Erika Bachiochi on the Rights of Women According To the Communitarian Tradition of Feminist Thought

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Video interview of Erika Bachiochi by Benjamin Boyce, on how to best deal with the asymmetry between the genders.


A really excellent conversation with a very erudite female scholar representing a communautarian approach to gender.


* Book: The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. by Erika Bachiochi. University of Notre Dame Press, 2021



From the publisher:

"Erika Bachiochi explores the development of feminist thought in the United States. Inspired by the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Bachiochi presents the intellectual history of a lost vision of women’s rights, seamlessly weaving philosophical insight, biographical portraits, and constitutional law to showcase the once predominant view that our rights properly rest upon our concrete responsibilities to God, self, family, and community.

Bachiochi proposes a philosophical and legal framework for rights that builds on the communitarian tradition of feminist thought as seen in the work of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Drawing on the insight of prominent figures such as Sarah Grimké, Frances Willard, Florence Kelley, Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Mary Ann Glendon, this book is unique in its treatment of the moral roots of women’s rights in America and its critique of the movement’s current trajectory. The Rights of Women provides a synthesis of ancient wisdom and modern political insight that locates the family’s vital work at the very center of personal and political self-government. Bachiochi demonstrates that when rights are properly understood as a civil and political apparatus born of the natural duties we owe to one another, they make more visible our personal responsibilities and more viable our common life together.

This smart and sophisticated application of Wollstonecraft’s thought will serve as a guide for how we might better value the culturally essential work of the home and thereby promote authentic personal and political freedom."



Reclaiming Feminism from the Logic of the Market

Erika Bachiochi:

"In its inception in the 19th century, the early American women’s movement worked hard to resist the powerful draw of market values in the personal lives of men, women and children. These women recognized early on that the most good, true and beautiful things in life would never be counted in the growing industrial economy nor valued by a wage.

They foresaw clearly that the character-shaping, solidarity-building work they did with their husbands, raising up new generations of Americans in the virtues of collaboration, reciprocity, trust and concern for others, could be undermined by the materialistic tendencies of the new commercial economy, even as these virtues make such an economy viable and sustainable in the first place. Through their political advocacy for joint property ownership, workers’ rights, suffrage and more, these women sought to elevate legally and politically the essential work of the home: that person-oriented island in a market-driven sea.

In the last half century, that traditional resistance to the encroaching logic of the consumeristic market has withered, and more often than not feminism too has ceded to its worldview. Today, mainstream feminism promotes a view of freedom as autonomous choice, manifest most plainly in the popular abortion-rights slogan “right to choose.” Parenthood is increasingly viewed as one lifestyle choice among many, and for mothers an “opportunity cost” at that. The value of children (and other dependents) are too often subject, like other “trade-offs” in the marketplace, to individual (or social) “cost-benefit” analysis.

The women’s movement of the last 50 years has made extraordinary gains, not the least of which is the recognition of women as individual persons equal under the law. The myriad and diverse capacities, interests and abilities of women, especially as opportunities have become increasingly available to them, know no end. The modern-day women’s movement can be credited with at last putting to rest the ways in which women’s unequal legal status in the family and in society had subordinated women unjustly for too long.

But the feminist movement today has been slower to recognize that abstract rights only take women so far. Taken to their limit as the mere power to choose, abstract rights tend to eat away at the very conditions that make their exercise worthwhile—and humane. Other evaluative considerations, especially our shared responsibilities to the vulnerable and dependent, are subordinated to the duly unencumbered, autonomous self so prized in the “good life” of our late modern capitalist society. And that consuming, choosing, disembodied self makes no room for the concrete asymmetries inherent in sexual intercourse and reproduction, and in caregiving too. The deck is stacked today against pregnant women and caregiving families: the very people to whom future generations will owe their existence and well-being.

Without a substantive account of human freedom, and its proper end, human excellence, the essential human goods of children, family and community, so necessary for authentic human flourishing, are subordinated to the dominant value of choice dictated by the logic of the market. We’re left with a culture that aggrandizes consumerism, workaholism and the relentless quest for power, wealth and pleasure. And though this new American way of life may appear to benefit the rich, well-educated and otherwise privileged, none of this bodes well for children and other vulnerable populations.

Women’s rights are no different; without an account of what freedom is for, feminism ends up appropriating a market orientation too. Individual choice is to be maximized without an obvious limiting principle and without due consideration of the apparent goods that are being chosen. As a consequence, the modern-day feminist movement on the whole has difficulty condemning epidemic pornography, the sexual mutilation of children at the behest of a cultish gender ideology and other forms of sexual exploitation (from “sex work” to now normative casual sex). It insists on retaining “consent” as the highest value in the sexual context, even as asymmetrical power disparities rightly put this concept into question in other areas, and as increasing numbers of ordinary women lament today’s male-oriented sexual norms.

In the now-dominant logic of the market, marriage, children and caregiving—human goods that have been affirmed and celebrated throughout human history—are treated as merely individual preferences with substantial financial consequences. Rendered private goods mediated by private choices, the inherently public nature of these goods, and the communal and political responsibilities they entail, is widely forgotten. The wealthy are scarcely affected by such cultural amnesia, as many persist in living out relatively family-centered lives, but the poor are shorn of that essential familial and communal substructure upon which they might find their own footing and rise above their circumstances.

It is no surprise that as law and policy over the past several decades have elevated the rights of the isolated, unencumbered, autonomous individual above our common and shared responsibilities to the dependent, weak and vulnerable, our workplaces have not grown much more hospitable to those who care for such persons. Nor has the community at large found ways to support this most essential work."