sábado, 21 de julho de 2007




Gender feminism unmasked*
Illusions and dangers of militant feminism

By Patrícia Lança


The number of women in higher education has increased so remarkably since the Second World War that today in many western countries women university students are more numerous than men students. As everybody knows, but as the young need to be reminded, entry to Oxbridge for women was at one time only for the outstanding few. Women’s entry to English medical schools was often limited to a small percentage and successful candidates often had to be doctors’ daughters. Then growing demands of the labour market began to erode discriminatory conditions at least in teaching and the social sciences, areas where they had, in any case, not been as severe.

As has often been pointed out by both the old and the new feminists, to succeed in a man’s world in the days before ‘women’s lib’ women had to be, and knew they had to be, just that much better in their qualifications and at their jobs. In some areas this continues to be the case. However, one instance where it is not so is that of entry to and continuance at university. If the quality of male students at entry and the quality of post-graduate males and male dons is likely nowadays to be considerably lower than it was three or four decades ago, the general quality of their female counterparts contrasts even more unfavourably now with that of their pioneering predecessors who really had to be good.

It is in the academic world that the feminist lobby is the most strident and the most effective. To succeed today in that world a woman no longer needs to be ‘just that much better than a man’: what she needs is to be more aggressive, more accusatory, more ruthless and fully equipped with the weapons taken from the modern armoury of militant feminism. Woe to those women who rely on the earlier criteria and eschew the later! They are likely to be favoured neither by their male nor their female colleagues.

The legacy of Marxism

The rise of militant feminism and its elaboration of ideological trappings and political strategies deriving directly from Marxism, coincide to a notable degree with the growth in numbers of women at all levels in the universities. Perhaps more did not necessarily have to mean worse, nor more women students have to mean worse women students, though it often looks like it. There is nothing in principle to indicate that standards had to deteriorate. Had the process of expansion in higher education been carried out with greater forethought rather than short-term political considerations, perhaps things might have been different. What is apparent, however, is that the crude ahistorical verbiage that passes for feminist scholarship could never have encountered the audience it now enjoys without the presence of a very large number of ill-educated young men and women. One consequence of declining standards is that today’s young and even middle-aged adults frequently have very hazy ideas about what daily life was like for humankind during most of its history. Ignorance has always provided a fertile seed-bed for revolutionary doctrines and modern feminist ideology is no exception. It crudely transposes to the domain of the family and relations between the sexes concepts borrowed from theories of class warfare. Oppression, exploitation, conspiracy, false consciousness: all these are taken wholesale from the Marxist lexicon and applied arbitrarily to the history of women and the family throughout the ages. With one big difference: the villain in the historical drama is no longer simply capitalism but also, and chiefly, the male—and, of course, the ‘bourgeois’ family through which he exercises his tyranny.


Like all revolutionary doctrines, feminism is highly fissionable and abounds in factions, heresies and excommunications. It has soft and hard forms. At its most extreme it regards the male as expendable and lesbianism as the logical conclusion. Such esoteric aspects need not concern us here. What is important is to pinpoint and examine the five basic premises which make feminism’s tenets persuasive for the uninformed young.

The first is that women’s historic exclusion from public life and confinement to the domestic tasks of wife and mother constituted a deprivation of rights and were imposed by men on their unwilling female victims through a process of discrimination and violence.

Secondly, the subordination of women to a paterfamilias and her secondary status before the law were simply the juridical formalization of the male tendency to oppress and exploit.
Thirdly, insistence on premarital virginity for the female was a taboo developed by and in the interest of the male sex as part of its view of women as procreative chattels whose generative capacities must remain within the strict control of the male so that men might be certain about the paternity of their heirs.
Fourthly, in order to ensure female acceptance of life-long minority, male-dominated society has developed an almost infinite array of stratagems through which to indoctrinate women in their ‘gender role’, i.e. to cause her to accept her inferior status.
Finally, and the crowning offence of the male against the female, is the alleged exclusion of women from history.
The first three points were elaborated explicitly by Friedrich Engels in what came to be one of the great Marxist classics. (Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State). Although Engels based himself on the long discredited findings of the American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan, his conclusions continued to form part of the Marxist canon and it was here that the radical feminists came to drink the first heady draughts of revolutionary theory.

The overthrow of mother-right was the defeat of the female sex, an event affecting the history of the world. The man seized the reins in the house also, the woman was degraded, enslaved, the slave of the man’s lust, a mere instrument for the breeding of children.

That was how Engels described the allegedly universal move from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society which, it is held, we find celebrated in classical drama in the Oresteia of Aeschylus. And if anyone should still be in doubt about the ‘class character’ of the relation between the sexes, Engels quoted from a work he and Marx wrote in 1845-6.

The first division of labour is that between man and woman for child-breeding. And today I can add: the first class antagonism which appears in history coincide with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male.

To apply the term ‘division of labour’, a category applicable to economics, to the sexual method of reproduction, which belongs to the realm of biology, makes as much sense as to look for class conflict in monogamous or any other kind of marriage. However, the incoherence of Engels’s thought and its paranoid preoccupation with conflict is not a characteristic only of Marxism generally but also of its sub-product, modern radical feminism.

The fourth point, about ‘gender role’, and the fifth, regarding the exclusion of women from history, each act as artifices to shore up the theory enunciated in the first three premises. If women have been excluded from history by a male conspiracy to denigrate them, then there is no point in the opponent of feminism going to history to look for arguments. Equally, if there are women (or, indeed, men) who oppose feminism, their arguments can safely be ignored because they are the consequences of indoctrination into a gender role. Here we have two prime examples of what characterizes non-scientific theories, as explained by Popper: they are theories formulated in such a way that they cannot be falsified.

‘Gender’, once a word used exclusively in a grammatical sense, is much favoured by feminists of both sexes, but controversy rages about its significance and scope. There are those who believe that apart from a little extra tissue here and there, there is no essential difference between male and female that an ‘improper’ education will not correct; on the other hand, more and more feminists hold that the female is essentially different from and superior to the male and that this is the liberated gender role she should assume. The whole concept of ‘gender roles into which a person is indoctrinated’ requires examination. It is in fact inseparable from the other four tenets of feminist thought and necessary in order to hold them together.

The theoretical structures developed by the radical feminists are unoriginal and take their inspiration from the delirious productions of the New Left and so-called Literary Theory. Whether early human societies were matriarchal, and what can be meant by that expression, is of as little relevance to modern social problems as what cannibalism among primitive peoples may have to tell us about contemporary diet. What is deserving of our attention is the way in which radical feminists, like other revolutionaries before them, seek refuge in esoteric argument in order to avoid confronting quite clear questions which are much closer to home.


What radical feminists, like other Marxists, try to do is first to declare war on moral discourse by an appeal to cultural relativism and then to recoup for themselves a monopoly of moral concern by finding an enemy against whom to direct moral indignation. This is the classical process so well described by Michael Polanyi as ‘dynamo-objective coupling.’ Alleged scientific assertions, which are accepted as such because they satisfy moral passions, will excite these passions further, and thus lend increased persuasive power to the scientific affirmations in question—and so on, indefinitely. Any criticism of its scientific part is rebutted by the moral passions behind it, while any moral objections to it are coldly brushed aside by invoking the inexorable verdict of its scientific findings. Each of the two components, the dynamic and the objective, takes it in turn to draw attention away from the other when it is under attack.

Feminist discourse as we have heard it over the last four decades proceeds as though modern technology, modern medicine and the modern labor market had existed from time immemorial instead of being achievements of the last 200 years. The feminists seize upon the epiphenomena consequent upon the age-old female tie to the household and make these the central points at issue, stating quite explicitly that men have subjugated women against their will throughout the ages solely out of a perverse drive for power, (sometimes called phallogocentricity) in the same way that they have indulged in enslavement of subject peoples and in the capitalist exploitation of the working class. In much feminist talk about men vs. women, parallels are drawn with white vs. black or capitalist vs. worker, as though there were some equivalence between these pairs. What finally emerges is a demonization of the male and his identification with the exploiter, while women are sanctified as victims and martyrs.

Five basics
That most of this is a farrago of nonsense is reasonably obvious to a balanced mind; but it is equally evident that it is in fact taking in a lot of people. The Clinton regime in the U.S., and its sympathizers in Britain and elsewhere, have nailed the magic words ‘quotas’ and ‘affirmative action’ to their masts, and the European Parliament’s women’s organizations follow suit. So it seems that this is one area, at least, in which the call for a ‘back to basics’ approach is appropriate.

1. It cannot be repeated too often that it is an immensely long human infancy and childhood that has made possible the development of human language, intellect, personality and, in the long run, society itself. Helpless young humans required their mothers’ presence even more in the past than is the case now. Nursing mothers, in charge often of several children, were hardly in a position to defend themselves, let alone engage in warfare or hunting. They needed men to defend them against other men and wild beasts. This ‘division of labour’ referred to by the founding fathers of Marxism, (and which might be better described as a division of social function), is to be encountered today among many animal species. The heavier, more robust build of the male animal and his frequently protective behaviour towards females and young, can hardly be ascribed to some mysterious indoctrination into a ‘gender role’.

2. Some animal species are monogamous and some are promiscuous. Only the human female is liable to sexual arousal at all times. How this came about and what family arrangements prevailed among the various branches of the human race in the long pre-history of homo sapiens up to ten thousand years ago, we do not at present know, and no theory about the family can be based on what amounts to mere conjecture.

3. In pre-industrial economies with rudimentary technology the only productive work women could engage in that was compatible with child-bearing and rearing was, with few exceptions, in the home and the fields around the home.

4. The glory-associated activities of hunting and war were dangerous and required superior physical strength and the development of special skills and characteristics. Only a group bent on tribal suicide would send its mothers into battle or permit them to roam far afield.

5. Had the pre-marital virginity taboo not been virtually universal, young females could not have been protected from predatory and irresponsible males.

What is also conveniently forgotten is that it is only in the present century that the world faces the danger of over-population, and it was only in the beginning of the nineteenth that Malthus drew attention to that possibility. Before that time the human race often faced serious threats to its very survival.
Have feminists not heard of the extermination of populations caused by the plague in the Middle Ages? With manual labour the only means of production it is hardly surprising that there should have developed not only taboos against homicide (belief in the sanctity of human life), but also against all forms of infanticide including abortion. Indeed it is precisely in the Christian West that these taboos have been most highly developed.

Women as ‘a protected species’
But need we really go back as far as primitive, ancient or medieval society to recognize the fallacies in feminist arguments? All we need do is contemplate the lot of women in, say, Jane Austen’s time, before the advent of the much-traduced Victorian age. Rubber had not yet been discovered in Brazil and, though recourse was sometimes had to various other materials, condoms and other contraceptives were not generally available. A healthy, fertile, sexually active woman was likely to have a pregnancy in each year—if she did not die in childbirth, of miscarriage or any of the other multiple ills that beset people before medicine began to make its spectacular advances.


Let us be anachronistic for a moment and imagine the lot of a girl of any class who ‘dropped out’ of the accepted pattern and defied convention. If parents accepted a pregnant, unmarried daughter they would have extra mouths to feed instead of the prospect of a son-in-law. If they turned her out, where could she go except on to the streets? It was therefore perfectly natural that families should regard an extra-marital pregnancy as an unmitigated disaster and regard pre-marital virginity as the only safeguard available: hence the taboo inculcated into the young of both sexes, a taboo that for evident reasons was not symmetrical in its application. Dependent as they were, the immense majority were in no position to question the taboo. There were few employment possibilities for women outside domestic service. Indeed, what is strikingly absent from feminist thought is awareness that until the advent of a modern economy, employment possibilities off the land were precious few for anybody, women or men, and hence dependence on the family as an economic unit was almost total. Work available for the male sex was rough, dirty and often dangerous. Always it meant long hours usually at subsistence-level wages. Life for most was indeed nasty, brutish and short. Is it surprising that chastity for an unmarried woman was regarded as a safeguard rather than a burden? Or any less surprising that life in a convent often presented itself as a haven of refuge from a hostile world?

Moreover there was the universal dread of sickness. Puritanism followed hard on the heels of syphilis in Europe—northern Europe, let it be stressed, where the manifestations of this disease were more virulent than in the south, as were the manifestations of Puritanism, Far from being the malefic invention of frustrated or perverted clerics, as fashionable orthodoxy would have it, or of possessive males as the feminists pretend, pre-marital chastity for both sexes and fidelity in marriage were, quite literally, the only guarantees of immunity from a disease, then untreatable, whose course was quite as horrific as that of AIDS.

Seen against the background of real history, and not of some imagined idyll, the confinement of women to the home—a general feature of every civilization until this century—seems to have been a necessary state of affairs if the family and human culture were to flourish. Such confinement would tend to be accentuated the higher the social level. Women were a ‘protected species’ and this protection was necessarily paid for in economic dependence.
Apart from the very lowest classes in society, the life of women was immeasurably less dangerous and more secure than that of men. These were the ones who had to go to war to defend hearth and home. They were the warriors, the navigators, the adventurers and necessarily so. The cult of honour and glory provided a stimulus to manliness, and cowardice was regarded as a womanish weakness. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the public life of politics or art, both requiring single-minded dedication, should have been largely monopolized by men. Nor is it surprising that the images men and women cultivated of themselves and of each other should have developed so as to reinforce functions seen as necessary for society’s survival.
In classical antiquity it was generally felt that the greatest misfortune, one that could befall anybody, was to become a slave. By contrast, although it was felt that although no man could possibly want to be a woman, this was something that could not be changed and was in the nature of things. A freeman might be enslaved and a slave be freed but one’s sex, could not be changed.
Slavery, though not morally defensible, was regarded as a necessary evil without which the civilized life of cities such as Athens was not possible.


A person’sex did not fall into the same category. It was simply a fact of nature from which a number of ineluctable consequences flowed. It was when slavery no longer appeared necessary that it became possible to apply a moral standpoint and support its abolition. Only third worldists attempt to make part of humanity feel guilty about the role some of their ancestors may have played in slavery. Anybody with a knowledge of human history is well aware that the enslavement of other human beings has been practised at one time or another by every nation
and race.

It would perhaps be helpful to take a similar attitude to the woman question. Just as the ancients could not envisage a world so technologically altered as to make slavery both unnecessary and undesirable, neither could they envisage a world in which the survival of society did not depend upon the protection of women by men. They could imagine an individual’s circumstances changing in such a way that he became a slave or a freedman because they did not look on slavery as natural but as necessary.


The woman question fell into a different category. A woman’s position was subordinate by nature not only by necessity.
In our world, that of western civilization, that natural state of affairs which, as we have seen, necessitated the subordination of women has changed out of all recognition. For good or ill, sexual intercourse is no longer inevitably tied to procreation. Labour conditions and relations make it possible for women to do most jobs that were previously restricted to men. The expansion of market economies has caused women to emerge from the home and with that emergence they have claimed and been granted the full rights of citizenship. Justice demanded the change. Radical feminists, however, need to be reminded that when this process became incipient in the last century, the first to support female emancipation were men; as with slavery whose abolition was first demanded by the vilified white Anglo-Saxon protestants.

Does society need the family?
None of the foregoing is news. But it requires re-affirming because the present virulence of feminist militancy, at a time when the process of female emancipation has largely been completed (at least in the much-maligned West), raises questions vital for the future of free society. In spite of the fact that the resurgence of sexually transmitted disease, and especially the appearance of AIDS, might give us cause to reflect upon the wisdom for today of a number of traditional puritan values, we find that instead the feminist lobby is intensifying its attack on the family and precisely those traditional values.

Sociologists, when discussing the family, identify a number of its functions: the sexual, the reproductive, the economic and the socialization function as well as that of caring for the sick and the aged. However, any realistic appraisal of the family in late industrial societies shows that all these functions are now freely exercised outside the family. The only economic function that continues inside the family is that of consumption, not production. Even socialization and education have been taken over increasingly by agencies outside the family, to an extent where there are families who have to fight against the social services for their continued existence. And yet there are more and more serious sociological studies available which show that many of society’s current ills are directly attributable to the breakdown of the family.

When feminists, instead of supporting the protection of the family, and the restoration of some of its traditional functions, campaign for its further destruction, they are helping to bring about the totalitarianism with which we are threatened by the expansion of the various socialist sub-systems in Western society.
Every one of the radical feminists’ demands: quotas, unrealistic measures against discrimination and sexual harassment, institutionalized care of children, favouring the single parent—all these, if put into practice, will result in an immense extension of the ‘nanny state’ and its stranglehold on every sphere of life. This bureaucratic nightmare looms even closer with the threats presented by European federalism and the powerful feminist lobbies that exist in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Those who yearn for totalitarianism and mourn its breakdown in Eastern Europe are, of course, quite right in aiming their attack in this direction. It was, after all, the family which proved to be at the heart of resistance to the tyranny of ‘real socialism’. Perhaps this was so because the Soviets and their allies failed to take up the radical feminist agenda first mooted by Engels. The Left-Liberal Establishment of the 90s, however, seems set on correcting this failing, and its success in doing so constitutes a very real threat to a free society.

* First published in The Salisbury Review, London, June 1994. under the title 'Down with the Feminazis'

Um comentário:

Silly Old Bear disse...

Thank you!

One argument against the idea of gender roles/gender as something indoctrinated is the transsexuals/transgender - something that seems more or less unknown to Feminist Theorists, past and present.

Again thank you for this article!