Chapter 16: Progress and Backlash
When the feminism that had been planted and nurtured by the Shakers took firm root in the secular world, the growth of the women's moment was phenomenal. Facilitated by the developing technology that transformed the world of transportation and communications in the late nineteenth century, female equality quickly became a central issue in western civilization.
By 1840 the first transatlantic steamship had been launched and with the same ease that people could travel to other countries, they could also exchange ideas and information with each other. By mid-century, paperback books had been popularized and a decade later mass circulation magazines appeared. The telegraph was invented, and news gathering became an international, cooperative effort. And one of the issues most passionately discussed and debated was the emancipation of women. Playwrights, ministers, novelists, theologians, and philosophers endlessly discussed the place--or misplacement--of women in society. Biology, anthropology, sociology, and psychology were developed in their modern form just in time to validate the claim that the female was inferior to the male. And no one was more influential in giving a "scientific" basis for the subjection of women than Sigmund Freud.
The gospel according to Freud represented the female of the species as an emotionally overwrought, psychological malcontent whose inferior physical and moral development dictated her limited role in human affairs. She could not be allowed to function outside the home because "women soon come into opposition to civilization and display their retarding influence". This is because "[men] can undergo the renunciations on which civilization depends" but women cannot.
Freud promulgated the myth that women spent their lives in a perpetual battle to overcome the rage they experience when they find they are without the summum bonum of existence: they do not have a penis. He wrote: "Upon this penis-envy follows that hostile embitterment displayed by women against men...the clearest indications of which are to be found in the writings and ambitions of 'emancipated' women" (Emphasis Added).
Freud attributed woman's ambition, her hostility towards men, and her desire for knowledge to penis-envy. But just in case there were some who did not accept this answer, Freud had a colleague who offered an alternative explanation. Penis-envy was not the only thing that drove the female to search for knowledge and professional attainments: sometimes it was her repressed homosexuality. "In some cases their homosexuality does not break through to consciousness; the repressed wish to be male is here found in a sublimated form in the shape of masculine pursuits of an intellectual and professional character and other allied interests....This type of woman is well represented in the woman's movement of today" (Emphasis added).
As the material quoted above makes evident, the women's movement quickly reached the point where the "emancipated" female presented a real threat to the status quo. But at the same time that modern patriarchs were mounting their attack, the emerging female principle was making itself felt in the actions and ideas of many prominent men who dedicated their lives to incorporating the qualities of nurturance and compassion in the world beyond the home.
These men worked to outlaw slavery; they demanded just wages and living conditions for working people; they fought against child labor and the disenfranchisement of women; they legislated for the humane treatment of animals. And among the most active and effective proponents of these causes were those who claimed the teachings of Jesus Christ as the foundation of their actions and beliefs. They saw themselves as implementing the social gospel of Christ--as putting in effect his directive to feed the hungry, give shelter to the stranger, and to be concerned with the welfare of the sick and imprisoned.
As the nineteenth century progressed and influential people increasingly called for these teachings to be incorporated into the laws of their nation, a backlash against the gospels emerged. A few centuries earlier, as men tried to establish society on a more egalitarian basis, they had attacked the perversions and superstitions of the Christian religion, but not the teachings of Christ. (There was no reason for such an attack; for the most part Christians, as well as unbelievers, had ignored those teachings.) But as believers began to demand that compassion and care-giving be incorporated in the structures of the secular world--as they called for an end to war and other brutalities--the battle against the female principle, and the kind of Christianity that supported it, began in earnest.
This backlash is most evident in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Unlike Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Freud, Jung, and a host of others who developed elaborate theories and sciences as euphemisms for the work of stopping the feminization of society, Nietzsche clearly stated what he was doing.
He said that the values of compassion, empathy, and kindness which the common "herd" of men called virtues, were actually vices. They were devilish snares that stood in the way of the further evolution of man. Although he never acknowledged the profound effect that Darwin's Origin of Species had on his thinking, Nietzsche was among those who believed that "survival of the fittest" meant the glorification of physical strength, violence, and a self-involvement that refused to give any consideration to those less able than oneself. Only the man who lived this way was fit to evolve and assume the leadership over the un-evolved herd of mankind. Such a man would develop into the superman; the man in whom all traces of compassion and caring--of weakness and effeminacy--had been eradicated. And, like many of his predecessors, he conceived the highest, most noble type of male to be the warrior--the man wiling to kill for whatever his cause might be. "Man should be raised for war...all else is folly."
Like all patriarchs, Nietzsche called for the banishment of women from the world scene. He demanded that the female's role in life be limited to producing children: "[Woman's] first and last profession--is to give birth to strong children." She was to be forcibly kept from any other activity. He wrote, "A man must conceive of woman as possession, as property that can be locked up, as something predestined for service [to the male]."
It was not only the demand for female equality that disturbed Nietzsche. He understood that a link existed between the emergence of the female into the mainstream, and the emerging emphasis on the social gospel of Christ. That gospel, with its emphasis on the equality of all creatures and the need to build a world which reflected that equality, provoked Nietzsche to a frenzy. He declared any kind of equality--not just that of the female--to be a monstrous perversion. He called "the equality of souls before God" a lie and said it was a smoke screen "for the baseminded--a modern idea and principle destructive of the whole social order." He characterized the notion of equality of souls and persons as "christian dynamite" that would destroy civilization.
Nietzsche fully understood how great a threat the emerging social gospel posed to the status quo; he knew it was inimical to the rule of the male power principle. He railed against Christianity but did not understand that the established churches--both Catholic and Protestant--presented no danger to masculine rule. His attacks on them were unnecessary. Only the fringe groups, the reformers--the dissenting Christians who at another time would have perished as heretics--constituted a threat to the status quo.
Nietzsche did not live to see the established churches of his native land embrace the Nazism that incorporated his ideology. In Nazi Germany, anything that stood in the way of bringing forth the master race--the race of supermen--had to be expunged from the national character. The male who had no stomach for the brutality and aggression needed to purge the Fatherland of undesirables, or to subdue other nations, was no true son of Germany. And no true daughter of her homeland would refuse to become a breeding machine for the babies needed to replace those heroic men who died for their führer.
The defeat of Nazism revealed the truth that "survival of the fittest" does not mean the triumph of the pitiless, the cruel, and the self-concerned. Hitler and his followers thought to rule the world through the superman in whom all traces of the female principle had been eradicated. They lost their war but the battle to suppress the female principle has continued.
Since the resurgence of the women's movement in 1963, that battle has escalated. Physical violence has been added to what had primarily been a war of words, with ideas and theories as the ammunition. Prototypes for this new violence have been provided by various mediums of communication.
Men (and women) have joined hands across the barriers of racial and ethnic prejudice to produce and validate the pornographic violence that infects an entire culture. "Creative artists" devote their talents to producing the movies, television, and music that are conditioning entire generations to the denigration and brutalization of women. In the name of freedom of speech, mainstream spokesmen uphold this conditioning of a nation. And they continue to debate whether or not the growing brutality--the machismo--of our society has anything to do with the media violence to which children are being exposed from the time they are born. They continue this debate knowing full well that it is repeated exposure to the same message that sells either a product or a societal standard.
While secular spokesmen maintain the attack on the female principle in the name of democratic freedom, religious spokesmen do so in the name of God or Allah. Like their media counterparts, these men are able to unite across the barriers of race and doctrine as they seek to keep women, and the female principle, in submission to the male.
Whether they claim the authority of St. Paul, Mohammed, the Mormon Scriptures, or Moses, these men are in a life and death struggle to insure that the God of violence and "justice"--the male God of patriotism and favoritism--is not supplanted by the nonviolent God of compassion: the God who loves all creatures equally.
It is not coincidental that the religions gaining the most adherents are those in which a backlash against the emergence of the female principle is the strongest. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and when the Ayatollah Khomeini gained control of his country he repealed the Law under which women had been given a modicum of civil rights. He also insisted that they be symbolically, as well as actually, excluded from society by once again being hidden under thick veiling.
This suppression of the female was integral to his program of aggression. The Ayatollah had been expelled from Iran in the first place because he incited the people to riot against granting any rights to women. When he returned in triumph, he forced women back into abject subjection to the male. In gratitude for this reestablishment of the status quo, the men of Iran granted him the authority he demanded. And they enthusiastically supported him in the violence and aggression that marks the totalitarian rule of the male principle.
In the United States, fundamentalist protestants are the most obvious about linking together the male power principle, Christianity, and an insistence on female submission to the male. They endlessly quote St. Paul and ignore the example and teachings of Jesus. They also reject what Christ taught about nonviolence and regard pacifism as if it were a pagan aberration. They follow the perennial kind of state religion that supports the belief in an aggressive God who loves His own people and blesses the violent destruction of His enemies.
Western civilization is the stage on which the struggle for female equality is being acted out. But it is not just the future of our own Judeo-Christian culture that is at stake. The weapons of destruction that have been developed under the rule of the male power principle have escaped our control. They are now in the hands of cultures in which the female principle has even less input than in our own. The end of the cold war has signaled the end of the kind of politics that have been in effect since the introduction of atomic warfare, and a superpower can no longer dictate policy to its satellite nations. Now, cooperation will have to take the place of muscle flexing. Mutual accord will have to replace vested interests. The female principle will have to be given an active role in world affairs.
Although every possible delaying tactic is being used to forestall the feminization of society, a male/female balance of power is the only possible foundation on which the future can be built. Without that equality, there is no future, there can only be an endless repetition of the horrors of the past.