The ultimate goal of the struggle for women’s freedom is mastery or selfownership.
Self-ownership is impossible without the ownership of something external to oneself. In order for women to own themselves, they must own material property.
Without property persons are forced to sell themselves or their labor power to others who can exchange labor power for either wages or gifts in kind necessary to survival.
Outside of economic relationships, persons without power must barter what they have for the desiderata they seek from the world and from others. The person who lacks property cannot be his or her own master, cannot own self, cannot be autonomous, and cannot have an independent will. The p erson who lacks property must become a “hired man,” selling labor power or bartering personal resources for material survival, comfort, and security. The dialectic of powerlessness and propertylessness makes it possible to understand women’s struggles in modernizing societies. She says that women on the whole own little or no property. Consequently, the process of bartering themselves begins immediately and occurs almost automatically on a d aily basis.
The key to liberation is breaking this process by asserting power and acquiring property, overcoming ragamuffinism.
Marsden is not interested in deta iling the history of the oppression of women, she wants to understand its modem manifestations and to proyoke rebellion against it. In order to do so, she says it is important to acknowledge that women bear responsibility for both their oppression and their liberation. Oppression and liberation have both an internal and external component. Women will never be free of their bondage unless they understand how they have contributed to it. The reason why men have been historically successful in “crushing” women down is because women were “down in themselves – i.e., weaker in mind.” Those who are pushed to the lower rungs of the social hierarchy a re inferior, in part, because they believe themselves to be inferior.
To change the status of women, women must change how they view themselves. “When change takes place in the thing itself- i.e., when it becomes equal or superior – by the nature of its own being it rises.”In modernity, the servile condition of women is manifest in their ” protected” status; they are ” protected” by men, culture, and the state. The protected status helps explain the contradictory and “stupefying influence of security and irresponsibility” which “soothes women into a willing acceptance” of their social status. Protection means that security is conferred on women, but they must relinquish their power to earn, think, and assert responsibility for their lives. Political movements and advocacy for women must be assessed from this perspective.
To what extent do suffragism and feminism advocate in theory and practice the overcoming of the ” protected status” of women in favor of self-ownership? To what extent do suffragism and feminism advocate for self-ownership and the replacement of bondwomen by freewomen? To what extent do suffragism and feminism promote the acquisition of property and power by women?
The political choice for women is to either ” sink back” into the historical status of property lessness and powerlessness, or to “stand recognized as ‘master’ among other ‘masters.'” Marsden is not convinced that suffragism and feminism are viable p ths to liberation . The “cult of suffragism” begins from a premise that conceptualizes an inferior and subordinate status for women. It “takes its stand upon the weakness and dejectedness of the conditions of women.” It says, “Are women not weak?
Are women not crushed down? Are women not i n need of protection?
Therefore, give them the means wherewith they may be protected.”For suffragism and the feminism of early the early twentieth century, the conferral of “the means wherewith they may be protected” equates with acquiring the vote and participation in the making of law that protects women. It is the conferral of “courtesy rights,” or the political fulfillment of a humanitarian belief that women should have “rights” in order to be protected from the more egregious consequences of servitude. It is not, in itself, the overcoming of servitude. Rights are conferred by the state as a modernist courtesy to women. The basic element of suffragist ideology is that women’s freedom is achieved through women participating in the making of law that is oriented to the protection of women, hardly a break from ragamuffinism.
Marsden also believed that the theory and strategy of suffragism was flawed because i t was based on a concept of freedom that she rejected . Freedom t o the egoist is an act, it is n o t a condition, nor a state of being.
The concept of ” freedom” presumes a condition in which persons experience what is inherent in the condition and not in their activity. But this i s a contradiction because there is no condition in which freedom i s experienced by inert objects; there is only the activity of freeing oneself. The act of freeing oneself may acquire an ” atmosphere” in which meanings are attributed to actions by a n external observer, but the act is fundamentally the notion of a force breaking through a barrier. The “breakthrough” is a single act of “getting free.” It is a definite, specific action that has a limited timeframe, a beginning, an end, and a duration that can be known. Once the act occurs, it is complete. It does not entaillian independent existence on its own account,” it does not become an objective, external condition.
It does not occupy any space; it only occurs in time. Any “separate existence” of the act is only “atmosphere” existing in the discourse and memories of external observers. Everyday life is a process of “overcoming specific resistances” to the trajectory of individual behavior. Breaking through the barriers i s “an individual affair which must be operated in one’s own person.” Only one person who is really concerned about the freeing of the individual is the person who wears, feels, and resents the shackles.
The shackles must be broken by the person. If they are released by an external a gent, they will eventually reappear at the caprice of a powerful, more determined other. As used by the suffragists, or the agents of any political movement, “freedom” is the atmosphere attributed to actions that have been “worked up” or reified to serve organizational interests. The atmosphere, the reified actions, is the “vicious exploitation of the normal activity of working oneself free of difficulties.”
The efforts by social movements such as suffragism and socialism to define themselves in terms of freedom is to attempt to give meaning to a static, inert quality of the external world. It is a futile attempt to mummi fy action, or to reduce human behavior to the landscape or atmosphere. The act of freeing is a quality of time, not space, in which the terminus is the motive that prompts the person’s struggle. It is meaningless to establish a movement, a cause, or an organization that seeks to establish “freedom” as though it is a condition or a quality of space.
Freedom is action and can only exist in time. There can be no fight for freedom because it is not an object. It cannot be separated from the act. The rhetoric of women’s movements and labor movements that attempt to legitimate organizational hierarchies and the division of thought and action through appeals to “women’s freedom” or “worker’s freedom” are banalities and misstatements that only encourage women and workers to “pursue their own shadow.” The “cause” is also mere atmosphere since the reference pretends to delimit or conceptualize an infinite number of actions, words, artifacts, persons, and relationships into a unified and integrated entity that has a “separate existence.” The “cause” is discourse and memory that has meaning attributed to it by observers who are usually external to the action. The “cause” exists to provide solace and protection in a place
among those who ” lost the instinct for action” can “amuse themselves by words.” Although all the claimants may be ” fascinated by the jargon, ” where individuals a re taken in by the rhetoric, there are “consequences disastrous in the highest degree to themselves. ”
In the initial issue of The Egoist, Marsden is thoroughly an insurrectionist. She is n o longer a reformist nor a revolutionary. She adopts Stirner’s concept of egoist insurrection and, at times, suggests that the insurrection of many freewomen can produce a social transformation . In contrast to the bondwomen, who trade one form of subord ination for another since they become mere claimants subordinate to the cau se, the movement, and the state, the freewomen “feel within us the stirrings of new powers and growing strength,” intending to constitute a “higher development in the evolution of the human race and human achievement.” Freewomen eschew protection in favor of “strenuous effort” to shoulder their own responsibilities.
“They bear no grudge and claim no exception because of the greater burdens nature has made theirs. They accept them willingly, because of their added opportunity and power.”Political actions, such as the vote, will lend only a “small quota” to this transformation because collective action addresses only the form, not the content nor the intent of liberation.
The intention or the will comes from within the woman. The freewoman rejects the “protection” offered by marriage and the protection promised by the suffragist movement and the state. She must “produce within herself strength sufficient” to provide for herself and her children. She must acquire property by working, earning money, and adopting all of the incentives that propel “strenuous effort” by men – wealth, power, titles, and public honor- so that she need not solicit maintenance from any man, movement, or government.
Feminist doctrine, therefore, is beset with many difficulties for women since it means a complete break the servitude of the past and cannot offer women the same guarantees of security, prosperity, and comfort. While egoist liberation is possible to the woman who asserts power and acquires property, Marsden does not expect such a transformation any time soon since her brand of feminism will not likely be accepted by “ordinary women who do not already bear in themselves the stamp of the individual.”
She estimates, somewhat optimistically, that “our interpretation of the doctrine has merely to be stated clearly to be frankly rejected by, at least, three women in every four.”