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"The Post (Liberal) Feminist Condition"

Anonymous Comrade writes:

"The Post (Liberal) Feminist Condition"

Anonymous Comrade

“They’ll throw the book at you in court. She’s the mother-the female. She’s got the tits. They’ll crush you.” — Sandor Himmelstein in Herzog by Saul Bellow.

The narrative of Bellow’s novel depicts a middle-aged philosophy professor, Moses Herzog, unluckily in love and on the edge descending into mental illness. Two broken marriages and estranged children; he feels the latter estrangement as death. Escaping from the pain into the arms of women he uses for sex, objectified he then begins to despise them. Though he remains conflicted on whether or not to remarry to a new lover, he withdraws yet again on a holiday. Catching a train from New York to the sea side, or rather lakeside, he reminisces upon his married life and the break up with Madeleine.Herzog on this trip wrote letters to friends, public figures such as Heidegger about existential questions summarizing points of disagreement, to acquaintances inquiring about their motives and actions in his personal life. While staying with friends he hears them out as to their opinions of the divorce and how he should move on. A reoccurring theme is blame; logically responsibility is assigned proportionally to those with the power and agency to make dissections. Because of his phallus he is considered responsible for decisions taken during the marriage, most of which were taken to pamper to Madeleine’s needs. Herzog also encounters a naive Puritanism which considers that Petty-bourgeois women marry for love and are totally loyal to their husbands. Unless of course as with this case she no longer loves him, this conception represents an illusion of innocence which cloaks Madeleine’s infidelity and cunning. This of course means that because of traditional gender roles and stereotypes Herzog is a scapegoat getting the short end of the stick both in financial sense and in child custody. Thereafter Bellow’s novel progresses throughout which Herzog’s story gender roles continue as a central theme.

This is but one representation of Gender within literature published in 1964 on the eve of second wave feminism. This is a philosophy of gender equality from a feminocentric point of view. Therefore it ignores gender issues that oppress men and view society as a hegemony of male dominance i.e. patriarchy. The French existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her 1949 book “The Second Sex” on the issues of patriarchy and gender inequality. Drawing heavily upon Frederick Engels’ 1884 work “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, while accepting the prerequisite of economic autonomy for women liberation and simultaneously class liberation she rejected the perceived ‘economic monism’ of Engels as representing only one sphere of women’s oppression(1). Second wave feminism greatly influenced by Beauvoir (2) took upon itself the task of gaining equal rights in the workplace. This step took struggles for gender equality into the economic sphere of society which has been successful in gaining equal rights but not necessarily equal representation in work place (Motherhood is often responsible but also residual gender discrimination). Radical feminism while associated with the second wave was overshadowed by liberal feminism which wished to attain equality with unfree men.

Cretin varieties of second wave feminism retain a type of quasi-phallocentricism in that it affords the notion of patriarchy to much weight, universality and neglect the women’s agency in her own creation. The privileging of males over females within societies came about largely when men started to control the higher yielding means of production during what we now term the Neolithic revolution. Women’s labour was domesticated while the male roles were more propionate. Female contributions to society were and are respected but they became less and less independent. Beauvoir supported this historical materialist thesis elucidated by Engles though she criticised Engles because self-admittedly he didn’t have the information to bridge the gap in knowledge of transition from primitive tribalism to class society. This development and the continued development and accumulation of private property led to modern capitalism in which the main axes of power are not based upon a phallus but on control of private property and its lubricant money. We do not live under a patriarchy but under a dictatorship of the bourgeoisies. Gender inequality is not essential to capitalism; therefore if we attain gender equality within capitalism it will amount to an equality of oppression among individuals not of the bourgeoisies (i.e. class oppression will still remain). This has been a critical failure of liberal feminism, its inability to deal with issues of class and capitalism in anything more then a tokenistic manner.

Liberal feminism may not have transcended class domination and capitalism. But there have been advances on other issues and continued relevance in others. In the sphere of sexuality they combated Victorian ideals that women are sexually passive and the Freudian psychoanalysis that was predicated on male chauvinism (i.e. penis envy and the Electra complex (3). The communist revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai leader of the ‘workers opposition’ faction within the old Bolsheviks held the 'glass-of-water' theory. This theory held that the fulfilment of one sexual desires should be as easy as getting a glass of water. The attainment of such a state is a necessary step in women’s and men’s liberation. The old Christian Puritanism of the cardinal sin is no longer a fetish of western society enforcing moral beliefs on others in their private life. Sex-negative feminist disagree with sexual freedom being equitable because they view all heterosexual sex or cretin practices as inherently an oppression of the female (i.e. prostitution). Beauvoir put forward the idea that a female prostitute is actually a truly liberated woman. That the male only has an illusion of power and that in fact it’s her who has him. The prostitute female or male is not powerless but not all powerful, the two individuals are subject to the same conditions of relationship of any commodity exchange, alienated and a mere object for the other. Pornography is also debated within the feminist movement and of course there are the sex-negativities and sex-positives feminists. The interesting aspect of this sub-issue is the phenomena of ‘porn for the masses by the masses’ swapped over the internet subverting commodity cultures exploitation of human sexuality.

Some progressive changes are being challenged. There is a re-emergence of reactionaries who want to abolish the women’s right for self-determination of their own life and body. Thus the right for abortion is back on the agenda in many countries, Australia to the U.S.A and abortion rights are even unattained in Ireland and Poland. This push has come from Christian fundamentalists and politicians wishing to gain from a growing demographic. For the feminists and pro-feminists this a fundamental issue that can be dealt with independent of revolutionary agitation. Within the issue of equality of the sexes there has been the neglecting of the males right to choose. When two consenting adults engage in a sexual relationship they both make a choice to do so. On the advent of a pregnancy the women as the right to choice between keeping the baby and having an abortion, this leaves the male without a choice. If opinions between the couples differ on a course of action then the women rightly has the choice over her own body. But the male should not be held to pay for her decision of having a baby when he would have chosen an abortion. Thus if a women is given the right to choose so should the male. But as it stands now males have to pay child endowment even if the choice of having a baby was not theirs, therefore their lives are coerced because of inequities in the law and the choice of another. The details of this arrangement seem problematic but it is an arrangement fundamental to the rights of both sexes and gender egalitarianism.

Men have also been discriminated against by the institutions of government in the realm of family law and custody issues. Until of late in Australia after devoice the family court autonomically started with custody at 80% for the mother and 20% the father, which is discrimination based on sex. This has recently been changed to an even footing of 50/50 custody with the family law court under pressure from male rights advocates or ‘Masculists’ (4). In the Australian court system sex discrimination is still the norm with the mother being given full custody right even when employed full time; men on the other hand are only given the same opportunity if employed part-time. Because of the inequities in the law women initiate the majority of divorcees under the belief that they will retain full custody, many Masculists have argued that men are keept in unhappy marriages because they fear losing contact with their children. The Sex Discrimination Commission of Australia advocates the discrimination based on the idea that equal custody has to start with equal parenting when the marriage is still intact. This analysis neglects the underlying fact that most Australian families need a primary ‘breadwinner’ which often falls to the male. Therefore precluding him from the early bonds a mother forms with the children while he works long hours outside the home. In Australia there is a push on to increase paid maternity leave for women. But importantly to address the imbalance of parentage because of social expectation and economic necessity parental leave should be granted to the fathers. This is the current system established in Sweden with both working parents allowed 16 months payed paternity leave per child. This has the effect of circumventing the normal alienation of the ‘minority’ parent (normally the father) from the process of child rehearing. This too would be a progressive change but is problematic in attainment even in first world countries which have socially conservative and neo-liberal economic parties dominating federal governments in the U.S.A, Australia and Germany.

Many feminist (i.e. radical feminists) do not recognise male gender discriminations or grievances, defining affluent capitalism as patriarchal. According to radical feminists females that take leadership position within affluent capitalism (or undeveloped) are taking on the role of a dominate male, i.e. becoming a patriarch. Patriarchy is a society that preferences males over females. But for radical feminists patriarchy has nothing to do with who is in a hegemonic role because people taking positions of leadership are behaving in a male manner. Which means the radical feminist greatest concern is hierarchy. Radical feminist such as Valerie Solanas did not classify society as a matriarchy (a society that preferences females over males which is still a hierarchy) because she viewed negative aspects of society including the capitalist commodity system as characteristics of the male sex. Advocating the mass murder of males in her “S.C.U.M manifesto” (1968) which means society for cutting up men. This form of feminist doesn’t advocate gender equality but rather female chauvinism. The advocates for mass murder of men represent an extreme fringe of even the radical feminists. But even moderate radical feminists fall into a subtle female chauvinism.

Anarcho-feminist Oishee Alam wrote: -

“One of the pitfalls of the mainstream “liberal” feminist movement is that it seeks to bring about equality between the sexes through the very patriarchal structures we should be opposing.”(5).

In this essay Alam is right to oppose capitalism and doesn’t advocate the mass murder of males, though she characterises those structures of capital as ‘patriarchal’. Thus as Solanas conceptualised negative aspects of societies structures as male Alam’s form of feminism still exudes a form of misandry. Third-wave feminists and masculists both view misandry and misogyny as arising out of hatred of imposed gender roles on the sexes. It has been increasingly prevalent for negative representations of males to be accepted within pop culture but highly controversial to portray women in a negative way. This development only leads to more stereotypes which are counterproductive to equality between the sexes.

Masculists and third-wave feminist have challenged radical feminists conceptions of male and female power within modern societies. Concluding traditional gender roles enforced upon the sexes hurt both male and females (‘Men don’t cry”, “frailty thy name is women”) by coercing them into position they might not have chosen for themselves. Therefore third-wave feminists and progressive masculists aim for freedom of choice for both sexes and gender egalitarianism. Gender equalitarian should advocate Queer liberation and post-colonialism. Dealing with grievances from the queer i.e. lesbians, homosexual men and other who transgress traditional sexuality (though not sexuality evolving adults/children) and third world women and men with their specific conditions. These struggles for gender equality should be taken in unity with each other breaking down barriers of divide but not difference. The struggle for gender equality taken without Anti-Capitalism would bash itself against the wall of economic oppression and its social and cultural run offs which affect everyone. .

Notes to “The post (liberal) feminist condition”.

(1)Beauvoir’s hermeneutics of Engles ‘Historical Materialism’ (G V Plekhanov’s terminology) are dubious; she seems to have over evaluated the usefulness of secondary literature. In Engles own words “According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase” Engels to J. Boloch September, 1890.

(2)Beauvoir denied having a great influence on modern feminism “The current feminist movement, which really started about five or six years ago, did not really know the book (‘the second sex’)” interviewed by John Gerassi for Society, Jan-Feb. 1976.

(3)Sigmund Freud’s theories of infantile sexuality and unconsciousness have been criticized from a number of angles. Freud is thought to have promoted a theory dealing with hysteria and unconscious repression of memories called the “'seduction theory'. Which stated that hysteria was not the consequence of the reliving of infantile desires as he latter advocated but rather result of wide spread child sexual abuse. Debate continues over wether fraud abandoned this because it was met with animosity in 19th century ‘moral’ Vienna or because the theory as presented was untenable.

(4)This term has been controversial. Some advocates of Masculism such as Warren Farrell who see it philosophically synonymous with feminism but addressing males concerns. Others such as Steven Goldberg are anti-feminist advancing the idea of "New Patriarchy".

(5)“Smash Patriarchy, Smash the State, Anarchofeminism” by Oishee Alam, Che-Lives Ezine, October 2005.