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Modern Wisdom

Mary Harrington - Feminism Is No Longer Helping Women

Thu Mar 02 2023
FeminismProgressIndustrial RevolutionTechnologyCommodificationBody HorrorReproductive TechnologiesMarriageSettlingGender-Neutral SpacesMen's DistressStandards in RelationshipsHormonal Birth Control


This episode explores the relationship between feminism and progress, starting from the Industrial Revolution to modern times. It delves into the challenges faced by women during industrialization, the impact of technological advancements on feminism, and the intersection of technology, power, and religion. The episode also discusses the commodification of relationships, body horror perception in pregnancy, and ethical concerns surrounding reproductive technologies. It concludes with insights on the changing dynamics of marriage, settling in relationships, and the influence of gender-neutral spaces on men's distress. The book aims to provide a thought-provoking perspective for young adults questioning the concept of never-ending freedom.


Feminism and progress are closely linked, but what if you don't believe in progress?

The episode explores the relationship between feminism and progress, challenging the notion of linear progress and its impact on women's lives.

The Industrial Revolution brought significant changes to women's roles and societal dynamics.

Women were displaced from their traditional roles in the home, leading to challenges in marriage, advocacy for legal personhood, and changes in social norms through feminist movements.

Technological advancements have shaped modern feminism.

Feminism has evolved in response to material conditions, particularly with the digital and contraceptive revolutions, emphasizing freedom underwritten by technology.

The commodification of relationships and individual choice has created an adversarial dynamic between the sexes.

The prevalence of online pornography, cultural messages promoting self-commodification, and disintegration of sexual desire have made it difficult for people to trust and form meaningful relationships.

Body horror perception in pregnancy challenges societal expectations.

A growing constituency of young women perceives pregnancy as body horror, influenced by societal emphasis on personal sovereignty, appearance, and market intrusion into women's bodies.

Reproductive technologies raise ethical concerns and questions about control over fertility.

The book explores the ethical implications of reproductive technologies like gestational surrogacy, highlighting financial coercion and potential harm while questioning the boundaries of control over fertility.

Changing dynamics of marriage and settling in relationships.

Marriage has transitioned from pragmatic arrangements to self-expressive unions, influenced by economic changes and the idea of infinite optionality. The episode discusses the importance of stability and interdependence in relationships.

Gender-neutral spaces and their impact on men's distress.

The invasion of gender-neutral spaces and limited all-male spaces contribute to escalating levels of distress in men, affecting male socialization and behavior.

The influence of women's standards on men's behavior.

Men's behavior is shaped by the standards set by women for obtaining sex, influencing their character and actions.

The impact of hormonal birth control on relationships and sexuality.

Hormonal birth control can have negative effects on libido and mental health, leading to discussions about its impact on attraction, relationships, and sexual dynamics.


  1. Feminism and Progress

Feminism and Progress

00:00 - 1:45:20

  • Feminism and progress are closely linked, but what if you don't believe in progress?
  • Mary Harrington, a former feminist, explores the relationship between feminism and progress.
  • Having a baby made her question the feminist notion of progress.
  • Being a stay-at-home mom can be fulfilling but loneliness and financial stability are key factors.
  • The history of feminism since the Industrial Revolution is explored in her book, 'Feminism Against Progress'.
  • The story of the Industrial Revolution is about work leaving the home.
  • In premodern economies, the basic unit of production was a household.
  • Women in premodern settings wielded informal power through controlling access to information and using gossip and public shame.
  • Female intersexual competition is more subtle and nuanced than male intersexual competition.
  • Progress for women during the industrial revolution is a response to changes brought by technology and work moving out of the home.
  • Working class women went into factories and had to figure out childcare, while upper-class women sought access to public life.
  • The industrial revolution radically reordered society and changed how men and women live together.
  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a significant focus on the role of men and women due to industrialization.
  • Women were displaced from their traditional roles in the home by inventions like the washing machine.
  • While their workload decreased, they became economically dependent on their husbands.
  • This led to challenges for women in unhappy marriages who had no legal rights or property ownership.
  • As a result, women began advocating for legal personhood and changes to social norms through feminist movements.
  • Feminism is not just moral progress but a response to larger material changes in society.
  • Different classes of women have different interests, leading to multiple factions within feminism.
  • The emancipation of men from previous expectations can lead to more fluid relationships, but it may not be beneficial for all women, especially those in lower socioeconomic classes.
  • There have been historical examples where workplace regulations were debated among feminists based on class differences and physical demands of jobs.
  • There was a debate between feminists who wanted differentiation by sex in the workplace and those who wanted equal treatment in clerical jobs.
  • Middle-class feminists won with the support of male industrialists, highlighting class tension.
  • The concern around male-only single-sex spaces is that it may lead to discrimination against women, but it also prevents working-class men from having their own spaces.
  • The unpaid debts of feminism started accruing when the feminism of freedom won over the feminism of care or interdependence.
  • The contraceptive revolution and digital revolution in the mid-1960s changed everything and marked a new era.
  • Women embracing the contraceptive pill made them cyborgs, as their personhood became inseparable from contraception.
  • Legislation on abortion and introduction of the pill had significant undercounted costs for women, according to some feminist perspectives.
  • There is a consistent pattern of self-styled male feminists ending up in sex pest scandals.
  • Some male feminists may be mistaken in assuming that men and women's sexuality is fundamentally the same.
  • The sexual revolution aimed to emancipate women from having babies upon having sex and having feelings when they have sex.
  • Feminists believed that the sexual revolution would lead to a polymorphous zone of erogenous joy, but it hasn't worked out like that.
  • As society becomes freer, commerce tends to get involved and trade increases.
  • Freedom and trade are impossible to separate; the more freedom you have, the more trade you have.
  • The legalization of the pill coincided with the opening of the first Playboy Club, marking a shift in sexual liberation.
  • The porn industry's ability to present itself as libertarian is based on the idea that sex is consequence-free, which is only possible with contraception.
  • OnlyFans represents a further step down the slippery slope of commodifying relationships and intimacy.
  • Online dating and creating dating profiles are similar to digital commerce, where individuals market themselves as products.
  • Feminism has evolved in response to material conditions, particularly with the digital and contraceptive revolutions.
  • Modern feminism emphasizes freedom underwritten by technology, including contraception and abortion rights.
  • The pursuit of more freedom and technological progress has been an underlying premise of the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Technological advancements do not eliminate human nature or differences between genders; they simply reorganize them within market dynamics.
  • 'Cyborg theocracy' refers to the intersection of technology, power, and religion.
  • Cyborg theocracy refers to a moral order that legitimizes the pursuit of freedom through technology.
  • The war on relationships between men and women is a manifestation of cyborg theocracy.
  • The breakdown of groundedness in sexual desire has led to a disintegration of its purpose and meaning.
  • The commodification of sexuality and the reinforcement of individual choice have created an adversarial dynamic between the sexes.
  • This dynamic makes it difficult for people to trust and be vulnerable in forming relationships, leading to long-term consequences for happiness and family life.
  • The prevalence of online pornography and cultural messages promoting self-commodification contribute to this dynamic.
  • Fewer young people are having sex due to chaotic, disorganized, and frightening dating experiences influenced by porn culture.
  • The sacredness around sex, relationships, motherhood, and babies has been undermined by societal changes.
  • Pro-choice activism is driven by fear of pregnancy among some women who perceive it as body horror.
  • There is a growing constituency of young women who perceive pregnancy as body horror and not a wonderful thing.
  • The expectation for individuals to be self-contained and not depend on others has contributed to this perception.
  • Being pregnant amplifies the fragility around personal sovereignty.
  • The premium placed on appearance in the Instagram world adds to the body horror reaction.
  • The market's intrusion into women's bodies and medical interventions are seen as routes towards emancipation.
  • This raises questions about why the control over fertility should stop at abortion and not extend further into reproductive technologies like gametes, IVF, and gestational surrogacy.
  • Women have options for controlling fertility such as abstinence or using contraception methods, but it is important to consider the larger-scale consequences of these choices.
  • Pregnancy not only creates a baby but also rewires the mother's brain in irreversible ways that prime her for caregiving.
  • Justational surrogacy may have ethical concerns, including financial coercion of surrogate mothers and potential harm to all parties involved.
  • Surrogacy is a topic that the speaker is conflicted about, as it involves separating a child from their gestational mother at birth.
  • The speaker believes it is immoral to conceive a child with the intent of separating them from their bond with the gestational mother.
  • There is a growing movement towards using technology to control and remodel our bodies, including gender reassignment surgeries and transhumanist ideas.
  • Some gender clinics are offering a greater variety of surgeries for individuals seeking to modify their secondary sex characteristics.
  • The speaker had a conversation with a transgender surgeon who performs various procedures, including adding a penis while keeping the vagina.
  • Transgender surgeries often involve using flesh from other parts of the body to create realistic-looking genitalia.
  • Transpenises have an inflating device that allows them to be pumped up and released at will.
  • The speaker discusses the concept of bodily modification and transhumanism.
  • They express concern about the potential exploitation of human bodies as resources.
  • The speaker mentions female farm workers in Maharashtra, India, who opt for hysterectomies to increase employability.
  • They raise questions about the source of body parts in a market for human body parts.
  • A bill was introduced in Massachusetts to offer reduced jail sentences to incarcerated felons who donate organs or bone marrow.
  • The speaker calls for action to prevent the marketization and exploitation of human bodies.
  • There is cognitive dissonance on both the left and right when it comes to technology and its implications.
  • The left desires emancipation through technology but struggles with negative side effects and exploitation.
  • The right is torn between retreat and embracing technology's economic promise.
  • Both sides are hesitant to acknowledge limits on technology despite its externalities.
  • There is an interesting question about too much freedom and its dangers.
  • Conservatives who think changing what women do will fix everything are not considering the reality that there is no going back.
  • Both men and women need a freedom haircut, but it will take time.
  • The speaker wants to abolish big romance and believes it intersects with the mating crisis.
  • Marriage has changed over time, from pragmatic arrangements to companion romance to self-expressive marriages.
  • With economic changes, the idea of interdependence in marriage has diminished.
  • Financial freedom has made ending relationships more thinkable.
  • Deindustrialization and knowledge work have shifted the balance of power between sexes in terms of earning potential.
  • Deindustrialization and the rise of knowledge work have shifted the balance of power between the sexes in terms of earning.
  • Men have put themselves out of a job in the modern world.
  • Choosing one person to marry is settling by definition, as everyone annoys their partner eventually.
  • 80% of childless women didn't intend to not have kids, according to a meta analysis by Professor Renska Kaiser.
  • The idea of infinite optionality and swiping left or right on potential partners has made settling seem strange.
  • Dating now often lacks exclusivity, leading to new anxieties about having conversations about commitment.
  • Economic changes will force people to rely on each other more and make ending marriages less sensible.
  • A stable society is better for raising children.
  • There is a tragedy of the commons effect where individuals benefit from others settling down while they continue searching for an optimal partner.
  • Men need good male role models to become better men.
  • Women should lead by example and let men form each other.
  • Men are more likely to listen to their friends, dads, and older men they respect than women when it comes to learning how to behave.
  • The invasion of gender-neutral spaces may contribute to the escalating levels of distress in men.
  • Limited socially legitimate all-male spaces are important for male socialization.
  • Men will do whatever is required to obtain sex from women, which can shape their behavior and character.
  • Women are not at fault for listlessness in men, but they are not unrelated either.
  • Men's behavior is influenced by the standards set by women for obtaining sex.
  • Technological innovations may have been motivated by men's desire to impress women.
  • Refusing hormonal birth control can be seen as a feminist fight against it.
  • Hormonal birth control can have negative effects on libido and mental health.
  • Young women are increasingly outraged after coming off the pill and experiencing positive changes in their lives.
  • Birth control is an under-discussed topic that will be studied by historians in the future.
  • The pro-sex case against the pill goes beyond its impact on attraction, affecting relationships and sexuality.
  • Hook-up culture can lead to uncomfortable situations for women who feel pressured to say yes out of politeness.
  • Taking birth control off the table can motivate individuals to set higher standards for themselves and avoid regrettable encounters.
  • The introduction of the pill increased the number of single mothers and changed sexual dynamics.
  • The introduction of the pill increased the number of single mothers and radically changed the absolute number of casual sexual encounters.
  • To abolish big romance, we need to embrace post-traumatic marriage and increase solidarity between the sexes.
  • We should tilt the balance towards stability rather than liquidity in relationships.
  • Feminist pushback against commodification is crucial, starting with how we relate to our own fertility.
  • The book is aimed at young men and women in their 20s to early 30s who are questioning the message of never-ending freedom.
  • There is a convergence among different perspectives on the demographic challenges we face.