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Fair-weather Feminism

February 2024

According to PEW Research, 61% of women identify as feminists. But very few of them are zealous true-believers. The majority are guided by a more pragmatic code which I call fair-weather feminism.

To the point, fair-weather feminists are rather utilitarian: they demand gender equality when it pays, but when it portends adversity and inconvenience they retreat to the protections of patriarchy.

The most obvious example is women's fainthearted response to the question "should young women be required to register for the military draft?"

This question captured the headlines in 1980 when President Carter, reacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, asked Congress to reinstate registration for the draft, and recommended that the requirement include young women.

At this time the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was under attack from an organization of conservative women led by Phyllis Schlafly. Of course, Carter supported the ERA; but by reminding the public that gender equality could expose women to the draft, Carter actually aided Schlafly's crusade against ratification of the ERA.

So, feminist leaders did NOT greet Carter's proposal with unconditional praise. Instead their statements of approval came with lots of angry caveats.* The primary reason was bad news from opinion polls: a majority of American women did NOT support equal exposure to the draft. Indeed, Phyllis Schlafly's most potent weapon against the ERA was the specter of young women in foxholes. While the promise of equal rights was very popular, its implication for conscription was not.

Surely, today's feminist-inspired women are more likely to support equal exposure to the draft than in 1980, right?

Not according to public opinion surveys summarized below. From 1980 onward, the inclusion of women in the draft has been supported by a majority of men, but never by a majority of women. While 61% of women called themselves feminists in 2016, only 40% believed gender equality applies to draft registration. Feminist-inspired men can afford to be less hypocritical when it comes to conscripting women.

polls: women should register for the draft

Again, the draft issue exemplifies the tendency of fair-weather feminists to opt for patriarchal protection whenever gender equality entails discomfort.


*The prevailing brand of feminism in 1980 had evolved in tandem with the anti-war movement. So feminists were loathe to condone a return to the shameful draft that fed the Vietnam war. In a letter to Congress, Eleanor Smeal argued that neither sex should be subject to a draft, because it is a system of involuntary servitude that fuels reckless militarism ( e.g., Vietnam).


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