Emma Goldman: Woman Suffrage and Feminist Idols (Revisited)

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.” I decided to celebrate by honoring one of my favorite women, Emma Goldman. As I have before with Voltairine de Cleyre, I will revisit one of her classic essays from a modern perspective.

As an anarchist, Emma Goldman had no patience for the women’s suffrage movement of her era. In her 1910 essay, “Woman Suffrage,” she called suffrage a fetish and an idol. In her own words, “In her blind devotion woman does not see what people of intellect perceived fifty years ago: that suffrage is an evil, that it has only helped to enslave people, that it has but closed their eyes that they may not see how craftily they were made to submit.” Goldman thought that activists should be focused on radical revolutionary goals, not asking for greater privileges within an inherently unjust system. She viewed suffrage as a distraction, not an end goal.

More than one hundred years later, and 94 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, was Goldman right?

In short, yes. Legislative changes are lagging indicators of cultural change. Asking an oppressor to grant the oppressed more privileges has never been the most effective strategy to achieve social change. The eventual success of woman suffrage, the great golden idol of the early women’s movement, effectively quashed the women’s movement for fifty years.

By focusing an entire movement on one specific legislative change, we lose sight of our end goal. The right to vote is not an end goal, but a means to further the end goal of equal socio-economic and cultural status for women as for men. By forgetting their end goal and focusing on voting, the early women’s movement set women back immeasurably.

Another, more recent example of a movement losing sight of the end goal is the gay rights movement’s focus on gay marriage. By avidly pursuing legislative changes to marriage laws and forgetting the end goal of equal socio-economic and cultural status, much of the movement subsided when equal marriage was achieved. An activist wrote that the gay rights battle was over for libertarians, as though strides could or should not be made outside of the government. At the altar of marriage equality, we forget to look beyond and take into account the full LGBT+ spectrum, as well as our overarching goals.

Emma wrote of woman suffrage in other countries and its effect on the long-term goal:

The women of Australia and New Zealand can vote, and help make the laws.  Are the labor conditions better there than they are in England, where the suffragettes are making such a heroic struggle? Does there exist a greater motherhood, happier and freer children than in England?  Is woman there no longer considered a mere sex commodity?  Has she emancipated herself from the Puritanical double standard of morality for men and women?

Emma’s observations that her society had a deeply problematic view of women, which voting could not change, did not catch on again until much later, with the rise of second wave feminism. Second wave feminism came and went in a flurry of revolutionary, powerful rhetoric and seemingly lofty, but inspiring goals. Decidedly white-centric and trans and sex-worker exclusionary, second wave feminism was far from perfect, but it was about more than a vote, more than a piece of legislation, it was about rocking the foundations on which society thought of gender.

In the third wave, we can bring forward the end goals and broad focus of second wave feminism, but uplift all women. We should remember that feminism is not all about electing a war criminal woman as president, or passing the Equal Pay Act. Our feminism is about challenging what it means to be a woman or a man and knocking down the idol “gender” that society holds so near and dear. We have the potential to change the world, so let’s take a clue from Emma and leave the idols behind.

See the original article here.

Some Public Moral Goods are Not Optional, A Reply to Roderick Long

In Roderick Long’s essay, “On Making Small Contributions to Evil,” Long attempts to tackle tough moral questions such as veganism, environmentalism, and tax evasion. In each case, participation in the cause comes at great personal expense with very little marginal societal benefit. Long argues that we do not have an obligation to participate in all of these causes, but to pick a number of them to focus on, and disregard the rest. After all, not everyone can do everything, and we can only account for our own morality, not the morality of society as a whole.

Long is right that we should not sacrifice ourselves for the sake of society as a whole. We must pick and choose between those public moral goods because we cannot do it all. I do not disagree that public moral goods exist. However, we can find reasons to fight for these types of causes beyond our own marginal benefit to society, and there are some public moral goods that are not morally optional.

One of the reasons we may participate in a cause is the joy we get from doing what we think is right. Altruism is not pure self-sacrifice when doing good and helping others feels good. Virtuous people derive happiness from virtuous acts, so by cultivating virtue within ourselves, we can more confidently decide which social causes are worth the “sacrifice.” The “sacrifice” is the cost associated with acting on a public moral good, including the opportunity cost of not choosing something else.

Recycling has very little social impact on an individual level, and can be a pain in the ass. Is it virtuous to recycle? That depends on facts about the particularized eudaimonia of the person making the decision. The cost associated with recycling for a person that is already devoting time and resources to many other social causes is much higher than the cost of recycling for a person who is sitting at home doing nothing all day. A person who is especially passionate about the environment will derive much more joy from recycling than someone who could not care less. By taking into account facts about our particularized eudaimonia, such as our individual interests, talents, and commitments, we can best decide which public moral goods to focus on.

Sometimes, however, looking at our particular circumstances is not enough. Take an extreme example: child pornography. Producing child pornography is obviously immoral as a violation of autonomy and consent. But following Long’s analysis, is consumption of child pornography not immoral? One person’s decision not to purchase it will not affect its production. For a pedophile, not buying child pornography may come at a loss of psychological pleasure. However, consuming child pornography for free seems to be no less immoral. Therefore, there must be a reason not to consume child pornography beyond its societal effect. What does it say about a person’s compassion and empathy that they can watch the violation of a child without feeling distraught? An empathetic, compassionate, virtuous person could not consume child pornography without guilt, regardless of the marginal societal benefit of them refraining from doing so.

Long discusses veganism as a public moral good we may consider. Veganism, unlike participation in many other public moral goods, is not time-consuming, so we do not have to choose between being vegan and doing something else. One individual person going vegan does not affect meat production. However, what does it say about someone as a person if they can eat an animal knowingly without feeling any guilt or aversion? If one is an empathetic, compassionate, virtuous individual, eating meat should make them feel bad. Going vegan would have very little societal impact on the status of animals, but one may choose not to eat meat because doing so causes them, as a compassionate, empathetic person, distress. However, if one lives in a food desert or has very little access to vegan food or lacks support from family, the personal costs of veganism may be too high for even the most virtuous individual.

With veganism, just as in the child porn example*, production may be worse than consumption. However, one step of removal from production is far from morally agreeable. Our moral obligations with regard to either do not depend on the social benefit of doing so or our duty to the public good, but on what our actions in either circumstance say about us as people. When weighing public moral goods, we should not forget to account for the relative importance of different social goods or what our actions with regard to public moral goods say about us as people.

Every virtuous decision is the result of reasoning and personal judgment, while taking into account the specific circumstances of the given situation. We cannot prescribe the correct action for every person in every situation, because the correct action depends on facts about the person in question that we do not have access to. When we weigh the benefits of taking on a social cause with the personal costs of doing so, we can determine which causes are worth our individual time and energy.

*I do not think eating meat and consuming child pornography are morally equivalent, but they are similar in that they are morally wrong regardless of the public moral evil associated with them.

A Woman’s Place Is in the Revolution

A Woman’s Place Is in the Revolution

When pointing to statistical evidence of patriarchy, many people immediately look to those in power. 103 women hold seats in congress, a record number but nevertheless a disproportionate minority. Many feminists argue that to rid society of the patriarchy we need to do a better job of electing powerful women. Meanwhile, people continue to cede power over their own lives to the State. The State is a patriarchal institution, controlled by men with the interests of men in mind.  Its function is maintaining its own power and upholding the status quo. With a State that inevitably attempts to dominate our bodies and our minds, feminists must recognize that the way to defeat patriarchy is not to join or cater to the State, but to take its power away and return it to ourselves.

womenrevolutionAnarcha-feminist Emma Goldman wrote in Anarchism and Other Essays, “Anarchism stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion and liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals…” Anarchism is naturally complementary to feminism.  If feminism aims at crushing the antiquated and evil cultural notion that women are property, it is a means for women to liberate and empower themselves, so they can finally live as free individuals. Statist feminism, the attempt to liberate women through the State, is futile because it relies on a patriarchal institution to go against its very nature and uplift those it inherently oppresses. The struggle for women’s rights requires us to free ourselves from the chains of patriarchy, not to learn to live with them.

The central planning of the State negates the lived experiences of individual women by attempting to treat them as a class or a category, rather than as individuals. The last thing women need is old white men in Washington discussing their reproductive rights. State-enforced patriarchal norms are evident in restrictions on abortion, standardized maternity leave (different women have different needs), and prescriptions for birth control which limit their accessibility. Patriarchy also seen in restrictions on employment, from professional licensing requirements to bureaucracy to zoning laws that make it difficult for women to work for themselves. The State prevents women from lifting themselves up and puts them at the mercy of their bosses and legislators, who are also usually men. Women continue to look to the State for help without realizing they are signing a contract with their oppressors.

Most people make decisions based on self-interest; that is, they make decisions to better their own position by weighing the perceived costs and benefits of each option.  This seems like common sense, but what people often forget is that politicians are no exception. Public choice theory says that politicians make decisions like other human beings. Just watch House of Cards 11119684_1021104334585862_827888837_nto see what I mean. Public choice theory explains why voters are so often disappointed in their elected officials. Politicians make the decisions they need to make to maintain their power by catering to special interests, following party lines, and securing campaign funds. They are not in Congress because they care about bettering the lives of Americans but because they care about themselves. Understanding public choice theory helps us understand why the government run by men will never free women. Politicians work to secure their power by convincing people that they need the government to do things for them. To paraphrase Harry Brown, the government breaks our legs, hands us crutches, and expects a thank you. They do not have our best interests in mind, and it is foolish to expect them to. Rather than asking for better crutches, women must crush the hand that breaks us and liberate ourselves from the fists of patriarchy.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of feminists wearing shirts that say, “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate,” which is a play on the phrase, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Politicians, or women who empower themselves by oppressing other women, are not worthy role models. Women should draw inspiration not from war criminals and tyrants, but from real revolutionaries. Revolutionary women are women who stand up for themselves and take their power back. They do not seek to make friends with the patriarchy, but to destroy it where it stands. They are women like Emma Goldman, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Lucy Parsons, and Voltairine de Cleyre. Revolutionary women lead the fight for our rights boldly and are not afraid of a little controversy. Feminists should knock down patriarchal institutions, not depend on them. Revolutionary women do not find themselves drinking coffee with old white men in Washington, directing our lives, but instead on the front lines of a social movement that encourages self-direction. A woman’s place is not in the House or in the Senate, passing laws that increase women’s dependence on the patriarchal State. A woman’s place is in the revolution.

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