The hypocrisy of “femininity”

Feminist views on sexual morality, proper motherhood, and relationships/marriage

Emma Goldman

She considers “moralists” to be the censors and conservative factions within society (such as Christian groups) who would legislate suppress any form of discourse that does not uphold these groups’ values. She argues that such works of art often portray the social problems of the day and critiquing these values. These groups are acting out of their own self-interest instead of promoting justice.

Institutions perpetuate themselves under the guise of such values; but such institutions only serve the interests of the powerful. She cites the church – it is led and financed by the wealthy, which instills values in the congregations that work to uphold their leader’s privilege. Private property is another “sacred” institution that only benefits the wealthy; the poor are convinced to have the utmost respect for this institution even though they struggle daily just to make ends meet. The poor don’t benefit by perpetuating these instructions by complying with the value systems they promote, and they will never be free unless they realize the hypocrisy of such moral codes and lose respect for these institutions.

Women in particular are deprived of their agency when they accept the values implicit within conventional forms of relationships. Contemporary values leave chastity, motherhood, and marriage as the only “legitimate” relationship forms. Conventional values tell young people to wait until they can afford to marry before they can enjoy sex. The “virtuous” upper class young woman never gets the chance to explore her sexuality and suffers emotionally as a result. She fails to become confident; instead, she lives in fear of what others may think of her.

While conventional mores deprive the virtuous woman of emotional fulfillment and undermine her confidence, such values also create a competitor for her husband’s affections, the prostitute. Women who want to satisfy their own desires in a more natural fashion have a difficult decision to make: in order to experience sex, these women must accept the fact that they will be ostracized from society. Goldman argues that prostitution offers woman a less hypocritical outlet for their desires; as a wife or a prostitute women are selling themselves as a sex commodity, the prostitute just sells herself to many men instead of one.

Emma believes that women are “coerced” by cultural values to procreate, yet modern women exhibit a greater sense of responsibility to their potential offspring when they choose not to accept these values outright. Modern women now choose to abort children or use birth control instead of having children they cannot emotionally or physically support. They choose not to subject unwitting children to a loveless relationship or an insecure financial situation. While conventional morality would deem these choices to be “unjust” for the child, Emma argues that a decision to abort or use birth control is ethical because both the mother and child suffer less as a result. Conventional moral codes only dictate “appropriate” choices to women; their proponents are silent on the consequences women and unwanted children face in a world that can only condemn, not support them.

Emma believes a woman who acts ethically will make decisions based on self-respect and love for others, instead of uncritically following conventions. She will marry a man not so he’ll support her, but because they have a mutually fulfilling relationship; she will have children only if she wants to and has the emotional and material resources required for its care. In a world without Morality, she can enjoy her sexuality and desire to mother within the context of a loving relationship, instead of negotiating the insecurities of prostitution and marriage.

Crimethinc on ethics, relationships, prostitution, sexuality, marriage, economic exploitation in the personal realm….

As Goldman might anticipate, contemporary anarchists are a diverse group who could not be expected exhibit uniformity in relationship styles or sexuality. However, Goldman’s assumptions – her positive evaluation of human rationality, her focus on personal fulfillment, her assumption that intellectual and material freedom facilitates human happiness and happiness – exist within contemporary anarchist thoughts. Emma believes that humans chooses to work together based on empathy and compassion; to claim that humans need laws and moral codes in order to get along with one another is to degrade the potential of humanity. She would probably look around the world today, shake her head, and wonder why we would choose to remain blind to our values. Almost 100 years after she wrote, she might wonder why would still choose we waste our lives away serving the interests of others, lying to ourselves when we claim that the perfect family, the house in the suburbs, and the executive position in an oil company is something we really want (or the sociology degree, for that matter!)

Contemporary anarchists echo Goldman’s ideas. Goldman vehemently denies any claim that religion is necessary to promote ethical behavior. Similarly, the Crimethinc writer, as a representative of contemporary anarchism, claims that one who lives according to conventional values is ethically undeveloped; like a child, they accept the values of their wider culture without ever questioning the meaning and implications of such values. A morally developed person will question such values and eventually develop their own sense of justice. They dismiss conventional morality as a relic of the Christian era; although the enforcer of such laws (God) is ostensibly dead in a secular era, that moral code still lives. While Goldman claims that such laws are incorrect because they’re hypocritical and limit individual freedom, the anarchists discount these moral codes because they have no basis in empirical reality. They argue that since we can’t really know anything about the origin or reasons for such personal laws (other than the fact that we “feel” they are right) they are no more appropriate for rational beings than superstitions. There are only subjective truths, and it takes a certain amount of self-loathing to reject one’s subjective truth in favor of a higher authority (yet convenient for that authority). These anarchists dismiss conventional mores simply because they believe the notion of “universal values” is unreasonable.

Anarchists challenge individuals to uncover their own fundamental desires, and built a set of values that will allow them go pursue these desires without apology. Goldman argues that institutions hide behind values in order to promote their own interests; Crimethinc claims that such duplicity exists on an individual level as well. We validate our behavior by referencing some sort of higher moral code because we’ve been taught to apologize for our feelings and actions. Such validations are hypocritical to the extent that we are acting out of our own self-interest, which is often the case. Even those who criticize conventional mores by claiming that they hold a more “just” set of universal values (animal rights advocates are given as an example) still falsely believe in the notion of universal truth. They also note that this appeal to higher ethics lends a sense of legitimacy to one’s political programs, but a such desire for power only leads one towards fascism.

Instead of appealing to a higher power to justify one’s actions, they argue that we can choose to act compassionately based on our own ethics. Like Emma, they claim that laws have never prevented anyone from engaging in violence anyways, and behaving “justly” based on fear of punishment is in itself morally reprehensible. Chosen co-operation is more meaningful. Even if competing systems of ethics resulted in more social strife, the writer feels that this is a worthwhile trade-off for increased self-determination.

Self-fulfillment is the primary ethical imperative of anarchists. They ask: what would life look like if we fearlessly chased after what we want? According to these thinkers, living according to the desires of one’s own heart allows one to defy the despair caused by change and fear of loss:

Perhaps this world will never conform perfectly to our needs – people will always die before they are ready, perfect relationships will end in ruins, adventures will end in catastrophe and beautiful moments be forgotten. What breaks my heart is the way we flee from those inevitable truths into the arms of more horrible things. It may be true that every man is fundamentally lost in a universe that is indifferent to him, forever locked in a terrifying solitude – but it doesn’t have to be true that some people starve while others destroy food or leave fertile farms untilled. It doesn’t have to be true that men and women waste their lives away working to serve the hollow greed of a few rich men, just to survive. It doesn’t have to be that we never dare to tell each other what we really want, to share ourselves honestly, to use our talents and capabilities to make life more bearable, let alone more beautiful. That’s unnecessary tragedy, stupid tragedy, pathetic and pointless. It’s not even utopian to demand that we put an end to farces like these. (16)

They are willing to risk the dangers and conflicts of subjectivity, hoping that freedom will finally allow us to engage in discourse about our values, rather than accepting any one form of truth uncritically.


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