May 18th, 2010 by Hafiz Noor Shams
Dear Ms. Alicia,
In replying to your letter, I will probably admit to only this: perhaps I accidentally casted my net too widely by not using enough qualification when I criticized Farrelly some days ago. I qualified my statement at the beginning but later, I did away with it. I tend to do this because I typically define something early and then, purely for the sake of convenience, use concise term with the expectation that my readers will understand its meaning. For instance, when I write liberal, I refer to classical liberal and not just general liberals who may or may not adhere to the tenets of classical liberalism. Such method usually works. After reading your letter, I discover that that expectation of mine fails in this instance. I should have tirelessly used the qualification until the very end. I may have been sloppy in that sense but I am not guilty of laziness or other accusations of yours.
When I referred to authoritarian feminism with respect to the burqa controversy several days ago, it was not my intention to paint feminism as authoritarian as a whole. I am merely referring to a strain of feminism that is authoritarian. Feminism as advocated by Farrelly clearly belongs to a strain of authoritarian. The litmus test for this is simply her call to use state power to ban the wearing of burqa.
You are right how a political belief such as feminism, or any political belief for that matter, is diverse and complex. Contrary to your assertion, I am well aware of that. The presence of diversity however does not negate the fact that the call for the ban of burqa has been based on feminism, whatever strain that is. It is exactly due to diversity that this can happen.
Neither is this illiberal opinion is a fringe one within feminism. Current development suggests that it is well-subscribed. Not standard — I do not claim so; I merely asked — maybe but popular nonetheless. Unless this illiberal opinion is somehow being overly represented in the media, its popularity is a proof enough that it is a major opinion within feminism. The fact that the debate is being played out in the open is another proof. Such debate suggests that this illiberal fraction within feminism exists. If it did not exist, there would not have been a debate.
I certainly did not base my thoughts on only two articles. You appear to be well aware of the burqa debates within feminism, and perhaps, the larger debate surrounding the burqa. I believe you yourselves are well aware of how popular the call to ban the burqa is among feminists. It is easy to find feminists who disagree and agree with the ban.
I am picking on illiberal feminism and feminists who are supporting the ban. It is this illiberal strain of feminism as advocated by Farrelly that I call authoritarian. If you do not belong to this authoritarian feminism, then good for you.
As a side point, just because one does not have the power to coerce others does not mean authoritarian thoughts do not exist. Authoritarian thoughts and actions can exist independently of each other. Being a fringe also does not mean one does not have the ability to wield the “weapon of authoritarianism.” It is a fallacy to think otherwise. History has shown how minority groups can be authoritarian. But I am digressing. Before there is any misunderstanding, I definitely am not pointing out feminism in this specific case within the confined of this specific paragraph. I am merely proving a point, and a secondary point at that for the purpose of this reply.
So, what if Farrelly exhibits authoritarian tendency? Farrelly is not a spokesperson for feminism, as you have argued.
True. But this argument is quite irrelevant. If it were relevant, it would raise a question: are you a spokesperson for feminism? What right do you have to speak on behalf of any kind of feminism then? The use of ‘we’ by you would be certainly questionable, if we apply the logic of she-is-not-a-spokesperson without being unfairly selective about it.
My point is that this illiberal tendency within feminism exists and Farrelly is only an agent of it. Perhaps you are a liberal manifestation of feminism. It is unproductive to dismiss Farrelly so easily, given the popularity of the illiberal view. On top of that, Farrelly, after all, writes for an influential mainstream newspaper in Australia. Whatever right you claim, it is claimable by Farrelly as well. It is both a strength and a weakness of diversity within feminism.
After all that, I think since both of us disagree with the ban, I feel there is little to discuss. Indeed, I think there is little room for harsh words. The unkind words scented with personal attack early in your letter are quite unnecessary. Disagreement can be addressed in a civil manner.
Now that the issue of burqa is out of the way, there is one last order of business. It involves reverse discrimination – or positive discrimination or affirmative action, depending which term one prefers – for women. I have made my position clear earlier and my opposition is largely due to my concern for tokenism. For your benefit, allow me to provide a brief explanation with the hope that this disagreement will evaporate in my favor.
If any woman, and indeed, anybody, suffers from endowment effect that necessarily means that she or he does not start at the same starting line and indeed behind, they need to be empowered through skills. Train them. Educate them. A more refined approach is required to address historical accident.
Merely putting them in a position because of affirmative action is counterproductive. Such tokenism will adversely affect society through incompetence, disfranchise the capable and ultimately create unfair generalization of women as a whole.
Reverse discrimination in this manner is what referred to when I wrote beyond tokenism. I despise sentences that go “[a]nd what is this fear of the demands that women may make beyond tokenism that you speak of? A dystopian future of emasculated men?” It is clearly out of context. But I guess, effective rhetoric demands so. It is the cherry on top I suppose.
Let merit be the major determination of who holds what. If women everywhere are more capable than any man anywhere is, then let all positions be dominated by women. I have no problem with that. What I have problem is tokenism brought upon by reverse discrimination.
If a capable woman is prevented from rightly reaching the top due to male chauvinists, then by all mean prosecute the chauvinists under some anti-discrimination laws. If a man is prevented from rightly reaching the top because of some tokenistic system, then you can see me actively dismantling that system. Equal representation is one that demands equality of outcome. As a libertarian, all I want is equality of negative individual rights. I want equality of opportunity as radiated from equal rights.
Oh, just because I do not believe in affirmative action for women does not mean that I have underdeveloped thoughts about gender discrimination. If you supposedly have developed advanced thoughts on the matter, then do share. I would very much like to find out how your argument will be different to those I have listened in the past, either in terms of gender, ethnicity or even business.
Until then, if you demand equality of outcome, then I am proud not to sit on the same side as you. I have raised my voice against demands for equality of outcome in terms of race and ethnicity. I will be a hypocrite if I do not raise my voice against equality of outcome in terms of gender. Merit is the only fair result to an outcome in most, if not all, situations.
With that, I believe I have my say for now.
Thank you for your letter. It gives me an opportunity to clarify my earlier thoughts with measured fashion.
 — Show me authoritarian feminism, and I’ll show you some poorly researched tosh: A letter to Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Alicia Izharuddin. Cycads. May 17 2010