Lilith Before Eve:
Jonathan Bowden on Feminism (Transcript)
This is the transcript by V.S. of the newly discovered recording of Jonathan Bowden lecturing at the London Forum in London on September 24, 2011. Many thanks to V.S., Jez Turner, and the London Forum. To listen in a player, click here. To download the mp3, right-click here and choose “save link as” or “save target as.” To subscribe to our podcasts, click here. Please post any corrections below as comments.
This talk is called “Lilith before Eve,” which is a bit of a joke title in a way, because in the Old Testament Apocrypha Lilith is the mother of all evil and the mother of all demons and the mother of all vampires and mythologically is Adam’s first wife, and she’s taken from mud unlike Eve who’s taken from the rib in mythology. So, it’s a joke title in a way, because I’m going to talk about feminism and about the feminist movement.
Now, I’ll dispense with the Shirley Williams idea about feminism that it’s just equal pay for equal measures and equal work done, that it’s just a sort of form of generalized, pre-packaged egalitarianism between the genders, because that’s not very interesting. What I’m going to do in this talk is look at the most extreme and marginal elements in feminism which you can’t entirely categorize as Left or Right because it’s a movement off to one side by itself to a degree. And I’m going to look through them, probably going from the most extreme to more moderate examples of same.
What is the most extreme piece of new wave feminism from the 1960s and 1970s? Probably it’s the SCUM Manifesto. The SCUM Manifesto, that’s what it’s called. Yes, the Society for Cutting Up Men, which was published by Verso which was New Left Books and was produced by Valerie Solanas, who was a sort of artistic lesbian in Andy Warhol’s circle in relation to The Factory movement.
Now, she shot Warhol actually, so she put theory into practice, because he wouldn’t publish a play by her. In actual fact, it was quite a serious incident because Warhol almost died and was never the same again afterwards, according to people who were associated with him during that period. She also wounded two other people, but because she was a paranoid schizophrenic she got three years in prison. She later surrendered to a policeman that very same day.
The Society for Cutting Up Men, which was her own abstraction, was a piece of extreme misandry, which is not heard of very much but which is the opposite of misogyny, and it’s extreme hatred of men. In this text, Solanas advocated the eradication of men as a gender, who she described as having a perverse chromosome which makes us unfeminine and therefore differentiated.
This text, which is still available in very alternative, Left-wing book shops, is probably the most extreme and sort of delusional, counter-factual, and virtual-reality piece of feminism that was ever created. It’s quite the literate text. It’s not just sort of belly-aching ranting. It also talks about the entire restructuring of society and deals with essentially lesbian separatism or female-female bonding away from heterosexual norms or family-based societies as traditionally supposed.
Separatism is actually a key part of the more biological elements in the feminist movement. Feminism has achieved most of its mainstream goals, which is why the WLM, the Women’s Liberation Movement, has largely been curtailed. Or so the ’60s generation of radicalized students that provided most of the camp followers have themselves grown old and long in the tooth.
Some of us may know that there’s a separatist feminist book shop on the Charing Cross Road called Silver Moon which traditionally doesn’t like men to go in it and so when the odd male student on a dare and that sort of thing goes into Silver Moon there is a prescribed policy to be as frigid, to be as hostile, and to be as nasty as possible until the man leaves because they can’t deny male entry into the shop under equality law, which of course technically feminism is actually in favor of. So, you have this reverse principle going on there.
Separatism of the Solanas type is very extreme and very radical and was disputed by other feminists, of course, such as socialist feminists and certain Marxist feminists who don’t necessarily believe that men are the enemy. So-called “rooted,” or biological, feminism, which actually is not a biological discourse, it’s a discourse about biology, perceives an endless gender war and a conflict between men and women in all social areas. Radical feminism is the term that’s usually given to this tendency.
The issue of lesbianism, in a sense, has to be dealt with because there are two types of lesbianism in relation to this type of politics. The first is so-called political lesbianism where a woman doesn’t have those desires herself, but because of a rejection of patriarchy refuses congress with men and therefore has two options: either inversion, or lesbianism, or celibacy. So, the idea of political lesbianism grew up in the 1960s and ’70s in the women’s liberation movement, although later was questioned by the majority of democratic and socialist feminists who believed that women have a majority instinct to be heterosexual. That was alright as long as they entered into non-patriarchal relations with men. That was ultimately, democratically, the majority tendency that the women’s liberation movement adopted.
But separatist currents have always existed and there’s the concept of a lesbian nation as it’s called. Lesbian Nation, which was quite a well-known feminist book in the 1970s, posits the twin track strategy for lesbianism in a political context.
The other, of course, is women who are born inverted and who were born that way and who adopt lesbianism as a norm, but they would be a minority of the activists who advocated complete surrender to the world of matriarchy and so complete avoidance of congress and intimacy with men on all fronts.
Radical feminism also was very keen on the abortion of males, particularly after abortion was achieved, largely due to social democratic and liberal pressures in the 1960s and thereafter. Abortion was, of course, achieved in law. It’s always existed in the back streets, but had never become an ordered part of the health services of Western Europe and North America until the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s. And it was militantly supported by all feminist movements. Indeed, abortion is a key issue for mainstream, second-wave feminism because it deals with autonomy, the autonomy of the female without male coercion or control and the extreme individualism but without femininity is at the core of many of these movements and is actually probably the tendency that draws together anarchists, feminists, radical feminists of a semi-biological type of the sort that I’ve enunciated, socialists, Marxists, and communistic feminists, and their more mainstream liberal equivalents. There are people who basically say that even the Margaret Thatchers of this world have a feminist element to them because, after all, women have to have the vote and have to be able to engage in political activity for somebody to rise to be the leader of a center-Right political party such as she did in the mid-1970s becoming the first female premier in Britain’s history a couple of years thereafter.
But for the purposes of this analysis, I’ll exclude that normative talk whereby very, very mainstream liberal humanist demands are conflated in with the feminist movement, which regarded them as just the softest edge of their more radical currents.
One of the most famous feminists in the 1970s and ’80s, who received acreage of print on her death a few years ago, was Andrea Dworkin. Andrea Dworkin, who was an obese individual, wrote a series of quite famous books, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, a book on Right-wing conservative female activists in the Republican Party in the United States called Right-Wing Women and certain quite scatological novels, actually, such as Ice and Fire and various other works of what she called “explicit anti-pornography.”
One of the great failures of the feminist movement that has succeeded in many other areas is their campaigns against pornography and the sex industry. Socialist feminists, fearful of the accusation of Puritanism, have tended to shy away from some of those discourses. But feminism as a whole is deeply opposed to the commercialization of sexuality and to the commercialization of the female image as a result of that. In the 1960s, a whole potpourri of different Left-libertarian and Trotskyite notions came up and some of them were in conflict with each other. Sexual libertarianism and extreme freedom and extreme hedonism clash violently with the neo-Puritanism of quite a lot of the feminist movement.
In their campaigns and strictures against pornography, from page 3 in the Sun through to so-called and alleged snuff movies and everything in between, feminism has distinctively failed. It’s failed to make any inroads on the commercial activities of pornographers, it’s failed to decrease the profitability of these areas. People will be aware that large parts of the British print media are now owned by pornographers or ex-pornographers as the fortunes of these people have been mainstreamed since Raymond and Sullivan and others started these businesses over 40 years ago. Again, allowed to do this by the social reforms of the 1960s.
Many feminists used to have “Reclaim the Night” marches, as they used to call them. Reclaim the Night, where they used to go around with candles and various torches late at night. Particularly in the sort of pornographic or sin bin areas, the red zones that exist in all cities. There’s one in London, of course, sort of equidistant with the streets around a particular district of SoHo. It’s about a quarter of a mile square. Traditionally, feminist marches used to go around these areas. Sometimes actions would be engaged in, which are socially and civically illegal such as the super-gluing of the locks of various pornographic book shops and film distributing agencies and that sort of thing.
One of the more interesting corollaries is that the feminist movement took a very radical turn in Northern Europe or Scandinavia simultaneously with commercialization of the hardest type of pornography in those same countries. So, you see a culturally schizoid phenomenon going on there where the ’60s lead amongst the people who came out of them in quite contrary and diverse directions. You see one tendency of opinion, militant feminism, that wants to close the sex industry down and does not regard it as a legitimate form of capitalist enterprise (this is irrespective of criticisms of capitalism that they have more generally) and you also have a range of Left-libertarian and more liberal spokesmen and women who regard pornography as essentially legitimate.
But it is interesting that feminism has had such an utter defeat there. Although most far Left movements retain a certain Puritanism in relation to sex industry issues. The Trotskyist Left on the whole regarded the emotional pornography that women read, romance fiction and that sort of thing, as on a par with male pornography and hates to make moral judgments of a bourgeois character. But most traditional Communist movements, if they can be described as traditional, most authoritarian and Stalinoid type movements, banned pornography, as indeed the Soviet Union did basically from the Stalinist period after Trotsky was defeated internally in the internal battles with Stalin after 1928.
The Soviet Union is an interesting example of the sexual politics of the extreme Left. Between 1918 and 1928, almost all inhibitions were flouted, at least in law, although the effect of that on Soviet life was marginal. And almost every sexual tendency was permitted between about 1918 and 1928. You moved from a Czarist, conservative, and highly socially authoritarian, conventionalist and conservative apparatus to almost complete libertarianism in these years.
One feminist that was very important for the Bolshevik movement was Alexandra Kollontai, who was an ex-aristocrat who later became ambassador to Mexico, partly to get her out of the Stalinist purges, and was regarded as a Bolshevik heroine not least for her taste in young Soviet sailors of a Battleship Potemkin type. Now, she wrote a quite well-known novelized state socialist fiction called Love of Worker Bees in which men and women live in Spartiate-type communes and don’t intermarry with each other and engage in what is called free love, the doctrine of free love between men and women. In other words, no traditional family structure, no monogamy, no heterosexual bonding, and a looser sort of infinite rather than finite relations. It goes back to most forms of utopian Leftism in the 19th century and underground and bohemian movements and resurfaces in the 1920s, resurfaces again in the 1960s.
Wyndham Lewis, who’s a modernist, Right-wing intellectual who has influenced me quite a lot in my life, had the theory that radical counter-culturalism from the Left has three phases in Western society in the last 200 years, although he never lived to see the third one. The first one is in the 1890s in which you have an elitist zone of decadence, if you like, a bohemian radicalism. The next one is in the 1920s, the so-called Jazz Age, where there’s a blowout culturally from the devastation of the Great War. You have a sort of endless party on easy credit that the Great Depression brings to an end in 1929-30. That could be considered to be a bourgeois or a middle-class version of the more upper-class decadence of the 1890s.
The next great splurge is the baby boomer generation in the 1960s, who, in a sense, have a lower middle-class bourgeois and proletarian Bohemia, a mass Bohemia based upon student activity and based upon all of the economic privileges which in a sense accrued in the post-war era and which are now being taken away, because of course you could do degrees virtually for free then. You had several years to engage in radical critique of bourgeois society without really doing any meaningful work. Now, students are 30,000 pounds down just for a very moderate degree from an ex-polytechnic as all degrees are commercialized along the American lines, and that’s one of the reasons for the complete deradicalization of contemporary students, which is very noticeable. Apart from animal rights, some residual feminism, and ecological activity, there’s almost very little radicalism going on in the universities outside of what certain radical Muslims get up to, watched by the security services.
The feminist movement influenced all forms of Leftism with the possible exception of the old Stalinist model with the Communist Party of Great Britain. But even then the influence of anti-sexism, as it would be called, was palpable. Almost no institutional, ideological tendency on the Left was immune from feminist critique, and this changed attitudes on a whole range of issues from property rights to divorce, from abortion to so-called child’s rights, to the rearing of children, to attitudes towards pornography, to attitudes towards heterosexuality and attitudes toward men. The broad socialist/humanist Left never went along with the idea that men were the enemy. There used to be, of course, in traditional feminist congresses and so on chanting that men were the enemy, and if ever a boyfriend or a husband or whatever turned up at the end of a meeting to take somebody home in a car there would be quite a scene. So, separatism was sort of enforced but was also a dividing line between the very radical and those of, if you like, a more assimilationist and more gradualist character.
Like all movements, it was plagued with an enormous number of personality clashes and splits and it had its star turns and star theorists who remained media characters and representatives of feminist opinion long after the movement had begun to dip down. The media had a schizophrenic attitude towards feminism. On the one hand, they were good copy and feminist intellectuals and ideologues were given a lot of space.
Probably the most famous ideologue in Britain of this type was Germaine Greer whose book The Female Eunuch caused outrage and sensation in various ways. She was an Australian don, who teaches now, I think, at Oxford and has been through several permutations. Indeed, her theory is dialectical. The first book was a very radical piece of feminism, almost on the cusp of “all men are rapists” ideology that Marilyn French disseminated through her novel The Women’s Room.
A lot of this material was very mainstream. In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, you could get it from Smith’s. This is the one thing that’s interesting about the feminist movement, the belief that women wanted this material and that certain dissentient Left-wing men wanted this material if only to peruse it, was very much of the moment. This material was available in the women’s section in most, not news agents, but most mainstream book shops. You didn’t have to go to obscure sources to obtain this material, and, although the number of people who ever read this material was very small, its influence in the general culture has been very pervasive. Probably no movement has influenced society more in a soft power way than feminism since the Second World War.
Unlike almost any other tendency of opinion, its erosion of traditional and patriarchal structures, to use its own terminology, has been very extensive and very deconstructive, and it has almost, to use a 17th century phrase, turned the world upside down in 50 to 60 years. If you consider that all laws in relation to divorce, in relation to abortion, in relation to pornography, in relation to most mainstream male-female relations and most of those relations per se were the opposite or, slightly less tendentiously, the semi-opposite of what they are now before I was born.
I was born in 1962. In 1962, abortion was illegal, divorce was very difficult to come by, contraception was difficult and highly medicalized and somewhat obscure, relations between men and women were quite traditional, mass mainstream pornography and the growth of the so-called sex industry and its invasion of all other medias, because one of the tricks is the contemporary media resembles the pornography of the 1960s and ’70s, because the pornographificization of mass media is, again, one of the most salient factors which has occurred in the last 40 to 50 to 60 years. It’s almost a shock to point it out now, because the process has become so all-encompassing and so gradually obtainable that the fact that Cosmopolitan is as extreme as most forms of male soft pornography now, which it certainly wasn’t when it started. Whereas the sort of pornography that Playboy once represented, in other words, very soft, is now so mainstream that it’s almost on the television nightly.
One can argue that forces of the counter-factual sexual revolution of the 1960s have not been in women’s interests at all, and there are certain dissident feminists who turned back to slightly more conservative social positions, later in life usually, who sometimes ruefully admit that this is the case. Probably the destructivity of the feminist movement, particularly the second wave from the ’60s and ’70s, is seen in the enormous divorce rate and the enormous non-marriage rate which now exists. The deconstruction and whittling down and whittling out of the society like a piece of wooden sculpture is well under way. No politician now can criticize the single-parent family, because so many people are involved in them, and they are so much part of the constituent electorate to which one has to appeal. Marriage itself has been relativized almost to a point of semi-invisibility within the culture, although there are still quite strong ideological pressures to keep it as a gold standard or as an ideal. But the very difficulty that a policy as tame as giving tax breaks or exemptions to married families that the Cameron government has tried to instigate around the margins shows you the difficulty in a lone area of plowing back on what has occurred in all other areas.
The radical social, sexual and libertarian agendas of the 1960s ramified with feminism in various ways and yet never lived up to the utopianism of the feminist movement. Feminism remains in some respects, particularly in its second generational aspect, a utopian movement, a belief in total transformation of woman, of man and of social and civic and lived circumstances.
One of feminism’s radicalisms is the idea that the personal is the political. When people leave a room like this, or whatever tendency of opinion they support, they drop their politics away from them in their private life or the way in which they actually live their own lives. That would be true of many people who have even quite pronounced political views.
Feminism is based on the idea that everything that one does, from the smallest interfamily relationship and so on, is actually deeply political and the belief that the personal is political even more important in its politicization than what is customarily regarded as politics. Certainly electoral politics has had enormous soft power gains.
By soft power, I mean cultural power. The ability that feminism has had retrospectively to engender terror in normal relations where quite ordinary and normal people without any ideology at all weigh sexism and weigh whether one remark was more sexist than another as a criterion of social acceptability. Few people would have heard of this terminology before the 1960s or the 1970s. Today, in certain areas of employment, it’s quite a serious matter to be accused of institutional sexism or to be accused of sexism per se, and as with the corollary, racism, an enormous bureaucracy has grown up to police particularly academic discourse.
There is a certain Nineteen-Eighty-Four or Orwellian element to this where in the academic life, where people are mentally trained for the attitudes that they will carry through as educators in the future, people are taught the correct responses in a post-religious, secular, and multicultural age. An enormous number of university lecturers have gotten into trouble over a sort of feminist and PC agenda to such a degree now that many will only interview female students with the door open or with a woman colleague present in case they are accused of making a remark of detrimental, objectifying, patriarchal, or sexually genocidal character. This can be quite an innocent and freeborn remark in relation to what would be regarded as old-fashioned masculinity, but old-fashioned masculinity is something that’s probably not too much to be found in many institutions of higher learning.
Traditional colleges were segregated along gender lines. Traditional Oxford and Cambridge colleges were segregated along gender lines, certainly. There were single-sex female colleges well into the 1980s. Again, a strange byproduct of feminist success is the deconstruction of the old-fashioned, all-female institutions, many of which were actually in female interests. So, feminism’s successes have been multiple, but the detriment to society as a whole has been massive. Happiness can never really be measured, but from a personal, subjective way of looking at things, I would not characterize this as a particularly happy or successful era or a particularly happy or successful culture. I think the fact that one out of two marriages is now ending in divorce and there’s an enormous amount of dissatisfaction which, in some respects, the two genders may have with each other. Many of these issues are not discussed.
Feminism and male reactions to feminism, some of which have not been too brilliant, are actually part and parcel of many of the ongoing problems in this age. I think childlessness, radical single living, the decline in the family as a model, intergenerational decline, whereby the idea was your grandparents looked after the children and that sort of thing rather than hired help, that you didn’t necessarily need two incomes in order to survive in an average mortgage property, which is now no longer the case, have all contrived to bring about feminist victories in ways that undercut the utopianism that that movement once espoused.
Is feminism a Left-wing movement? Only in part. Although it’s very difficult for the Right to agglomerate its ideas in with certainly second-wave or second generation feminism. Yet, traditionally, gender and the politics of the personal, being all-pervasive, is something for which Marxism has little time. Only post-dated non-Stalinist and Trotskyist types of Marxism were able to meld sexual-political, anthropological and environmental concerns in with themselves. Traditional Marxism has had no time for these bourgeois deviations. Green politics is no account; industrialization is a moral good in accordance with mainstream Marxism. Similarly, semi-biological ideas about women have no place in an order which is totally socially ameliorated and understood as such. So, traditionally, Marxism had little time for feminist politics although acceding to radical female wishes in relation to the restructuring of society such as occurred in the Soviet Union after 1917.
The interesting thing that occurred is that despite the lifting of almost all psychological, social and familial restrictions between 1918 and 1928, Soviet life did not change particularly dramatically, partly because most people were struggling to survive and these legal changes only had marginal impact. After 1928, everything was reversed, and Stalin introduced a form of neo-conservatism in the personal and political area. Family life was re-encouraged. After the Second World War, the enormous devastation inside the Soviet Union meant that motherhood was prized. Women who had over ten children and contributed to feelings of Soviet warriorship and providing men to work in factories and so on were given medals by the state.
Everyone knows the extreme prudery of the Communist bureaucracies in post-war Eastern Europe, far more extreme than their Western equivalents. Indeed, the media in traditional Communist societies after the first revolutionary phase is over often resembles the Western media in the early part of the 20th century when you largely had a conservative bias and you had a conservative society with a very small c rather than a liberal one tending to the Left. In my opinion, you have up until the 1950s in most Western societies, if you analyze the mass media, mainstream conservative (small c) attitudes whereas after that you have mainstream Left-liberal and mildly libertarian social attitudes.
This is why these radical movements cut very deep, but they never achieve entirely everything that they want. What they do is that they are the radical vanguards, they are the diamond drills, they are the teeth in the flesh that pushed the thing, pushed the unwieldy social contract in a particular direction. Without all of these radical movements, the enormous social, cultural and exhibitionistic changes which we’ve seen would not have occurred. Therefore, these radicals are themselves the splinters that give off the energy that corrals other tendencies of opinion and pushes them into the mainstream. These are the ideas that are then taken up by people in a very jaundiced and hazy way. But the very fact that a television executive could be sacked today for making a program that evinced the traditional values of the 1950s is emblematic of the fact that enormous societal and structural and psychological set of changes has occurred.
The breakdown of the Women’s Liberation Movement is partly due to the success of that tendency of opinion despite many of the contradictions which were involved. The most famous British feminist publishing house is Virago, which was set up by a committee of women about thirty-odd years ago now, quite late in the day, but most of the books that Virago produced were quite conservative literary works written by upper-class women between about 1890 and 1940. So, you had this strange lag, basically, where the culture of the suffragettes were brought back by second-wave feminist publishing, because that’s what they had to publish.
The key feminist text from the past is Mary Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman, which is a feminist version of Tom Paine’s. She, of course, was founder of a famous, in that era, Left-wing family which consisted of Shelley, Mary Shelley, the second wife who wrote Frankenstein, and of William Godwin, the mild but evident political anarchist who wrote Political Justice.
Now, the key texts in feminism move from a belief in equal rights to the exchangeability of men and women. One of the more radical (small r) feminist demands is that men are feminized to the degree that men are masculinized. This is an ultimate end in sort of egalitarian social pressures. Hence all sort of outsider movements have been supported that disprivilege traditional forms of masculinity. The deconstruction of the traditional heroic male images that accounted for most of Western media up until the 1950s and early 1960s is all part of that project. If you analyzed Hollywood films even today in comparison to what they were before 1960 you see a reversal which is almost an inversion, although strands of what was to occur later on were widely discernible even going back to the ’30s. But again, up until about 1960, the norms of a socially conservative culture survived.
Britain in the 1950s is a world away from the society that we have now. Indeed, the libertarian-Left pressures are such that we’ve received a total inversion, or sort of psychological auto-mutilation, which has occurred between then and now. The interesting thing is that most people regard what exists now, they regard the content of The Daily Mirror on a daily basis, as semi-normal whereas The Daily Mirror in 1960 was almost a completely different type of newspaper, a slightly socially conservative, center Left newspaper, that supported anti-Communist trade union leaders and the Right-wing of the Labour Party. Now, you can argue that that [unintelligible] model, a sort of MI5-prescribed Labour model, which it was, was an establishmentarian ploy of that era. But the content of mass media now is so unsubtle and so pervasive in its change as to exemplify all of the tendencies of opinion which won through in the 1960s and thereafter.
The irony is that many of these vanguard movements would regard the popular media of today as a sink of iniquity. This is one of the paradoxes. Adorno and the Frankfurt School are totally critical of modern mass media, are totally critical of what they consider to be the cultural industry by which the masses are enslaved and yet at the same time the tendencies which they represented in a purified and vanguard form have broken through, albeit moderated and assimilated, to such a degree that they partly got what they wanted, but in a way in which they can never appreciate. It’s almost as if everyone gets partly what they want and don’t want combined in equal measures. The only tendencies in the West that haven’t gotten what they want at all are the radical Right and various forms of religious fundamentalism which remain outside the circle and are conceptually demonized, because they cannot be assimilated.
One of the radical ideas in the ’60s and ’70s, a post-Marxist idea, was the cultural idea of situationism. This is the idea that everything is mixed together and one has a society of the spectacle and of mass media of postmodern interchange of image upon image and thought upon thought almost with the instantaneity with which someone can control their mobile phone or some application on it.
This type of tendentious and voyeuristic media feeds on images and ideas that were released by the vanguard movements of the ’60s and ’70s, but they’ve been commercialized. This is the interesting thing which the feminist movement never realized. Indeed, sexual liberation movements in the 1960s never realized that the commercialization and the commercial exploitation of the body and all of its resources in mass advertising and elsewhere would be what would occur. There was hence an innocent-mindedness in a strange prurient way to these people and their ideas. They never thought that the beneficiaries of many of their notions would be pornographers like Raymond and Sullivan who are traditionally villains or semi-criminal figures in a far Left lexicon. Indeed, the criminal, drug-dealing, prostituting fringes of capitalism shading into criminality are traditionally stereotypical images of capitalist and center-Right evil in far Left terms. But the ’60s introduced so many social waves and so many social changes that when Oz magazine and various other things broke taboos, and were pleased to do so from a Hippie or Yippee sort of Left student perspective, they never realized that the beneficiaries of these changes would be the man who currently owns The Daily Express and The Sunday Express and related media. The Desmonds of this world are the monsters that have been created by the free-for-all in image and fact and the change in the reference points in sexual politics which the ’60s introduced.
I once visited, for my sins, the National Union of Students building in Manchester on the Oxford Road, and they had a news agent’s there, and it was the most Puritanical news agent’s I’ve ever been in. Usually when you go into a news agent’s, even if you just want stamps or something, you know, there’s an enormous wall of flesh essentially even in the more moderate titles, which superficially have little to do with sexuality, because that’s how things are marketed today. Before 1960, they certainly wouldn’t have been marketed in that way, and yet there was none of this at all in this NUS prescribed building because they had been through every tendency of opinion from innocent listings magazines in Manchester right the way out to the fringes, and everything had been judged in accordance with how objectifying, how masculinist, how stereotypical, how Patriarchal (with a large P) all of this media had been. That which fell on one side of this particular sort of red line went into the dustbin or was returned, and that which was regarded as acceptable, and there was hardly anything that was regarded as acceptable, actually, so there was almost a complete absence of media in this media shop. This is one of the great ironies of the entire development of what’s gone on.
There was an attempt about 20 years ago now to found a Left-wing paper on Sunday called News on Sunday which only lasted a couple of issues, and one of the problems they had was capitalization and distribution and all the normal, rather boring things, but one of the internal reasons that it failed is because nearly all of the comment by quite traditional Left-wing writers and famous Left-wing cartoonists like Ralph Steadman was regarded as politically incorrect. Indeed, Steadman’s sort of quite German expressionist cartoons about Margaret Thatcher and so on, they sort of looked like Grosz and people in the ’20s and ’30s in Weimar Germany who pioneered that type of very aggressive, graphic sort of illustration, was regarded as so sexist and anti-humanist and patriarchal that it couldn’t be permitted. So, what tends to happen is the Left devours itself when it really gets going. Between the tendencies of new-formed and new-fangled censorship which are very extreme and tendencies of total anarchy, nihilism, and near depravity that wants to let everything rip and basically believes there are almost no standards and no limits at all nor should there ever be.
This tension that does exist and is still there in nearly all forms of feminist critique of media plagues the Left to this day. But what they are doing is they are arguing from a position of semi-victory whereby each new film and each new magazine is considered in accordance with how correct and/or incorrect it actually is. The criteria for correctness and incorrectness have also changed. The so-called girl power culture of the 1990s where teenage and sort of ladette women insisted that they wanted to be female in their own way has also played havoc with some of these post-’60s norms. In the realm of mass culture, wave follows wave, and standardized ethos from one era can be overthrown by new concepts and precepts that come up.
There’s been no attempt to roll the clock back to before the psychological and cultural changes of the 1960s. In this sense, feminism has achieved a partial victory. The interesting thing is how male structures of traditional ways of looking at things acceded to these wishes. Many men are deeply confused at the present time and have been for several generations, and yet, because gender is biological, the recrudescence of core male and female attributes survives, free-floating and irrespective of all theory. However, most men have acceded to feminist demands because they feel there’s no alternative to them. To stand out against the culture of egalitarianism is to render yourself demonic, and this is particularly so in private relations. You’ll often find that people are far more nervous of intruding their values into private relations where you can pay a considerable price if things go wrong. This is where the idea that the personal is political is so extraordinarily powerful.
It was said earlier on that one of the subtexts for this particular meeting is why are women not extraordinarily involved in Right-wing politics? That’s complicated. When Right-wing political movements break through, a large number of women become involved. Success, power, the trappings of getting somewhere all interest a significant part of the population and interest everybody. Everyone begins to agree with you when you start to be successful.
I remember when I attended the Red, White, and Blue once in Paris. The mainstreaming of that movement after some of its major electoral successes was quite evident. All politics is vanguard led. You begin with small little groups that implant their ideas within the general culture. They have to engage in some intellectual prior positioning, otherwise it’s just an empty populism which becomes the jester politics of the fringe and ends up largely with an empty protest and people who areelected in the end, end up in the mainstream parties whether they like it or not, whether they even choose to join them or not. But if you do the intellectual prior positioning and you then break through on the crest of a wave that will always moderate the utopian demands that exist in any absolutist and radical tendency of opinion you do begin to get somewhere.
Feminism has now triumphed in the West in particular to such a degree that it’s causing new convulsions with the mass of the immigrants who have come in, most of whom come in from socially conservative and/or religiously defined cultures elsewhere in the world. One of the things that was most shocking to unassimilated to assimilated, Westernized immigrants is the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s, which most of them, traditionally the older generations, just ignored and lived in their own mental space as if they weren’t actually cohabitating the society in which these things had gone on. This is less so now. And what you see among younger immigrants is a dialecticism whereby amongst the young they either become very Western and reject their own parents and reject the assumptions of their own communities, or they engage in a militancy grounded in their own communities or grounded in their own faith systems. So, people are either going back to the traditional structures in a more radical way without the social conservatism of their elders, or they assimilate completely into post-’60s Western norms, which are now so pervasive that most people don’t bother to reject them, even in their own mind because to actually reject many of them you would have to turn off mass media. You would have to engage in processes of alienation in a way from what now exists. And that’s very difficult for many people, and nor do they want to be regarded as odd or socially reclusive or corralled into a space or ghettoized in their own life. The bulk of people conform to the energies and pressures that they now feel themselves living under.
Wyndham Lewis wrote a text in 1926 called The Art of Being Ruled, and he said that the idea that women will go out to work and completely compete in a male way and on a male basis would be the most easy and requisite way to undermine the family that had ever been created, far more radical in its excesses than all of the feminist and Left-wing marches put together, and this is indeed what has occurred.
We live, as I’ve often said in these talks, in a strange, hybridized society where the economics of the center-Right and the social, cultural, and soft power prerequisites of the center-Left have fused and merged into a Left-wing capitalism, which would have been regarded as absurd in the early part of the last century.
When Right-wing and Left-wing intellectuals used to actually meet with each other . . . This hardly occurs today except in media set piece battles, which are largely orchestrated from beforehand, the results of which are unsatisfactory. When Chesterton and Belloc and Shaw and Wells used to actually have debates with each other in the early part of the 20th century, the idea that you would end up with a Left-wing capitalism would have been regarded as utterly absurd. Utterly absurd.
And yet this is what we have because the market has realized that you can clear at the lowest common denominator level and you can clear to a market expectancy of maximum profit by often pitching things to a low to middle common denominator and that you never go bankrupt by underestimating the taste of the generality. Therefore, you can always push things lower, and you can always achieve a maximum payout by making sure the thing is tilted to the lowest common denominator up to a point. You have to be careful to go too low where you become unacceptable and outside the frame of what is commercially convenient, but the tendency and the drift is always downwards.
So, you have egalitarianism, downwards drift, and the desire to make money of a maximum sort combined in a poisonous and rather noxious brew. All over the economy, and don’t forget we’re living in a society where we make very little and everything is traded on services and secondary and tertiary forms of production and added value, fueled by debt and based upon an interchangeable, moveable capital economy where the movement of labor, and I mean mass immigration, is just one tool in the general game. So, we have a situation where the deconstruction of traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity and the disavowal of the idea that they are biologically based, even though many of the critics now believe that they may well be, is part and parcel of the atomized and alienated world in which we find ourselves surrounded.
Feminism has thus done much of the groundwork and the spadework for radical forms of libertarian individualism that it doesn’t really agree with, because much of the objectification of women that’s resulted in mass media is something that feminism’s been traditionally opposed to and yet has inexorably led to.
I also think that a lot of men have taken advantage of the choices and expectations that feminism has aroused, and this has led to a general coarsening of relations between men and women which has occurred. People don’t like being done down or perceived that they have been and they often get back in niggardly and low-grade ways which are not too transparent or not necessarily courageous and I think there’s a degree to which that has also occurred. The traditional male role models did involve heroic and self-sacrificial elements even though, as in all human affairs, hypocrisy and banality doubtless played a part.
But the degree to which many men feel relatively powerless in the present situation and somewhat embittered is again not a tendency that you can base political idealism on. People who are narrow-minded, feel they have a grievance, and are embittered may radicalize, but they may not necessarily be in a particular state to adopt a heroic attitude towards their radicalization, which is ultimately what you want. I remember the late John Tyndall once said that you can never do anything with somebody whose politics just begins and ends with a whining about immigration if that’s all it is, because it’s purely negative. When in fact what you have to be is heroic about your own nation, your own culture, its own history, your own ethnicity. These are the things you have to be positive about. Otherwise, there is almost no point in being negative about the other, because you have nothing to replace what exists now.
I think it’s also true of relations between men and women. This is a very difficult area, politically, because none of the mainstream parties, apart from acceding to the post-dated egalitarian attitudes of the past, have a policy about these things. There’s been a Left-liberal drift in all of them now, bearing in mind the conservatives would have at one time opposed the quickie divorces, they would have opposed mass abortion, at least apart from a small minority of their libertarian MPs. Now the party basically supports all of these things because they’re fearful of not getting females votes if they don’t and yet the irony is that men and women are keenly divided on abortion. 70% of women support abortion according to most deep Gallup polls, but 20% of that support is actually very, very thin. Men split 50/50. These debates are very aggressive and very toxic. One of the reasons that mainstream politicians rarely address them, because these are primal issues or at least they tend to the primal and if you upset people on primal issues they will never forgive you if they don’t already accede to your notions, and you’ve lost them in relation to all other areas of the spectrum. This is why immigration, the politics of the personal, Europe, and a few other issues are the issues about which mainstream politicians wish to speak least, because they are the most difficult, the most problematical, the most toxic issues, the issues that ultimately willgalvanize the population to be interested in politics again. And that’s why they are not mentioned.
I think the feminist movement’s success shows the success of cultural struggle as New Left Marxists would call it. Cultural struggle is what this group and other groups like it are involved in and is in some ways the only show in town for our tendency of opinion at the present time. Feminism has shown if you go with the grain of a culture, as they did after the 1960s, what can be achieved by militant movements. Few women today know the names of the key feminist theoreticians such as Orbach, such as Greer, such as Millett, such as Solanas and so on. Few people know their names, but the tendencies of opinion that their books influenced have proved highly decisive in the way in which people live their own lives.
The trick is to have one’s vanguard notions integrate with the Zeitgeist. The problem is that the liberal society has probably not reached its apogee even yet and is churning away and becoming even more radical and more deconstructive. However, all one can do at this present time is to put out contrary ideas. When people say that the traditional Right wishes to subordinate women to men, the Right has always traditionally responded that it is in favor of masculinity and femininity and sees that men and women have fundamentally different roles in society. This is not enough for many contemporary women who wish to see a less patriarchal bias from what they perceive to be Right-wing opinions, but deep down these things are more powerful than reason.
One of my principal views about politics is that people are attracted to politics only with a small percentage of their reason. The bulk of their attraction is emotional and pre-rational and irrational. The more that you appeal to these notions, the more you will actually appeal to the generality of people. One of the most powerful political discourses that can ever be enunciated is traditional male and female role models which are positive for both. This goes with the clock of biology and goes with the instinctualism of biology. Everything that goes with biology may be deeply unacceptable at the present hour, but it’s probably the most powerful type of politics that occurs and that can occur. Lots of people will actually be quite impressed and emotionally entranced by the rejection of contemporary sexual-political norms as currently perceived, but they would also be shocked and be deeply scandalized with the politically correct and rational part of their intelligence. Don’t forget, almost everyone who’s educated now has been through the politically correct filter and only perceives reality in that way.
Yet everybody has a prior, largely biological identity, and if that particular identity is appeased by image, by word, by association, and by the absence of grievance then you will see people come to you. My view is that the more one attempts to rescue female and male ideas of a traditional sort from the maw of the New Left and from second-generation feminism, the more you will have the implicit and the intuitive support of generations as yet unborn.
Thank you very much!
Are We Ready For “White Boy Summer”?
Forthcoming from Counter-Currents:
Jonathan Bowden’s Reactionary Modernism
Remembering Jonathan Bowden (April 12, 1962–March 29, 2012)
An Interview with Béla Incze: The Man Who Destroyed a BLM Statue
Mihai Eminescu: Romania’s Morning Star
Culture, History, & Metapolitics in Poland: An Interview with Jaroslaw Ostrogniew, Part 2
Mrs. America Redux