.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

War of the Genders

A confrontational soapbox for rants and politically incorrect manifestos regarding feminism, chauvinism, dating and gender issues.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Paradigm Shifts

In Counterpoint and subsequent comments, it was argued that feminism commits anachronistic sins by projecting various modern mentalities, approaches and values regarding careers and gender roles on societies of the past. Careers were not what they are today and the modern concept of a career didn't even exist; Financial concerns were very different as were the recourses for financial security; Roles and specific gender responsibilities were forced on both genders, each with their disadvantages.

For example, at certain periods in history, personal economics were based on families not careers, the population was split into various classes (e.g. property owners), women being only one of several disenfranchised groups of people, and rights were given to specific people in accordance with the responsiblities and roles that were accepted at the time. E.g. a man may have been in charge of contracts but he was also the only one being put in jail for debts his family incurred so that the children would be continually cared for by their mothers. Such practical decisions in historical societies both reflected and affected the mentalities of these people and the way both men and women saw themselves at the time. It was not oppression, it was reality and practicality.

It can be argued that the only reason feminists arose and the woman's role changed was because a woman's role changed: As part of the family business which was often run at home, a woman did her share in ensuring financial security and the man was often at home with the family. Farms, inns, stores and the like involved the wife while at the same time freed her from the more dangerous obligations and jobs such as jail, war and mining. Even learning the trade was often part of the family structure.

The industrial revolution then brought about factories and mass jobs, at first jobs with horrible conditions demanding strong men who needed to support their families and fulfill their obligations and responsibilities. The wife, traditionally the more family-oriented and protected gender was suddenly left at home with 'only' the house and kids to take care of. Formal education became a necessity for men as the world of business became more complex and demanding, and as unions were formed and the industrial craze was brought under control, jobs and therefore education became more lucrative, rewarding and comfortable. However, it took decades until working conditions became favorable even for men.

In other words, the modern 'glamorous' career was being created slowly, and eventually women found themselves left out due to a natural social evolution. When the wars broke out, women flocked to the factories to take the jobs left vacant by men in the army, and this probably gave them a taste of what they were missing.

In addition, as a consequence of not owning property, fighting wars, being independent, or being involved in politics, women were not allowed to vote (along with men of lower classes and other disenfrachised groups). New political philosophies revolutionized the idea of voting, shifting away from the right to vote by virtue of involvement in affairs of the country etc. to a 'natural' right to vote simply by being a citizen of your country.

I.e. women were not necessarily singled out and the idea that certain groups of people were not allowed to vote was commonplace and accepted at the time due to the widespread way of thinking in society that you had to 'earn' your vote. 'Natural rights' was pushed as the new ideal, and the supporting activity of women during the world wars further shifted people's way of thinking towards women as valid voters.

These conditions and firmly entrenched traditional roles probably did cause oppression by men at the time who did not see women as fit to vote and work, even though society was changing around them. Traditions, valid in the past, are hard to throw away, especially when they were once empowering and relatively advantageous to women.

As a direct consequence of all these changes, feminists fought, for suffrage and the option to have careers, and understandably so. Their involvement in industry was suddenly reduced due to the shift away from families; Their traditional roles as home-makers which were perfectly acceptable and important 50 years ago suddenly seemed less important and were much too segregated from the bustle and excitement of life in a world which was rapidly becoming bigger out there and smaller in the home.

What all this shows is that:
1. Both genders always had disadvantages due to their inequality.
2. Traditional gender roles only became 'oppressive' due to social changes. Before these changes they were acceptable, and even relatively empowering for women.
3. Women were indeed becoming increasingly disadvantaged but this only lasted for a short time and in a matter of decades this situation was corrected.
4. While the women's issues were corrected, most of men's disadvantages were not. But this is a topic in itself.

I am not a historian therefore it's possible this way of looking at history may be wrong. But so far I see nothing that contradicts it. This may seem like historical revisionism but if it is correct, it's actually setting the record straight after Feminist revisionism twisted it.

The oppressions of today are the empowerments of yesterday, and vice versa. To claim that women of the distant past were oppressed compared to women of today is an anachronism par excellence and spurious at best. I am not against the fights feminists fought; They were appropriate for their time. But to claim permanent historical victim status based on these fights is to take things blatantly out of context.

White Feathers

I'd like to explore this concept of shifting gender-social paradigms further by bringing up a specific example, and conjecture on the psychology of the people involved:

The Order of the White Feather of Cowardice was a popular social custom in England and Australia during both World Wars where women humiliated young men to induce them to enlist in the army. They gave white feathers in public to any man they thought was shirking his 'duties' and insulted and chastised him for not fighting. The humiliating effect was very strong, causing people like Robert Smith, a husband to a sick wife and father to two children to cry at home and promptly enlist, and James Lovegrove a 16 year old to become ashamed and convince the recruiting officer to take him despite his age and height.

Propaganda and campaign posters were ubiquitous, some addressing women with phrases such as "If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for, do you think he is worthy of you?" and "Don't pity the girl who is alone - her young man is probably a soldier fighting for her and her country and for you.". Another poster depicted a girl in a sailor's uniform saying 'I wish I were a man, I'd join the navy!'.

One may assume that this was all just part of the general chauvinistic attitudes of the time that saw women as incapable of fighting and only worthy of auxiliary war efforts. But the behaviour of the women and feminists of the time tell a different tale. During WWI, feminists split into two camps: one fighting for peace and other doing everything possible to support the war, not just for patriotic reasons, but also seeing this as an opportunity to prove that women are an invaluable and important part of society and the state. Nowhere did I read of a similar effort by the feminists to get women into combat.

Many of these prominent feminists, writers and thousands of women supported the White Feather Order with such enthusiasm that feathers were even given to state employees, wounded veterans who were back from the war, and men who were exempt from the army for various reasons. Suspicious men not wearing a uniform were constantly insulted in public to the point that the government started handing out badges to men who were exempt so that the women would stop abusing them.

This begs a question: Imagine yourself as a feminist who thinks responsibilities should be shared equally between the genders, that women should be able to do anything including fight in the army, that you as a woman are being oppressed and that men and women should be equal. Now imagine you are told to insult your lover until he joins the army in order to protect you. Would you have the balls to take the high road with such conviction, and humiliate and coerce a man so that he risk his life and possibly lose it, all in direct contradiction to your beliefs?

What would it take for so many women to do such a thing with so much energy? It would be impossible to imagine any of this happening or having any remotely similar effect today. It's one thing to claim that feminists are hypocrites because they don't demand equality in combat with the same vigor as they demand equality in the office. It's quite another for a feminist to actively force a man through insults to risk his life and go through the hell of war.

Barring the alternative explanation that women of the time were vicious cold-blooded monsters (Compton Mackenzie wrote that "idiotic young women were using white feathers to get rid of boyfriends of whom they were tired"), I am left with no alternative but to conclude that both men and women were of a completely different mentality a mere 60 years ago. If a feminist of the time believed in absolute shared responsiblities she wouldn't humiliate men to risk their life for her. A man didn't scorn the woman humiliating him because it was beyond doubt that men had different responsiblities than women. And finally, if men were really oppressing women and thought them second-rate citizens, they wouldn't feel ashamed by such actions to the point of joining the army.

Or perhaps I'm just being naive by assuming people behaved consistently and actually had a conscience.

Science Fiction

As an exercise, let's imagine a society in the near future where the work of management has been automated, relieving much of the workload and responsibilities of a typical manager. A couple of decades after this happens, there is a social revolution of sorts, where the lowly employees of the world unite, claim that they are being mistreated, and that since they are the most important people in the company with most of the responsibilities, they should receive higher salaries and compensations than the managers, and that they will no longer be subservient to barking orders of such oppressive pigs.

30 years later these ideals are now commonplace. They look back 80 years and think: 'My god, how the employees of yesteryear must have suffered and been oppressed, the managers taking all the credit and the high salaries while telling everyone what to do. It must have been a hellhole!'.