Feminism, like fascism, communism, capitalism, pacifism, fundamentalism, islamism or any other ism, is a way of thinking, an ideology, a belief to understand the world, to interpret the past, to design the future. Isms are always aimed at political change, which involves the acquisition and application of power.
Feminism is not the same as ‘women’s movement’, just as communism is not the same as the labourers’ movement, nor fundamentalism the same as the social uprising of moslims.
Feminism is a way of thinking, which is based on the distinction between male and female, (usually narrowed down to ‘men’ and ‘women’), in which the women are claimed to be the underdogs, unjustly treated by men, by the laws of men, or by other conditions created by men or beneficial to men.
Thus, feminism is not restricted to one sex, or to race, age or nationality. Rather it is a discourse produced by all sorts of people. Anyone who subscribes to the idea that men are the masters of the world while women are suppressed and treated unfairly, is a feminist.
At times an ism can be the dominant discourse, because nearly everybody believs its basic tenets.
Feminism, like other isms, is a religion without a god. It arose, just as capitalism, socialism and liberalism did, in the 19th century, after the formal separation of church and state in the constitutions of modern countries. Thus, it is a system of secular belief, characteristic of a political doctrine. The fact that feminism never gave rise to a political party of any significance does not mean that it has not exerted a great deal of power behind the scenes, so to speak.
There are stereotype ‘feminists’ because there are individual women who come to stand out as representatives of the ism. Most people find abstract thinking difficult, and prefer an concrete and visible simplification of the ism. Just as a fascist is supposed to look different from a pacifist, some women make feminism into something recognizable. We learn our language at a very early age, when our thought is still quite primitive, and we divide the world into objects, so we want to have an object for every word we use. We want to be able to point at something or somebody and say: “That’s feminism”. This is the primitive part of our mind in operation.
It is characteristic for an ism that no ist agrees with any other ist of the same ism. As a politico-religious discourse, an ism binds its adherents by creating a common enemy. Feminism has produce opposite views on every single subject under the sun, but has created a seeming oneness by suggesting a common struggle against injustice, male domination and all kinds of evil, especially sexual evil. Like every ism, feminism creates a division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and thus appeals to the psychology of suspicion, fear and resentment. As zionism and antisemitism divide the world of discourse into jews and non-jews, as racism divides us into white and black, so feminism expresses in essence the war between the sexes.
Thus feminism appeals to conservative and reactionary forces throughout the world. This works in two ways: the demand for protection of women and children, which has in fact always been one of the mainstays of primitive and warlike societies, and the empowerment of women in politics and other public spheres of life, which has led to a small increase in the number of middle class women in higher places. But however nice and fulfilling that may be for the lucky individuals, this does not mean feminism is beneficial to the lives of women in general, on the contrary. Compare the positive discrimination under communism, when people from a working-class background are given managerial jobs, while the people in general suffer injustices that are not seen because they fall outside the ideology.
Feminism is at present a commonly held set of beliefs, just as masculinism was a generation or two ago. Feminism has settled into the daily words and images that explain the world, offer a mould for expressing discontent, and a moral universe in which endless debate with innumerable nuances is possible about ‘men’ and ‘women’, in short, feminism is a mythology, a ruling discourse. The opponents of feminism are portrayed as older conservatives who resent the women’s vote, who want to keep them ignorant and powerless. Such men exist in large numbers. What they defend, however, is the old sexual system, what they oppose is sexual reform, and so in fact they are allies to feminism, which has the same function.
From a historical point of view, feminism is a reaction against sexual reform. Sexual reform, which also began in the 19th century, attacks the sexual system itself: it strives for equality, ultimately sameness of the sexes, which implies freeing women from the burden of pregnancy and biological motherhood, discarding the family as we know it, promoting free expression of love, regardless of sex, age, race, status, religion. During the past 200 years there have been 4 or 5 sexual revolutions, of which the last, during the 1960s and early 70s, was the greatest. Each time when the ultimate consequences of sexual reform became clear, a reaction set in, led by new conservatisms, among which feminism. Feminism claimed that the so-called sexual revolution was only advantageous to men, who had invented the pill so as to make women totally available to their basic instincts. Exactly the same argument was used in the 1930s about the Mensinga diaphragm which in those days was the standard contraceptive prescribed by progressive doctors.
Sexual reform is a process that takes place at various levels, macro, meso and micro. Within an individual, the struggle between going for change or against it takes place. This explains the overlap between sexual reform and feminism in individuals, groups and society as a whole. In general it may be said that the reaction against sexual reform, which set in during the seventies, has now brought about a wide support for conservative ideas, contempt for the sixties, the return of the family as the highest good, nature as a (feminine) symbol of purity and harmony as well as vulnerability, while new types of nationalism, racism, xenophobia and violence have made their appearance. These phenomena hang coherent.