Abolish Anti-Discrimination Laws
Feminists cannot have it both ways
"Last week, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa health club Body Central. According to the agency, which enforces California's civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, the club's women-only policy violates the civil rights of men.
Is the suit just payback for feminist intrusions into male-only groups? Or does the suit merely extend an unjust law and embed it further into society? Body Central is poised to become a test case. At issue is whether an owner has the right to control the customer policies of his or her private business. If so, then the state cannot properly dictate whom that owner must serve or allow onto the premises. A decision to discriminate among customers would be an expression of the owner's freedom of association and of the same property rights that protect his or her home from unwelcome 'guests.'
California law denies the existence of such private rights for businesses. It asserts, instead, that the public has a civil right to access an owner's property and services even over his or her objection. The Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civil Code section 51(b), stipulates that business establishments must provide "full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services" and not discriminate on the basis of "sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition." The businesses in question include, but are not limited to, hotels, non-profit organizations, restaurants, theaters, retail establishments, and beauty shops.
Arguably, California claims control over the customer policies of every business in the state. In 1995, the California Supreme Court decided a case in which a woman demanded entry into an exclusive men-only golf club. The court ruled that private clubs operating as businesses were required to follow state laws against discrimination. That's the law in California. But is it just, or does the law itself constitute a violation of individual rights?
The facts confronting the Body Central conflict are not in question. In 2003, Phillip Kottle was refused membership at the women-only gym in Santa Rosa on the basis of his sex. A few months earlier, Kottle had attempted to gain full membership at the Elan Fitness Center in nearby Petaluma, which offered only restricted access to men. (Acting on his complaint, the DFEH also filed a suit against Elan, which was settled in January 2005 on the condition that men have full access to classes and facilities, with the exception of lockers and showers.)
The DFEH concluded that Body Central was in violation of the Unruh Act and, in 2004, the owner signed a settlement agreement by which the club was opened to men. Separate shower facilities were to be provided; a monetary settlement was offered to Kottle; women-only advertisements were withdrawn; the club's staff received anti-discrimination training. In return, the DFEH ceased its enforcement action against Body Central.
The DFEH's renewed action against the club alleges violations of the 2004 agreement and points to such transgressions as language on the club's website. For example, Body Central states, "We specialize in fitness for women, with a women only policy you get the privacy of the entire gym."
The owner may have gambled on the possibility that California would ultimately ignore a cause as unpopular as a man forcing his way into a woman's gym. After all, the cost of compliance is high. Body Central's equipment and facilities are geared exclusively for women's specific needs, and other gyms have gone bankrupt under the financial strain of expanding to accommodate both sexes. If so, the gamble lost. A "status conference" on the DFEH lawsuit is set to be heard in April before the Superior Court.
The facts may be clear but the appropriateness of involving law in the customer policies of a private business is in dispute. An ideological conflict underlies the attempt by either sex to force open the doors of 'exclusive' businesses: individual rights versus egalitarianism. Under individual rights, every human being has control over the peaceful use of his or her own body and property. Under egalitarianism, access to and use of property is equally distributed across society, with or without the consent of owners.
I come down on the side of individual rights. In terms of Body Central, I don't believe any man or woman has a legal 'right' to exercise on someone else's private property. I do not believe anyone has a moral obligation to provide another person with exercise. Freedom of association means that individuals, including property owners, have a right to say 'yes' or 'no' at their own front door.
Unfortunately, an emotional element also underlies the conflict. Some men applaud the turn-around as an opportunity to give feminists a taste of their own medicine. In doing so, they adopt the very principles they allegedly decry: egalitarianism, the legal imposition of gender policy, the use of collective 'gender-think.' In short, they become feminists.
Body Central may become not only a test case but also a trial of conscience. Women who believe in egalitarianism will either apply that principle to men or be confronted by their own hypocrisy. Men who believe feminism's door-busting has been wrong will have to decide whether they value revenge more highly than justice. As for me, I just hope an unjust law will be extinguished rather than extended.
SOME EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH AN OLDER AND WISER FEMINIST
Phyllis Chesler comments on the matters raised in her new book "The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom"
I had been saddened for a long time by the failure of academics, including feminists, to celebrate, not merely tolerate, "difference." I am not talking about class, gender, race, or sexual preference diversity but about intellectual and ideological diversity which is sorely lacking in the western academy--which has been thoroughly Palestinianized.
I have also been wrestling with anti-Semitism on the left since the late 1960s. What compelled me to write this book at this time was the western intelligentsia's refusal to acknowledge the dangers of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing even post the 2000 Intifada; and their refusal to re-evaluate their own obsessive hatred for America, post 9/11.
Finally, based on my own captivity in Afghanistan long ago, I understood that the lessons I learned at such perilous cost to myself were lessons that I now needed to share with others. Primarily, neither America nor Israel, not even Europe, are responsible for Islamic or Third World barbarism--especially Islamic gender Apartheid; that we cannot abandon women and dissidents living under Islamist tyrannies because we cherish our ideas about cultural relativity more than we cherish our obligation to try and bring more justice and freedom into the world.
In the beginning, feminists were not anti-activist isolationists. We saw the plight of women world-wide as a common plight. As feminists became more colonized by left and postcolonial ways of thinking, they revised their original vision of universal rights for all to a culturally relativist and mea culpa way of thinking. Who are we to judge others, there is CIA blood on our hands, we, who believe in the rights of victims everywhere must therefore support the victims rising everywhere.
Thus, left feminists came to support, romanticize, or not think clearly about Third World tyrants whom they sometimes confused with liberators. They also had one very high standard for America and Israel and another much lower standard for Muslim countries. I view this as both racist and sexist but in turn, saying so has rendered me vulnerable to charges of my being a racist. Many left feminists confuse my stand against multi-cultural relativity and its attendant isolationism with a stand against multi-cultural diversity. Often, in the battle of ideas, one's great opponents include groupthink, rigidity, stupidity, as well as evil.
To be fair, feminists did rail against the Taliban, female genital mutilation, honor killings, etc. but they did not manage to forge a feminist foreign policy that would incorporate these concerns--mainly because they refused to work with a Republican administration. I hope this can change. I begin to spell out what a feminist foreign policy might be like in the last chapter of the book.....
From a psychological point of view, perhaps the kind of person most attracted to both Left ideology and Islamism is someone who needs their ideology to function as a Total Institution, as a way of life which will provide community, employment, and answers to the most perplexing questions, even if the answers are wrong or do not work. Also, many leftists, like Islamists, view themselves as "good" people who are trying to help others. Even if it means slandering, ostracizing, exiling, or killing others it is "for their own good," and for the good of the world.
Many extremists exist on both the right and left--designations and polarities which may no longer serve us well. Academic leftists simply cannot stop blaming America as an evil empire and demonizing President Bush as more dangerous that Al-Qeda. How is one to reason with those who are not acting rationally but emotionally and in a very primitive way? .....
It is important to note that some feminists have strongly and courageously supported what I am saying in The Death of Feminism. They have interviewed me on radio shows knowing that they would come under friendly fire themselves for having done so. Most recently, Marcia Pappas, the President of NOW-New York State stood up to the bullying and intimidation that Katha Pollitt of Nation magazine and her ally, Pam Martens visited upon her for having invited me (someone who voted for President Bush and who supported the war in Afghanistan and Iraq) to speak. Since then, Pappas has written a good review of Death which I believe she has been circulating among NOW officials. Pollitt et al persuaded WBAI to tape my lecture which they then spliced-and-diced for a one hour program in which they denounced me on-air as a "racist." They described me as "the Christopher Hitchens of the women's movement"--and then proceeded to denounce me....
Like everyone who has dared tell the truth about Israel, who is an American patriot, and who opposes the hypocrisy and double standards of the political correckniks, one must endure very strange looks, unexpected and ferocious confrontations, turned backs, heavy silences, and the ending of political friendships.
So far, my books about anti-Semitism and about Islamic gender Apartheid, in both Muslim countries and in the West, which is what Death is about, has not been reviewed nor have I been interviewed in most mainstream media venues where once I was more than warmly welcomed, nor have I been invited to speak by Women’s Studies programs on campuses.
However, both books have been praised in important conservative venues. But such mainstream/liberal/left censoring or silencing is a small price to pay for telling the truth. It is also a measure of one's power. One makes new friends and allies. One keeps learning and evolving. For me, it is very important and sustaining that my feminist beliefs are respected in conservative libertarian circles where I now share other overriding beliefs about national security and jihad....
Feminists understand that you have to call the police when a man is beating his wife to death or when a rape is in process; it is contradictory for feminists to resist the use of military force when women are being stoned to death, hung, jailed and tortured--repeatedly gang-raped both in Iran and Sudan (and of course, in the past in Bosnia and Rwanda). Terrorists, jihadists, torturers, and tyrants are not open to reasonable "dialogue."