SOCIETY: by Dr Augusto ZimmermannNews Weekly
Radical feminism's war on men, marriage and children
, March 30, 2013
Western Australian law academic Augusto Zimmermann assesses the destructive impact of radical feminism on Western society, in the following edited extract from a chapter of his widely acclaimed new book, Western Legal Theory: Theory, Concepts and Perspectives (Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2013).
Although the term “feminism” was not coined until the late 19th century, the belief that women should have the same rights and responsibilities as men dates back to an earlier period in history. Initiated in the 19th century, classic feminism demanded equal political rights as well as equal laws regarding property, marriage and divorce, and that child custody be made equitable.
This first-wave feminism basically insisted on the fair treatment of everyone without discrimination. It may be argued that most Western women still subscribe philosophically to this “first-wave” kind of feminism, whose main goal was legal equality, especially in politics and education.
In contrast to first-wave feminism, the second-wave feminism that developed in the late 1960s was the result of the political writings of radical thinkers who combined traditional Marxist methods with a post-modern interpretation of Western society.
Marxist theory still overlays much of contemporary feminism, which has adopted several variants of Marxist analysis, including the claim that gender plays at least as strong a role in the determination of the legal system as economic structure and social class. Hence feminist jurist Hilaire Barnett explains that Marxism has long been “a site of special interest for feminist scholars”.
Marxist theory, she adds, is an important source of inspiration for the leading themes in contemporary feminism, including the idea that traditional women suffer from a “false consciousness”, derived from gender-determined ideology. Husbands are depicted in the role of the oppressors and their wives in the role of the oppressed, in much the same way as the bourgeoisie supposedly oppressed the proletariat, according to Marxist ideology.
Canadian conservative political scientist David T. Koyzis, in his book Political Visions and Illusion: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (2003), explains: “Much as Marx reduces society in all its complexity to a class struggle, so also does radical feminism reduce it to a conflict between males and females, each sex (or gender, the preferred term) corresponding to oppressor and oppressed respectively.
“Just as Marx views capitalism as an all-encompassing system stamping its character on the entire society, so does radical feminism tend to characterise society in all its complexity as patriarchal. Much as capitalism is something to be transcendent once for all, because it is the source of oppression in the world, so also is radical feminism compelled to work toward the transcending of patriarchy and the establishment of a non-patriarchal society, on whose precise contours feminists differ.
“If Marxism effectively locates evil in the division of labour, radical feminists locate it in the sexual division of labour, some going so far as to advocate its abolition even in the biological reproductive process. Feminist jurisprudence thus becomes a general advocacy on behalf of women against men, much as Marxist jurisprudence takes a preferential task toward the proletariat and against the bourgeoisie.
“In both cases, justice, rather than carefully and impartially weighing the respective claims of diverse citizens, becomes captive to an ideological agenda. Injustice is the inevitable result, despite the rosy promises of both feminist and socialist visions.”
Karl Marx defined marriage as a bourgeois institution whereby wives become instruments of production for a legalised system of “private prostitution”. In The Communist Manifesto (1848), he contended that, in marriage, the continuing sexual exploitation of women is “hypocritically concealed”. According to Marx, “the bourgeois sees his wife as a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women”.
Marx proposed the abolition of both marriage and the family: “For the rest it is self-evident that the abolition of the [family] would bring with it the abolition of free love springing from that system, that is, of prostitution both public and private.”
In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), his socialist friend and supporter Friedrich Engels argued that the economic power of the male within the family would subordinate the female counterpart to the condition of “a slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children”. Hence Engels proposed the abolition of family as an economic unit, calling for every woman to move into industry, for easy and unilateral divorce, and for the collective care and rearing of every child.
Betty Friedan, who is credited with initiating the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, supported all these policies advocated by Marx and Engels. She sought to subject the American family to a critical Marxist analysis. Friedan was a Stalinist apologist and a member of the American Communist Party. After graduating from college, she worked as a political journalist for the United Electrical Workers of America, a trade union described by its own supporters as “the largest communist-led institution of any kind in the United States”.
According to Professor Daniel Horowitz, Friedan’s activities in the 1940s and early 1950s “provided the bridge over which she could approach the working-class woman as the repository of her hopes and the material from which she fashioned her feminism in The Feminine Mystique”.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that Friedan was hostile towards traditional marriage, unconditionally supporting no-fault divorce, women’s “sexual liberation” and abortion on demand. Her book The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963. A decade later, she claimed that it had “ignited the contemporary women’s movement … and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world”.
Friedan’s ideas about marriage were not uncommon amongst such radical feminists. Hostility towards marriage became one of the hallmarks of the “second-wave” feminist movement. These radicals have applied Marxist forms of analysis to groups identified by gender and race, “urging them to raise their consciousness and throw off their oppressors”.
French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), for example, commented that “since the oppression of women has its cause in the will to perpetuate the family … woman escapes complete dependency to the degree in which she escapes from the family”. Beauvoir notoriously stated that wives are no more than prostitutes working in the private sphere, and that the essence of true love is actually to be found in adultery.
After contending that prostitution emerged in history as the result of monogamous marriage, she concluded: “No woman should be authorised to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” (Emphasis added).
Numerous other examples could be given demonstrating the hostility of radical feminists toward family and marriage.
According to Marlene Dixon, for example, “marriage is the chief vehicle for the perpetuation of the oppression of women; it is through the role of wife that the subjugation of women is maintained”. Likewise, in her popular Sexual Politics, Kate Millet writes “that the complete destruction of traditional marriage and the nuclear family is the revolutionary or utopian goal of feminism”.
According to Professor Linda Gordon of New York University: “The nuclear family must be destroyed.… Families will be finally destroyed only when a revolutionary social and economic organisation permits people’s needs for love and security to be met in ways that do not impose divisions of labour, or any external roles, at all.”
These are common views expressed by most feminist scholars, and radical feminists have been among the most vocal groups to demand easily available no-fault divorce to enable women to escape the “oppression” of marriage. The core proposition is that the emancipation of women is incompatible with marriage and motherhood.
A conservative author, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, quotes a conclusion from an annotated bibliography of feminist works on the subject of motherhood. It says: “The major works have a common thread … the institution of motherhood is the root cause of oppression of women.” In the opinion of some commentators, this, combined with the effective definition by second-wave feminists of housewives as “traitors to their sex” and no more than the incarnation of idiots and “parasites”, engendered the natural effect of lessening social commitment to marriage and motherhood.
Empirical researchers, however, have found an increased incidence of negative outcomes for children from single-parent families compared with children from two-parent families. Studies carried out in the United States show that the children of divorced parents have significantly higher incidences of depression, fear of abandonment, and delinquency, than children from a two-parent family.
Furthermore, the children of divorced parents are more likely to drop out of high school, and less likely to graduate from college, than are children in “intact homes”, even when compared to families losing a father through death.
These studies also indicate that when a father is present in the household, children in a mother-father household are much less likely to suffer child abuse, get involved with drugs or commit crimes, and that teenage girls get pregnant 50 per cent less frequently than their fatherless counterparts.
There is no doubt that, both in history and across many cultures, women have at times been despised and demeaned by men.
What is remarkable about Western societies is that, at least during the last two centuries or so, the status of women has been dramatically increased. In these societies women have been emancipated from nearly all the restrictions which had been unfairly imposed upon them. In some respects, women have acquired more legal rights than men, since the law now provides them with “positive discrimination” in such areas as employment law.
Before the 1960s, as mentioned at the beginning, the idea of feminism was about equal economic opportunities, equal political liberties, and the equal treatment of men and women under the law. This was a noble and dignified movement, and so it is no wonder that the feminist movement became so popular, and not just among women but also among men.
According to Christina Hoff Sommers, who describes herself as an equity feminist, “the loss of faith in classically liberal solutions, coupled with the conviction that women remain besieged and subject to a relentless and vicious male backlash”, has turned the mainstream feminist movement into “a divisive, gynocentric turn, and the emphasis now is on women as a political class whose interests are at odds with the interests of men”.
At its most extreme the radical feminism that emerged in the 1960s is deliberately predisposed to consider only the “women’s point of view”, appears sometimes to seem to equate maleness with some kind of “innate evil”.
Any ideology that rests itself on demonising an entire group of people solely on the basis of “gender” and/or “biological” considerations should be treated with a great deal of suspicion; for the holders of such sexist views can easily find themselves in company with the likes of sexists, racial supremacists and religious bigots.
Augusto Zimmermann, LLB, LLM, PhD (Monash), teaches legal theory and constitutional law at Murdoch University, Western Australia. He is also president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA) and editor of The Western Australian Jurist.