Front Page Titles (by Subject) III: Women, Family, and Freedom - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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III: Women, Family, and Freedom - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Women, Family, and Freedom
The following summaries delve into the condition of women and the family from the perspective of rights and freedom. The beginning traces of feminism in Europe and the United States is discussed by examining the writings of the few philosophers who did address the condition of women’s status: Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Fourier, Saint-Simon, Thomas Hobbes, and John Stuart Mill. The various opinions these men presented had far reaching effects on the development of feminism—both negative, as in the case of Rousseau, and positive, as with John Stuart Mill. As a general rule, before the 19th Century the role of women was a topic that warranted no discussion. Throughout history, women have been considered subordinate to men in every manner— biologically, intellectually, and emotionally. The epigram of Rousseau: “Women are made for man’s delight,” roughly summarizes women’s status in western civilization. The philosophers, such as Saint-Simon, who did address women’s rights were considered avant-garde and even ridiculed. The classical liberal John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women was a landmark in providing an intellectual basis for improving the status of women.
Contemporary views of feminism and its rising influence in the twentieth century are explored in summaries discussing Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, the cultural reaction to lesbianism, the representation of female protagonists in literature, and the political spectrum within feminism. Beauvoir searches out the reasons behind female acquiescence to male domination. She suggests women willingly agree to subordination, believing they are finding both economical and emotional security in their role as a subservient. Other summaries study the evolution of attitudes toward feminism in this century, particularly in literature and politics.
The final summaries discuss the opinion of the populace toward the role of women in modern society and the meaning of family and children. Research studies have detected a continued bias against the worth of women, despite the attention given to women’s rights and freedoms. A study by Eulah Laucks on the value of children discovered a change in attitudes that is trending toward the importance of family life.
These articles cover a brief overview of subjects within the context of women’s freedom, the reasons for the inferior status of women, and how the modern world is responding to the change of women’s roles.
Hobbes and the Politicized Family
“A Little Monarchy”: Hobbes on the Family.” Thought 53(December 1978):401–415.
The family relationship as Thomas Hobbes conceives it is a political relationship, a “little monarchy.” The family’s purpose is to teach a Hobbesian sense of obligation to children, a virtue he considers to be the only means to overcome the alienation of human beings. The family gives rise to this obligation and teaches a child to obey his parents because of their protection and preservation of his life. “If the child wills its own preservation (as Hobbes thinks it surely must), and if it recognizes the family as an excellent institution by which to achieve that preservation, then it ought to obey the parent from whom it receives such protection. No other course of action would, Hobbes thinks, be reasonable.”
The other duty of the child is to honor his parents. “The child should honor the parent out of gratitude for all the parent has done for him and also because he is presumed tacitly to have agreed to pay such honor for his enfranchisement [preservation].” Both obligation and gratitude are among the basic laws of nature (Hobbesian-style), all of which are grounded in the fundamental desire of men to successfully preserve their lives.
Meilaender criticizes this hypothesis as moral justification, stating these imperatives are “self”-regarding rather than “other”-regarding, and thus are not moral, but prudential. “Such a view of morality is, of course, based on preserving human existence rather than fulfilling human nature, and it finds only a calculating role for reason to play.” The love, affection, and mutual acknowledgment—that is for many the chief purpose of the family—is ignored by Hobbes, and replaced with only the “virtues” of nourishment and preservation. “Rather, we may well contend that one of the shortcomings of Hobbes’s theory is that he characterizes the institution of the family in political terms—and thus, misunderstands the political itself.” To think of the family only in this regard is to miss the limits of politics, and misunderstand the very essence of why family life is valued and the function it serves in human life. Hobbes values only political obligation; there are no other bonds or forms of community that can supercede this obligation. “He will not allow a loyal son to bend the knee to the gods of the hearth in preference to the gods of the city.”
Meilaender concludes by stating Hobbes’s conception of the family in political terms is invalid, because the purposes of the family differ from those of the state. The family exists to help the child grow into a fully developed human being, he says, and as a community in which love, affection, sacrifice, and mutual interests find a place in human affairs. To achieve these ends it need not have a place over the life and death of a child. “There is authority within the institution of the family, but it is not the authority of the civil sovereign.”
Hobbes’s Leviathan: Family and State
“Leviathan Writ Small: Thomas Hobbes on the Family.” American Political Science Review 69(March 1975):76–90.
Thomas Hobbes viewed the traditional family as a heuristic device to teach the basic principles of his theory of political science. Hobbes’s analogy followed the growth and development of a child. A child’s (i.e. citizen’s) survival is dependent on the protection of his parents (i.e. government). Independence away from political authority is as fatal to a grown man as is the absurd idea of an infant free from parental dependence. Thus to Hobbes, authority is justified by necessity.
He reinforces his premise by stating that the family is essential to the political education of the state’s citizens. Children will be amenable to sovereignty and obedience in the state because they have already been taught the principles on which it rests in the home.
Hobbes saw the nature of man as a selfishly individualistic animal at constant war with all other men. In a state of nature, men are entirely self-seeking and live out lives which are “nasty, brutish, and short.” Only the fear of a violent death will motivate man to surrender their natural rights, and create a state of political sovereignty.
Thus the family is an institution created to curb the passions of man into reasonable and submissive behavior. Hobbes’s political science rests on the belief that the family sovereign will be successful, as he expects a sovereign to be entirely successful. He sees a citizen’s life as either of two extremes: either complete obedience to the power of the state, or given to the terrors of a violent state of nature. “He has linked paranoia with pacification in his conception of the education of the family.” However, neither a sustained paranoia or a sustained pacification are very elevating styles of the human existence.
Despite its flaws, Hobbes’s view of the family as a miniature version of the state is unique. If we accept Hobbes’s premise that the family can be viewed in political terms, we can equally criticize it according to political values. By having the relationship between protection and obedience taught in the family, Hobbes makes it possible to humanize the state by teaching fairness, consent, respect for human dignity, and equality in the family.
For this reason, Hobbes’s conception of family life in political terms seems theoretically sound. The questions Hobbes raises about the sovereignty of the father are not that of an anachronistic tradition of household authority; it is the problem of the modern state. Should the state imitate the more modern, democratic, egalitarian, and consensual nature of the family? Or should the state persevere in its former imitation of a patriarchal and authoritarian family model?
Plato on Women and Property
“Philosopher Queens and Private Wives.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 6(Summer 1977):345–369.
Plato’s enigmatic ideas on women can only be understood in the light of his views on the role of private property. Plato seriously contradicts himself by initially declaring that woman is equal in status and capabilities to man, and that she should be raised exactly like man. His later writings, however, prove that Plato changed his thinking on woman: she is to be viewed as the private property of man, having a different nature than man’s, and considered only a “legal minor” in the government’s eyes.
Plato’s dialogue on the Republic describes the need to abolish private property, and thus the private family. This dissolves women’s traditional role in society, freeing her to develop the talents and capabilities that had been previously suppressed. The difference between the sexes is reduced to their roles in procreation, thus the natures of man and woman become identical. Plato radically proposes education and lifestyle of men and women also to be identical. To achieve the good of this communal society, the abolition of traditional sex roles is more in accordance with nature than is the conventional adherence to them.
By contrast, in the Laws, Plato reinstates private property, requiring monogamy and private households. Women are restored to the class of “private wives” (as the Greek society dictates), with all that this entails.
Plato does not actually change his statements about women’s potential, in fact his beliefs on this subject are stronger in Laws than in Republic. However, because of the economic and social structure he has prescribed in Laws, he cannot carry out the revolution in the woman’s role that would seem to follow his beliefs.
The difference between the two dialogues follows from the abolition of private property and the family, in the interest of unity in the Republic, and their reinstatement in the Laws. When a female is once again perceived as a privately owned appendage of a man with her function defined by the needs of her family, the socialization prescribed for her must ensure that her “nature” is shaped and preserved to fulfill this role.
Children and Family
“The Meaning of Children in America.” The Center Magazine 13(January-February 1980):6–14.
The meaning and value of children in contemporary society is often muddled by the trends and mores that characterize a current generation. Eulah Laucks’s questionnaire survey aims to discover what kind of attitudes modern society reflects toward the purpose, importance, and role children play. Laucks sampling involved a fairly homogenous group of graduates from the University of California, with a wide variety of generations.
Her findings are surprisingly traditional; the plight of the American family is not as bleak as it may seem. Children are generally wanted and considered an important enhancement of a marriage. They are perceived as only slight hindrances to their parents’ personal pursuits. Though Americans value a harmonious family life, attitudes toward the use of contraceptives, abortions, sterilization, and divorce are increasingly liberal. In short, “opinions regarding family and children often are not matched by their actions.”
Laucks evaluates the sexual revolution (which she believes began in the 1950s and ended in the 1970s) as a revolution against intimacy and vulnerability. Young men and women are “afraid to make commitments. Making a commitment which is deeper than just a casual one is considered a sign of one’s own weakness.”
“Many of the previous generations prized commitment at that age and sought involvement as a source of pleasure and satisfaction in life. Their children perceive a different truth: they believe that emotional involvement invites disaster.”
Laucks concludes by stating that she determined parents still want their children, still value them, and still see that society needs some kind of family institutions.
J.S. Mill, Harriet Taylor, & Women
“John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor, and Women’s Rights In America 1850–1873.” Canadian Journal of History 13(December 1978):423–442.
John Stuart Mill is considered to have had the greatest single influence on the women’s rights movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through his works “The Enfranchisement of Women” and SUBJECTION OF WOMEN, he drew together the fragmented thoughts about equality of women into a cohesive, rational philosophy which provided a sound statement of principle for women’s rights.
Mill did not emerge as the great champion of women’s rights until 1867, when as a parliamentary leader in England he proposed an amendment to the Second Reform Bill to extend the franchise to women property-holders. His speeches and activities in Parliament gave increased status to the women’s rights movement in both England and America. The essay “Enfranchisement,” written by Mill and his wife Harriet Taylor, was immediately successful, widely quoted and circulated. This essay addressed the inequalities of the American political system in retard to the development of woman as a free individual. By the time SUBJECTION OF WOMEN was published in 1869, John Stuart Mill had become a household name.
The purpose of SUBJECTION was to analyze the development of traditional social and legal dependence of women upon men. Mill judged the subordination of one sex to the other to be the last remnant of a primitive state of slavery. Under the sanction of law, women are conditioned by cultural mandates to accept a dependent state. Any protest has always been considered unfeminine and unnatural.
More specifically, Mill claimed the family unit was the major factor in promulgating women’s inferior status. The legal equality of married persons was the only remedy to begin the basic change in society towards the moral improvement of humanity. He wrote that laws had to be changed in order for the relationship of marriage to change. He portrayed the “domestic tyranny” of some men: “he (the husband) can commit any atrocity except killing her, and if tolerably cautious, can do that without the danger of the legal penalty.” He denounced the family as a “school of despotism,” but felt that if it were justly constituted, it “would be a real school for the virtues of freedom.” Until marriage fostered the daily cultivation of true freedom and equality, Mill could foresee little progress of those virtues in society.
Though Mill’s book was considered to be a classic literary event in its time, most women leaders who were pursuing the specific legal rights were either disappointed or did not find it useful. The theme of the book dealt with an implicit assumption of the equality of the sexes. This was an unpalatable concept in 1869, even to women, particularly since Mill proclaimed the root of inequality was imbedded in the family.
In many ways Mill’s vision for women in society was much larger than that of women themselves. Women addressed specific issues of equality: suffrage, education, and professional opportunities, whereas Mill dealt with the importance of complete equality.
By contrast, the essay “Enfranchisement,” which Mill and Harriet Taylor didn’t consider very good, was embraced by feminists immediately, whereas subjection of women had to wait 40 years until it was given its proper place in the role of equality of the sexes. In the early 1900’s when equal rights were finally established, Subjection of Women, considered the “greatest single factor in the change,” came to be referred to as the “Bible of Feminism.”
Varieties of Feminism
“Freedom and Women.” Ethics 85(April 1975):243–248.
The “women’s liberation movement” is a misnomer, as it suggests a unified philosophy and strategy of feminists pursuing social and political equality. In actuality, the movement contains a myriad of divergent views of political philosophy.
William T. Blackstone analyzes these views into four basic positions within the feminist movement. (1) The traditionalist stance should hardly be classified as a feminist position, but it constitutes one of the parameters on this issue. The traditionalist believes that women are different from men, and interprets this difference as one of inferiority. Women are passive, submissive, and destined to perform certain roles. Sex stereotyping in opportunities and roles is not oppressive, but actually necessary to fulfill women’s nature and to achieve family and social cohesion. True freedom and equality for women are found within these restrictions, and the state should not interfere with natural conventions in any way.
(2) The liberal feminist contends that social injustices do exist because of sexrole stereotyping, and that political and social reforms should be adopted to correct these maladies. However, the liberal does not require abolishing all traditional sexroles or family values. Women, just as men, should be judged as individuals and on their ability.
(3) The radical feminist argues that freedom and equality of women is possible only with the complete overthrow of the political system. The “political system” is interpreted in very broad terms and the institution of marriage is judged as a political creation. The options of marriage and a family must then be dissolved since these maintain the oppression of women.
For the radical, the only valid method of reversing inequalities must be a complete eradication of the capitalist system. “In a society in which money determines value, women are a group who work outside the money economy. Their work is not worth money, is therefore valueless, is therefore not even real work,” states Margaret Bengsten, a radical leftist feminist.
(4) Radical feminists who do not adhere to Marxism must also be given a place on the spectrum. This sub-movement believes oppression of women extends beyond economic and class struggles, but to biological differences of physical strength. Liberation for women is possible only by overcoming the “weakness” of females by technology. True freedom requires the abolition of the whole sex-role system (including childbearing, marriage, and the family). Contraception and “artificial reproduction” will free women from their biological inequalities, and thus from their political and social inequalities.
In his conclusion, Blackstone chooses to examine the more philosophically controversial stance of the extreme radical feminist movement. He argues the falsehood of the presupposition that childbearing is a restraint. “In our world, the key factors responsible for oppression are not biological traits but social, economic, political, and legal options or choices. . . if freedom could be purchased only at the cost of one’s sexuality—this would be a terrible price to pay. Rather than desexualize or asexualize our world through technology (if indeed this is possible), we need to change social and legal systems which discriminate irrelevantly on the basis of sex.”
The position of the radical feminist thesis regarding “freedom from sexual classification altogether” is unrealistic, says Blackstone. There is no possible way to rule out differential treatment with respect to gender, because one can not determine if all the facts, characteristics, or circumstances are independent of gender.
Thirdly, Blackstone contends the stance that freedom for women requires utter abolition of the traditional roles of marriage and family is mistaken. There is no doubt that these institutions have oppressed women and continue to do so, he states, but a free society must allow the traditional roles for women as a possible option. By precluding them, (if technology ever permitted mass artificial reproduction, etc.) the ruling out of traditional options decreases freedom to that extent. “Marriage and role divisions within marriage are not inherently exploitive and oppressive, though they may be oppressive if predicated on psychological, social, and economic oppression, and exploitation.”
Thus, Blackstone suggests, there is no necessary conflict between freedom to choose from a range of options, including traditional roles, and equality or social justice for women.
“Rousseau’s Natural Woman.” The Journal of Politics 41(1979):393–416.
As a rule, women were generally ignored in political philosophy of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Jean-Jacque Rousseau, one of the few philosophers who discussed women in his writings, reflected the general patriarchal bias of political theorists.
Rousseau claimed that patriarchy is a necessary basis of human society. He considered the family to be a natural state of nature, and within that institution must be one final authority—the dominant male.
Thus the socialization and education of women should be based on the principles that women were created solely to please man and to be subjected to him. The natural woman has inborn characteristics of shame and modesty, and a desire for servility. She should be only what her “husband expects her to be, “and behave asexually toward all other men.
The problems with Rousseau’s conception are that he creates a total dilemma for the woman: she has no chance to be an individual, much less a citizen. Contrary to his views of men, Rousseau neglects to recognize how women have been warped and limited by the socialization and cultural context they have been subjected to throughout their lives. Ironically, Rousseau felt that although the nurturing of intellect and reason is necessary for men, these qualities are innate in women and thus unnecessary to teach.
The purpose of studying Rousseau’s conception of women is not for the benefits of his anti-feminist stance, but rather to understand a controlling paradigm and mentality of the eighteenth and nineteenth century in exploring the situation of women.
The Roots of Rousseau’s Anti-feminism
“‘Made for Man’s Delight’: Rousseau as Anti-feminist.” The American Historical Review 81(April 1976):266–291.
The reactionary stand of Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s anti-feminist philosophy has been considered a major influence in retarding women’s rights in the late eighteenth century. Rousseau has generally been interpreted as a classical chauvinist from his writings, particularly from his earnest epigram, “Woman is made for man’s delight.”
Wexler revaluates this conception by examining Rousseau’s novels and autobiographical work, revealing the personal life of Rousseau to be rooted in an overwhelming fear of women. Rousseau was never capable of sustaining an intimate and sexual relationship with a woman he both loved and esteemed. He regarded emotional stability as the greatest value in contemporary society, a value he felt women inherited intrinsically. “Their (women) strength came from their indifference to sexual pleasure, which allowed them to govern what Rousseau believed was the passion-dominated sex.”
Rousseau’s personal life was marked with tragedy. His mother died the week after his birth, his indifferent father abandoned him at age ten. His body was deformed because of a painful urinary disorder, and by age twelve he showed signs of psychological maladjustment by experiencing sexual pleasure through sadomasochism.
It has long been contended that Rousseau demonstrated the symptoms of latent homosexuality. “Not only his paranoia, but his sexual passivity, his reference to himself as effeminate, and the fact that he took the place of his mother in his father’s affections. . . tend to support this contention.”
Far too aware of the power women had over his emotional stability, Rousseau extended his experience on a universal level for all humanity. In his conception women are already educated with natural qualities of rationality that men must strive for years to achieve. Thus, he contended, women must not be allowed to be educated, or to compete outside the realm of motherhood. A world dominated by women would create havoc and disharmony in society, crippling men into a degenerated state.
Wexler concludes that what students of Rousseau have interpreted as a traditional stance of anti-feminism must be understood in the full context of his ideas, experiences, and personal life-style.
Feminism, the Saint-Simonians & Fourier
“The Philosophical Bases of Feminism: The Feminist Doctrines of the Saint-Simonians and Charles Fourier.” Philosophical Forum 7 (Spring 1976):277–293.
The feminist doctrine of Saint-Simon (1760–1825) has been extended and distorted by his disciple, Prosper Enfantin (1796–1864), and thus has been considered somewhat of a mockery. However, the actual basis of his doctrine was a radical precept of modern day feminism.
Saint-Simon developed his world view in the aftermath of the great Protestant and French revolutions, when abrupt changes in social customs brought an age of optimism to a constricted civilization. Saint-Simon saw this new age as the opening of an “organic” period of harmony and productivity; a new society unified by a motivating purpose where work becomes a virtue in itself. With this development, women (like all citizens) should be given the opportunity to develop their capacities beyond their traditional roles as domestics.
From this suggestive legacy, Enfantin created a new doctrine whereby the stereo-typed feminine characteristics of love and affection—generally considered non-essential skills to survival—became the foundation of his system for reorganizing society. The couple pretre Pere and Mere would serve as the earthly representatives of an androgynous God, ruling over the morality of the future age.
Enfantin espoused the emancipation of women as the only method to inaugurate this new era of history based on love, cooperation, and production. This movement was shocking to this age, but did awaken interest in the emancipation of the working class, and particularly in the liberation of women.
Charles Fourier (1772–1837), considered the first renowned feminist, advocated the absolute equality of the sexes in moral behavior as well as political. Fourier was not particularly sympathetic to women and their plight, but based his liberating philosophy on the call of God towards a cosmic, harmonic balance. Fourier described true individual liberty as the full development and satisfaction of all the “passions” (opulence, truth, harmony, etc.) which he saw as reflections of God’s nature.
The philosophies of Saint-Simonians and Charles Fourier did not advocate egalitarianism, but they did agree that all individuals should have the opportunity to develop their unique talents and capacities. Both sought firmer grounds than natural rights arguments to justify the emancipation of women.
Saint-Simonians saw the necessity of the “new morality” to usher in an age of “peace & plenty.” This change would be automatically instigated by the nature of women in their properly esteemed place in society.
Fourier sought harmonic equilibrium, and viewed women as a force of passionate attraction in this reorganized society.
On a practical level, the goals of both doctrines were concerned with producing material abundance necessary for the greatest happiness and health of all members of society. Secondly, they sought to make the conditions of labor more satisfying for the workers.
Two unique points of Fourierism and Saint-Simonianism are that they both declared a need for the radical transformation of society through education and natural wealth, rather than revolutionary means. Secondly, the emancipation of women was placed as the very center of their doctrines.
Woman’s Power and Weakness in Literature
“Women on Women’s Destiny: Maturity as Penance.” Massachusetts Review 20(1979):326–334.
Ironically, female writers have built a literary tradition far more stifling to womanhood than have male writers who create female protagonists. Women novelists have tended to cast a lugubrious and punitive shadow over the lives of their heroines, while male writers often invest their female characters with a sense of power and option, despite their personal view of woman’s worth.
The literary image of the rebellious Victorian woman has the protagonist struggling furiously with the social mandates of her time, yet she gives away her power by submitting to a penitential marriage which subdues her to conformity. Jo March of Little Women (written by Louisa May Alcott), and Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch (by George Eliot) are classical examples of creative, vibrant women who accept their inevitable defeat (marriage), thus relinquishing their potency. The consummation becomes a punishment and their life becomes streaked with tragedy. Rarely do women writers endow their heroines with a resilience toward re-birth. “They are doomed to grow up and to leave the stage.”
Modern literature is changing from the trend of female sacrificial victims, to rejecting romance and love altogether in favor of maintaining woman’s strength.
Auerbach concludes that the problem of women’s literature is how strictly it adheres to an exclusive female context. “In excluding male visions from its canon, it may also be dismissing a faith in growth, freedom, and fun, of which women’s worlds, in literature at any rate, are in general sadly deprived.”
Lesbianism vs. Cultural Oppression
“Women Alone Stir My Imagination”: Lesbianism and the Cultural Tradition.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 4(1979):718–739.
As history tends to bury what it seeks to reject, lesbian literature has been trivialized, ignored and denied in the past fifty years. In this article, Blanche Wiesen Cook explores the prejudice against women authors such as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Tolklas because of their sexual preferences.
Cook describes the attitudes which lesbian feminist works rebelled against: attitudes that refuse to permit women to survive except in relation with, and in service to, men. Lesbians have been misconceived and cruelly stereotyped as passionate, distraught women destined to tragedy, abuse, and abandonment. “Denied access to an accurate historical record [of individual lesbians], we knew only that our foresisters wore neckties, and committed suicide. Modeled on a culture that celebrated only tough men and fey women, ‘butch’ and ‘femme,’ lesbian culture was not an egalitarian feminist society. Moreover, it existed only at night.”
In reality, “They wrote books about passionate little girls, death, and abandonment.” Olivia (1949) by Dorothy Stachey Bussy, is an excellent example of this genre. Virginia Woolf’s novelistic themes of social criticism and sexual politics have largely passed unnoticed. Instead, her editors (Nigel Nicolson and Quentin Bell) have emphasized her insanity, her alleged sexual frigidity and have classified the politics of her later years as ill-informed, naïve and dangerous to the state in wartime. Cook insists that to understand Virginia Woolf is to see the abiding anguish in her life “. . . against a male-defined world that denied her access to the Cambridge education reserved for her brothers; against a male-defined world that sat in judgement, as it continues to sit, upon her every vision, her every word.”
Lesbian love has been presented as joyless, turgid, maudlin, and shameful. Lovat Dickson’s book Radclyffe Hall at the Well of Loneliness dangerously reinforced the stereotype of lesbianism. Dickson defines a lesbian as “more man than girl,” and separates physical sex from any kind of emotional feeling.
Cook concludes saying, “Dangerous bigotry and a cruel foolishness. . . are still capable of wrecking joy, depriving people of job security, severing mother from child.” The issue, she says, is not really lesbianism. “What our dominant society so fundamentally opposes is women’s independent access to our own erotic power.” This “erotic power”—defined here as “love in all its aspects—born of chaos and personifying creative power and harmony. . . an assertion of the life-force of women. . .” Independent, life-affirming, womenloving women so empowered are dangerous, says Cook, but such empowered women may look forward to a future both feminist and classless.
Woman’s Fear of Freedom
“Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, and Jean-Paul Sartre.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5(1979):209–223.
In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir defends Sartre’s justification for the oppression of women by suggesting that women choose this oppression. Her thesis is not to understand why some women reject the limitations which contemporary culture has placed on them, rather why most women accept them.
“Femininity is an active pursuit of a passive function. . .” she writes, “one becomes a woman. Civilization describes femininity [so that] a woman has no nature, only a history.”
Extending Sartre’s view that individual freedom is both desired and feared, Beauvoir suggests women accept the role of being inferior and subordinate out of the illusion that this will bring absolute security, both economic and emotional. She may deny herself opportunities of freedom transcendence, but she is also safe from their hazards.
The Second Sex concludes with a utopian vision of “the couple.” Sartre has described every man as dreaming of being God; Beauvoir portrays every woman dreaming to be His Beloved. “Denied the transcendence of action and adventure offered to the male, she seeks transcendence by losing herself in a man who represents the essential which she cannot be for herself. Unlike man, woman’s greatest temptation is to seek that necessity through the love of a male on whom she confers supremacy.”
Yet whatever his dream or hers, man is not God. Beauvoir’s woman of love inevitably finds herself caught in a maze of contradictions. When the reality of her lover’s humanness confronts her, l’amoureuse feels betrayed. “A fallen god is not a man, he is a fraud.” Yet if his prestige remains intact and she accepts her role as inferior, she loses her individual essence. If abandoned by the man she loves, l’amoureuse is not only left with nothing, but in her own eyes she is nothing.
Beauvoir’s warning to women is clear, love cannot be an absolute. “When woman, fully the equal of man, can love in her strength and not in her weakness, love will become for her as for man a source of life and not of mortal danger.”
Beauvoir speaks directly from her own experience of temptation of the “love-religion” with Sartre. Both Beauvoir and Sartre shared by temperament a passionate need for absolutes and an equally passionate disdain for them. Beauvoir’s personal and unresolved struggle for liberation from this self-imposed oppression from the status of second sex is the underlying motivation for this explicit philosophical theory.
Antifeminism in Political Science
“Attitudes to Women in American Political Science.” Government and Opposition 15, no. 1(Winter 1980):101–114.
The last decade has witnessed a dramatic rise in the women’s movement together with a widespread concern for the economic, social, and political status of women. Despite a large amount of legislation being designed to promote equality between the sexes, a recent study disclosed that there is a definite continued male bias in the field of political science towards the higher status of women.
These findings state that women are not just being misrepresented, they are discriminated against. Women have little to no political clout, and have never been seriously considered as possible holders of political powers. Though women as a gender are considered apolitical, the article defends the reasons for that attitude. “Women have never been truly educated, and historically never taught to need the specialized knowledge given to men. Women are regarded as second-class citizens, trained, channelled and moulded into ‘women’ first and ‘citizens’ second. Women have been systematically socialized towards the private realm. . . the schools, by preaching pluralism, suggest that the political world is theirs for the taking, and so, that it is their choice, if they do not.”
Evans adds that political scientists are committed to the “eternal feminine.” Women’s “interests” such as abortion, childcare, and food prices, are generally ignored by political parties. Women’s political opinions are excluded from any serious study, or when included, male bias is said directly to affect the conduct, findings, and conclusions of research in political science.
“Political scientists are the agents of a male domination that pervades the polity.” The most difficult problem women confront is the interpretation of research: “in accordance with mistaken—and some would say insulting—views of women; it should be obvious this leads to bad political science.”
Evan’s critique of various views on this subject are intended to raise our awareness to the existence of an intellectual bias in academia and politics with relevance beyond the field of political science, and to suggest other alternatives to the attitude that “politics is a man’s world. . . [and that] political science as a discipline tends to keep it that way.”
Women in the Social Sciences
“The Social Sciences and the Study of Women: A Review Article.” Comparative Studies in Sociology and History 20(1978):163–173.
The problem of women’s roles, power and status, past and present, in our own and other cultures, is being addressed more completely by several disciplines in the social sciences. Tilly’s review of a few contemporary books on this subject gives a fuller understanding of women’s roles across culture and history.
Stanley Lemon’s The Woman Citizen (1973) studies pre-women’s suffrage data on history of the political parties and pressure groups which influenced the women’s movement. His findings link feminists’ social activities to the ideas of the pre-First World War Progressivism, and show the later significance of growing women’s rights in the New Deal. Using census statistics to establish the structure of women’s occupations, Lemon gives a more social and economic background to this political appraisal.
Lee Holcombe’s Victorian Ladies at Work (1973) describes the growth of “middle-class female occupations, such as teaching, nursing, office work, and civil service in the late 1880s. She explores the reasons for the changes from blue-collar jobs: a greater supply of single women, and the boom of the industrial age increasing business opportunities for women.
Women, Culture, and Society (1974), edited by Michelle Z. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, studies how various cultures have responded to women. Three universal traits were determined: that all contemporary societies are to some extent male-dominated; that sexual inequality is presently a fact of the human social life; and that reproduction and child-bearing is a central fact of women’s lives.
The editors denied any evidence of biological determinism in developing a cultural order among genders, stating rather that behavior roles are consequences of the interaction between biological givens and social patterns. They did, however, trace the universal subordination of women to the “fact” that childbearing and rearing is the primary social activity of women. As long as the domestic sphere remains primarily female, the authors conclude, public power will elude women.
Tilly delves deeper into other research on the subject of women in society, and describes the common thesis that the search for “power” is the major concern of recent articles. Women are not the passive creatures submitting to men’s control over them. Rather, they are political and social actors seeking to maximize their power through the resources at their command; such resources lie mostly in their own domestic sphere.
The collection of information that is being researched and compiled is perhaps not yet significant in its findings, but it does prove the study of women’s lives and social relationships add a dimension to the social sciences that has been sorely neglected.