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The Common Woman, Part 1

A Necessary Blasphemy

I don't agree with her on everything, but if you don't understand her you won't understand me.

The challenge that prompted this essay: I am actually interested in why so many in the group seem to have a negative view towards modern feminism? Radical feminists exist probably in all waves. And in my opinion, some theories such as toxic masculinity effect both men and women in negative ways. (Please not a shit show, I generally want to hear genuine counterarguments.)

The words don’t go together, do they? Even to me they feel incongruent, almost blasphemously so. Yet in that very fact, is encapsulated everything that is wrong with the feminist movement – if indeed there can be said to be such a thing. There are various feminist movements, all right; but to my untutored eye they all seem disparate, pulling in different directions, more like the wild horses that tore apart St. Hippolytus than those that might draw a carriage.

I am perhaps the least qualified person in the world to be writing this. For one thing, I am (in case it wasn’t obvious) a man; and for another thing, I don’t know nearly as much as I should about the thing I am about to criticise. I haven’t read Germaine Greer or Simone de Beauvoir, apart from a few pages while standing idly in bookshops. My knowledge of feminist philosophy is almost entirely second-hand, based mostly on news articles, conversations and passive observations. My only excuse for this essay is that it is a response to a challenge, and, in the words of G.K. Chesterton (of whom you shall be seeing a lot here), “Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.” My very real weakness may in fact be a strength. In my ignorance, I am at least representative of the common man (if not his feminine equivalent), whose engagement with philosophy of all kinds is similarly indirect; and who quite justly expects those who have something to say to say it as plainly as possible. My criticisms, therefore, may have little to do with the movement as it understands itself; but I trust they are not too far off the mark when aimed at the movement as it presents itself – in other words, as the common man (or woman) understands it (or doesn’t). It may also be pointed out that if he doesn’t understand feminism, it is at least partly the fault of those who have set out to communicate it to him.

With this caveat out of the way, I shall begin with an elementary observation that many feminists seem to have missed: feminism is not a creed. It cannot be a complete philosophy but must always be subsidiary to something bigger than itself. One can be a conservative feminist, or a socialist feminist, or a libertarian feminist, but to say simply that one is a feminist means nothing. A philosophy of the rights of woman means nothing except in the context of a wider philosophy of the rights of man. It is one thing to say that men and women should have the same rights, but another thing to say what those rights are.

Now, precisely because feminism seems to have forgotten this fact, it has got itself into all sorts of muddles. Too often, it has demanded that women be treated in whatever way men are treated without stopping to ask itself whether or not men are being treated in the right way, or indeed exactly how men are being treated in the first place. Too often, it has tried to fit women into a masculine paradigm without asking itself why it was ever applied to men or even what it is. The result has been an implicit elitism which has, it seems to me, neglected the needs of the common woman in the name of the uncommon, an elitism which is all the more powerful for its being largely unconscious.

It manifests itself in many ways, but most consistently in the knee-jerk individualism, the default ideology of a ruling class, which leads us to regard the term “common woman” as an oxymoron, even as an insult. There is wisdom to it, for (I suspect) woman’s historic role as mother did, and does, necessitate a certain separateness from other women, a certain selfishness with regard to one’s own hearth and home, a certain reluctance to be lumped together in a heap. In that sense, women truly are the supreme individualists. Yet, if we are to talk about the common interests of womankind, sooner or later we must cease to talk of women, isolated and variable, and start to talk of woman, the corporate feminine. We must confront the fact that there are conflicts of interest among women, just as there are among men, some to do with economic class and some to do with personal inclination, and that their resolution is going to leave some women (and indeed some men) disappointed. I do not demand that all feminists speak with the same voice and decide on the same trade-offs; but I do insist that anyone who calls herself a feminist be honest with herself about the trade-offs she is making.

There seems to be an assumption that any law or social custom which especially circumscribes the liberty of a woman must be of masculine origin, that it must have arisen from the desire of men to subordinate their wives and daughters and mothers; yet why this should be the case is by no means obvious.

It is not obvious that there is an overpowering instinct in a man which makes him favour a man he does not know over the women he does know and even — dare I say it — love. It is not obvious that either sex should want to systematically subordinate the other; and (more to the point) it is not obvious that it could be done even if it were desired. For the first, most fundamental fact about the sexes is that they need each other. Men can live without women and women can live without men; but man needs woman and woman needs man. Any analysis of the relations of the sexes which does not begin with this fact is founded on a falsehood. Furthermore, not only do the sexes need each other, they — on the whole — desire and even like each other. There is indeed an eternal quarrel between the sexes, and we'll get to it in a moment, but the first thing to notice is that it is a lovers' quarrel.

Once this fact is fixed in our minds, we begin to realise that all this talk of "women's issues" or indeed "men's issues," as if any issue of interest could be reduced to a matter of man vs woman, is to say the least, suspect. Is it not at least as likely that the real power struggles are not man vs. woman but men vs. other men and women vs. other women? That they occur not between but within the sexes? For what do the sexes ultimately compete, if not for access to each other? The truth was spoken long ago by Adam Smith: "The game women play is men." The competition among men is less direct, but the reverse is no less true for that. If once this fact is understood, then one begins to see why much of the restrictions placed on womanhood, fairly or unfairly, are as likely to be of feminine as masculine origin. Who has more incentive to regulate competition than the competitors themselves?

There is a rule in professional ice hockey requiring all players to wear safety helmets. Before the rule existed, when ice hockey players were free to choose whether or not to wear helmets, almost none of them did; yet when asked, a great majority of players claim to support a rule compelling them to do what almost none would choose to do. Is the rule a conspiracy of club owners or fans against the players? It hardly seems likely. Businessmen rarely agree to bind themselves to an expenditure that will increase their costs; and sports fans have never shown much sign of being excessively concerned about athletes' safety. If so, no one seems to have told the professionals. It seems that we must look elsewhere for an explanation, and when we realise that the incentives one faces in isolation are different from those one faces in a collective we are halfway towards finding it. The truth is that wearing a safety helmet reduces one's field of vision, and that therefore, if one player wears one and his opponent does not, the more safety-conscious player is at a competitive disadvantage. Forcing all players to play in protective headgear may be a limitation of choice, but it seems to be felt by most of them as a liberation from a choice they would rather not have to make.

It is this divergence between individual and collective incentives that modern individualism ignores, and which modern feminism, adopting unthinkingly the prevailing libertarian paradigm in everything except economics, has treated with similar dismissiveness. The attitude adopted by many feminists towards the "sexual double standard," which celebrates the promiscuity of men and condemns that of women, is a case in point. Leaving aside the question of whether or not men do, in a general sense, approve of the lady-killer, it is worthwhile asking ourselves whether it is the same people holding the same standards, or indeed whether a superficial double standard might be a manifestation of a more fundamental single standard. I do not fault the feminists for noticing the discrepancy, but I do think they might be a little less satisfied with themselves for having noticed it. If a woman is sleeping with a man, then the man is ipso facto sleeping with the woman; and the feminists are quite right to point this out, but they are wrong in stopping where they have started.

Now, I am not so certain that the lady-killer is a man of whom other men should approve, or indeed that they do approve of him. We may identify with a man who has a weakness for women, and we may even indulgently excuse his excesses; but I feel, and I suspect many, if not most men, feel that there is something at best foolish and at worst contemptible about a man who regards his weakness as a strength. Purely as a matter of self-interest, it seems unlikely that the great mass of men should wholeheartedly applaud a minority of men for monopolising all the women for themselves, and encourage them further in their endeavours. But let it be granted, for the sake of argument, that this is the case. Do not women, negotiating amongst themselves, have the right to decide on a different standard for themselves, irrespective of what men are foolish enough to do? A man might easily approve of sluts as a capitalist does blacklegs, but if a woman condemns them as a worker does a strike-breaker she has every excuse in the world. So far from being a tool of patriarchal oppression, this seems to me nothing more than the application of trade unionism to sex; and I could say the same of nearly all the "old-fashioned" norms which modern feminism has tried to attack. In nearly every case, it seems, the common woman is being sacrificed to the uncommon.

It is so in the fight over feminine codes of dress, in which man has no discernible stake at all; and if any man thinks he has the stake he is supposed to have on one side or another, I invite him to watch any anthropological documentary on Amazonian Indians. There, it is perfectly normal for the local women to walk around naked; and precisely because it is normal the local men do not notice it. They do not walk around with permanent erections, although I'm perfectly sure that if you parachuted an Englishman into one of those villages he'd be pointing the way forward for a week. The conservative man who disapproves of women wearing provocative attire because it provokes him, and the liberal man who approves of it for the same reason, are equally wrong. How much provocation is needed to arouse the erotic imagination depends entirely on how much provocation a man is used to. Making dress codes more liberal or more conservative won't result in more sex appeal or less; it will simply move the line. If anyone has a stake in this matter, it is the women. The women who wish to be completely free to turn their bodies into works of art (a desire with which, for what it's worth, I fully sympathise), will have to contend not with men but with the common, collectivist women who do not wish to be put under pressure to squeeze themselves into tight-fitting outfits, mutate themselves into unnatural shapes in high-heeled shoes, wax their legs, and paint their faces with all manner of unnatural adornments, all to remain competitive in the sex market.

And it is so, perhaps even more, in the confusion surrounding sex itself, particularly in the universities, although whereas in the examples discussed previously the common woman is assailed by an anarchic individualism, here the reverse seems to be happening. Here what is being imposed is a queer kind of collectivism - a collectivism which, in spite of the noise coming from the handful of women who propound it, the collective of womankind shows no sign of wanting. Being a man, and if not a particularly masculine one at least an especially unfeminine one, I am rather more sympathetic to this movement than to the more individualistic ones mentioned above. As a man who hankers after objectivity in all aspects of life, I must admit that this movement has something to offer me. Certainly, if there were indeed definite rules about this sort of thing it would make my life a lot easier; but fairness forces me to admit that the common woman does not seem to be on my side. "No means no," "affirmative consent," "sexual harassment," and consent classes in universities - I hope I'm wrong, but my (admittedly limited) experience of women has led me to conclude that very few think in such black-and-white terms. These are not the demands of the street-smart, working-class women who give as good as they get. These are the calls of protected, privileged women whose wealth has shielded them from the crude realities of life - right up until the day they arrived at university, who (Paglia's words, not mine), "expect the world to be an extension of their own living rooms." I do not say this lightly, for I know at least one woman who has been raped at university and at least one other who was, as the Americans have it, "roofied" in her younger years. Sexual violence is of course an abominable crime, and my instincts are entirely on the side of those trying to end it; but the common woman has always known that sex is violent. It is violent because it is vital, being necessary to life and possessing a life of its own. It is violent because it is creative, and every act of creation is an act of destruction. It is violent because it is a force of nature which carries men and women along in its winds and does not ask politely where they would like to be put down. Almost every woman I have ever spoken to on the subject, almost every artistic representation of sex I have ever encountered, has conveyed the same impression: that it "just happened." As long as this remains the case, sex will never be as simple as the feminists (and I) would like it to be. There is indeed a "rape culture" in the world, but it is not one that actively encourages men to force themselves on women against their will. At least, if there is such a culture, I am happy to say I have never encountered it. I have never met a man who seriously advocated or admitted doing anything of the kind. The truth is rather more subtle than that. The truth is that as long as the predominant paradigm of courtship prevails, as long as it remains a man's duty to pursue a woman and a woman's duty to "give in" (or not), there will be a dangerous ambiguity about the whole business. As long as man is expected to be active and woman passive, as long as the privilege of sexual selection rests with the sex less demanding (or at least less expected to be), no will not always mean never. It may just as easily mean "keep trying; I won't give in that easily." As long as this remains true, there will be a potential for rape to arise even from the most innocent situations; yet most of the women I know have no problem with having a man take the initiative in courtship. As far as I can tell, they quite definitely prefer to retain this privilege even at its attendant risk - to say nothing of the waste which, as a trained economist, I find almost as distasteful. As a man, I would have no problem with a world in which both parties had to sign a government consent form before intercourse took place, but I doubt that the common woman would agree. As long as sex remains something with its own momentum, I fear that the risk will remain. Like it or not (and I'm not sure I like it at all), the love scene between Dagny and Francisco in Atlas Shrugged remains uncomfortably true to life, and every consent campaigner ought to bear it in mind.

She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his, that he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most - to submit. She had no conscious realisation of his purpose, her vague knowledge of it was wiped out, she had no power to believe it clearly, in this moment, to believe it about herself, she knew only that she was afraid - yet what she felt was as if she were crying to him: Don't ask me for it - oh, don't ask me - do it!

That, sisters, is what you are up against. (Yes, Ayn Rand could have used a few semicolons in there, but that's not the point.) I don't want to set that woman up as a champion of democracy, even among her own sex; but if art says one thing and academia another, I take the liberty to believe art as a medium of expression more representative of man's (and woman's) true nature. Certainly, I find Lord Peter Wimsey's gradual, patient courtship of Harriet Vane, as he promises to keep proposing "at decent intervals" (see Have His Carcase) far more credible than the absolutist position that human feelings never change, and that asking twice is tantamount to harassment. I don’t like the fact any more than you do, but the world is not so monochromatic – and it’s an autistic economist telling you that.

These are the common things - the common convictions, codes, preferences and prejudices- that the common woman seems to hold. I do not deny that some women were and are inconvenienced by them. I do not deny that different women have different preferences, and that for those who prefer the freedom to fuck indiscriminately to the freedom not to be undercut in the sexual market their grievances are indeed real. If the collective preferences of womankind have changed, womankind is quite free to update its codes of conduct accordingly; but every feminist should know that whatever norms woman adopts for herself, some women are going to be disappointed. If you are not prepared to disappoint somebody, you have no right to talk about a collective interest at all.

So far I have dealt mainly with morality; but when we move from subjective mores to objective laws, the contradiction between the individual and the collective becomes even more pronounced, and getting it clear becomes correspondingly more important. Feminists can, I think, be excused for their confusion here, for I suspect that there is indeed something in the feminine temperament that revolts against rules as such. The private sphere, historically dominated by women for obvious reasons, gets along very well without them, and it may be that their sphere truly is more efficiently governed than ours. If we could deal with murderers, rapists, thieves, frauds and other criminals as a mother or a schoolteacher deals with a wayward child, or a housewife deals with a husband who has overstepped the mark, I'm not sure it would be a bad thing. If we could indeed punish violent criminals with an angry slap in the face, or with a harsh slanging, or with the "silent treatment," the world might be a happier place. If we could penalise the investment bankers whose parasitic greed brought the world's economy to a standstill by making them stand still in the naughty corner with dunces' caps on their heads, I would have no concrete objection.

The only objection is that we can't, that such a scheme would not work in the public sphere. In private life, one can be flexible, making up rules and punishments as one goes along and tailoring everything to the individual. In private life, the rule of lawlessness works wonders; but in public life, one needs the rule of law. Civilisation, as the "anti-feminist feminist" Paglia has noted, is a masculine art form; and however much it goes against the feminine instinct, woman too must embrace the impersonal nature of law if it is to serve her purposes. Indeed, this very fact was the reason Chesterton, the feminist anti-feminist, opposed the feminine franchise - and I happen to think this was the one truly rational argument against it. History has, I think, shown Chesterton wrong on this; but all the same the substance of the argument is worth revisiting. For those interested, the entire text of What's Wrong with the World can be found here, but for those who don't fancy wading through the whole thing, the argument may be briefly summarised by saying that it was the same as his argument against giving seats in the Houses of Parliament to the colonies. The point was not that women were not good enough for the public sphere, but that the Republic was not good enough for woman; not that women did not deserve parliamentary representation but that putting a handful of uncommon women in Parliament would make the position of the common woman in the State not stronger but weaker. Just as (he argued elsewhere, in the essay that inspired Ghandi to start an Indian nationalist movement) any Indians who stood for election to a British Parliament would be the most un-Indian of Indians, so the women who campaigned for the vote, who would exercise the vote once they had it, and who would stand for election themselves, would be the most unfeminine women of all. Now, I do not know whether Chesterton was right at the time; but I do know that anyone making the same argument today would be wrong. It is entirely possible that, as Chesterton maintained, the campaign for the feminine franchise was a campaign of the uncommon woman against the common; but whether or not the common woman did want the vote a hundred years ago, there can be little doubt that she values it now, and it would be a foolish man who tried to take it from her. What Chesterton overlooked was the fact that while keeping woman out of "the collective act of coercion" might be a perfectly good thing if she could also be kept out of being coerced, the fact is that she can't. To keep her out of the somewhat sordid business of making the law might be a fine thing, if only it could be arranged that the law did not apply to her; but in the real world it must apply to her. Even under coverture (an institution which lent itself open to abominable abuses), the privileges of legal invisibility, such as they were, extended only to married women.

Nonetheless, Chesterton's warning about the dangers of feminine government must be borne in mind; for if a woman is to enter the masculine sphere, she must adopt a masculine attitude to it - not in the sense of advocating for the same laws as men, or having the same priorities as men, but in her way of campaigning. She must decide what she wants, and what she wants most. Above all, she must campaign for objective laws, laws that define their own limits. A non-objective law is no law at all. Masculine law must not be recruited to enforce feminine lawlessness. Can woman achieve this balance? Of course she can: the common woman has been doing it for a century; but about the uncommon woman I am somewhat less sanguine. The success of the balance depends on one's knowledge that the balance is there to be struck.

Now, if one is to strike this balance, the first fact that must be faced is precisely that which I have alluded to earlier: the fact that limitless liberty is not enough, for liberty cannot be itself if it is left undefined. Liberties collide, and force one to make a decision about which one values the most. Not everything can be reduced to a matter of personal choice, for the choices of one woman will affect every one of her sisters - exactly as a man's choices affect his brothers. Moving from Chesterton to the Fabian feminist Shaw: "Smokers and non-smokers cannot be equally free in the same railway carriage." If feminism is to serve the interests of the common woman, it must be prepared to impose on itself an intellectual discipline as harsh as that of mathematics, and a collective coherence as strong as an army's. Militant feminism is not enough - it must be military.

It is precisely this discipline that is lacking in feminism as it most commonly presents itself today. I do not pretend to know what is going on behind the doors when feminists meet in private, but when they speak in public the collective spirit appears confused at best. To illustrate the point, I will take the two movements under the feminist umbrella which seem the most important in the public sphere, and perhaps the most interrelated, where this class-subconscious individualism manifests itself most obviously (and, in my opinion, most disastrously) of all.

It’s there in the movement to get women into the workplace, a movement which has much merit to it but also a downside, for woman as well as man. It is perfectly true that some men, probably more than I know, have abused their responsibility as “bread-winner” and inflicted unspeakable cruelty on their wives; and that, ceteris paribus (other things equal), having a source of income independent of her husband does give a married woman a way out, should her husband turn abusive, which she otherwise would not have. But when this becomes the norm, the assumption that cetera (for the rest) will remain parilis (equal) is at best, questionable. It is at least as likely that in entering the labour market, a housewife increases the supply of labour and thus pushes down its price. If enough working-class women do this, the wages of the wives will eventually be used to beat down the wages of the husbands and the capitalistic class will be getting two workers for the price of one. Where once a woman was allowed and encouraged to work for a boss, now economic necessity compels her. I doubt whether this was the intention of the feminists who started this movement, and certainly it does not seem to be the intention of those who continue it, most of whom at least pretend to be leftists; but that is not the point. Whether or not the common woman considers this trade-off worthwhile I do not know, but in a capitalistic system (or anti-system, as it may be more accurately called) the trade-off is there. It is just a suspicion of mine, but I suspect that the trade-off looks very different from different sides of the market. It is one thing to tell a bourgeois woman that she is now free to be an accountant or a solicitor or to start her own business with her husband's capital; but to tell a proletarian woman that she gets to do what her husband has always had to do (and has submitted to doing expressly so that she wouldn’t have to) is quite another, and it is worth noting in passing that the strongest support for the old “marriage bar,” which prevented married women from working in the civil service, came from women themselves.

Even without the competitive pressures of the capitalist labour market, the common woman may want to think twice before jumping into the world of narrow specialism that men have inhabited by necessity. It is common for feminists to accept the masculine world at its own self-valuation, and regard the bourgeois professions as the highest desiderata, yet even in the highest-paid, most prestigious professions (indeed, especially in those professions) there is a harshness which it is impossible to escape. For a man to be worth his pay, to have anything to give that’s worth buying, to earn the right to exist on Earth, it is not enough for him to be moderately good at many things. He must be supremely good at one thing. He must do one thing and do it better than anyone, or almost anyone, else, Once more, we turn to the apostle of common sense.

"He must (as the books on Success say) give "his best;" and what a small part of a man "his best" is! His second and third best are often much better. If he is the first violin he must fiddle for life; he must not remember that he is a fine fourth bagpipe, a fair fifteenth billiard-cue, a foil, a fountain pen, a hand at whist, a gun, and an image of God."

I do not say that the masculine life cannot be fun; and I do not say that the traditionally feminine life cannot be frustrating. Intellectual adventure, in which man has historically been freer to indulge, and in which it has indeed been frequently necessary for him to engage, opens up a world within a city; and the woman who, in Chesterton's evocative imagery, stays at the top of the mountain, seeing the whole horizon from a distance but never climbing down to get a closer look at anything, may justifiably feel aggrieved that she never gets to go on her own adventures. To be the symbol of sanity, the fixed point to which a man returns after his adventures, is a noble thing; but it must be admitted that to the masculine woman (who has an important function in society and should not be neglected) it is a position with very definite disadvantages. Furthermore, even the woman of more traditionally feminine sensibilities may quite naturally feel that there is something lacking in the modern home, that perhaps it cannot keep a woman broad as the old home did. I had this brought home to me very vividly by the Distributist feminist Dorothy L. Sayers (the same woman who wrote the Peter Wimsey novels), who pointed out that many of the domestic arts had already been taken out of the home whether women followed them or not, and semi-seriously suggested that the industries which had colonised, commercialised and masculinised these ancient feminine functions should be put in the hands of Woman, not in order to destroy the traditional sex roles but to preserve them. The destruction of domesticity is unquestionably a problem all modern civilisations must learn how to deal with, and if modern feminists go too far in disregarding it they are no worse than the rest of us. They are rebelling not so much against domesticity as against an absence of domesticity, against the pretense that it is still there. The point to be borne in mind for the moment, however, is that the narrowness necessary to masculinity leaves most men with little time or energy for the universality which woman, in her comparative seclusion, has until relatively recently been allowed to develop, and indeed must develop in her most essential function of all. Any political device which makes it easier for the masculine woman and the feminine man to fulfill their potential is to be encouraged, unless (and this is a vital point missed by too many modern minds) it comes at the expense of the masculine man and the feminine woman. By all means let us accommodate the abnormal to whatever extent is possible, but let us not lose sight of the normal.

A fair few feminists, and indeed liberals of all stripes, will want to jump in at this point to tell me that there are no such things as masculinity and femininity. They will tell me that it is “sexist” to have any theory of sex at all. They will make the highly normative assertion that it is wrong to have norms; and not one in a thousand, I fancy, will notice the nullity. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular argument, the one obvious thing about it is that it fits very comfortably indeed into the intellectual groove that capitalism has set out for us. So far from being a revolutionary attitude, it is a profoundly conservative one – or to be more precise, a Tory one, for I know no better word for the spirit which destroys a natural ideal in order to preserve an artificial privilege than the word which the Irish gave to the soldiers of Henry II. It means “outlaw.” It is quite true that there are, or could be, feminist movements which present a genuine threat to the status quo. A truly feminine feminism, which insisted that domestic work be formally recognised as work, and paid mothers (or fathers, if they happened to be the primary carer) a salary for their service to the state, could be fulfilled only by socialism. A truly feminine feminism, which gave every family access to its own means of production and trusted husbands and wives to work together, would require a change at least as big as socialism. But I can hardly think of a greater gift to the capitalistic class than the kind of feminism in which women are encouraged to enthusiastically enter capitalism with all the innocence and ignorance of children. It is the ancient ideals of manhood and womanhood which provided the moral force behind the left-wing movements with which most feminists seem to identify, and indeed behind all the popular movements in history. The motive power behind all egalitarian movements with any strength is not greed or jealousy, as so many right-wingers suppose; it is the ancient ideal of the free family: that a man should take care of his wife so that she may take care of her children. It is this ideal that has animated the great democrats – not a desire for mere material comfort, but the conviction that poverty, amidst plenty, condemned the common family to an existence that was not merely unpleasant but immoral. Rightly or wrongly, it was maintained that if any social system paid a man who did necessary work a wage less than was necessary, not merely to maintain his own body but to marry and replenish the race; if it sent his wife to work for somebody else, taking her away from the children who needed her; it sinned not merely against that family but against life itself. As long as a man in a proletarian condition feels he has a duty to support his wife, he will insist on a reservation wage that enables him to do that duty. He will band with other men in a trade union to safeguard their common duty. But if he can be persuaded that no such duty exists, that his wife not only can support herself in the industrial market but should be expected to do so, his case crumbles; and the capitalist will find that the feminists, without meaning anything of the kind, have won the industrial struggle for him. I do not mean that every working man whose wife gets her own job one day will have his wages cut in half the next day; but I do mean that, in a labour market that carries an ever-present threat of unemployment, the employment of his wife provides a safety-net which will lower his own reservation wage - a fact which, if his master knows it, will surely have an impact on the next round of negotiations. Furthermore, it is not only the fact of feminine employment which can be expected to beat down the wages of working-class men but the attitude in which it is approached. Any influx of new proletarians to the industrial market can be expected to increase bourgeois bargaining power; but if the new proletarians are so conditioned as to consider commercial employment a paradise of freedom and the capitalist as their liberator, they themselves will be somewhat less likely to agitate for good pay and conditions than if they had a more realistic perspective. (It also means, if women en masse really do feel this way, that men in the domestic sphere have let them down abominably, and I have no doubt that we have; but that point is regrettably beyond the scope of this essay.) If these new proletarians can be encouraged to transfer to the commercial sphere the prejudices proper to the domestic, and feel towards the firm the same fierce feminine loyalty which a woman is right to feel for the family, they will be all the less dangerous. Many a capitalist, I suspect, knows this; and certainly the corporate community is not at all averse to articles and advertisements admitting its sins against sex equality in the workplace, or public pledges to do better in this matter. When an elite is so willing to confess its own sins, even to proclaim them in public, it is a suspicious sign, and one would be wise to wonder what greater sins are being concealed behind the smokescreen of the smaller.

The common woman, I suspect, does in fact have a more realistic perspective. She knows perfectly well that if she enters the labour market she may be beating her husband’s wages (and indeed those of his whole class) down, not to mention perhaps taking away another woman’s “bread-winner.” She knows that, as the very word implies, the bread has to be won in a merciless struggle for survival. She knows that in the competition in servility called the capitalist labour market, whatever the State allows her to do today the market may force her to do tomorrow. She may or may not want to work, in the mercantile sense of the term; but she is not such a fool as to think she can play at working. Anyone who tells her she can is no friend of her sex, no friend of her family, and an enemy of her class.

I could not in good conscience continue without pausing to pay parenthetic acknowledgement to a possible, albeit partial, solution to the problem presented above. It is not yet being discussed in the mainstream, although I have seen signs of it on the intellectual fringe. As far as I know, it has not yet been framed as a feminist solution, but I imagine it would be quite easy to do so, and if current trends continue I fully expect to see it presented as such before long. I refer to polygamy – or, to be more precise, polygyny. A proletarian woman cannot be liberated from her womanhood, except by certain unnatural operations which must remain rare if the race is to survive; and she cannot be liberated from the family, except by other unnatural acts which, for the same reason, could not remain universal; but she can be liberated from her class, along with every other woman of the same class, even if the class system be maintained among men. In my more paranoid moments, I suspect that this, as much as the economic reasons alluded to above, is why feminism has been so encouraged by the capitalistic class – or at least by the men thereof. If working-class women can be convinced to see their husbands as their oppressors and capitalism as their saviour, it will be only a matter of time before some sophist suggests that the rich man shall liberate them further by accepting them into his harem. The very act of bringing them into the bourgeois workplace has the side-effect of bringing them into closer contact with men of the managerial and the capitalistic class, many of whom shall be all too willing to support a second, third or fourth wife with their surplus income. (Indeed, many already do just that, although the extra wives are called mistresses and kept in separate homes, the better to maintain a façade of monogamy.) Women who marry for money come under harsh criticism, and as a Vitalist I agree that no-one, male or female, should allow economic power to substitute for the natural attraction of the sexes; but this ideal being a reality depends on a minimum degree of economic equality. Everyone has their own evolutionary interests to think of: not only their own survival but that of their children and their children’s children ad infinitum. If a poor man cannot support a wife, whereas a rich man can comfortably support a dozen, a woman is quite right to pick the latter even if he has half a dozen already. Every social system has its own self-justifying internal logic, and plutocratic polygyny will be no different: the impoverishment of the common man will be used to justify taking away his wife, and once this has been accomplished his celibacy will be used to justify his further subordination. Furthermore, the more sensitive the poor man is to the sufferings of his wife, the easier it will be to use his own virtue against him. If you love her, let her go shall be the exhortation, and no man of honour, accepting the underlying economics, will hold out against it. In the tug-of-war between the rich man and the poor, woman is the rope; and it cannot be long before some sycophant of the rich, playing on the poor man’s respect for her, persuades him to relax his grip.

Now, I can easily imagine a certain kind of feminist, having read the above passage, saying “So what? I’m sorry for the men who lose out, but it doesn’t seem to hurt women. Indeed, if we can break up the guild of husbands that you men have set up, we might come out ahead. Since there are more women than men in the country, polygyny does mean that every woman, in theory at least, can have a husband; and an every-man-for-himself competition for our favours is something we can easily turn to our advantage. You’re right to advocate for your own sex in such matters, but I have a right and a duty to side with my own.” There is something to be said for such a view, and to one part of it at least I lend my agreement: it is certainly better, from the evolutionary perspective, that thirty or sixty or even ninety percent of men should be left without women than that one woman should be deprived of dick; and if I thought these were the only alternatives I should feel compelled to advocate for the former, however catastrophic the consequences for my own sex. However, there are also a few things to be said against it. For one thing, if plutocratic polygyny were established tomorrow, I have little doubt that rates of rape and murder would rise through the roof. Indeed, I should be disappointed if they did not; for if the great mass of men passively accepted such a state of affairs, if they really could be pacified with pornography and sex robots (which I have little doubt would be made widely available if it came to pass), it would prove that they had lost their vitality and deserved everything they got. You might think that an increased risk of rape is an acceptable price to pay, or that it could be countered by correspondingly more draconian penalties. You might think that as long as men were killing only each other it wouldn’t affect you, and that to have them killing each other over you would be flattering and amusing. Nevertheless, you would be wise to bear in mind three important facts: first, that while I am sure that murders of men would account for most of the increase in the murder rate, it is unlikely to account for all of it; second, that the more women are married to one man the more women will be hurt, if only temporarily, when he is murdered; third, while a man with one wife can treat her as an equal (though he rarely rises to that level), I strongly suspect that a man with a multitude of wives cannot, if he is to keep any kind of order in his own house, afford to be anything but a tyrant. Once again, I suspect that the common woman has a clearer grasp of this than the feminist. I have little doubt that she would tolerate polygyny, just as the common man would (albeit more reluctantly) tolerate polyandry for the same reason; but this does not mean that either sex, in a civilisation where the sexes are of approximately equal numbers, would democratically choose either system. Polygamy may yet be the deliverance of woman, but I doubt that it is her desire.

Fortunately, all this is as yet hypothetical. There is, as I am sure that the feminists reading this will be impatient to point out, a school of thought within feminism which disapproves of, and even seeks to outlaw, all amorist relationships in which one party holds economic power over the other; and it is perfectly true that this movement militates, albeit unconsciously, against the threat of a polygynous plutocracy. However, even if I believed that this movement would or even could succeed, I for one should be very annoyed if it did. Its motives are pure, but I have reservations about its methods. It has identified a real problem; but its way of dealing with the problem is so contrary to my own that it brings to mind the old French joke about using the guillotine to relieve headaches. The diagnosis is correct, but the cure is worse than the disease. It is certainly true that any amorist relationship between the two parties, no matter how consenting, is fraught with the possibility of abuse. Even if the senior party’s intentions are entirely honest, the junior party does not know, and cannot be expected to know, that they are honest. Even if the junior party is willing, the senior party can never be certain that she (or he) does not feel under pressure. The mere possibility that a penalty might be inflicted for saying no can never be entirely absent from the junior party’s mind, and consequently corrupts the relationship at its root even if the senior party has no such intention. Yet, what are the implications of this fact? To a large number of feminists, the answer seems to be that no such relationship should be permitted to exist. To me, it is that the imbalance of power itself should, as far as is possible, be abolished. The freedom to work where one wants is a valuable freedom, yet to anyone of vitality, the freedom to love whom one likes is much more fundamental. I do not desire that sexual intercourse should be the only intercourse between the sexes; but I do believe that if two unrelated individuals, whom the life-force has seen fit to attract to one another, find themselves in a context that makes the consummation of their concupiscence impossible, it is the context that should be changed. The point of public, political equality is that it may lead to private, personal equality; and the true test of equality among citizens is not a mathematical abstraction like relative income or the value of one’s vote. It is the simple and personal question which Bernard Shaw posed in Back to Methuselah: “Would you allow your son to marry my daughter, or your daughter to marry my son?” Political and economic equality matter, but they matter only insofar as they affect the answer to this; and if men and women cannot work together and remain equals in sex, they should not work together at all. Personally, I think that they can, in most cases at least; but if you force me to make a choice I know which side I’ll be on, and I suspect that the common woman, with all her vitality and ancient instincts of liberty, will feel the same way.

Continued in Part 2.

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