Ideologists and Interests
If the strategic argument is even partly correct, it highlights the importance of the people who are engaged in remaking cultural forms. Discussions of sexual ideology have to a remarkable extent ignored the ideologists. The main exception is Viola Klein in The Feminine Character. Her approach from Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge led to a concern with the people who formulated the knowledge, the social positions they occupied and the interests they articulated. The resulting study remains, 40 year later, one of the most significant analyses of sexual ideology.
What Klein’s analysis conspicuously lacked was the concept of gender as a social structure in its own right. The same is true of more recent histories of ideas that have dealt with movements in
sexual ideology: Paul Robinson’s The Sexual Radicals; Christopher Lasch’s Haven in a Heartless World; Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality. To the extent that there are structural categories in this research, they are loosely derived from class analysis. The result is a social analysis of ideas conducted with a 90-degree twist in the middle. The argument constantly has to move off the axis of class onto the subject-matter of sex and gender. It remains a shade mysterious why whole groups of intellectuals should arise who are concerned with sexual politics.
Nevertheless these studies point up the importance of the intellectuals who construct accounts of gender relations. In understanding them it should be possible to draw on existing theories of intellectuals in the traditions of Mannheim and Gramsci; and perhaps also on ‘new class’ theorists who have focused on intellectuals, such as Gouldner, and Konrad and Szelenyi. But there can be no simple translation of any of these ideas, for all of them are constructed within a class framework and ignore the structure of gender. New questions have to be asked about intellectuals and gender relations.
In some recent research, strongly influenced by feminism, these questions are opening up. Ehrenreich and English’s For Her Own Good and Reiger’s The Disenchantment of the Home are perhaps the best examples. Both trace the emergence of new forms of domination of women by men, in which groups of intellectuals are central — professionals rather than the academics who figure in Klein’s story. It is not only a question of professional men justifying and exercising new powers. More strikingly, the historical process surrounding these medical interventions into women’s health and childcare constitutes groups of intellectuals in terms of gender relations. An example is the category of ‘medical authorities on childrearing’, a social category constituted by the sexual division of labour that makes mothers primary carers for children, and by the gender structure of power that makes medical authority masculine.
This work points to a more general issue. From the perspective of a theory of gender, the question is where and how intellectuals and intellectual work fit into the structure of gender relations. From the perspective of a sociology of intellectuals, the question is how and how far they are constituted as a group by gender relations, and how far the character and impact of intellectual work is determined by gender dynamics. Once the questions are
posed in these terms, the tools of ideology-theory and the sociology of intellectuals can be put to work on new bases.
A case in point is Gramsci’s category of ‘organic’ intellectuals, meaning people who perform an intellectual function within a class, giving it self-definition and helping to mobilize it as a political and social force. There are, I would argue, people who perform that kind of task in gender relations. A notable example is Harriet Kidd, a clerk at the Women’s Co-operative Guild head office in Britain in the years leading up to World War I. She was successively a mill worker, an unmarried mother after rape by her employer, a local labour and community organizer and then an administrator. The Guild, founded in the 1880s, was a mass organization of working-class women claiming over 60,000 members between the wars. The combative socialist feminism of organizers like Kidd was clearly very important in its success.
An organic intellectual of a very different stripe is Marabel • Morgan, a Florida housewife and business woman of the 1970s. The Total Woman has already been mentioned as a classic presentation of emphasized femininity. The book grew out of a four-week course in which other wives were taught the tactics of being a ‘total woman’, with homework assignments about adapting to their husband’s wishes. Though the authorities Morgan appeals to are men, mainly Biblical prophets and psychiatrists, they are not very prominent in the text. Her main argument is carried by dozens of little anecdotes from the ‘total woman’ classes. Morgan is, in effect, mediating an ideology constructed by women and circulating among women. Though it is, as Andrea Dworkin argues in Right – Wing Women, a response to their powerlessness in relation to their husbands, this does not alter the organic character of the intellectual work.
A more general formulation is worth attempting, even in a preliminary way. Groups active in the making of sexual ideology include priests, journalists, advertisers, politicians, psychiatrists, designers (for example, of fashion), playwrights and film-makers, actors and actresses, novelists, musicians, movement activists and academics. When the activities of these groups are considered in relation to the gender order, they fall broadly into three categories.
First is the regulation and management of gender regimes. The Catholic priesthood is a clear example, for its involvement went far beyond papal declarations on sacred motherhood and unholy contraception. Theology justified a patriarchal power structure
but hardly settled how it was actually to work. The traditional village priest spent a great deal of time sorting this out, giving advice, laying down interpretations of rules and managing the domestic tensions of his parish via the confessional, visits to homes and so forth. Psychotherapists, family therapists and counsellors do a lot of the same kind of work now.
Second is the articulation of experiences, fantasies and perspectives characteristic of particular groups in gender relations. Harriet Kidd and Marabel Morgan, in different ways, did this. But in other cases the relationship is anything but organic, as the mass fantasies of Hollywood show. Clark Gable articulated fantasies for women, Raquel Welch for men. Third is the theorization of gender relations, a business that implies a degree of disconnection from daily practice and an effort at reflection and interpretation. I mean this rather more broadly than just writing treatises about the sociology of gender. As suggested in chapter 3, novelists like Nadine Gordimer and Patrick White and autobiographers like Anja Meulenbelt are engaged in ‘theorization’ in this sense.
Returning to the question of structural location, if a group of intellectuals is constituted as a clear-cut group in gender relations it implies a strong patterning of the sexual division of labour. Intellectual work is work, with a labour process of its own and a demand for material resources, not the least of them being time. Situations vary and groups of intellectuals vary in the degree to which they are formed around the sexual division of labour rather than around some other structural pattern (for example, class relations).
If we now integrate these two classifications the result is the grid in table 5, on which I have tentatively placed the groups mentioned above.
This is, obviously, only a beginning in thinking about these groups. It is perhaps enough to suggest that there are some systematic links between intellectuals and the structure of gender relations. If so, further exploration on these lines should yield results of importance for our understanding of both.
For the theory of gender, the potential dividend is a good deal more than the deeper understanding of the history of ideas that has been defined as the value of the sociology of knowledge. In chapter 6 a definition of ‘interests’ was suggested in terms of inequalities constructed by gender relations. At that level of definition the interests are inert, in the sense of Sartre’s ‘practico-
Table 5 Intellectuals and the gender order
in relation to Degree to which group formation is defined by gender (sexual gender order division of labour) rather than by other structures.
inert’. For them to become active as political forces requires a mobilization, one of whose conditions is a reflective awareness of the inequalities and the oppositions of interest they define. The creation of that awareness is intellectual work. Much of it has in practice been done by specialists, the intellectuals of the groups just discussed.
We may say, then, that intellectuals have a historic place in the translation of structural inequality into sexual politics, at least at the level of public politics. To say that, however, is not to circumscribe very much the form of politics that emerges. For the reflective awareness of inequalities may take very different forms, depending on the circumstances and character of the reflection. Marabel Morgan is articulating such an awareness just as much as Andrea Dworkin; Morgan calls the wife the ‘Executive Vice – President’ of the marriage, leaving no doubt about who is President.
It matters, then, how the articulation of interests is done. To put it another way, ideological struggle in gender relations is to be expected and has effects. It is easy to exaggerate the significance of the abstract clash of ideas. Some of the wars of academics have remarkably little relevance to anything in the world outside. But intellectual work and ideological struggle are scarcely confined to the academy. They occur to some degree in every institution and setting. And if academic abstraction has to be discounted from its own estimate, it is not to be ignored. Generalized formulations of ideas can be important in crystallizing consciousness, in giving names to things felt but not yet stated. When the world is ready,
ideas can be a revolutionary force. The problem is to understand the readiness as well as the ideas.