George Walford: We Have Ways of Making You Equal

The feminist movement is losing impetus. In a long and thoughtful article in FORUM (an American journal, privately circulated) for December 1985 Riane Eisler and David Loye ascribe this to a dividedness in its ideology. Only in their manifest ideology, they say, are the feminists opposed to domination of the female by the male; deeper down, on the powerful latent level, “their operational realities are still those of sexual inequality.” The ideology of the groups supporting male domination, on the other hand, is all of a piece, giving it a solidity which explains the strength of the resistance to change.

It is a potent insight, and Eisler and Loye have evidently reached it independently, but they are not the first to do so and they have not pressed it quite as far as it can be taken. The presence of such a division in the ideology of reformers and revolutionaries, feminists among them, was demonstrated, as part of a more general theory, by the late Harold Walsby in his book The Domain of Ideologies; an Account of the Origin, Development and Structure of Ideologies (William McLellan, Glasgow, 1947). Eisler and Loye are not to be blamed for being unaware of Walsby’s results. He worked in isolation and at that date the importance of ideology was not widely recognised; his – book sank almost without trace.

Knowledge of ideology comes from observation of behaviour, and the behaviour of the feminists indicates the presence in their ideology of two conflicting tendencies which can usefully be pictured as levels. Even among the people proclaiming their unqualified belief in sexual equality it still tends to be the women who do the housework, make the tea and look after the children, and the easing of sex-restrictions in costume has led to women wearing trousers but not to men wearing skirts. A corresponding tendency appears among reformers and revolutionaries in the more general sense. The movements proclaiming their determination to eliminate class distinctions are no sooner in power than they set up new hierarchies to replace the old ones.

The behaviour of anti-authoritarians is not fully consistent with their declared beliefs, but this does not show that they retain a secret belief in inequality; what produces the discrepancy is rather an assumption of inequality, one which is driven down below the level of awareness but not thereby deprived of its power to influence behaviour. (Walsby speaks of “ideological repression”, Eisler and Loye of “the powerful latent level”).

The conflict appears in the core activities of the anti-authoritarian movements; they subscribe to authoritarianism in the act of opposing it. The FORUM paper by Eisler and Loye is not left to be taken on its merits, it is prefaced by a list of the positions they hold and the institutions with which they are associated, and the only purpose this can have is to provide their article with greater weight than it derives from its purely intellectual qualities, to lend it authority. Other reformers seek support from prominent figures and others again from the strength of public opinion, and these also are forms of authority.

The behaviour of reformers does show, as Eisler and Loye claim it does, the presence in their ideology of two levels, an overt rejection of authority and a suppressed acceptance of it which usually remains unrecognised by the people concerned. But this is not a complete outline of that ideology; closer examination reveals a third level.

The authoritarians cannot, any more than can the egalitarians, act entirely according to their favoured principle. However whole-hearted the commitment to authority it is not possible to prescribe how every detail of life shall be conducted; a great deal has to be done in one way rather than another simply because this is the easier, faster, cheaper, more convenient, in short the more expedient way of doing it. In much the same way as the authoritarian level exists, repressed and unrecognised, in the ideology of the reformers, so the expedient level exists, disvalued and disregarded, in that of the authoritarians.

In the ideology of the authoritarians there are two levels; first, expediency; second, and imposed upon the first, authoritarianism. And in the ideology of the reformists-feminists-revolutionaries these two are present, one above the other, with a third level, the anti-authoritarian, imposed upon the second. More fully described, the authoritarian ideology is the expedient-authoritarian and the anti-authoritarian is the expedient-authoritarian-antiauthoritarian.

It is not possible for the authoritarians to eliminate expedience, and they do not seriously try to do so. Their aim is rather to restrict it to areas of behaviour considered unimportant, to ensure that (whatever may be done in private affairs and the details of personal behaviour) religion, commerce, politics, public life generally, shall be carried on in accordance with prescribed principles. Similarly, the anti-authoritarians cannot eliminate authoritarianism and domination, whether of men over women or women over men, but they can restrict it, and there is no inherent reason why this should not be done to such an extent that domination of one sex by the other is no longer supported by society. But it cannot be done, as Eisler and Loye seem to have hoped it could, as a once-for-all achievement to be followed by relaxation. Both expedience and authority are built into society; they are, within limits, functional necessities. (Parental authority, for example, is needed for the socialization of children). The trouble is their tendency to spread. This is what has to be resisted, and those who undertake the task have a continuing fight on their hands, a fight which is the harder because it has to be conducted against these tendencies not only in external society but also within their own idedlogy.

(This article was submitted to FORUM, but no reply arrived, and as far as we know it did not appear).

from Ideological Commentary 29, September 1987.