Another one of the left’s favorite totems these days is “patriarchy,” along with “toxic masculinity,” in which women are “objectified” and “commodified,” kept in subjugation by “violence.”
For example, Corey Robin’s attack on conservatives, The Reactionary Mind, dwells in its opening pages on the assertion that the subjugation of women is part and parcel of the central conservative principle (so Robin thinks) of maintaining power over women and minorities at all cost. In highlighting the historic “unequal power” between husbands and wives in marriage law and contracts, Robin argues:
Throughout American history, the contract has often served as a conduit to unforeseen coercion and constraint, particularly in institutions like the workplace and the family where men and women spend so much of their lives. Employment and marriage contracts have been interpreted by judges, themselves friendly to the interest of employers and husbands, to contain all sorts of unwritten and unwanted provisions of servitude to which wives and workers tacitly consent, even when they have no knowledge of such provisions or wish to stipulate otherwise.
From here Robin gives a brief review of the legal history of rape in marriage (in short, until just a few decades ago, the law did not attempt to reach marital rape, though Robin does acknowledge, in a tiny footnote that I suspect most people don’t read, that “before the marital rape exception was eliminated, sexual violence had come to be considered one of the few legitimate grounds for divorce”).
Well, let’s look at a competing and more complete treatment of this issue. Such as this:
Unlimited rule of the male characterizes family relations where the principle of violence dominates. Male aggressiveness, which is implicit in the very nature of sexual relations, is here carried to the extreme. The man seizes possession of the woman and holds this sexual object in the same sense in which he has other goods of the outer world. Here woman becomes completely a thing. She is stolen and bought; she is given away, sold away, ordered away; in short, she is like a slave in the house. During life the man is her judge; when he dies she is buried in his grave along with his other possessions. . . Under the principle of violence, woman is the servant of man. . . The principle of violence recognizes only the male. He alone possesses power, hence he alone has rights.
What radical third-stage feminist wrote this? Oh wait, that’s right, it’s our new friend Ludwig von Mises again, way back in his 1922 book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. And you thought no one understood the historic subjugation of women until Catherine Mackinnon came along in the 1980s!
In stark contrast to Robin, who seems never to have met a contract he didn’t despise on principle, von Mises goes on to explain that it was precisely the expansion of contract status under the inspiration of classical liberalism (what Robin and people like him deplore today as “neoliberalism”) that led to the gradual emancipation of women:
As the idea of contract enters the Law of Marriage, it breaks the rule of the male, and makes the wife a partner with equal rights. From a one-sided relationship resting on force, marriage thus becomes a mutual agreement . . . Woman’s position in marriage was improved as the principle of violence was thrust back, and as the idea of contract advanced in other fields of the Law of Property it necessarily transformed the property relations between the married couple. The wife was freed from the power of her husband for the first time when she gained legal rights over the wealth which she brought into the marriage and which she acquired during marriage.
Thus marriage, as we know it, has come into existence entirely as a result of the contractual idea penetrating into this sphere of life. . . No people can boast that they thought of marriage as we think of it today. Science cannot judge whether morals were once more severe than they are now. We can establish only that our views of what marriage should be are different from the views of past generations and that their ideal of marriage seems immoral in our eyes.
In contrast to Robin who treats the relations between the sexes in a very perfunctory fashion lasting no more than three pages, von Mises goes on at great length about sex, marriage and the family (he was, after all, a contemporary of Freud from Vienna!), but even 100 years ago he was on to the radical character of today’s feminism. He understands that today’s radical feminism, like socialism, is an attack on human nature itself.
Free love is the socialist’s radical solution for sexual problems. . . One may believe that the unequal distribution of the burden of reproduction is an injustice of nature, or that it is unworthy of woman to be child-bearer and nurse, but to believe this does not alter the fact.
Von Mises here must be forgiven for not foreseeing our day when “men” can get pregnant because anyone can become a man just by “identifying” yourself as such. But you really can’t expect him to think of everything in 1922, can you? To continue:
So far as Feminism seeks to adjust the legal position of women to that of man, so far as it seeks to offer her legal and economic freedom to develop and act in accordance with her inclinations, desires, and economic circumstances—so far it is nothing more than a branch of the great liberal movement, which advocates peaceful and free evolution. When, going beyond this, it attacks the institutions of social life under the impression that it will thus be able to remove natural barriers, it is a spiritual child of Socialism. For it is a characteristic of Socialism to discover in social institutions the origin of unalterable facts of nature, and to endeavor, by reforming these institutions, to reform nature.
And you can’t “reform” nature. Plug in here Horace’s immortal line: You may expel nature with a pitchfork, but it will come back at you through the window.