Onto the chapter discussing the third world
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To this extent the real political choice for the mass of European women lay not between feminism and mixed political movements, but between the Churches (notably the Catholic Church) and socialism. The Churches, fighting a powerful rearguard action against nineteenth-century 'progress' (cf. The Age of Capital, chapter 6, i), defended such rights as women possessed in the traditional order of society, and with all the more zeal inasmuch as both the body of their faithful and, in many respects, their actual personnel were being dramatically feminized: by the end of the century there were almost certainly far more female religious professionals than at any time since the Middle Ages. It is hardly an accident that the best-known Catholic saints of the period since the mid-nineteenth century were women: St Bernadette of Lourdes and St Teresa of Lisieux - both canonized in the early twentieth century - and that the Church gave notable encouragement to the cult of the Virgin Mary. In Catholic countries the Church provided wives with powerful, and resented, weapons against husbands. Much of anti-clericalism therefore had a marked tinge of anti-feminine hostility, as in France and Italy. On the other hand the Churches championed women at the cost of also committing their pious supporters to accept their traditional subordination, and to condemn the female emancipation which the socialists offered.
The limitations of middle-class western feminism was not only social and economic but also cultural. The form of emancipation to which their movements aspired, namely to be treated legally and politically like man and to take part as individuals, irrespective of sex, in the life of society, assumed a transformed pattern of social life which was already far removed from the traditional 'woman's place'. To take an extreme case: emancipated Bengali men, who wished to show their westernization by bringing their wives out of seclusion and 'into the drawing room', produced unexpected tensions with and among their women-folk, since it was quite unclear to these women what they gained in return for the certain loss of the subaltern, but very real autonomy in that section of the household which was unquestionably theirs. A clearly defined 'women's sphere' - whether of women singly in their household relations or of women collectively as part of a community might strike progressives as a mere excuse for keeping women down, as indeed, among other things, it evidently was. And of course it increasingly became so with the weakening of traditional social structures.
Yet within its limits it had given women such individual and collective resources as they had, and these were not entirely negligible: for instance, they were the perpetuators and formers of language, culture, and social values, the essential makers of 'public opinion', the acknowledged initiators of certain birds of public action (e.g. the defence of the 'moral economy.), and not least, the persons who had not only learned to manipulate their men, but to whom, in some subjects and in some situations, men were expected to defer. The rule of men over women, however absolute in theory, was no more unrestricted and arbitrary in collective practice than the rule of absolute monarchs by divine right was an unlimited despotism. This observation does not justify one form of role rather than the other, but it may help to explain why many women who, for want of anything better, had learned over the generations to 'work the system' were relatively indifferent to liberal middle-class demands which appeared to offer no such practical advantages. After all, even within the bourgeois liberal society, middle-class and petty-bourgeois Frenchwomen, far from foolish and not often given to gentle passivity, did not bother to support the cause of women's suffrage in large number.
As we take for granted the air we breathe, and which makes possible all our activities, so capitalism took for granted the atmosphere in which it operated, and which it had inherited from the past. It only discovered how essential it had been, when the air became thin. In other words, capitalism had succeeded because it was not just capitalist. Profit maximization and accumulation were necessary conditions for its success but not sufficient ones. It was the cultural revolution of the last third of the century which began to erode the inherited historical assets of capitalism and to demonstrate the difficulties of operating without them. It was the historic irony of the neoliberalism that became fashionable in the 1970s and 1980s, and looked down on the ruins of the communist regimes, that it triumphed at the very moment when it ceased to be as plausible as it had once seemed. The market claimed to triumph as its nakedness and inadequacy could no longer be concealed.
The drama of collapsed traditions and values lay not so much in the material disadvantages of doing without the social and personal services once supplied by family and community. These could be replaced in the prosperous welfare states, although not in the poor parts of the world, where the great majority of humanity still had little to rely on except kin, patronage and mutual aid (for the socialist sector of the world, see chapters 13 and 16). It lay in the disintegration both of the old value systems and the customs and conventions which controlled human behaviour. This loss was felt. It was reflected in the rise of what came to be called (again in the USA where the phenomenon became noticeable from the end of the 1960s) ‘identity politics’, generally ethnic/national or religious, and of militantly nostalgic movements seeking to recover a hypothetical past age of unproblematic order and security. Such movements were cries for help rather than carriers of programmes—calls for some ‘community’ to belong to in an anomie world; some family to belong to in a world of social isolates; some refuge in the jungle. Every realistic observer and most governments knew that crime was not diminished or even controlled by executing criminals or by deterrence through long penal sentences, but every politician knew the enormous, emotionally loaded strength, rational or not, of the mass demand of ordinary citizens to punish the anti-social.
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