Feminism On The March

The best, probably only, explanation for the wave of accusations and social upheaval between the two genders (biologically, not sociologically) that has swamped American culture lately lies in the concept of “ideology.” The encyclopedic definition is tame enough: ideology is “a collection of normative beliefs and values that an individual or group holds for other than epistemic reasons.” “Epistemic,” from epistemology, means, in short, “logical discourse.”

For sure, ideology is neither logical nor reasoned (i.e. rational).

Take a simple noun, innocent enough, such as sex, race, or nation. Add “ism,” and, behold, you have a full-blown ideology on your hands, resplendent with all the characteristics of a “word in motion,” i.e., a worldview, a comprehensive understanding of humanity and all its qualities. Ideology is nothing if not dynamic, a tsunami belief system at war with the world.

For one thing, ideology kills, even if it’s stupid. Has anybody seen the “proletariat” rise up around the world, as Marx predicted? Then why have so many communist governments killed tens of millions of their own people? What about Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich,” led by the “Aryan Race”? Just 988 years short of goal, with about 75 million left dead by 1945.

But ideology need not kill; it can even act as a positive force. To the British government in 1776, for example, George Washington must have appeared as a political sociopath. To the victorious allies in 1919 at the end of World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, with his League of Nations, also appeared a bit wacky.  But it is the collective attributes of ideology that sets it apart from “rational discourse,” and it is those traits that we must use to identify contemporary American social culture.

The famous “longshoreman” philosopher, Eric Hoffer, identified the attributes of ideology years ago in his classic, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951). The first indication of ideology is contained in the sub-title, “mass” and “movement.” One cannot examine a case (harassment, rape, insult, income inequality, etc.) without engaging in wholesale indictment by societal groups writ large. In other words, group behavior is targeted. As a feminist U.S. Senator recently proclaimed, “Men, shut up or step up. Do something right for a change.”

There must also be an elaboration on “mass movement,” which involves no single cases, but general conditions expressed against society at large, or at least many. Also, a mass movement is considered to be dynamic, massive, moving toward comprehensive, societal behavior, new horizons. Indeed, the expanse is almost unlimited; the movement is “humanity’s,” nothing less.

That’s just the tip of the proverbial “iceberg.” Hoffer has identified several other qualities of the ideologue; many (if not all) can be observed in today’s America (and not all belong only to feminists). First, and foremost, is “change,” as a verb. There is no such thing as a reactionary ideologue. As such, history is not welcome. It is both dismissed (ahistorical) or abused (anti-historical). Either way, it doesn’t belong. The indictment is wholesale: women were denied suffrage in America, and slavery existed as well. Verdict: American men guilty are as charged (although both conditions were universal throughout history). Historians do not remove Lee’s statue, they study rebellion.

Other traits identified by Hoffer and present in feminism (and other movements) include: the existence of evil: godless, “but never without belief in a devil;” imitation: “The less satisfaction we derive from being ourselves, the greater is the desire to be like others;” coercion: “it takes a fanatical faith” to rebel against your society; persuasion: “…a passionate search for something not yet found more than a desire to bestow something we already have;” leadership: “…vision of a breathtaking future, audacity, brazenness, iron will, fanatical conviction, passionate hatred, cunning….;” action: “unity, …great projects, marches, exploration and industry;” and suspicions: “…prying and spying, tense watching, conformity, no dissent.” (all quotations from Hoffer).

Such categories, of course, are general in nature and will cross a spectrum of behavior. But, if the “shoe” fits, feminism wears it. This is not (necessarily) an indictment, rather an identification. If the ideological component is removed, it becomes difficult to understand, and appreciate, what is going on.

In the current Kavanaugh case, for example, teenage behavior by itself cannot, rationally, rise to the occasion of judgment on the capacity to be on the Supreme Court. But as a symbol of the nature of an ideological society, it becomes monumental and, indeed, historic. Reason could argue that, say, the economy and national security are more critical for the country, but an ideologue wouldn’t entertain that hypothesis. For one thing, such conditions lack a target to rally against, an ideological requirement.

For most feminists, “men” are the target, the whole gender. But, in conclusion, it should be noted that in today’s America, women have greater rights, more money and privileges than in any other society in human history.  For the most part, American males have built the society, its values and structures, wars, economies, privileges and opportunities. “Women and other minorities,” (an ideological phrase) have profited therein.

Only men, incidentally, have returned home over time and by the millions from foreign wars in body bags. Is this (avoided) fact a form of “sexism”? Still, inequities must be addressed, even if you’re not blown away. But please, when you cross country, recall it was the Wright Brothers, not the Sisters, who got you there.  

Please note that the views expressed by our faculty, research fellows, students, alumni, and guest lecturers do not necessarily reflect the views of The Institute of World Politics.