins to be a real dependency of women in the home that they hadn’t experienced before, because the homestead was so interdependent.
And so the very first thing that they argue for is joint property ownership, which of course we have now today in marriage, but they didn’t have before because of the Doctrine of Coverture, which is basically when a woman gets married to a man, she is under the cover of the man. And so all of her property, anything she brings into the marriage, anything she earns, which wasn’t much at that time when women weren’t working outside the home very much, is then in the man’s name. And it really had significant consequences for inheritance rights, for custody of children, for all sorts of property division, et cetera. So they really argued that because they were involved in the work of the home and the productive work of the home as much as their husbands were, even though their husbands were starting to be wage earners, they should jointly own the home.
So that was really the first move that they made. And then there’s clamoring for rights well to contract, to property, to education. And then of course, to suffrage, and they really leaned on what we now would call natural law arguments. They quote, in the Seneca Falls, the documented declaration of sentiments and resolutions in 1848, that very first Women’s Rights Convention. They’re leaning on this argument that look, women and men are both creatures, rational creatures of God. And they’re both responsible to God for themselves and so that they should really have the rights to take responsibility really in society as well. And so there were different arguments for why women should have the vote.
You hear kind of natural rights arguments in their thought, but you also hear arguments really that because of the kind of responsibility women wielded in the home in terms of moral responsibility, they should bring that responsibility out into the public sphere as well. Frances Willard, one of the most powerful women of that time, leader of the Christian temperance movement, she argued and really persuaded a lot of her followers that the ballot, the franchise was really the home protection ballot to protect the goods of the home. And so those were some of, I think the main, rarely virtues you see in that time.
So do you then see the second wave coincide when women enter the workplace, that is where they’re trying to get their second wave of rights, because they’re moving from the homestead as you call it to out in the working world, into the industrial world?
Yeah. And so you start to see anti-discrimination of course claims rise in the late 1960s, early 1970s. But before that there’s really this fascinating internal debate between I don’t call them this in the book, but I think it’s a good shorthand between kind of the communitarian and more liberal thinkers, more libertarians. And so the reason I think of them that way is because they both had a lot of merit in their thought, but the question is how women should be treated in the industrial workplace. Should they be treated just like men kind of the more liberal kind of conception or should they be understood as members of families with special responsibilities to their children?
And so they really tangled over this and what’s fascinating, as a law student, you go and you read all these cases, Lochner is this really famous case, all sorts of other cases in the industrial era, and you hear of the male judges making the decisions and the male advocates before the bench and all that arguing for their particular side. You never hear about the women behind the men who are really pushing.
So you have these incredible women, Florence Kelley, Jane Adams on the one side, the more communitarian side, looking at how the industrial workplace had really been very, very difficult, especially for poor women who had these simultaneous responsibilities in the home and were trying to juggle all of this. And then you have more like the Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who really wanted to argue that there should be no special kind of protections for women in the workplace because they needed to compete equally with, with men in the workplace for the same exact reason because of their responsibilities in the home.
So they kind of tangle over these things in a really fascinating way. And that’s what gets us really a lot of the workplace advances and protections that both then cover both men and women with the New Deal. But it’s this fascinating debate that happens. When once FDR’s New Deal comes about and there’s kind of a floor for all of the workplace where there’s more safety precautions, more regulations, then you start to see the move that everyone sort of comes together with anti-discrimination law in the 1960s and seventies, you still have some labor advocates who are pushing for protections, of course, for mothers.
But I think a lot of that is due to women were pushed into the workplace, many, many women who had been at home during World War II when many men were out fighting the war. And so people began to see that women could do the work that men were doing just as well. And also the sort of need of physical strength that had been so important in both industrialization and then even in the manufacturing sector that was starting to weigh the knowledge service industry was starting to grow. And so you started to see that there weren’t really so many reasons why you should keep women out of certain fields, certain professions. And so that’s where industrial… Excuse me, where you start to see anti-discrimination become a thing that pretty much everyone agrees with, that you shouldn’t distinguish between the sexes when it comes to education or professions and all that when really reproductive differences aren’t at issue at all.
And so let’s move into the next wave. And I would say that I saw this when I first started my career over two decades ago, but there was a precursor to this where I felt that there was this turn where instead of it just let’s have equal rights and education and in the workplace, it turned into, if you want to be a successful woman, you have to shun the family and focus solely on a career. So it was getting rid of those things that make us unique being mothers, caring about the home, different things like that. But that was something that had to be shunned. Is that where you saw the feminist movement potentially take a turn for the worse?
Yeah. I think that there’s becomes a focus. I mean, one of the fascinating things that I would say every listener should go, especially the people who follow your work is just go look up the original statement in 1966 of the National Organization for Women. It’s this really fascinating statement that goes over, actually some of the history that I mentioned, the technological changes that have really enhanced kind of women’s capacity to just do the same kind of work as men, physical strength wasn’t as needed, women’s longevity made it so that they weren’t going to be having children their whole life, all of that. And really what they’re pointing to is they want, they say to create institutions in society that are kind of hospitable to women who have children, which is fascinating.
Because it’s very similar to the first wave kind of ideas that we are women, and we bring something different to the table. We ought not to be discriminated against because of that. But also, that ought to be acknowledged in some way, because it’s so fundamental to what we care about. And that’s very much in that first statement of the National Organization for Women. They talk about the social and economic value of caregiving and home making. I mean, it’s stuff that you would never hear out of most feminists today, right? And then there’s this real shift. And I think part of it, I mean, I blame part of it on the philosophical course and the move away from what I see as this Wollstonecraftian strain, which understood men and women as sharing this common purpose, that freedom for Wollstonecraft was just a means to an end.
And what was the end, well, developing in moral and intellectual excellence. And so having children was part of that, becoming a moral, a mature person was giving yourself over to others and caring for others, those responsibilities that were part and parcel of being a good American as well, right? Civic responsibilities, all of that. And I think there’s this shift where I see John Stuart Mill and his objection of women and the arguments he makes in on liberty becoming much more important where freedom then becomes its own end. And it’s all about self creation, self ownership, which is more Lockean term, but kind of self, the self-promotion. And I think that kind of move of anti-discrimination law, almost meeting its end. Instead of it just being a means to help women enter the workplace on more fair and just basis, it becomes like we have to be entirely equal in all ways to men almost indistinguishable.
And so therefore, if men are unencumbered from children, then women have to be unencumbered from children too. And so I call it a market logic, but instead of the market being a good means to distribute and produce and all sorts of good things that the market does it almost as though the market mentality of equality is kind of a market equality. We must be breadwinners just like men. And so it does. There’s sort of a move away from the family. So it’s both anti discrimination law. And then a lot of reproductive politics that takes over really instead of this older view of rights are necessary in order to engage and fulfill our responsibilities to other, wherever they are.
Whether we have children, whether they are broader family, civic responsibilities, and all that. And it becomes a more shortsighted kind of careerist focus that tends to be more focused on sort of the success worldly success, success in wealth and status and all these things, which are fine and good, except that they ought to be used for the good of others and for the common wheel for the public interest and all that. And I think that’s been lost.
I saw a really interesting article I think it was earlier this week. And I can’t even remember what the publication was, but there was a study done in the UK about what the wage losses are for women when they have kids. So how much they could have earned on average, but if they have kids, they couldn’t. And so it’s making this statement that women lose money because they have children. So it’s going back to that children are a burden, the careers what we’re looking for. However, I do think that is kind of going against some of what we’re seeing, where you see celebrities are being praised for having babies. I remember Beyonce had her twins or Kim Kardashian has four kids. I feel that even in the public sphere, even in pop culture, motherhood is being embraced more than what we’ve seen before. So have you seen a correction on that?
Yeah. No, you’re right. There is this language of opportunity cost. I mean, I use economic language too. It’s very helpful, right. But it’s still this kind of opportunity cost of having children. And it’s true. I mean, anti-discrimination gains of the last half century have been an incredible boon to women who can live their lives, just like unencumbered men who can make those kinds of decisions. The wage gap is very small. I mean, Claudia Goldin, one of the most celebrated economists, a feminist herself, sees that the wage gap between men and women who’ve made the same decisions are very small. But when women make decisions for their family, which they often want to do, the wage gap, definitely changes and there’s a gulf there because of the decisions women are making for motherhood.
But I think you’re right. Women are still making those decisions. I mean, I personally think there ought to be many more accommodations for family life, for both men and women. I think, since women got into the workplace, the family itself is working so many more hours. I mean, think of it before, when it was men as breadwinners, women as caregivers, they were working only the men’s hours. Now the family is working twice as much, at least at the upper echelons. And the lower echelons are having a hard time, maybe finding all the work that they need. But so I think, women are still choosing for their families. It just would be good if society had sort of institutional understanding that choice, that choice for the family is a good one. So there should be things like allowances for part-time work.
I mean, I argue for part-time pay equity that you shouldn’t have kind of a mommy tax on your work. You shouldn’t be paid disproportionally less when you’re working part-time. And there’s all sorts of things that the left and right are starting to kind of come around, like parental leave that, of course we don’t have and every other country has. Things that make it a lot easier for women to engage in work while also prioritizing their family. You also see men who want to do this, not even… I mean, of course there’s an increase in, stay at home dads, but there’s also just men who want to spend more time with their children, engage in the life of the family because they see really so many riches there. For many, many people, their work is not what brings them happiness. Their work is a means to fulfill those duties that they have to the home and to their family, to their children. And so, we ought to be re-structuring things with really the family first, I think.
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Well, Erika, I want to now turn to what we often think of the definition of what feminism is. And I think we think of the Women’s March, which started right after the inauguration of Donald Trump. That’s where we saw just thousands of women out there. I actually was reporting on the ground and can attest to how many women were out there. But the things that they were espousing from the stage were very different than some of the founding principles you listed today as the definition of feminism. I think that’s why women who are conservative like me, we struggle to even call ourselves feminists because the term means something so different today. So what would you make of the Women’s March claiming that that is feminism, is it true feminism, and why do we see such a difference?
Yeah. That’s actually the vignette I begin the whole book with as you know, and it’s just really the difference. I put the Women’s March and kind of not only the pink hats on the heads, of course, but also if you were privy to, which I did because I work on these issues, the stage at the end there where they were speaking, I mean, just engaging in expletives, ad hominem attacks, just really kind of down and ugly. I mean the kind of things that you would expect from kind of malformed adolescent boys that are talking in the locker room together.
I remember seeing the signs that women were holding. I’m like this is not appropriate for children. I remember thinking that as I was there.
Yeah. Which I think is really indicative of what kind of the second wave as it moved off. I mean, there’s parts of the second wave again, the anti-discrimination law that I think is good, but when it’s sort of moved off. The way I think about it is that you can sort of work for equal rights in a couple of different ways. One is that you can kind of call men up to a higher sort of level, not to say that there aren’t always gentlemen and all of that, but there’s a way in which sometimes men, I mean, I have several sons and several daughters, so I see it, but there’s a way in which women can call men to be their best selves. I think men can call women to be their best selves, but you can sort of bring about equality by asking them to join me in reciprocity and collaboration, all these kinds of higher sorts of things, which is what the first wave women feminists were doing.
They were really asking men to join them in the work of the home, in the work of care and the work of nurture, but also in good provision, right? For their families and taking responsibilities. I mean, a lot of what they were doing was calling them away from bars and brothels. That’s why the temperance movement was such a big deal for those first wave, right? They were saying, you have responsibilities in the family to us, to your wife, to your children. Come, be here. And they felt they needed equal rights in order to protect themselves from when men went astray. But what the second wave does, especially as it gets on and on into whichever waves its in, and you see this very much in that feminist movement or that, sorry, Women’s March is really, I think, degrading women into these real, like kind of the lowest of low men, which is just such a pity.
And one of the things I point out is they use similar terms like dignity and love and self-determination, but they really mean entirely different things. In the first wave, they always understand that there are particular ends and what are the ends, but again, the responsibilities to others, developing one’s self in, I mean, they use the words, virtue. We would probably say moral and intellectual excellence and that that’s the end of life and to get to happiness versus self-determination kind of to do whatever I want, to live whatever life I want, and you just kind of have to deal with it, even if it’s hurtful, harmful to others and all that. So I think there’s a turn, there’s an individualistic turn that has gone all the way down. So it’s really me-focused, but focused on kind of the the lowest parts of us, kind of the lowest animalistic appetites, which is in to my view, those first wave feminists called us to the highest part of us, the highest principle of us, which is our rational capacities. Right. And so yeah, I think those are kind of the differences that I would see.
Well, as we wrap up our time today, I want to get to another area, which I think is just fascinating as we talk about this issue. And that is what we see with the transgender movement where men say that they are women and this push to make sure that we are using the right terminology when we talk about things like women. So you recently signed on endorsed independent Women’s Bill of Rights, which seeks to legally define common sex-based words, such as female, women and sex. So how important do you feel it is to define these terms? Why is that so necessary?
Yeah, I have to tell you, congratulations on that statement. I sort of have been waiting. I have all sorts of friends in the UK who have been really pushing back against this for a while. And I was like, where are the Americans? Why aren’t we doing anything? So I was not only so thrilled to see the statement and then asked to be asked to sign on. I mean, I was just honored, and it was just a perfect statement. I mean, you have great people working for you. It was just excellent. So yeah, I mean, there’s a real, as those of us conservatives know, there’s a real totalitarianism in all of this, right? I mean, it makes you think of the dystopias where people were told in certain books that we would be told not to say mother. I mean, this is an incredible affront to who women are, and the fact that more feminists… I mean, at least in other countries in the UK, there’s more push, I think, back of feminists. And in our country, it’s funny.
I’ve actually had conversations with feminists who don’t agree with me on much, and I’ve asked them like, you’re a feminist, why are you not commenting on this trans stuff? How are you really using their terms? Like really saying that male body, people who identify as women are actually women, why are you allowing this? It’s just astonishing to me. So I don’t think there’s a more important thing to be doing actually right now. My book doesn’t really get into this. Although if you read my book, you have a sense of where I stand clearly. I have a little footnote when, when the Bostock decision came out, but it was just predated kind of some of the total insanity that has taken place.
But I think it’s absolutely important. And a lot of this is really what we talked about before is that we’ve lost the capacity to understand first what a human is. So there’s an idea that like, we’re just this self creating that there’s nothing given about us. And Wollstonecraft, those early women’s rights activists, they knew what human beings are. We’re rational creatures, we’re rational animals. And we have as men and women, the shared purpose where happiness comes when we develop ourselves in what they would say as wisdom and virtue and excellence. And we share this together, but we’re also dimorphic beings, right? We’re distinguished because of our reproductive capacities. It doesn’t mean our reproductive capacities are everything about us. And that’s what anti-discrimination law gets at.
But they are very important. They distinguish us. And that’s what makes a female is one who has the potential to do this amazing thing, which is carry and bear children. And so when you decided you don’t like that in your whole movement, however many decades ago, it sort of makes sense that if you’ve eclipsed the idea of females being those who bear children from your movement entirely, you’ve said that’s less important than their wage earning or whatever, of course, you’re going to come to the point where you can kind of make up whatever a woman is. It can be just whatever she says.
And the last thing I would just say is how sort of gross it is to be called things like, I don’t know, like bleeder and all of these tearing apart the female body, instrumentalizing it, and to think that more feminists in our country, aren’t standing up, I just applaud. And I applaud all those you at Independent Women’s Forum have come together with women’s, whatever it’s called liberation, Federation, or whatever it’s called, the WLF and all that. Come together with more, because this is the battle of our time right now. And I don’t think it’s going to be long lived because I just think it’s so absurd. But obviously I’m not in the trenches on this one.
Yeah. We’re very excited about the women’s Bill of Rights. And we’re excited about giving information about your book and you sharing it with us today. So it’s called “The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision.” Erika Bachiochi, thank you so much for joining us on She Thinks today.
Thanks so much for having me.
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