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