Monday, 24 March 2014

Questions From Readers Vol. 5

You have to admit that feminism has done some great things in suffrage, access to workplace and etc. Of course there are those who promote hate but that's because feminism is an umbrella term that people can abuse. 
The narrative of history you’re presenting is basically that propounded by feminist theory, and within that (patriarchal conspiracy theory) framework what you are saying sounds unequivocally positive but to satisfactorily answer your question there are larger issues that need to be factored in to see the bigger picture.

If, as a society, we’re going to decide to organize society so that everyone has the vote then yes of course women should have it too. But before the 20th century that really wasn’t a given, or even a practical option really anywhere on earth, and men fought and died for hundreds of years to try expand the number of people having a say in the running of nations. This was a very long, very slow process: a few hundred years ago, no-one had the vote: there was just lords and ladies, kings and queens and then the rest of us peasants down below.

In my country (the UK) ‘men’ as a class and ‘women’ as a class ‘Got The Vote’ the same year (1918) but I don’t remember ever being taught that at school, the focus was entirely upon women and ‘yaay down with male privilege’ and all that nonsense, whereas the reality is female suffrage was just a little easily-got cherry on the top of a snow-capped mountain of dead male bodies. An afterthought, really, and the result of all those men’s work, death and suffering.

Two hundred and fifty years ago close to 90% of all labor was agriculture - in other words farming, poor families working some little patch of land. No woman was excluded from this, they had to go out and milk the goats at 5 in the morning and plow the fields alongside the men. The really strenuous work would tend to be done by the men out of common sense and kindness, but the idea that women were somehow ‘kept out of the workplace’ is obviously nonsense. They weren’t. No-one was, with the exception of the upper class.
With the rise of the middle classes, more and more farmers started to acquire enough wealth and land to pay other people to work for them and they began to aspire to a better, more cultured and refined life. The first thing they changed was to make sure their mothers, wives and daughters no longer had to work out in the fields, and so it was that middle-class women became the first idle class of any real size in history, which led to all those Jane Austen / Bronte sisters depictions of stultifying gossip, piano recitals and needlework. Throughout the 19th century these very comfortable, newly educated but bored women began to feel they were missing out on some of the experiences their menfolk - who still had to oversee the running of the land, at least - were having, and by the beginning of the next century this had led to the female suffrage movement, which was almost entirely middle class women demanding The Vote for middle class (and only middle class) women. Even though at that time only a minority of men (working class men in particular) had the vote themselves.

The rise of industrialization too, the factories, and all the new, easier types of work that appeared meant that for the first time many trades no longer relied upon brute strength the way, say, mining or construction did, and women were able to do many of the new jobs arising as well as any man.

All states - communist or capitalist - saw the benefits of sending women out to work, taxing them, making them isolated cogs in the industrial machine, and so they all either pushed the agenda or did little to hinder it. Implementing this was a difficult sell to both the men - who had worked so hard to ensure the women in their lives didn’t have to scrub their fingers to the bone any more, and the women too, telling them they should leave their homes and families - and especially their children - to become wage slaves like the men was a tricky conundrum.

It was achieved by inventing the notion that labor was a privilege of some kind, a luxury, a treat, and that men were selfishly keeping this ‘privilege’ for themselves. Monarchic states, frightened in these years of revolutions breaking out the way they had in France, Russia and America, benefited from pitting women against men in this way and drawing focus and attention away from the real inequality of wealth and class. But all states benefited - and continue to benefit - from this ‘divide and conquer’ approach and this helps explain why the feminist agenda received so little resistance from the governments of the world and how quickly the changes it called for came about.

The move towards identity politics and the enfranchisement of literally everyone in the country diminished the power and meaning of the vote almost beyond recognition: if you live in a country of 100 million people then statistically speaking it really hardly matters whether you turn up to the polling booth that day or not - it’s one hundred million-to-one your individual vote will mean anything. Whereas if you’re living in a community of say 50 people, your vote very definitely does count, and will make a directly observable difference to the outcome of whatever is being voted on.

I like the idea of democracy so I really don’t have a solution for this problem of bloated democratic states in which enfranchisement is used principally as a tool of pacification and a release valve stymieing any real change occurring. Perhaps democracy, like anarchism, can only truly work in smaller, decentralized communities. Perhaps that’s the way forward and what we should be working towards.

So anyhoo, I guess my answer is all of the above: I no longer see feminism as any kind of liberating force in the western world but a tool of distraction and discord pushed by those in positions of power to foster distrust and destroy the power of communities that might otherwise stop squabbling and unite against those in authority above them. Although I am glad of SOME opportunities SOME early feminism helped acquire for SOME women, as an ideology feminism is only a corrosive, detrimental force, especially today in the modern west.  In the bigger picture, beyond short term rewards, it makes life worse for everyone, and that includes women.

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