Tocqueville, Lenin, and Trotsky on Women

The thing with worldviews is that they don’t go away. They linger n the behavior of people and in their effect on the culture. This is especially true  when it comes to the view on the roles of the sexes in society. The role of women, in particular, has undergone a great trasformation in the last 300 years.

In his book on early American life, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

Thus the Americans do not think that man and woman have either the duty or the right to perform the same offices, but they show an equal regard for both their respective parts; and though their lot is different, they consider both of them as beings of equal value. They do not give to the courage of woman the same form or the same direction as to that of man, but they never doubt her courage; and if they hold that man and his partner ought not always to exercise their intellect and understanding in the same manner, they at least believe the understanding of the one to be as sound as that of the other, and her intellect to be as clear. Thus, then, while they have allowed the social inferiority of woman to continue, they have done all they could to raise her morally and intellectually to the level of man; and in this respect they appear to me to have excellently understood the true principle of democratic improvement.

De Tocqueville contrasted the American view of women with the view of the Europeans:

There are people in Europe who, confounding together the different characteristics of the sexes, would make man and woman into beings not only equal but alike. They could give to both the same functions, impose on both the same duties, and grant to both the same rights; they would mix them in all things — their occupations, their pleasures, their business. It may readily be conceived that by thus attempting to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded, and from so preposterous a medley of the works of nature nothing could ever result but weak men and disorderly women.

De Tocqueville believed that the glory of America was to be found in her women:

As for myself, I do not hesitate to avow that although the women of the United States are confined within the narrow circle of domestic life, and their situation is in some respects one of extreme dependence, I have nowhere seen woman occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.

In the 20th century, many ideologies worked together to encourage (push, or force) women to work outside of the home: feminism, statism, marxism, and others. Some of them explicitly realized that, to achieve this goal, they needed to remove religion and its emphasis on the family. One of them was Lenin:

We must now say proudly and without any exaggeration that part from Soviet Russia, there is not a country in the world where women enjoy full equality and where women are not placed in the humiliating position felt particularly in day-to-day family life. This is one of our first and most important tasks. . . Housework is the most unproductive, the most barbarous and the most arduous work a woman can do. It is exceptionally petty and does not include anything that would in any way promote the development of the woman. . . The building of socialism will begin only when we have achieved the complete equality of women and when we undertake the new work together with women who have been emancipated from that petty stultifying, unproductive work. . . We are setting up model institutions, dining-rooms and nurseries, that will emancipate women from housework. . . These institutions that liberate women from their position as household slaves are springing up where it is in any w ay possible. . . Our task is to make politics available to every working woman.

In his 1920 International Working Women’s Day Speech, Lenin also said:

The chief thing is to get women to take part in socially productive labor, to liberate them from ‘domestic slavery,’ to free them from their stupefying [idiotic] and humiliating subjugation to the eternal drudgery of the kitchen and the nursery. This struggle will be a long one, and it demands a radical reconstruction, both of social technique and of morale. But it will end in the complete triumph of Communism.

Lenin’s comrade Trotsky played a key role in communicating the Marxist vision of what he called the “new family.” This meant doing away with the biblical idea of male headship of the family, and encouraging birth control to make sure that women could be free to remain in the workforce. Trotsky said:

Socialization of family housekeeping and public education of children are unthinkable without a marked improvement in our economics as a whole. We need more socialist economic forms. Only under such conditions can we free the family from the functions and cares that now oppress and disintegrate it. Washing must be done by a public laundry, catering by a public restaurant, sewing by a public workshop. Children must be educated by good public teachers who have a real vocation for the work. Then the bond between husband and wife would be freed from everything external and accidental, and the one would cease to absorb the life of the other. Genuine equality would at last be established.

To do this, you have to sear the conscience of entire generations of women, since the desires of motherhood, of familial intimacy, and rearing of her children are built into every woman.

And we men, if we really care about women, we must care about them as creatures worthy of protection, honor, and love. This means appreciating them for being who they are; not wannabe-men, but women.

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