These are two books on the feminist movement in the imperialist countries. We review them together, because they both concern themselves with the achievements of feminism in the imperialist countries and arguments about the fastest road forward.
Recognizing the gender bureaucracy
MIM is particularly delighted to discover Hester Eisenstein's book, because it is a conscious document of a self-described "femocrat," something MIM has called "gender bureaucrat."
The book by Ferree and Hess represents the view of spokespeople for the gender aristocracy in the United $tates. It is a nearly perfect rendition complete with a smattering of social movement sociology of mainstream "feminism" in the U$A.
Hester Eisenstein has presented a conceptually clear and well-written book from a social-democratic perspective. She argues that it is beneficial for feminists to ally with the "labor" movement and take up government positions in the equal opportunity and affirmative action enforcement bureaucracies. Her goal is incremental change, but she knows enough of other views to raise doubts about her own position.
MIM's concept of the "gender bureaucrat" runs parallel to Lenin's notion of the "labor bureaucrat." The "labor bureaucrat" is an official paid off by the capitalists to divert the labor movement into pro-capitalist channels. From MIM's perspective, the "gender bureaucrat" is a parallel creation of the patriarchy to co-opt the movement for wimmin's liberation. Avoiding the creation of such bureaucrats as extensions of the police-state is an important reason MIM stresses the "creation of public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed."
Hester Eisenstein speaks of the gender bureaucracy as the kind of miracle for social change that many see in the social-democracy of Sweden. Not surprisingly given the lack of social-democracy in the United $tates, Eisenstein finds Australia's system of gender bureaucrats truly novel: "In particular, the creation in Australia of the category of 'femocrats' - feminist bureaucrats - and the political and cultural impact of these women on the Australian scene was, to me, an extraordinary achivement, and one that bore many lessons for the international debate about feminist interventions."(p. 5)
Right on the second page of the first chapter after the introduction, Eisenstein cuts to the chase. "When I moved to Australia, there were virtually no jobs on offer in academic life that suited my need to combine academic with feminist work. And so I took the advice of my new feminist friends in Sydney and entered the public service where I became a femocrat, that is, a feminist working in the bureaucracy for women's issues."(p. 7)
"Indeed, the demonstrated commitment to feminism had been, with some help from EEO programmes, incorporated into job descriptions. The spectacle of very traditional-looking male bureaucrats in pin-striped suits and conservative ties reading over the credentials of women candidates and discussing seriously their respective claims to authentic feminist commitment and political experience, is one that stays with me as a testimony to the effectiveness of the femocratic experiment, at least as a way into the ranks of the bureaucracy." Eisenstein found this to be possible under the Australian Labour Party government to which socialism was not a dirty word.
MIM found this interesting both in terms of imperialism and its class structure and in terms of the impact on wimmin's liberation. First it is interesting that imperialist paper-shuffling bureaucracies can create just about any job imaginable. Someone who might otherwise be severely discontented is given a job fully financially supported by the Australian imperialist government.
Secondly, as Eisenstein herself points out, the question becomes whether patriarchy has co-opted these femocrats or whether these femocrats have transformed the patriarchy. Apparently MIM did not invent the concept of the gender bureaucrat. It existed at least as early as 1981 in Australia.(p. 12) Already by that time, revolutionaries had put forward what is now the MIM view: "The opposition, then, was between revolutionary feminism of the streets, outside the corrupt system of power and prestige, and the official feminism of the state, which created bureaucrats in its own images, painted birds whose role it was to contain and to dissipate the energy of feminism."(p. 12)
While in Australia, Eisenstein learned that the offices she admired so were considered by many Australian feminists as "the Office for the Women of Status."(p. 21) Although she disagreed, Eisenstein did notice. That is typical of what makes her book a useful admission and engagement by a social-democratic pseudo-feminist.
Some points of unity with Eisenstein on Western theorists
We share many of Eisenstein's impressions in a number of areas. It is useful to have someone calling herself "the last liberal" (p. 68) admit that Catharine MacKinnon's theory and her tactics are far apart (p. 30) as MIM has also pointed out with regard to attaching her revolutionary theory to spineless sub-reformism - work on individual court cases. Such work should at least be done in connection to a revolutionary media to interpret their significance to the people or the patriarchy will take credit for whatever outcome occurs.
Like MIM, Eisenstein also has use for Jo Freeman's work on informal hierarchy that arises where there is no accountable formal hierarchy. Eisenstein is also able to at least recognize what the revolutionary Marxist position would have to be and she anticipates that Mary Daly would be one criticizing her position along the lines that it is not possible to work in the patriarchal state without being co-opted.
We at MIM believe the capitalist state has to be smashed and replaced. It cannot be treated as a "terrain" of class, gender or nation struggle the way social-democrats say. To be sure, the dominant class can never obtain 100% of what it wants, but to the extent that the state reflects that truth it is only on account of the struggle occurring outside it.
At the same time, we also credit Eisenstein for recognizing the difference between her kind of social-democracy and post-modernism. She aptly states that post-modernists see "discourse" itself as the "terrain" of gender struggle.(p. 33) In this regard, as MIM has said before, we would much prefer the old Liberal John Stuart Mill or Eisenstein over the post-modernists. Eisenstein and others like her might conclude that they failed, but post-modernists see no question of truth to assess and it would be pointless to engage them.
Although not worded as we would have worded it, the following is exactly right about the birth of post-modernism out of liberalism: "The hypocrisy of liberalism was that it was the governing philosophy of the imperialist powers who in the name of freedom and equality enslaved and murdered and oppressed the non-white peoples of the world. But now the non-white people of the world are using those same principles very effectively to say, but what about us, our self-determination and our subjectivity? . . .In effect that European males announce the death of liberty, equality and truth just at the moment when the rest of the world - the previously excluded groups are saying, hang on, we want some!"(p. 69) The idea that there might be a truth and it might reside with the world's majority of Third World peoples and not with Europeans-that is what post-modernism is running from at warp speed in the guise of an attack on the discredited imperialist traditions.
Eisenstein seems to realize this about the world's majority of people. She even has an instinctive idea about productive labor: "It is the women in Third World countries who are ruining their eyesight making components for the personal computers that feminists in the academy and elsewhere are writing their theory on. So this is a new and complicated form of exploitation."(p. 71) We only differ in that Marx described this over 100 years ago.
Where lack of a revolutionary vehicle leads
Although Eisenstein seems aware of many problems of the intersection of nation, class and gender, when it comes down to the movement, she offers no integrated strategy and she points to feminism in general as failing in this regard. Eisenstein is an example of an Amerikan womyn who when she thinks of how to move forward, she draws a blank despite having read reams of theory. Of working with the Australian Labor Party for incremental change, she says, "This is a risky fate for feminism. Yet what other path forward is there?"(p. 56)
She adopts in passing the Chinese Maoist phrase "speak bitterness" in reference to feminist campaigns under Mao, but nowhere in the book does she review the communist road forward for feminism. Like many Amerikans including MacKinnon who write about feminism, Eisenstein does not appear to have a serious background studying wimmin outside of the U$A and Australia. Hence, when she asks "what other path forward is there?" it may be from true ignorance regarding the real vehicles of feminist change this century.
MIM's answer to Eisenstein is that the Russians, Chinese and Albanians showed what could be done in revolution for wimmin. The gap in feminist theory between what many can see is wrong with patriarchy and what feminists do about it is caused by the lack of a scientific materialist analysis. By this we mean the feminists do not use their intellectual tools to find a force in the real world that could change the evils that they see. Whether it is MacKinnon or Eisenstein, the problem is that they do not see the power of proletarian led movements against imperialism. These communist-led movements do not directly target gender oppression as their principal goals, but they accomplish more for wimmin's liberation than other movements do. The reason for that is that from the beginning, Karl Marx sought to find in the society the most revolutionary social group overall and he succeeded and showed the world how it must conquer.
There are countless Western books by reputed feminists willing to discuss "liberal feminism" and "socialist feminism" and even "separatist feminism," but where is the discussion of "communist feminism" that has affected more wimmin this century than the other three combined?
The historical scoreboard for feminism
Later we learn from Eisenstein the grounds for her contentment, which given her own recognition of Third World wimmin makes no sense: "Let me say in the first instance what I mean by the success of feminism. All around us are indications of changes in the status of women that can be attributed in whole or in part to the pressures that have been brought to bear on governments by the organised strength of the contemporary women's movement. In most Western democracies legislation has been passed that provides for anti-discrimination agencies and equal opportunity measures. Legal reforms have modernised the law of rape and sexual assault and that on domestic violence to give women a more equitable chance in the courtroom against the physical aggression perpetrated on them, and to provide refuges to increase their options to leave dangerous and threatening domestic situations. The access of women to education and training has improved and women have begun to enter a wider range of jobs, including areas traditionally reserved for men, both in the trades and in the professions. Community attitudes toward sexuality have become more tolerant, and the level of debate concerning previously taboo subjects like incest, abortion, prostitution and homosexuality has become more sophisticated."(p. 74)
With regards to the success of females in imperialist countries who enter the petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie, MIM shall have to concede the point to Eisenstein. However, we believe the bourgeoisification of female adults has more to do with the pile of plundered surplus-value lying around in the imperialist countries than the efforts of these wimmin themselves. Moreover, it is the class and nation unity of imperialist country wimmin and men that make it so unlikely that those females actually suffer gender oppression and share a common interest with the world's oppressed wimmin.
On the subject of rape and battering, MIM has already published articles on the miserable failure of Western reformism on the subject. Notice in the above quote that giving the justice system more chances to convict men is considered success, not actually reducing rape or battering. That is an example of the class and nation sickness of Western pseudo-feminism, the type that made Willie Horton the central figure of the 1988 presidential election. It is far removed from a real discussion of goals connected to gender oppression. Ferree and Hess put forward the same view as Eisenstein on what constitutes progress: "Feminists organizing on the issue of rape led many states to change their laws to eliminate the demand for witnesses or evidence of struggle and to bar use of the victim's previous sexual history (so-called 'rape shield laws')."(p. 104)
The growing plunder of the Third World MIM discusses elsewhere made it possible for petty-bourgeois and bourgeois men to give relatively light resistance to female economic progress within the system of exploitation, but neither the men nor the wimmin really changed anything in regards to the romance culture of rape and battering. With a culture that says risking violence or arrest proves love, the police-state "feminazi" solutions never had a chance of fixing anything.
With regard to incest, the story is the same--no grounds for finding progress. Abortion--at least in Amerika more doctors and reproductive health workers are being shot dead by the loonies than ever. Where is the answer of non-proletarian feminism to that? The only glimmer of hope is the advance of technology that may make abortions as we know them unnecessary.
In the past month, we had not only the shooting death of an abortion doctor but also the hate-crime murder of a gay man in Laramie, Wyoming.
The harassment and killings of reproductive health workers across the U$A is reminiscent of the initial boldness of the nascent fascist movement in Italy and Germany. No amount of legal posturing or dissertation writing can make up for such battles lost in the streets. We shall return to this subject when we review Ferree and Hess on revolutionary violence. Pseudo-feminism played a pivotal role in enabling the reactionaries to go on the offensive as they are today.
One last point we shall make about Eisenstein's social-democratic book is that it oddly does not claim credit for the massive institutionalization of the anti-battering and anti-rape movements in Amerika, while it does seem so moved by the example of femocrats in Australia. Could it be she ignores them in Amerika, because she realizes that they have been wholeheartedly co-opted by the patriarchy? When we count up the successes and failures of the gender bureaucracy for wimmin's liberation, we cannot pick and choose just the ones we like. Nowhere does Eisenstein consider the ramifications of the extension of the police state created partly in the name of feminism, especially in Amerika, where the imprisonment rate is the highest in the world and where predominantly biological male prisoners are much more gender oppressed than the average womyn.
Despite our disagreements with Eisenstein, we respect her book as an honest one by a social-democrat, one that is fairly interesting in terms of the range of theory she addresses. Controversy and Coalition is more factual and better documented, but even more narrowly focussed within the Western imperialist liberal feminist world. It is useful to communists mainly as a gauge of where the Amerikan academy and its intellectual feminists see themselves vis a vis the pseudo-feminist movement. How does the Amerikan pseudo-feminist movement view itself? We communists are always seeking to understand what the masses are thinking and especially the patterns we can find in their thinking and the relative frequency of those patterns of thinking.
The other books reviewed in this MIM Theory have at least some degree of self-skepticism, but Ferree and Hess are unabashed defenders of Amerikan middle-class feminism and in this way these two sociologists are true gender bureaucrats representing the Amerikan gender aristocracy. According to them, the feminist movement is the "most broad-based" critique of tradition there is;(p. x) the civil rights movement was male chauvinist and the feminist reaction to it was the men's fault;(p. 55) it is a myth that the feminist movement is a white wimmin's movement, because Black wimmin in polls support it even more strongly.(p. 89)
Feminism or excuses for sell-out?
As in the book on French feminism by C. Duchen, Ferree and Hess do not try to cover up the origin of the latest feminist movement in reaction to the New Left of the 1960s. Readers will recall that by the late 1960s, the New Left was dominated by Maoism--the Black Panther Party, Young Lords Party, Red Guard Party, the Progressive Labor Party and other incipient Maoist organizations.
However, in this regard, the book by Duchen is a little more honest, because she admits that the philosophical basis opposed to Marxist materialism leads to an emphasis on diversity and paralysis. Ferree and Hess seem to believe it is enough that New Left men regarded activist wimmin as trophies (pp. 68-9) to conclude that Marxism and the revolutionary movements against imperialism were wrong. According to Ferree and Hess, Black wimmin and white wimmin really shared some things in common at that time--a notion contrary to that found in other books reviewed here--simply because they were both dealing with men in the movement.
MIM wasn't there in the 1960s, but we begin to smell a rat in this presentation, because we know that there are many revolutionary New Left wimmin still in prison. In their case, they are prisoners of war, not people who fit the image of being "trophies." The Weather Underground and its ideological descendants such as the "Women's Committee Against Genocide" in particular come to mind; even though MIM does not agree with their moralistic misappropriation of Mao. The strength and active role of these wimmin is counter to the image given by Ferree and Hess.
It seems to MIM that there could hardly be a better way for the status quo to save its skin than to have some agents go into the movement and say that all the females in it are "trophies." According to Ferree and Hess, "Neither black nor white women, however, found their humanity and skills affirmed by the male leadership that defined them as 'support staff' or sexual trophies, and they began to discuss their common oppression as women."(p. 69)
MIM has no doubt that some really bad things happened in the 1960s, including some rather infamous remarks by New Left men to and about wimmin. There were costly mistakes, but to make blanket generalizations as easily as Ferree and Hess do reeks of police-state patriarchy. The book simply does not mention anything about the wimmin in the national leadership of SDS. Nor does it mention that Huey Newton picked a womyn to head the party while he was in prison (and after the Black Panthers were basically smashed). The commitment of "New Left" wimmin in prison to this day is also left out. Now who is responsible for making wimmin invisible in history? Even if some men sometimes treated wimmin as sexual trophies only or support staff only, it does not mean that they had the power to keep wimmin from being successful revolutionaries in their own right. To believe otherwise is a problem with the level of politicization of females and their concrete understanding of the dynamics of power.
Ferree and Hess go on to admit that females in their own organizations then went on to "trash" their own female leaders and become paralyzed in endless wrangling. They agree with us on the contribution of Jo Freeman ("Joreen") to understanding this issue, but they do not connect this to the reaction to men in the movement. Again MIM has to ask, how much of the conflict with the men arose because these pseudo-feminist wimmin were not politicized enough to understand the need for leadership and that they would have trashed anybody being effective, man or womyn? We find it very unpersuasive to say there was no political difference, just men being sexist, when the resulting female splinter groups do not take up the same goals and continue to trash leadership in any form.
The movement in the tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao is experienced with this kind of irresponsible pissant criticism described and championed by Ferree and Hess. The Trotskyists did the same kind of thing, with blanket generalizations about Stalin's failures being to blame for all weaknesses in the movement. For example it is true that when Stalin signed a temporary peace pact in 1939 with Hitler after England, France and Poland did, the U.$. Communist Party splintered. Fair-weather friends quit the movement entirely. What is important to note though is that the substantial fraction that left did not go on to form a similar organization differing on the Stalin-Hitler Non-Aggression Pact-they went on either to entirely different politics or no politics at all.
Likewise, Ferree and Hess talk about men making wimmin "support staff" and "sexual trophies," but they don't talk about any "New Left" or Maoist separatist wimmin's organizations forming as a result. Hence, once again, MIM infers a stinking rat. If "sexism" was the central problem of the Maoist and Maoist-influenced organizations, then the wimmin who opposed sexism should have gone on to form like organizations minus the gender problems. In both the Non-Aggression Pact and the pseudo-feminist splintering from the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements, what we have is a case where people who were never as radical as the organizations they were hanging out with left when they got an excuse of conscious privilege that seemed easy and comfortable.
It has not been done yet, but perhaps these feminologists should be looking at the relative political commitment levels of men and wimmin in the 1960s. Was the "New Left" really as uniformly bad as Ferree and Hess imply? If wimmin were uncomfortable why? Could it be that men being drafted for war identified more with the international proletariat than wimmin who weren't being drafted? Could it be that since cops were shooting and killing Black Panther men, wimmin did not feel the heat from the state as keenly as males? According to Ferree and Hess, "Only the relatively few women who had self-identified as radicals were prepared to risk ridicule and rejection."(p. 71) The question becomes the underlying social basis for female political activism. Why were few willing to risk ridicule and rejection? Why did the pseudo-feminist movement become obsessed with "self-esteem"?
Later Ferree and Hess mention "factionalism over 'revolutionary violence.'"(p. 81) In their own view, under attack in the 1980s, the "career," "separatist," "liberal" and "socialist" "feminists" united to defend gains. Yet they mention in passing this issue of "revolutionary violence" in the discussion of the demise of the New Left.
The way the issue is trivialized and many other issues left out from revolutionary history, we again smell a rat. It's the kind of reactionary thing that makes MIM have to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s.
Imperialist country feminism is going to have to confront its reaction to revolutionary violence in the 1960s. The negative critique of Maoism or Marxism generally blames the role of activist men in the oppression of wimmin, but we have to doubt whether the wimmin in question were ever as radical as the men they listened to in their politically formative years. It does not seem that separatist wimmin's groups for revolutionary violence arose. Thus to justify the splintering away of energy into the pseudo-feminist movement will require more than talking about trophies and support staff.
For that matter, new biographical material about the Black Panthers continues to pour out and at least some of this material alleges that lower-ranking male military staff had reasons not to trust some wimmin in the organization who were not known to be sleeping with military staff. The question comes down to the relationship to the gun, not the relationship between men and wimmin. There needs to be some more investigation of this: why was it that Black Panther men died in battle? Did the Panther wimmin not want the gun or were they forbidden the gun by activist men? And if they did not pick up the gun and did not have to go through the various policies demonstrating high-levels of commitment and security within the party, how were these wimmin to be trusted? What parts of work should they be trusted with? Why should military staff have to risk encounters with people who may be less committed or even infiltrators?
The cops looking at a military organization can spread rumors about trophies even while wimmin had responsible roles in the military aspect as in the Black Panthers. They can also take the complaints of some wimmin out of context and blow them up into gender conflicts.
For Ferree and Hess and other wimmin who would lightly pass over the question of armed struggle in the 1960s, we have news for you: a million students and the plurality of Blacks favored it. Your differences with that movement have nothing to do with gender oppression at the micro level within organizations. It has to do with your lack of political commitment to the causes you participated in. You were wrong then and you are wrong now as the reactionaries take up armed struggle against reproductive health workers.
While some wimmin could avoid the question of armed struggle even in the 1960s, the half a million men doing service in Vietnam could not avoid it. In the 1860s, the planters would not give up the slaves without a fight and in the 1990s we see that the reactionaries won't even give up abortion rights without an armed struggle. This is a profound lesson for anyone claiming to be interested in serious social change.
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