“Feminism”

by Ana Bazac

As we know, the historically determined society based on power relations – i.e. of domination-submission, first of all on economical level – has functioned only with all the types of constraints on the majority of population, the ruled.  This means that rarity, the main ontological factor of the constitution of the human society[1], has directed the social relations – after a long period of an, obviously not absolute, equalitarian repartition of the labour tasks and fruits within the groups, followed by the formation of the hereditary institution coexisting still long time with the commonality institutions – toward the power relations, beyond the “professional” authority relations existing in that previous period.

The gender/sexual differences and taboos – along with the race, language, cultural ones, about which we do not discuss here – have existed in the pre- political societies too, because of their cardinal importance for the existence/persistence and cohesion of the groups, but as it is also known, they have corresponded to the technological level and the ability of these groups to resist in the circumstances of their life. Thus, the gender social equality with all the role differences – i.e. the equal right to say a word in the communal management – has preceded the submissive position of women (and, certainly, of the racially and culturally different groups towards the one that is the object/criterion we speak about) in the political/class societies. At least the history of the Greek mythology is the witness of the history and transition from social equality to social domination.

The legitimating of gender discrimination – that is not at all related only to subjective attitudes towards/concerning the sexes, or to excessive phenomena as rape, but means complex social inequality between sexes, that is to say, the inferior status of women, but –   has developed with and within the political societies of internal domination- submission relations as structural for the maintaining of the power of the political elites of those societies. In other words, the class relations have both framed/determined and helped themselves with the gender discrimination: and the legitimising discourses of discrimination have followed and corresponded to the historical legitimisation of class relations. The class relations and the gender discrimination were so close to each other that – although they are relatively independent, as every system is towards the other one – any kind of attack against discrimination was considered by the dominant layers as attacks against the dominant order as such. For example, when Beaumarchais wrote (1778) and finally, after a harsh opposition of the censorship, played (1784) his La Folle Journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro – base of the famous Le nozze di Figaro, 1786, of Mozart – the king and his entourage considered it execrable and the representation, a mistake of the officials. The jus primae noctis, as the clou of the plot, was not only a remnant of a revolute feudalism – a remnant that the nobles seemed to not want to give up, if we believe Beaumarchais’ comedy – a privilege, despised by the new bourgeois ideology, but the prototype of an almost absolute form of gender discrimination.

Nevertheless, even if the out-of-date privileges were abolished when capitalism has become the dominant political system, the woman discrimination continued, embedded in the capitalist forms of “free” selling of everything, including the body of the woman, and her vital force as labour force. But this was not “discrimination”: it was a “normal” manner of capitalist supply and demand relations[2]. At the basis of the domination-submission relations, and obviously, of capitalism, is the transformation of human beings into instruments: with their bodies and souls. Indeed, there was no essential difference between the hyper-exploited proletarian condition of the workers in the first industrial revolution[3] and the prostitutes[4] – even though the selling of one’s own body gives a specific essence to the proletarian condition of prostitutes –: these ones only emphasised and emphasise the extreme tragedy of the oppressed. Though the prostitution is the absolute level of this tragedy, one may say at least metaphorically – but in fact the relations to whom the proletarian (who has only his vital force as labour abilities for selling in order to earn his living) and the prostitute are subsumed are the same capitalist relations – that the worker is a prostitute.

No bourgeois feminist activist in the 19th century spoke about the prostitution of her sister fellow, because she ought to have spoken about the “normal” exploitation relationships. But, as it was already mentioned, the systems have a relative independence to one another, and thus their evolution too has this relative independence. Though the gender discrimination was related to the capitalist structural relations (maximisation of profit through exploitation, competition and “Centre-periphery”/international domination)[5], it was general, marking the life of the women of all classes: but, obviously, in different forms.  And as the young male bourgeois were the fighters against feudalism and its privileges, as the bourgeois/well-off women of the middle classes were the fighters against gender discrimination in capitalism. Thus, the problem is not that it’s easier to fight against discrimination than against exploitation/capitalism as such – and that ‘one always would come nearer the struggle against capitalism as such by fighting first against discrimination’ (as some present feminists think) –, but that the fight against discrimination was firstly a fight waged by the non and anti-proletarian layers of middle class women, and that this fight against discrimination without attacking the capitalist relationships as such is both half struggle and leading to irrational excesses.

Certainly, the middle class women fought for their interests: first, equal contract and property rights to women (so, of those who had this property)[6]. The goals were political too: women suffrage, equality in political promotion, and civil rights (including those of reproduction and sexual). As we know, in the long run these rights were conquered and were and are beneficial for the women of all classes.

But feminism is an ideology, specifically formed by theories related to the positions, requests, situations and struggles of the middle class women for the above mentioned rights: and certainly, theories written mostly by women. Because this ideology criticised the establishment from the standpoint of a progressive reform universalising at least some human rights, it was considered progressive by many left-wing thinkers. But today that label is rather an illusion: because feminism does not challenge the system as such: consequently, after the fulfilling of those rights, just the capitalist system needed and needs the prolongation of feminism as a way to split forwards the social critique, to confuse people, both men and women, and to separate their struggles, as if they would not have common goals.

Well, after a long history, and the fulfilling of the above rights, what may feminism say today to people? Every one understands that feminism was an historical movement and obviously, temporary. As the Byzantine theories were historical but today they are of interest only for researchers, as feminism must remain a historical cultural fact like so many past theories. But, in the 1990s “a third wave” of feminism began with calls for the right of women to control their own bodies, and to not be sexually harassed – as if in principle the law would not have prohibited the sexual harassment, as if it would not have assured this control, since the “consent” is necessary in order to be a prostitute[7], and as if the right to control the own body would consist only in the right to abortion – and from 2012 on a “fourth wave” continuing the campaigns against sexual harassment (until today, see the #Me Too campaign from 2017 on): with much ado and as though only the women would reject the intimidation of and aggressive behaviour against women; and as if everything would be reduced to gender relationships.

Neither the rape, prostitution and genital mutilation are of interest only for women. But “feminism” considers that every more or less unhappy event concerning women would be exclusively the privilege of feminist tackling: in the same petty-bourgeois ignorance of class determinations.

It seems that this critical standpoint towards “feminism” is similar with that of “post-feminists”[8]. Actually, the goal of this paper is not the discussion of apparently such a thick “ism”, full of names writing about women – as if fundamentally the human being would be inexorably contradictory because of the gender division, and as if fundamentally the human problems would be divided according and reduced to genders and gender issues – nor the arguments against its present form clinging on oral history and micro-politics: but the emphasis of a mimetic “feminism” in the post-1990 Eastern European countries.

We must clearly know the situation of women before 1990 in these countries: the law prohibited every (here, gender) discrimination, including the economic one of differentiated salaries according to the gender of wage-earners. The inherited discriminative mentalities were gradually countered first of all through the equal right to free education, and though the above mentalities had their inertia not so much because of the resistance of men to impose their leadership in the working teams at all levels, but because of the inherited situation of under-developed and non-industrialised countries where the majority of women lived in villages helping their families to work in agriculture or being housewives, or where women living in towns/cities were housewives with their unpaid work but based on the wages of their husbands. The rapid modernisation realised by the socialist regimes has transformed the majority of women in wage-earners, while the free education and the vertical social mobility were the conditions pushing women to various intellectual careers.

This is not a pink image. In Romania, the forced natality was a policy leading to many sufferings and even other social problems, while the multiplying of tasks of women – working both as paid employees and solving the problems of households and children’s education – led to not easy lives; irrespective of the lot of kindergartens and other measures to help women and families. And with all the mentioned measures and policies, the discriminative mentalities shrank.

But we must not reduce the situation of women to the right of abortion/the infringement of this right, and nor to the number of leadership positions. These two aspects are cardinal in the “feminist” narratives which never speak about the constrained selling of the labour force: no, they speak only about leadership positions and entrepreneurship careers.

Well, after the 1989 system change, the privatising relations and mentalities were introduced step by step. Since everything had and has to be paid to the new businessmen who became the owners of the former state/public property, and at the same time the destruction of agriculture and industry – and the afferent jobs – took place, the families have been deprived of any social/state support. The existential problems were unbearable for the majority of population. The increasingly low quality of education and the dropping out of school have led to more and more violent behaviours, including to the re-generation of discriminative mentalities as manifestation of a general social cruelty.  

At the same time, the system change was seen by some female members of intelligentsia as an opportunity to acquire a higher – and obviously, more well paid – status. One opportunity was that of “feminism” that was the ground of quick promotions and grants and countless invitations to international conferences where the mot d’ordre was and is (neo)liberal.  The Romanian and the majority of East European feminists have tackled the problems of women in this (neo)liberal view. They have separated, and still separate, the political relations from the economical, and the “excessive” phenomena harmful to both women and the image of the system from their deep causes and the “normal” phenomena of same type. (As it already was mentioned, the trafficking of human beings, thus the furtive prostitution are rejected, but not prostitution as such). More dryly: capitalism would be, indeed, the best of the possible worlds if some bad persons would not make some excesses[9].

The post-89 Romanian “feminism” of petty-bourgeois academics has mimicked the Western petty-bourgeois “feminism”. And because the starting point – the pre 89 situation of women – was not so bad, they focused only on two problems: the totalitarian type reproduction policy, and the “patriarchal” mentalities pictured in such a manner that no evolutionary features did seem to exist before; while after 1990 the domestic violence has occupied the front page, being an element surreptitiously sending to the legitimacy of different alternative types of families; as if the domestic violence would be habitual in the ordinary families’ togetherness, and natural as the sun and rain, and not determined by the savage homo homini lupus relations after 1990.

What has to be clearly said is that the mimic “feminism” has induced the idea that the only possible respectable – so, critical – theory would be the liberal feminism where no social structural determinism exists and the women outside the petty-bourgeois and “nouveaux riches” layers have no voice; they simply do not exist, as their husbands, fathers and sons – striving for the minimum wage[10] or emigrating, with or without their women and children, because they simply run away from unemployment or cannot make both ends meet with the Romanian salaries – do not exist for the officially accredited sociology and political science.

In this type of mimic sociology – feminist studies belonging to sociology – there are some principles which are, more or less, tacit presumptions.

One is that the difference of gender experience would be more important than the logical ability that is the same for all (as this “common sense as the most fairly distributed thing in the world” and thus, “desire to understand the truth”, is known from Aristotle and Descartes). Accordingly, that different gender experiences are stratified in persistent mentalities which, firstly, are a consistent matter of feminist studies and, secondly, it is in doubt to being dislocated, since in the liberal narrative no law against discrimination and no concrete economic and cultural policies before 1990 would have changed an iota in the paternalist and discriminative mentalities. Actually, the human experience and the logical ability are equally important, because people can reason about/judge their experiences, and this means: reasoning/judging not only according to prejudices and mentalities, but also and just according to the experiences. These experiences change and regard more and larger aspects, and just these aspects are related in the human ratiocination.

The second presumption is that, because of secular discriminations, the women would have a deep inferiority complex that is used just by them to justify why they chose to not having a fulminating career but a simple job, a family and children[11]. Actually, being very doubtful that the real women have this inferiority complex, this theory – assumed by the Romanian “feminism” – reflects rather the standpoint of some specific parts of the “middle-class”/petty-bourgeois female intelligentsia: those from the liberal political science, sociology, and feminist studies, dreaming to imposing their fragmentary, Manichean (thus, not at all dialectic) and disjunctive view about society, where the social/class positions are excluded and substituted with the gender relations.

Because the “happy housewife heroine” described by Betty Friedan[12] as the malefic model of the American post-war women entering the consumer society of the most powerful, thus imperialist, state of the world was, indeed, the official model as a part of the American way of life of that period, but not at all the universal model of oppressive gender relations, and having a clear peculiar class character, the petty-bourgeois class aimed to be generalised in the American consumer society. Betty Friedan’s book had marvellously described the dominant post-war model of femininity in the petty-bourgeois homes – an oppressive model, indeed, including through the separation of the homes from the world, as the author has underlined – but reduced the problem of this model to the opposition between feminine aspirations (to be housewife) or to have a career.

Or, this book – that certainly has an historical importance – forgot to discuss in terms of social ideals too: because after the described period, a new massive women’s entry into the workplace followed, but the psychical troubles, the deep alienation (not only of women) related to their own human development did not cease, but has increased. And since there is about psychical troubles, and not about physical fatigue caused by the care for children and family, because this care, resulted from love, was (and is) seen by women as matching the value of Good they cherished[13], it means that – although the superficial and consumerist model transmitted by magazines and movies was more and more aggressive – the problem and cause was that of the dominant ideology’s nullification of social ideals and their substitution with consumerist and superficial individual aspirations.

The problem is not, however, this concrete critique of a particular model, but just its reception by the Romanian dominant feminist atmosphere as “opposition between a businesswoman (but never a teacher, a doctor, a scientist) career and the banal fulfilment of complex tasks by the majority of women”. Implicitly: that this majority may have an inferiority complex.

Another presumption is that the capitalist democracy is the framework within which this inferiority complex is erased, because of the political rights of election in multi-party system, inexistent before 1990. The persistence of paternalist mentality would be, according to the liberal “feminism”, the result of a weak culture of democracy. This culture would mainly consist in the value of equality: but gender equality, and never social equality, because this one requires the critique of social inequality and exploitation, and liberalism opposes this critique[14].

Therefore, “feminism” is not a neutral and technical timely research of the problems of women. Since it is social research, it includes ideological standpoints and, since it is in fashion, it bears the mark of the dominant ideological principles. “Feminism” is (neo)liberal[15], but just this “feminism” was taken over by the post-90 Romanian researchers. Not only because of individual reasons of easy social ascension, but mainly because this “feminism” has – as everywhere – a clear political function: that of the separation of men and women in their effort to understand the world and to change it.

At the end of the 19th century, the socialists have considered that they have to organise socialist circles for women because of their specific universe, but never had the socialist/communist theory separated the struggle for social emancipation of men and women, because this is a class goal and emancipation, not a gender one. In an inertial approach – that was rather a pendant of the petty-bourgeois feminism – in the former socialist countries there were women organisations tackling some specific problems, but never separated from the general social processes and their understanding. The liberal “feminism” aims just to separate women from these processes and their understanding. It adds its own effort to the fragmentation induced by religions.

Although the Romanian feminists have taken over the Western feminist bibliography, they did this in a selective manner. The above cited Betty Friedan has strongly criticised the media that has transmitted and induced the feminine model of caring only about femininity and narrow problems of the home. But no present Romanian feminist has analysed the narrow femininity messages in the present Romanian media: where everything is related to the religious holidays, habits, diet, and, not paradoxically, to the clever and early selling of one’s own body. No focus on the new service proletariat[16] where women are at least half, not a word about the circuses offered by the “elites”, and about the quality of education and access to it.

But the (neo)liberal “feminism” is okay, is it?

[1] See Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique (précédé de Questions de méthode), Tome I, Théorie des ensembles pratiques, Paris, Gallimard, 1960 ; but also Ana Bazac : „În jurul problemei cauzelor structurante: ontologia gramsciană a forţelor de producţie şi teoria rarităţii la Sartre”, în Gramsci şi Sartre. Mari gânditori ai secolului XX, Bucureşti, Editura Institutului de ştiinţe politice şi relaţii internaţionale, 2007, pp. 97-113 [”Around the problem of structuring causes: Gramsci’s ontology of the productive forces and Sartre’s theory of scarcity”, in Gramsci and Sartre: big thinkers of the 20th century] and  Ana Bazac, „Sartre şi aventura conceptului de raritate”, în Adriana Neacşu (coordonator), Sartre în gândirea contemporană, Craiova, Editura Universitaria, 2008, pp. 105-162 [”Sartre and the adventure of the concept of scarcity”, in Sartre in the contemporary thinking].

[2] Indeed, there is a noteworthy difference between the general market relations – existing in the whole history and the whole world – or of the principle of supply and demand, and the capitalist supply and demand relations. Actually, the latter are of profitable supply and solvable demand: i.e. the capital invests, “giving jobs” and supplying the necessary goods, only if the investments are profitable, and only if they are more profitable – no matter what they produce – than other ones producing more necessary goods; today, it’s more profitable for capital to invest in financial speculation and arms than in industrial production; and the demand must be solvable, because otherwise it is not fulfilled, irrespective of the acute need it is the voice of; and since the quest for profit imposes too low salaries for buying the necessary goods, the capital gave the solution of buying on credit and endlessly paying back the interests to the banks one borrows from.

[3] See Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844-45), and also Marx, Capital, I (1867).

[4] Charles Loudon, Solution du probléme de la population et des subsistances, soumise à un médécin dans une série de lettres, Paris, Bibliothèque étrangère et orientale de Gerard frères, 1842, pp. 228-229: in England, the number of prostitutes was 60000-70000. (In 1841, the number of inhabitants was 13655000). “The average life on the sidewalk of these unfortunate creatures, after entering the career of vice, is six to seven years. So, in order to keep the number of 60000-70000 prostitutes, there must be at least 8 or 9 thousand women each year doing the job, or around 24 new victims every day, which is an average of one per hour”. See also Johann Wilhelm Christern, Die Hamburgische Prostitution, 1860.

[5] George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, New York, Garden City Publishing Company, 1937, pp. 196-197: “’Men’s wages are family wages, women’s wages individual wages. The effect is to make the proletarian married woman a slave of a slave, and to establish conventions that the man is the breadwinner; that the woman’s work in the home, being apparently gratuitous, is not work a all; and that women, when they are directly paid for their work, should be paid less than men”.

[6] George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide…, p. 197: “Protection of women in the propertied class by marriage settlements, and in the middle class by the Married Women’s Property Acts”.

[7] The big hypocrisy of capitalist morals, including of feminism, is just the flaunting of the right to control his/her own body and, at the same time, not saying a word about the social relations/constraints which determine prostitution as a „job”. The infringement of the right to control one’s own body would be done only through traffic of human persons, and not at all because of social relations.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism (accessed May 2, 2018).

[9] George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide.., p. 29, has emphasised the ridiculous character of this reasoning: the equal grabbing power – as a modern moral – though even pirates would reject it, “is tolerated at present in trade. Lawless robbery and violence are barred; but the tradesman may get as much and give as little for it as he can; and the landlord may even use legalized violence to get the utmost for the use of his land”.

[10] Angajati in Romania: Jumatate sunt platiti cu salariul minim, iar majoritatea tinerilor sunt necalificati. Cine e de vina?, Miercuri, 04 Iulie 2018, http://www.business24.ro/locuri-de-munca/locuri-de-munca-in-romania/angajati-in-romania-jumatate-sunt-platiti-cu-salariul-minim-iar-majoritatea-tinerilor-sunt-necalificati-cine-e-de-vina-1595907?utm_source=business24.ro-Cross&utm_medium=Angajati+in+Roman: 46% of the Romanian employees have the minimum wage, while the biggest proportion of unskilled workers is in the generation of those under 30 years.

[11] Mihaela Miroiu in the interview Despre dependente si dragoste, limite si disperare cu femeia care si-a asumat sa nu triseze. “Toate sunt alegeri”, 30 Aprilie 2018, http://www.ziare.com/social/stiri-sociale/cum-arata-viata-cand-alegi-sa-nu-trisezi-fata-de-constiinta-ta-un-dialog-liber-cu-mihaela-miroiu-1511555.

[12] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963), With an introduction by Anna Ouindlen,  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,2001.

[13] Janet McCracken, Taste and the Household: The Domestic Aesthetic and Moral Reasoning, Albany, State University of New York Press, 2001, pp. 17-18.

[14] Mihaela Miroiu in the interview Despre dependente si dragoste, limite si disperare cu femeia care si-a asumat sa nu triseze. “Toate sunt alegeri”, 30 Aprilie 2018, http://www.ziare.com/social/stiri-sociale/cum-arata-viata-cand-alegi-sa-nu-trisezi-fata-de-constiinta-ta-un-dialog-liber-cu-mihaela-miroiu-1511555.

[15] It is full of hierarchical attitudes even inside it and towards women, see Françoise Vergès, Le ventre des femmes. Capitalisme, racialisation, féminisme., Paris, Albin Michel, 2017; also Aurélie Leroy, De l’usage du genre, Points de vue du Sud, Éditions Syllepse – Centre tricontinental, Volume XXV, no. 2, 2018.

[16] Ricardo Antunes, “The New Service Proletaria”, Monthly Review, Vol. 69, issue 11, 2018.

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