"Women Were Oppressed" and All that Sort of Thing . . . .
Forgive me. But as the last post on CF garnered forty-some responses, (not all of them relevant) my mind has been over-productive lately. . . . .
To quote from a previous post on CF:
"Opinions regarding sexual politics mirror the fact that we live in a feminist culture. Feminism is no longer a form of what Foucault termed "subjugated knowledges." Rather, the reverse is true. The critical analysis of feminist thinking, now found mainly on the internet, is closer to currently "repressed" knowledge. "
This is a man's world only in a metaphorical or superficial sense. It is not a "male dominated" world imposed on women. Rather, it is a world built on the common expectations of men and women. What some call "patriarchy" has been just as much a creation of women's traditional expectations as men's.
The above assertion contradicts the feminist's tenet that: "Men define women." We replace it with the more anthropological view that men's and women's roles are defined by the expectations of both sexes..
More philosophically, feminist theory revises the Hobbesian theorist's version of citizenship that posits consent and voluntarism as the basis for social relationships in civil society. Where as Hobbesian theory is concerned with the social contract, feminist theory seeks to explain the origins of the "sexual contract." In point of fact, feminists writers and women's studies groups raise the topic of origins as if feminist strategy cannot be discussed without some prior discussion of it, no matter how brief. Driven by a feminist desire to prove conquest, the feminist origin story relies on conjecture and stereotypes when historical and textual accuracy are impossible. It also fails to recognize that evolutionary transformations are far more gradual (and blameless) than their metaphorical 'sexual contract' relates.
The feminist narrative begins with an "original rape" where men take away women's edenic autonomy by claiming both women and their children for themselves. These events are presumably caused by a male "need" to possess others as their property in the pejorative sense. Note: This is a stereotypical description of "pre-patriarchal" male behavior rather than an explanation for it—founded on the presumption that men are just naturally abusive, beasts that they are.
While the social contract is a hypothetical device, feminist treatment of the sexual contract implies that it was factual history, now manifest in the institutions and practices of contemporary society. As we might expect, this way of thinking has it that men's "naked self-interest" has been tamed by a civil society whose trajectory is now being determined by feminism's effects. In short, owing to feminism, the old "sexual contract" is being dismantled and men reformed.
With this political "just so story" in place, young women in the humanities are told of their sex's historical oppression under the patriarchy. (Not of their sex's part in creating it.) From here their lives are problematized by feminists whose aim is to indoctrinate new recruits for the struggle ahead. Supposedly, this struggle will not be over until young girls in the future can open their history books and read of as many great women as great men.
Feminism strives for a continuity of purpose in its ranks against the "patriarchy" whose simple, monstrous image must be retained in all of its precision. The monster too must be said to have a continuity of purpose. Origin stories of the monster's repressive beginnings and subsequent transgressions are told. Signs of the monster's evil purpose are reported everywhere. Feminism can only hope to weaken, to break down the monster. Destroying the monster, feminists would have to absent themselves from it and such exteriority is possible only by living in another world—a fanciful matriarchal world.
Intellectual sympathy for feminism may be loosening within the general public. Nevertheless, feminism is, at least among liberals, a sacred cow. Poking at it, let along killing it, is taboo. One fact seldom mentioned about feminist truth is that like most truth, it is founded upon a repetitious reasoning referred to an argumentum ad populum: generalities, cliches, slogans, platitudes, sanctimonious claptrap, statistics without context, and old fashioned hyperbole.
For example, here is one common platitude:
Once upon a time, prior to the feminist movement, "women had no say".. or so they say. At least in Western democracies, where leadership is chosen by the vote, it's been a slow slog for women to the top.. However, democracy as we know it is relatively new.. Monarchism was the rule before it. And in monarchies, many women rose to the top and many had "more say" than even feminists would want....
Consider this statement by Queen Victoria,
"I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of 'Women's Rights', with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feelings and propriety. Feminists ought to get a good whipping. Were woman to 'unsex' themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection."
The queen was rather shrill.
Let's choose another example: The fact that women rose to power and had plenty of "say" is best encapsulated in this complaint by Émilie du Châtelet (17 December 1706 -- 09 October 1749) a French mathematician, physicist, and author,
"I feel the full weight of the prejudice which so universally excludes us from the sciences; it is one of the contradictions in life that has always amazed me, seeing that the law allows us to determine the fate of great nations, but that there is no place where we are trained to think ... Let the reader ponder why, at no time in the course of so many centuries, a good tragedy, a good poem, a respected tale, a fine painting, a good book on physics has ever been produced by a woman. Why these creatures whose understanding appears in every way similar to that of men, seem to be stopped by some irresistible force, but until they do, women will have reason to protest against their education. ... I am convinced that many women are either unaware of their talents by reason of the fault in their education or that they bury them on account of prejudice for want of intellectual courage. My own experience confirms this. Chance made me acquainted with men of letters who extended the hand of friendship to me. ... I then began to believe that I was a being with a mind ... "
Châtelet's observation is not that women lack positions of power, but rather that what her sex lacked in achievements was due to a lack of emphasis on their education. Her voice is missing the misandrist tone common to modern day feminism in that she does not blame men specifically but society as a whole. Indeed, her own experience with men of letters shows that far from suffering prejudice, her intellect was roundly welcomed. Is Émilie du Châtelet's experience with men an aberration? After all, modern accounts of great women never fail to allude to the trials they endured owing to masculine insecurity. Of course, these same accounts never—and I mean absolutely never—credit those men who gladly encouraged and supported these same women in their endeavors.
Consider the Men's League for Women's Suffrage, whose numbers included several leaders of the Labour Party, including James Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and Philip Snowdon. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence helped to fund Votes for Women and provided bail for nearly a thousand members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) who were arrested for breaking the law. How often do feminist pay their respects to these men? Probably about as often as our modern educational system informs students of their existence. The need to cast men as the enemy is apparently greater than the need to not to. How many students even know that most men could not vote in the United States until the presidency of Andrew Jackson? The general presumption is that voting is a "natural right" men have always possessed—and denied women. In actuality, voting, like drawing straws, was first a practice, just something people did to facilitate group action. That a few men, probably organizing in and amongst themselves toward the attainment of various goals, were first to institute the practice of voting is not considered. The fact that voting is a practice that took time to evolve is also lost on the public. Instead, it deems voting a "natural right," that once conceived, ought to have been immediately extended universally to all!
Popular culture's understanding of history is almost entirely stereotypical. These stereotypes are, in turn, derived from modern lore about the past. (The sort of stuff you might see on PBS or the History Channel) ) Consequently, our normative image of the past is one in which women (as a class) were ever struggling against their male oppressor's machinations to keep them down. More often than not, we are told, with no little amount of indignation that, "Women were mere chattels, under foot, with no say!" The imagery is effective and thoroughly depressing. The fact that, not too long ago, most women thought personality differences were "in the blood," that the differences between men and women were ingrained by nature, that the moral world they inhabited was given by God is now irrelevant to our understanding of women's position in the world. Far from having brought their own morality down upon their own heads, the current picture of women prior to the 1960s is that they were unwitting dupes of male conspiracy; brainwashed by men to accept their "second class citizenship." Naturally, in as much as people continue to prefer simple answers and simple explanations, this dreary and colorless view of women's previous social status unfortunately prevails. This view is redoubled again and again by ethnocentric accounts of the suffering of women in other cultures. The "patriarchy" serves as the default explanations from everything from female circumcision to honor killings. That such practices would not exist were it not for "patriarchy" is, of course, a proposition without proof. Unfortunately, as with explanations of the universe that invoke supra-natural agency, few people consider the validity of facts based on faulty logic.