(Shown: a woman with very strange ideas about how evolution works, not to mention about what feminism is. From womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com.)
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis calls natural ”a word to conjure with”, and says that “[i]f you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach”. He, of course, is talking about his own favorite subject of religion, but I think his words have much broader applications.
We humans love to speak for nature.
If we think certain sexual practices are icky, we label them “crimes against nature”, then make laws against them (e.g. Louisiana and North Carolina) on nature’s behalf. And then we refuse to get rid of those laws, even years after it becomes illegal to enforce them.
Today, in marketplaces and in media, we are bombarded with messages about how certain products and practices are superior because they are “natural” — or are inferior because they aren’t.
A key defense of slavery was that it was “natural”. That started with Aristotle, but sadly did not end with him.
When we humans want instant legitimacy for our ideas, we claim to be speaking for nature. It’s a shady trick that works because nature is not a person; no one who disagrees with us can ask nature if we are representing it properly.
This kind of appeal to nature is a popular weapon against feminism. Some anti-feminists like to call it “biology” or (like the rather confused woman above) “evolution”, but their message is clear no matter how it is packaged: that gender roles aren’t something humans made up — rather, they are ordained by nature itself.
Some MRAs, for example, love to talk about the "biological reality" of women, but it’s more than just internet weirdos. Earlier this month, a Glasgow University professor told an audience at an education conference that encouraging women to pursue careers in science was “deny[ing] human biology and nature”.
It’s all nonsense, of course. If anyone found real, credible science backing the claim that gender roles are truths of nature rather than cultural constructs, we’d never stop hearing about it. It would be preached from Evangelical pulpits as confirmation of Biblical values. Social conservatives in legislature would be rallying around it like a banner. The blondes on Fox News Channel would trot it out almost every day.
Here’s an easy rule of thumb: people who claim their ideas about social order come from “nature”, or “biology”, or “evolution” are always wrong.
That goes double for people who try to make broad, sweeping generalizations about women and girls. Someone who has never met my daughter knows nothing about her “nature” except a small tidbit about her anatomy. When I want to know about her nature, I’ll ask her.
Right now, she says her nature requries juice.
Thanks for reading.