A Feminist Critique

Sorry I’ve been MIA to my readers.  If you’ve read my bio, you know I’m a full time student in Political Science.  My schedule has been challenging, but I had an opportunity to write something for a political philosophy compulsory that I wanted to share with our TFI community.  Enjoy!

T's Toes

“On Susan Mendus and Heidi Hartmann”

By T.L. Dayen

We humans, for better or worse, categorize ourselves by color, ethnicity, religion and income, which are determined by our race, nationality and/or culture. These categories can also indicate our status, which is dependent upon geography. Where we live will largely define the status level of our color, ethnicity, religion and income: the value of our assets. However, there is one fundamental category that crosses all categorical barriers, and is not determined nor bound by geography. Our biological sex is the only human category and status determined by a chromosomal coin toss at conception. This “flip of the coin” will determine whether you are a man (superior) or a woman (subordinate). Only the degree of that superiority or subordination is determined by geography and/or culture. This chromosomal segregation is so entrenched, that it is considered literally, a “law of nature;” when in fact this “law” is only derived from our own definitions of our “natures,” and the values we have allotted to them. More specifically, the ensconced pillars of the social construct of male superiority and female subordination are founded upon the natures of men and women as defined and evaluated by men.

The differences of our sexes are both fundamental (physiological) and socially constructed, but the latter developed from the male perspective of the former; “We are born female and male, but we are created women and men, [by our] socially recognized genders” (Hartmann, H., p. 395).   Susan Mendus (2003), on the writings of Emanuel Kant (1781 – 1804), makes reference to Kant’s musings that a woman’s nature is “distinct and singular;” having to do with “the unit and coherence of the family;” that “woman relinquishes her equality and allows the man to dominate in political life in exchange for her own domination of domestic life;” and finally that men concede to this arrangement because “he loves domestic peace and readily submits to her regime” (p. 306 – 307). But why was/is domesticity considered the “regime” of women in the first place? The nature of a woman’s biology and the natural cycles that control it kept women physically vulnerable and immobile. This made women naturally adapted to the home front (hearth), while men were naturally unencumbered to defend, to govern, to provide (hunt). But this doesn’t explain why Kant also believed that “woman should reign and the man should rule; because inclination reigns and reason rules” (p. 307). Again, women’s bodies were at the mercy of natural cycles over which human kind had no control (menstrual; ovulation; breast milk; reproduction itself); hence naturally “inclined” or adapted to a specific purpose. While man, once again, was not encumbered by nature and had control over every facet of his own body including when, where, and with whom to plant his seed; hence free to “reason” or self-determine and collectively determine; “rule.”

The fact that our biology defines us as superior or subordinate was socially constructed from the male’s perspective that a mysterious and unpredictable natural world associated with females was something that needed to be controlled, conquered, and kept in check by men in order to survive; moreover that nature had intended it that way. But I would ask Kant today, how is the ability to achieve and provide “domestic peace” for a family considered subordinate “inclination,” while the inability, in fact failure, to achieve and provide “domestic peace” for human kind considered superior “reason?” Are we not one human family? Who is really better equipped to provide for the survival of our species?

Generally speaking, women tend toward inclusiveness, compromise, compassion and community; attributes that lend to social justice, equal opportunity and global prosperity. Heidi Hartman (2003), a “feminist socialist,” makes the connection between our “natures” and our economics; “If we examine the characteristics of men… – competitive, rationalistic, dominating – they are much like our description of the dominant values of capitalist society” (p. 401). Indeed one could even say that capitalism and socialism represent the Mars / Venus struggle between our Republican and Democratic political system. But why is one considered superior, while the other is considered weak and ineffective? Perhaps, as Hartmann (2003) posits, pure capitalism is actually a patriarchal system that perpetuates male domination (p. 398). Capitalism emphasizes independence, individualism and personal ambition; characteristics generally well-suited to men, and to a patriarchal society that supports female economic dependence and domestic servitude; as evidenced by the pathetic lack of females in the highest positions of government, industry and finance. A system that primarily increases the likelihood of success for men also increases the likelihood that men will hold the dominant positions of control in society, and as Hartmann (2003) states, “That control is maintained by excluding women from access to necessary resources and by restricting women’s sexuality” (p. 397). So once again, it is not our natures, but the male perspective of that nature that puts females in a position of disadvantage and subordination to the more advantaged and superior male; in this case, economically. I would add that women not only require equal access to necessary resources, but also equal determination as to what a “necessary resource” even is. Equal access to a set standard is one thing; an equal voice in setting that standard is quite another.

As Hartmann stated above, “restricting women’s sexuality” is a tool to maintain male dominance. This is perhaps the strongest connection between our natures and the male fallacy of female subordination: female sexuality. Referring back to our physiology, the female body is seen by man as a compulsory receptacle for his sexual drive, both physically and objectively. The female sexual biology is involuntary, and requires penetration of both her body and her egg by a man who is, by the way, biologically equipped with “choice;” and while a man can chose to ejaculate with or without a female partner, the female can only equate her sexual experience with receiving a man’s seed for reproduction. This is, I believe, the root of the male fallacy that the female is naturally subordinate to the male, without which, men could no longer support their claim of natural dominance. The advances in medical science, that gave women the same biological sexual “freedom,” “control” and “choice” as men had enjoyed since the dawn of time, was no less than a direct mortal threat to the male ego’s dominance over the female race. It is no coincidence that the Party who is fervently working toward eliminating a women’s ability to control her own reproductive process, is also the patriarchal faction of our two-Party system! Not all women need to be mothers neither to contribute to society nor to utilize our innate abilities and recognize “both human needs for nurturance, sharing and growth, and the potential for meeting those needs in a non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal society” (Hartmann, 2003, p. 403).

The origin of female oppression lies in the male perspective of our “purpose” as determined by our “physiology.” While much more could be said on this subject, especially in the context of religious doctrine, in short, the social construct stems not from whom or what woman are, what they do or how they think, but from the fundamental male perception of what women are for. Sexual objectification, divided labor and the resurgence of the effort to repeal women’s reproductive rights all support the archaic premise that the human female is for the purpose of sexual and domestic servitude to man. In other words, the female only exists as a reflection of what the male needs and desires. Mendus’ analysis of Kant’s meanderings on women as inherently incapable of civic authority, and Hartmann’s feminist socialist analysis of patriarchal capitalism as an effective means of maintaining female economic dependence, both indicate the elemental male presupposition that the human female cannot create, but only participate in what is only created by the male. A woman cannot be authentic (creational) when she is merely an image of what serves man, and so her voice can only represent the [male] consortium with which she has aligned. In closing, feminism cannot be about “equality.” It must be about “unity.” Male and female are not two equal wholes side by side; we are two halves of the one whole of humanity. Only through the unity of our consciousness, not the equality of our [socially constructed] roles, will we evolve past destructive and counterproductive socially, economically and religiously constructed gender division.

Resources

Hartmann, H. (2003). The Unhappy marriage between Marxism and feminism: Toward a more

progressive union. Social and political philosophy: Classical western texts in feminist and

              multicultural perspectives. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

 

Mendus, S. (2003). Kant: “An Honest but Narrow Minded Bourgeois?” Social and political

                philosophy: Classical western texts in feminist and multicultural perspectives. Belmont, CA:

Wadsworth  Cengage Learning. (Kant’s Original works published 1781 to 1804). “

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