European Feminism: Neo-communitarianism?

Article published on Jan. 12, 2004
community published
Article published on Jan. 12, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

‘Communitarianism’ is corrupting the feminist movement. It emphasises difference instead of advocating indifference. The war of the sexes divides people and damages the structure of societies.

‘Neo-communitarianism’ is a European issue which touches on a great upheaval outlined by Francis Fukuyama in his latest book: the third revolution of information and immediacy leads to individualism and the ethnicisation of society.

‘Men – I hate you’. That could be the motto of the new Chiennes de garde (Female Guard Dogs) (1). But should demands be championed more than parity, tolerance or rights? In fact, it is basically a question of defending the rights of individuals as opposed to a group. Thus, to use the expression of a French liberal, Alain Minc, which speaks to our new masters (or mistresses?), the temptation of certain feminists to emphasise differences must be fought to the profit of the promotion of indifference. It is to be hoped that division of the sexes does not contribute to their separation.

Of course, ladies, the facts put forward by the new suffragettes, who are more intent on shouting out their new name than ennobling it, are shocking: Women’s participation in active life still stands at between 5 and 10% in Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium, and other ‘developed’ countries. In the new Member States it rarely reach double figures.

In the good old days of Socialism

Nevertheless, in countries like Poland, the former Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the political marginalisation of women has drawn a line under a socialist digression where the participation rate was impressive: respectively 20%, 30% and 26% in 1985. A report by the European Parliament has indeed noted that before 1989, in Communist countries women’s access to education and the labour market was equal or superior to that of men, although their salaries and harsh working day did not put them on an equal footing. The rapport concludes that liberalisation has weakened the social policies which most benefited women. To a certain extent, liberal individualism has led to a return to the conservative values or practices which prevent equality for women.

The debates surrounding secularism in France, Germany and elsewhere have also shown how women have been victims of certain religious practices. Modesty and temptation, a long dress or a veil, shocking faces or shocking souls: such are the modern and external expressions of feelings which still exist in the modern style in an age of new barbarity.

Yes, women remain isolated at a time when Democracy has retained the idea of excluding of women from its Athenian forefathers.

But this explosion of ‘communitarianism’, which comes from America originally and has a very British flavour, will be frightening if the British manage to impose laws in the same mould. If the parity laws in politics, adopted by many European countries, can be considered as a just knock against the door of political responsibility, the law voted through by the European Parliament on sexual harassment displays a radical and victim-led feminism which cuts short all discussion.

A female people

Tolerance is needed therefore. The group of women who opened the European Social Forum wanted better female participation in all sectors of society. Taking inspiration from the French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter, it is time to demand Republican feminism as an indisputable form of real feminism, advocating égalité, liberté et fraternité. Following the publication of her book Fausse Route (The Wrong Road), which criticises the feminist set, ‘communitarianised’ and eyes wide shut to the requirements of differentiation, this idea was reviled.

The debate that followed attempted to blacklist the God-fearing ideas of a new female austerity which sees rape in every act of violence and misrepresents statistics to better introduce a new moral order against prostitution, pornography or any form of visual or physical harassment.

That regulations must actually think up differences in a framework of assimilation (where acts of exclusion must be punished) is the result of a ‘communitarian’ reflex which wants to establish standards of sexual prohibition thus rendering a ‘female people’ fundamentally different from the rest of humanity.

Moving away from the spectre of Athena

This new, third wave of feminism, as described in Karen Offen’s book, European Feminism, must not let mistakes of the past create an impasse. The rampant ‘suffragettism’ of a feminist gathering like the one in Bobigny (which had close links to the LCR, Revolutionary Communist League) last November when 3,000 women attended from across Europe, feebly hides its hatred for men behind love for women. Their slogan? ‘Chauvinist, sexist, patriarchal and discriminatory Europe’.

So, with Anna Karamanou, President of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities at the European Parliament, let’s believe that women can carry the torch for a new modernity. They are needed to make the world a less aggressive place. Let’s move away from the spectre of Athena, the Goddess of War, and today’s new ‘communitarian’ plague.

(1) A radical feminist group.