Posts Tagged ‘feminism


European History Pt. 48 — Beginning of the “isms”

Last time I looked at the industrial revolution. After 1830, Britain was the factory for all of Europe. Up  until 1901, the share of GDP grew enormously in trade, transport, and manufacture. It was not until 1870 that Britain even faced any competition from other countries in the area of manufacturing.

This time I want to look at the social changes that accompanied the first half of the 19th century.


It was around the beginning of the 19th century that various political and social doctrine began to to flourish. “Liberalism” first appeared in 1819, “socialism” in 1832, “feminism,” “humanitarianism” and “communism” date from the 1840s. This was indicative of a philosophical revolution that was trying to catch up with the massive changes that took place in the industrial and french revolutions. These concepts were not new. People talked about living together before “socialism” was coined, but the systematization of these doctrines along with their explicit recognition was a powerful change in the intellectual landscape.


The book talks briefly about romanticism around this time. People like Wordsworth and Lord Byron in England and Victor Hugo in France epitomized an artistic movement that reveled in the unknown and the unknowable in addition to rejecting classical forms and systems. Architecture underwent a gothic revival. For instance, the British parliament building that still stands is influenced by gothic architecture.

Feminism, Radicalism, Nationalism

At this point, the book goes through several “isms” in turn, in kind of a disorganized way. I don’t want to just recite them, but these isms were particular important.

Radicalism primarily came about in Britain as the heirs of people like Thomas Paine. The problem with earlier radicals is that the wars with France discredited such positions. People were nationalistic and banded together to war against France. Anyone who stood in the way o that was not listened to.  However, the radicals came back at this time and advocated for democracy (which not all liberals at the time were in favor). Around this were the beginnings of UTOPIAN movements, like Robert Owen (ideal paternalistic capitalism) and Charles Fourier (localism) and Count De St. Simone (socialism, but they called their doctrine, St. Simoneanism). In France, radicalism came from those who thought the French revolution was not complete.

Feminism gained at this time. The feminism on offer was primarily egalitarian feminism, which was influenced by liberalism and argued that men and women were morally equal and so deserving of the same rights. Harriet Taylor was a force for these ideas and she worked with John Stuart Mill over many years developing a defense of feminist principles and applications. Feminism, understood as a quest for voting rights, proceeded more quickly in the U.S. and Britain.

Next time Ill pick up by looking at nationalism.


Contradiction in our gender attitudes

One thing I find fascinating is the way that our personalities and micro-level concerns help to contribute to shaping in society in ways that bolster those various traits and reward them. We consciously shape our world all the time by intervening in it, but we unconsciously shape it in our image through various means as well.

When it concerns gender roles in society, we need to wake up to our own actions and they so often contradict with our words. The example that spurred this particular post is the way that some men get angry because women are attracted to power or money. It’s a common refrain among men in their more private moments that women are gold diggers or always go for the bad boy or the asshole.

In the same breadth that men say that though they are unconcerned with the fact that women get lower wages, are often treated as less competent, and forced into roles that are domestic and subordinate. For example, in the far past (I’m talking like 200-300 years) the social system was incredibly discriminatory and a woman without a man to bring home and wield certain legal privileges on her behalf had a VERY hard life. The isn’t true to the same extent today, but insofar as we make it hard for women to earn respect and money, we make them dependent on men for those things. In other words, our culture reaps what it sows. If we treat women as objects, or adornments, or housewives, then we get women who need financial support, emotional protection, and constant affirmation. We inhabit the society we create.

That’s why, I think many men who have money, power, or a generally controlling disposition toward the other people they meet are often very defensive when it comes to issues involving sex and gender. The reason is that a society of dependent and marginalized women suits their needs; in such a society they can command sex and affection from women for their attributes.

For all the other, more normal guys out there who flourish on companionship and mutual respect, a time of recognition is it hand. People have to recognize that they control the society that they live in and if they treat women as equals by giving them power, wealth, and responsibility when they deserve it, then the result is a more equal society and women who need not pander to the inequities of our culture.



sexuality in literature

Here is a really great article about the value and meaning of sex. It nicely dovetails with what I’ve said here before.

The main point is that it is fashionable for contemporary writers to portray sex as a narcissistic and misguided attempt to escape the ennui of modern life. This trend, claims the author, is a puritanical condemnation of hopefulness.

This essay is really funny all the way through, but I’ll try to give some highlights.

In response to the charge that an obsession with the act of sex is narcissistic, the author writes

In this same essay, Wallace goes on to attack Updike and, in passing, Roth and Mailer [sexually explicit authors] for being narcissists. But does this mean that the new generation of novelists is not narcissistic? I would suspect, narcissism being about as common among male novelists as brown eyes in the general public, that it does not.

But really, the whole essay is summed up in this section, criticizing contemporary writers for their self indulgent relation to sex:

The younger writers are so self-­conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un­toward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life.

This does not mean though that some of authors from earlier in this century did not harbor misogynistic views about sex. They clearly did, the question though, is why we don’t look on these authors “with the same fondness as we do the inventors of the first, failed airplanes, who stood on the tarmac with their unwieldy, impossible machines, and looked up at the sky?”

What a great sentence. Damn.