Sunday, April 22, 2012

A short non-history of feminism

I was really disappointed to read this article by George Jonas.

Because it's crap.

It's true that women we're exactly invisible before the twentieth century.

But I think Jonas is overplaying his hand.

Women, as individuals, did not make their mark on history to the extent that men did.

Not even by a long shot.

There's a reason why feminists developed women's history.

Consider what kind of history was studied before the Second World War, and who would be the major actors. It was largely political, national and economic history. By its very nature, men would dominate the narratives because men were the ones who were elected or selected to rule.

Oh sure, you might get this wife, or this mother, or this mistress playing a role. But their power was generally an extension of the power of a significant other or relative.

Here's a test: name all the female monarchs of England, and name all the male monarchs.

Female Monarchs: Mary, Elizabeth I, Anne, Victoria and Elizabeth II.

Male Monarchs? Forget it. Too many to name.

So yes, there were female actors in history, even in political history, but their power was generally in their influence and their instrumentation, not as power-wielding actors.

There was virtually no feminism before the 18th century. The sexes were considered to be neatly segregated, and the child-bearing role of women made it virtually impossible for them to be able to participate as extensively as men in political affairs.

However, I will say that industrialization and concurrent rise of capitalism made female emancipation possible. Because without the wealth it brought, developments in medicine, nutrition and hygiene that led women to have longer and more productive lives would not have been possible. One of the reasons we don't see as many women involved in public affairs before the eighteenth century is that they could not afford the leisure of such affairs, and they died young. When they were able to confidently go through childbirth without fear of death, when their nutrition permitted to live past their childbearing years and enter the public square, when new gadgets made their domestic chores much less time-consuming that's when you had women becoming aware of their status and the role they played in society.