While some think that feminism is a monolithic ideology, this is not the case. There are many varieties of feminism and it is a mistake to attribute to every feminist the same views, principles, and goals. Some forms of feminism are morally laudable. For example, many forms of feminism are focused on moral equality, legal equality and combating injustice. Some forms of feminism are much less laudable. One form of less laudable feminism might be dubbed “opportunist feminism” for the want of a better name.
Opportunist feminism is not an “official” form of feminism and will not be found in any textbook on the subject. It is, rather, more of a mode of behavior than a developed philosophical view. Put in very rough terms, an opportunist feminist is a woman who accepts the aspects of general feminism that are to her advantage while ignoring aspects of general feminism that she regards as disadvantageous. An opportunist feminist typically takes advantage of the traditional gender roles while avoiding the aspects that are not advantageous.
On the face of it, this might seem a very reasonable approach. All rational beings seek advantages and avoid what is not advantageous. If a woman, for example, chooses to only accept the aspects of traditional gender roles that profit her, then she would seem to be making a smart choice.
Of course, where things get rather interesting is when the nature of the advantages and disadvantages are considered. To focus the discussion, consider a concrete situation: a dinner date at a restaurant.
On such a date, the question arises as to who should pay for the date. An opportunist feminist in such a situation would insist on the traditional gender roles: the man pays for the dinner. The advantage to her is clear-she gains a free meal. Of course, there is the question of what justifies her insisting on the traditional gender roles in this situation. After all, she rejects them when doing so is to her advantage.
Someone who consistently holds to traditional gender roles need not provide a special justification in this case. Naturally, such roles would need to be justified(and probably cannot) but that goes beyond the scope of this essay. A problem arises when the woman is an opportunist feminist-she rejects traditional roles in some occasions (those that are not advantageous to her) and accepts them in others (those that are advantageous). In the dinner case, the question is about what would justify her accepting traditional roles.
In traditional role dating, the gender roles are typically justified on two grounds.
The first is that the traditional male is supposed to have a higher income than the traditional female. Of course, this income disparity indicates the injustice inherent in traditional gender roles. But that is another matter.
In general terms, it does seem acceptable for the person with a significantly higher income to pick up the tab. In any case, doing so would be an expression of generosity: “I have more, so I will share with you.”
Of course, if the woman’s income is close to the man’s or at least such that the dinner would be comfortably affordable to her, then it would seem that the woman should at least pay for her dinner. After all, a person who wants to claim equality should also accept equality of responsibility. Naturally, an opportunist might avail herself of the income disparity justification. It would not be, of course, her real motive. Her real motive is simply to avoid paying for dinner. So, this justification is not open to the opportunist.
The second is that the traditional date could be seen, cynically, as an economic arrangement. The male is buying the dinner in the hopes of eventually having sex with the woman. While this casts dating a form of legalized prostitution (and gambling, in a sense), there are many interesting feminist analyses that support this conception of traditional gender role dating. The opportunist feminist clearly will not want to accept this justification. After all, she is looking for a free dinner and is presumably not interested in prostituting herself. Hence, this justification is not one the opportunist feminist would accept.
So, the opportunist feminist wants to exploit the aspect of the traditional gender roles that requires the male to pay for dinner, but she cannot avail herself of the traditional justifications. Further consideration reveals that she does have a principle she can appeal to, namely that “profit is the measure of right” (Thomas Hobbes). She can also appeal to Glaucon’s view, as presented in his tale of the ring of Gyges. Glaucon argues that all living things desire “undue gain” and that this is regarded by each person as right and good (for them). In short, opportunist feminism is essentially ethical egoism in that actions are justified because they are in the best interest of the opportunity feminist. Of course, being an open ethical egoist is not very effective. If a woman tells a man that he is expected to pay for the meal because she wants to keep her money and have a free dinner at his expense, this will probably not meet with great success. But, if a woman professes that she follows traditional gender roles, then the man will be more inclined to pay. Of course, following all the traditional gender roles is hardly advantageous. In those cases, the opportunist feminist will happily avail herself of the aspects of feminism that give her an advantage while trying to avoid those that require her to assume responsibilities and the general burdens of actual equality.
While opportunist feminist are obviously a problem for some men, they can also be quite harmful for other women. Opportunists provide effective ammunition for those who would attack “equality feminism” as a smokescreen for women to gain advantages while ignoring responsibility.
Thus, opportunist feminism should be combated.
For those who wonder about whether I pick up the tab on dates or not, the answer is that I usually do. But not because I subscribe to traditional gender roles and not because I think I’m putting a down payment on some “action.” I do so because generosity is a virtue. Of course, everyone should exercise their virtue. 🙂