Author: Ian Taylor
She was Lithuanian, Jewish and unmarried when she entered the United States in 1886 as an immigrant looking for work. The 17-year-old Emma Goldman married reluctantly at 18, but before her 20th birthday she had been divorced twice from the same man. Vowing never to be trapped by matrimony again, she argued that love in marriage was a contradiction; love should be free, not bonded, and she practiced her conviction with a succession of lovers until her 65th year. A century ago this was a radical lifestyle, but then Emma Goldman was not the average woman. When she finally found her niche in life, it was as a professional anarchist. Known as “Red Emma,” she was deported from the United States in 1917 for her Communist activities and sent to Russia, but here she was totally disillusioned. In her search for a milieu where she could led her chosen life-style, she wandered Europe for the next two decades before gravitating to Toronto, Canada, where she died unloved and unwanted in 1940 (Goldman 1970). Emma Goldman was one of the more notable in a long line of women who, beginning shortly after the French Revolution, formed what is known as the Feminist Movement. Their motivation was, and still is, based upon property rights. But “property” occupies a broad spectrum ranging from children to the State, and individual feminists are usually concerned with either one end of this spectrum or the other. There were, of course, gross injustices not just in Christian societies but also in Jewish and particularly Muslim societies as a result of living by the letter rather than by the spirit of the Law. This brief history introduces a few of the principal characters and shows how the theory of evolution has provided justification to reverse the traditional male and female roles.
History has always been funneled through the minds of those who wrote it, and for practically the whole of the Middle Ages we find that many of the writers were clerics who had little interest in, and even less sympathy for, the female half of the population. It is not surprising then that history leaves an impression of women having always been second-class citizens. Modern historians are beginning to correct this impression, and it is becoming evident that, at least until the Industrial Revolution, women played a far more significant part in society than we have been led to believe. In many of the Christian communities, e.g. the Quakers, for example, women always had an equal role (Labarge 1990). However, the coming of the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the early 1700s, brought with it progress and prosperity for some at the expense of much misery for most. Wives and children suffered as much in grinding poverty as did the heads of families. At first it was the men who were employed outside the home, and eventually most of their exploitation was corrected by labor laws and trade unions. Women joined the work force much later, and the facts show that their lot has improved in a similar manner. The French Revolution of 1789 was an engineered affair from the start and justified by the hardships imposed by the rulers on the ruled; the injustices were often done in the name of Christianity. Proposals for the emancipation of women were first published in Paris in the year of the Revolution by Olympe de Gouges. Her Declaration of the Rights of Women influenced the English writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who was the wife of libertarian and anarchist William Godwin. Mary had been well-schooled in a skeptical view of the Bible, having been part of the congregation of the Rev. Dr. Richard Price, a leading Dissenter. Later she was employed as a proofreader and translator for the left-wing publisher Joseph Johnson. Johnson was also a Dissenter and the works of others of his kind, such as Joseph Priestly, William Blake, Thomas Paine and the young Wordsworth, all passed through his print shop and thus through the mind of Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary’s book by which she became best known was titled A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The first edition of 1790 was anonymous, but a second edition appeared the same year and bore her name on the title page. The book was popular, causing her to become a kind of matriarch of the female revolutionary tradition.
A generation later and a continent away in America, 26-year-old Frances (Fanny) Wright wrote Views of Society and Manners in America and inspired the revolutionary-minded throughout Europe and America. The year was 1821. Tall, tart, free-thinking and free-loving, the statuesque Fanny Wright would often appear in a white toga, which inspired in her followers the perception of a classical goddess. She was opposed to marriage, the institution of the family and all organized religion. She worked tirelessly for the freedom of black slaves, but when she advocated a rapid mixing of the races to produce a uniformly mulatto population, she alienated both whites and blacks from the Feminist cause. Her humanist ideals confounded any real social progress she might have made, and she died largely forgotten by her own generation in 1852. Little realized today is the fact that in the 1800’s a woman entering marriage forfeited to her husband all property rights. Regardless of how much wealth and property she may have brought into the marriage, should she seek divorce, it was with the understanding that not one penny of her own could be retrieved. Even the children from the marriage were by law the property of her husband. Not surprisingly, the divorce rate in England prior to the passing of The Reform of the Marriage and Divorce Laws bill in 1857 was a mere one or two cases per year. Caroline Norton was an intelligent woman married to a man who turned out to be a drunken brute. With her very life at stake, she left penniless and spent her remaining years writing in behalf of herself and other women in her position to get the laws of England changed. Although the divorce bill of 1857 was largely the result of her work, it was not until 1882 that The Married Woman’s Property Act finally secured the woman’s right to property. It was, however, too late for Caroline Norton. She never divorced and she died in 1877. It is clear, then, that women had genuine grievances; and while there were some extremists like Fanny Wright, and later Emma Goldman, there were others, such as Caroline Norton, who took a more reasoned approach and patiently worked to change unfair laws. When Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared in 1859, his theory of evolution gave justification to ideas that had long been guardedly entertained by some of the free-thinkers of Victorian society. Certain of these ideas have since been adopted by today’s feminists and have given a new and insidious twist to the Feminist Movement.
Although Darwin was careful not to discuss human origins in his Origin of Species, it was clear to everyone that if the theory was correct, then humans must have emerged from the animal kingdom. The Swiss jurist Johan Jakob Bachofen had studied legal history at five universities and was appointed to the chair of Roman Law at Basel when only 29. In 1861 he published his most controversial work, Das Mutterrecht . . . . Never yet published in English, the translated full title is: Mother Right: An Investigation of the Religious and Judicial Character of Matriarchy in the Ancient World. Here Bachofen posits that all societies began with cave-dwelling females and their offspring; the males roamed promiscuously from cave to cave. Later family groups developed and were organized strictly by the mother. As families coalesced, the group became a matriarchy and, with the acquisition of property, laws were introduced; the matriarch was finally replaced by a patriarch. His theory was based upon the presumption that evolution was true and that Darwin had provided the world with convincing evidence. Bachofen’s ideas were challenged in his own day and have been since, but he influenced those who wanted to believe, including Lewis Henry Morgan in America, Friedrich Engels in England and Friedrich Nietzsche in Germany. Morgan developed Bachofen’s thesis further in his Ancient Society, published in 1877, and this inspired Engels to popularize the idea in his L’Origine de la Famille . . ., published in France in 1884 and later in England as The Origin of the Family. Engels’s objective was to justify Karl Marx’s 1848 Communist Manifesto by the argument that, since it was the acquisition of private property that necessitated laws, then by the abolition of private property, much of the laws could also be abolished.
The abolition of private property is central to the Communist Manifesto, while Engels’s justification is in complete contradiction to the traditional thinking that from the beginning the man was the head of the family and the laws were God-given. Many scholars, such as law professor Sir Henry Maine (1883, 149) and, more recently, sociology professor Steven Goldberg (1973, 57) have pointed out that there is no evidence that the earliest societies were matriarchal; all the evidence shows that kinships and relationships have always been through the males.
One of the more interesting justifications for the claim for original matriarchy is the myth of the Amazon woman. It was the Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, who first described a tribe of warrior women living completely in the male roles, including capture of male love slaves (Book 4:110-117). Four centuries later, the Sicilian historian Diodorus added the charming detail that, because these women lived by hunting with the bow, their right breast had to be seared in infancy to prevent its later growth and interference with the bowstring! The name Amazon is Greek meaning “without breast” (Book 2:45). Tyrrel (1984) and many other writers have pointed out that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this story; it is a myth that fascinates by the reversal of every detail in male/female roles. Nevertheless, our textbooks continue to promote the early cave-dwellers myth, while the extreme element among the Feminist Movement insist that society be once more matriarchal.
In this century the efforts of writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, with her 1949 world best-seller The Second Sex (In English 1953), then in 1963 Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, the feminist objective of producing a matriarchy, at least in North America, is now well on the way to being complete. Friedan’s message that women had allowed themselves to be intellectually unfulfilled and received principally by women in the home. Intentional or not, its effect was to make mothers and housewives discontent with their lot, and they began to leave the home by the thousands and seek “fulfillment” in the workplace.
From 1966 onward Friedan’s message was conveyed more forcefully through the American media by the National Organization for Women (NOW). By the early1970s lesbian extremists had taken over, and Betty Friedan had retired, divorced and exhausted.
The feminist objectives for power in the workplace have been more successful in Canada than in the United States, but a penalty is being paid. There has been a rise in housing prices to meet double-income families, a sharp rise in the divorce rate, a sinister aggression toward the male now being voiced by some of the women in power, and more females are showing up in the violent crime statistics (Steele 1987, 104-106).
There is one final interesting facet to this rise and even dominance of the influence of women in today’s society: the reemergence of the cult of the pagan goddess. It was American suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton who, with the help of a Revising Committee, produced The Woman’s Bible in 1898; the result was to emasculate the image of God. Certain church organizations have taken this process a step further in referring to God as “He/She,” while in 1975 Edwina Sandys took the ultimate step and produced a four-foot tall bronze crucifix with the Christ figure replaced by a naked woman. Called Christa, it has been on an exhibition tour of most of the major liberal churches.
In retrospect, we can see that such an effective reversal of their male/female roles took place by first emphasizing unfair exploitation and discrimination. While this was being corrected, the second stage was introduced and stressed equality. However, sociological equality has carried with it a subtle denial of biological differences by assuming that tradition and not sex has forced women into their roles. Plain common sense and experience tells us that sex does make a difference and than normal men are better suited to leadership roles while normal women are better suited to supportive roles. This observation fully supports the creation account that women were never intended to be rivals but rather helpers in partnership with men.
Photo: Emma Goldman. (PD)