Women’s Year?

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Mark A. Sam­mut

As the end of the year ap­proaches, some friends have asked me why I keep writ­ing, in this ide­al­ist-like fash­ion, and whether one of my New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions will be to stop. When all is said and done, they ar­gued, all that peo­ple care about is bo­qx­iex. In its English ver­sion, bak­sheesh means a “tip”; in Mal­tese, bo­qx­iex means much, much more... al­most close to “where­withal” but with even more nu­ances.

Ican only quote the Slovene philoso­pher Slavoj Žižek in re­ply to the cyn­ics: “The po­si­tion of the cynic is that he alone holds some piece of ter­ri­ble, un­var­nished wis­dom. The paradig­matic cynic tells you pri­vately, in a con­fi­den­tial lowkey voice: ‘But don’t you get it that it is all re­ally about (money/power/sex), that all high prin­ci­ples and val­ues are just empty phrases which count for noth­ing?’ What the cyn­ics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cyn­i­cal wis­dom that ig­nores the power of il­lu­sions.”

Žižek clearly refers to DonQuixote-like il­lu­sions. And he is ob­vi­ously right. He is re­peat­ing what oth­ers have held be­fore him, that ideals – or “il­lu­sions” – are pow­er­ful. They are mean­ing­ful sign­posts in the ev­ery­day life of peo­ple.

Then again, “il­lu­sions” – ideals, ide­ol­ogy – are also pow­er­ful tools for those who wield power. This type is the San­choPanza-like il­lu­sion, which does not look up to ideals but down to in­stincts.

Fem­i­nism – which is clearly an “il­lu­sion” in this sense – can be of the two types: ide­al­ist and in­stinc­tual.

It can also be a po­tent tool in the hands of the pow­er­ful. Just look at the first ide­o­log­i­cal “re­form” Prime Min­is­ter Muscat wants to carry out in 2019, at least if we are to take him at his word (I’m re­fer­ring to his state­ments made dur­ing the cus­tom­ary yearly ex­change of wishes with the Pres­i­dent). He in­tends to in­tro­duce gen­der quo­tas in Par­lia­ment.

But the il­lu­sion goes fur­ther. Ide­o­log­i­cal pres­sure is mount­ing to in­tro­duce the ul­ti­mate Women’s Right: abor­tion.

2019 might in­deed, though for the wrong rea­sons, turn out to be Women’s Year.


2018 has wit­nessed a re­newed ef­fort, by a mi­nus­cule al­beit vo­cif­er­ous mi­nor­ity, to push for­ward the rad­i­cal fem­i­nist agenda.

His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, there have been dif­fer­ent waves of fem­i­nism. I pre­fer to look at fem­i­nism in its rad­i­cal and mod­er­ate forms. (I have re­cently bought, but not yet read, an Ox­ford Univer­sity Press pub­li­ca­tion called, Satanic Fem­i­nism: Lu­cifer as the Lib­er­a­tor of Woman in Nine­teenth-Cen­tury Cul­ture (2017).)

I think that in re­al­ity we are all mod­er­ate fem­i­nists. In the sense that it of­fends our sense of eq­uity and rea­son­able­ness that women be treated as in­fe­rior to men. I am a staunch be­liever in equal­ity, and have a very crit­i­cal opin­ion of those chau­vin­ists who be­lieve that gen­der should im­ply less op­por­tu­ni­ties for per­sonal de­vel­op­ment or dif­fer­ent com­pen­sa­tion for the same work, say.

But this does not mean that we are rad­i­cal fem­i­nists who want ar­ti­fi­cially to cre­ate equal­ity where bi­ol­ogy dic­tates that there can be none.

Let us briefly an­a­lyse from three dif­fer­ent angles the women’s rights land­scape in Malta.

First An­gle: The Gen­der Pay Gap

Joseph Muscat’s gov­ern­ment flies the flag for a vague sort of fem­i­nism. Us­ing the “Most Fem­i­nist Gov­ern­ment” mantra, the Muscat ad­min­is­tra­tion has tried – once again – to be ev­ery­thing to ev­ery­one. Rad­i­cal fem­i­nist to the rad­i­cals, mod­er­ate fem­i­nist to the mod­er­ates. Essen­tially, the “Pro­gres­sives and Mod­er­ates” rhetoric re­hashed.

If we look at the sta­tis­tics, we find that the Muscat ad­min­is­tra­tion has grandiosely failed on the gen­der pay gap. The lat­est Euro­stat sta­tis­tics I could find, pub­lished in the 2018 Re­port on Equal­ity be­tween Men and Women in the EU but cov­er­ing up to 2016, con­tain an in­con­tro­vert­ible trend which gives the lie to Dr Muscat’s “Most Fem­i­nist Gov­ern­ment” pre­tence. The gen­der pay gap in Malta has ac­tu­ally in­creased un­der the Muscat ad­min­is­tra­tion, by 3.3%! The dif­fer­ence in re­mu­ner­a­tion be­tween men and women was 7.7% un­der the Na­tion­al­ists in 2011, but it rose to 10.4% in 2015 and 11% in 2016! The Most Fem­i­nist Gov­ern­ment my foot!

There can be no doubt that the Muscat ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed to de­liver on the mod­er­ate fem­i­nist front. Not only did it fail to re­duce the gen­der pay gap; the gap ac­tu­ally in­creased.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is thus turn­ing to the rad­i­cal fem­i­nist agenda, en­list­ing a mot­ley crew of friends and use­ful id­iots.

Sec­ond An­gle: The Pa­tri­archy Fan­tasy

What is pa­tri­archy? It’s the idea that the man is padre padrone, fa­ther and mas­ter (or “tyrant”). Padre Padrone is ac­tu­ally the name of a 1975 Ital­ian novel, writ­ten by the Sar­dinian au­thor Gavino Ledda and trans­lated into 40 lan­guages. It tells the story of a young shep­herd who lives un­der the yoke of his fa­ther’s au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, but man­ages to eman­ci­pate him­self through ed­u­ca­tion. It is a main­stay of pro­gres­sive ped­a­gogy.

The idea that the fa­ther/man is mas­ter, which has a re­mark­ably long history, has now been ap­pro­pri­ated by the rad­i­cal fem­i­nists who claim that since the man does not own the woman’s body but she owns it, she is en­ti­tled to ter­mi­nate the life of the child pro­duced with that man.

The premises of this ar­gu­ment ob­vi­ously ig­nore the in­her­ent and im­plied aleatory con­tract that ex­ists be­tween two adults who en­gage in car­nal re­la­tions: that the en­gage­ment can re­sult in the cre­ation of new life. In­stead, it re­volt­ingly adopts a prop­erty-based dis­course which can be de­bunked by psy­chol­ogy, rather than phi­los­o­phy.

How­ever, one of the big mis­takes com­mit­ted by the rad­i­cal fem­i­nists is to as­sume that all hu­man so­ci­eties are the same. In his L’orig­ine des sys­tems fa­mil­i­aux (2011), Em­manuel Todd has demon­strated that there are at least 15 dif­fer­ent types of fam­ily sys­tems in Eura­sia, some of which con­sider the fa­ther as the source of power, oth­ers the mother, and a few oth­ers still that are based on equal­ity. To state that there is a univer­sal pa­tri­ar­chal model of ex­ploita­tion of women is pure fan­tasy. Even to claim that pa­tri­archy still ex­ists to­day is bor­der­ing on fan­tasy.

There was pa­tri­archy in the past, yes. Just con­sider the an

cien régime sys­tem in France when fa­thers in­ter­fered in their daugh­ters’ choice of hus­band. Peo­ple my age will re­mem­ber the Ja­panese manga The Rose of

Ver­sailles (also called Lady Os­car) set in France in the pe­riod of the Great Revo­lu­tion. It is the fic­tional story of a Gen­eral who des­per­ately wants a son and im­poses on his last­born daugh­ter to grow up as one. When the girl, Os­car, grows up, the tur­bu­lence of the Revo­lu­tion (the most po­tent sym­bol of which is the be­head­ing of the King-Fa­ther) and the tur­bu­lence of fall­ing in love with her ser­vant and best friend An­dré, make her blos­som into the rose she re­ally is.

Yes, there was pa­tri­archy in the past. The Ro­man Church op­posed it ve­he­mently – the Church au­thor­i­ties in Rome even urged French priests to cel­e­brate clan­des­tine mar­riages to avoid women mar­ry­ing against their wishes. The ra­tio­nale was that Mary gave her con­sent to be­come the Holy Mother; sim­i­larly, the con­sent of women was ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for the va­lid­ity of a mar­riage.

But the pa­tri­archy of the past has now all but dis­ap­peared, ex­cept – iron­i­cally enough – in the for­mer Com­mu­nist coun­tries where, ac­cord­ing to the Euro­stat sta­tis­tics I quoted above, the per­cep­tion is still preva­lent of women as ser­vants of men. Here, how­ever, I must in­sert a word of cau­tion, as the West has of­ten mis­rep­re­sented the “lim­i­nally ex­otic” women of the East. A book which I have found to make in­ter­est­ing read­ing on this topic is Vam­pirettes, Wretches and Ama­zons: West­ern Rep­re­sen­ta­tions

of East Euro­pean Women (2004), edited by Valentina Gla­jar and Dom­nica Rad­ulescu.

Third An­gle: Re­spect is to be Won not Ex­torted

A big mis­take Dr Muscat’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to com­mit in 2019 will be the im­po­si­tion of gen­der quo­tas in Par­lia­ment.

This is ob­vi­ously my­opic. Un­der the present sys­tem, women are nei­ther pre­vented nor dis­cour­aged from con­test­ing elec­tions, and women are in­creas­ingly suc­ceed­ing in get­ting elected. Why not leave well alone?

Of course, if you don’t be­lieve in the free vote but in Whip power, you don’t re­ally need tal­ent, just num­bers. If, on the other hand, you want tal­ent, then the sys­tem as it is al­lows women (as much as men) to con­test elec­tions. Why not have the best (wo)man win? Why con­coct an al­ter­na­tive sys­tem that could per­mit the less tal­ented to take the place of the more tal­ented sim­ply on the ba­sis of gen­der? In the long run, pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion is in the in­ter­ests of nei­ther women nor so­ci­ety in gen­eral. A real fem­i­nist – be s/he mod­er­ate or rad­i­cal – is nec­es­sar­ily against pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion.

If a woman gets elected un­der her own steam, she will be re­spected. If a woman gets a seat in Par­lia­ment be­cause there’s a quota to meet, she might be the most in­tel­li­gent per­son on earth, but she will never re­ally win any­body’s sin­cere re­spect. The myth will be per­pet­u­ated that, at least in pol­i­tics, women can make it only if given a hand.

Re­spect, like love, can only be won, never ex­torted.

Hav­ing failed on the gen­der pay gap is­sue, the Muscat ad­min­is­tra­tion has to play these two cards: gen­der quo­tas and abor­tion. It has to kow­tow to cer­tain lob­bies for po­lit­i­cal sur­vival.

Happy New Year to All!

The ra­tio­nale was that Mary gave her con­sent to be­come the Holy Mother; sim­i­larly, the con­sent of women was ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for the va­lid­ity of a mar­riage

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