Wednesday’s post about how people (and women in particular) are wasting time, often while pursuing futile goals, has brought up some discussion of the origins of feminism in recent comments. There’s something very cult-like about the way feminism has emerged as a mass movement, and this characteristic has given rise to a lot of speculation about who was responsible for really getting it off the ground. Some have suggested Communists and the Frankfurt School, and others Victorian politics. There are a lot of theories, but what’s undeniable is that it burst onto the world scene in a big way in the mid-20th century.
Before this, I suspect there had always been various proto-feminist movements of one sort or another. From fertility cults in the ancient world, which survive today in Asia and perhaps parts of Africa, to the proliferation of witchcraft in late medieval Europe and then the political feminism that emerged in early 19th century Britain in response to the French Revolution’s ideals of equality.
I think feminism in one form or another has always been with us, and has always been part of the human experience. Even male feminists have always existed. There have been certain men from time immemorial who, despising their fellow men, maintain a worshipful attitude toward the feminine. But it has never been much more than a nuisance, or perhaps at worst an underground criminal industry, as in the abortionists that were prosecuted in Europe following the population depletion that accompanied the plague.
One rather remarkable passage from Alonso de Salazar Frías, a Spanish inquisitor who recommended that witches not be executed because they were not actually doing much, but rather simply delusional, highlights some of the similarities between modern feminist wishful thinking and the claims of witches, which were fantastic accounts of being able to do pretty much anything:
The real question is: are we to believe that witchcraft occurred in a given situation simply because of what the witches claim? No: it is clear that the witches are not to be believed, and the judges should not pass sentence on anyone, unless the case can be proven with external and objective evidence sufficient to convince everyone who hears it. And who can accept the following: that a person can frequently fly through the air and travel a hundred leagues in an hour; that a woman can get through a space not big enough for a fly; that a person can make himself invisible; that he can be in a river or the open sea and not get wet; or that he can be in bed at the sabbath at the same time… and that a witch can turn herself into any shape she fancies, be it housefly or raven? Indeed, these claims go beyond all human reason and may even pass the limits permitted by the Devil.
So what is it that turned feminism from a mere annoyance into a widespread, powerful cult that is supported by none other than the President of the United States and other leaders throughout the West?
I suspect the answer has something to do with mass communication and mob psychology. In the past, feminism or other odd, associated cults would emerge in some region, but would remain contained therein. Because it isn’t a proper religion that moves men to fight and sacrifice themselves, it was never in any danger of sweeping into power on a broad scale. It seems to me to be no coincidence at all that the rise of feminism coincided with television, mass-marketing and consumerism, because when the quirks of female psychology could be manipulated and fostered for profit or power on a widespread scale, it suddenly became a force in its own right.
There’s a great documentary – actually, the best I’ve ever seen – that documents the rise of mass psychology and the various methods people use to manipulate it for power and or profit. I’m sure a number of readers have seen it, but it’s worth mentioning “The Century of the Self” again, because it goes into great detail about the communication and psychological trends that have shaped contemporary society. Evidently, Freud was a real pioneer in this area, although he himself didn’t put his ideas into practice; his nephew did.
You can watch The Century of the Self for free online, either on YouTube or through Google video.
For a relatively high definition online link (Vimeo), click here.