Marsden discovered that the “guild doctrine” of ragamuffin ism a p pears in the struggle for women’s equality. The early advocates for suffragism and feminism argue that “women should create a guild monopoly of their sex, and utilize it to force a partnership between themselves and men. Guilds for men. Marriage for women.”
Marsden criticizes unequal power relations in marriage and fights against the cultural prescription that demands marriage for women. She ridicules the notions that women should view themselves a s a guild and that marriage should be viewed as an absolute element of the emancipation of women.
The feminist argument suggests that the “guild for women” entails a similar form o f embargoism that would marginalize unmarried women, ostracize and fine unmarried m en, and promote the interests of married women through the power of the vote. For the suffragists, the vote was the practical tool that would b e used to impose “purity and morals” in society through advocacy for the elimination of prostitution and venereal disease.
Men will be persecuted through a “steadily rising scale” of charges, p artner’smaintenance, children’s maintenance, even being refused admission to their own homes if they succumb to vice and indolence. Women will also seek complete control of sexual relations within marriage and a l ega l claim upon men’s incomes. The meaning of feminist promises to enforce cultural expectations for marriage is that punishments for philandering ma les, financial disincentives for single men, and humiliations for single women will ensure marriage as a safe and cheap way out of the threats of the feminist embargo. Marsden concludes that “for guild-women the guild-monopoly of their sex w i l l have become absolute – a quite natural development of the guild-monopoly theory.”
For Marsden, it is contradictory to argue that the emancipation of women can be achieved through their submission to marriage and the state. The replacement of a ma le-dominated monopoly by a governmental monopoly is not a path to liberation .
Marsden’s relationship to both the activism and philosophy of suffragism and incipient feminism was complex and contentious from the outset .
While she was a lifelong advocate for women, it is also true that she was a relentless critic of suffragism and feminism, especially d u ring her tenure as editor of The Freewoman, The New Freewomal1, and The Egoist from 1 9 1 1 to 1914. Her dissidence from modernity led her to adopt a strident form of egoism that, in her view, replaced or supplanted feminist philosophy.
The suffrage movement in Great Britain achieved the apex of its notoriety and public support before World War I, primarily through the agitation, civil disobedience, and political theater of the Women’s Political and Social Union. The period from 1 908 to 1 9 1 4 provided the WPSU with a particularly good opportunity to build the organization and the movement.
Based on her initial work in the WPSU, Marsden was viewed by the leadership, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, as an extremely talented and passionate fighter for women’s l iberation. The leadership of the WPSU intended to cultivate Marsden’s talents in public speaking and organization to build membership a n d raise funds for the organization. The expectation was that she would support the organization’s plan forgrowth, following directives from the WPSU leadership. But Marsden a l ways expressed a “theatrical genius for spectacular antagonism,” using rhetoric and street theater to draw attention to women’s issues by provoking authorities.
Her “organizational” and “fundraising” activities tended to become forms of street theater that dramatized her evolving, aggressive concept of feminist individualism. She was arrested several times, spent time in jail, participated in a hunger strike, and was brutally forcefed, enduring lifelong injuries as a result. She was always more of a fighter and provocateur than a disciplined functionary, a fact that increasing annoyed the WPSU leadership. The problem she experienced in her political activism can be summarized by saying that the Pankhurstswanted “to turn an anarchist into a bureaucrat,” a transformation that Marsden resisted on a visceral leveI.
By 1909, Marsden read Stirner and Nietzsche and was interested in developing a deeper understanding of Stirner’s critique of ideology and social movements. In politics, she demonstrated a clear preference for independent, direct action, rather than what she saw as the plodding, authoritarian, and collectivist inaction of a cumbersome organization. She had little regard for the strategic plans and the hierarchical decision making of the suffragist establishment. Consequently, Marsden was increasingly viewed by the WPSU leadership as a liability and a ” loose cannon. “
Her resignation from the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1 9 1 1 was due in roughly equal measures to her disagreements with the tactics of the WPSU, philosophic differences with the political goals of suffrag ism, and a refusal to submit her organization and fundraising activities for prior approval from the Pankhursts and their associates. With the founding of The Freewoman in 1 9 1 1 , Marsden’s career as a political activ ist was substantially over and her career as a writer, editor, and radical public intellectual began.
Marsden’s analysis and commentary on suffragism and feminism was dispersed throughout all three of her journals. While she took considerable delight in ridiculing the leadership of the WPSU and attacking the broader suffragist and feminist movements, Marsden’s struggle with the issues pertaining to women’s liberation propelled her to articulate an egoist position on culture and politics. Her egoism undoubtedly evolved from her reading of Stirner, but it acquired a form, content, and rhythm in her encounters with the theory and movement of suffragism and feminism.
She provided a critique of the suffragist concept of freedom, the centralist tendencies of social movements, and the notion that persons can beliberated by the state, all of which reflect the application of Stirner ‘s concepts to social movements. Toward the end of her tenure as editor of The Egoist in June 1914, she reflected on the emerging frustration within the suffrage movement, specifically within the WPSU, with the “interminable reiteration and threadbare arguments” of a cause that had been thrust upon new generation of women as an urgent issue.
Marsden doubts that suffragism approached anything remotely urgent in large part because its advocates were only “nominally” concerned w i th suffrage and the challenges women face in everyday life .
What was called the suffrage movement was more concerned with institutionalizing and maintaining the hierarchy within the WPSU, which meant discrediting the political opponents of the Pankhurst family and its assoc ates. Marsden argues that political movements typically lose their passion and direction over time, and create “mournful and monotonous” rituals that reify the memories and myths about the contributions of the leaders to the “cause.” The adherents, who seek participation in the movement initially to get help with problems they face in everyday life, are eventually reduced to the status of “claimants” who a re encouraged to confuse solutions to their grievances with the hierarchy’s “rhetoric of freedom .” Claimants are the low-level units in the cause who make claims that they must receive “rights” in order to be “free.”
For Marsden, social and political “claims are reproaches of the powerless: whines for protection.
All the suffragists’ ‘claims’ are of this order.”30 Whines for protection are nothing less than appeals to powerful others, particularly the movement’s leadership and the state, to relieve the individual of responsibility, power, and property. The whine is the discourse of the ragamu ffin. Marsden’s goal in writing about the fixed ideas of political movements is to disentangle the claims for rights and protection from “the center of power: the self. One has the freedom if one has the power, and the measure of power is one’s own concern.” The collectivization of grievances is the institutionalization of ragamuffinis m . The a rticle “Bondwomen” i n the initial issue of The Freewomm l i n November 1 9 1 1 outlined the philosophic direction Marsden planned for the journal. It also provided her an opportunity to differentiate her position from that of the WPSU .31 “Bondwomen” is a grand critique of the status of women in society that counterposes the concept of the “bondwoman” with the ” freewoman,” arguing that suffragism and feminism are inadequate paths to freedom since they only reproduce ragamuffinism in a new form.
This theme was reiterated in several articles that appeared in The Freewoman and The New Freewoman. Her articles and commentary in The Egoist more forcefully express the notion that the matters concerning the servile condition of women have a broader m eaning. That is, the goal of philosophy is not the liberation of women, but the self-Iiber<l tion of the i n d i vidual. It is overcoming ragamuffinism in all of its forms .
Her initial foray into the philosophy of liberation in The Freewoman still provides strong indications of Marsden’s developing egoism and the influence of Stirner, although it contains terminology that he certainly avoided.
For example, Marsden uses the terms “spirit” and “spiritual” frequently to signify the woman passion and intentionality, and not in either a religious or Hegelian sense. Nevertheless, even her early articles reveal Stirner’s concepts and the dialectical method that Marsden would use consistently in her articles and editorials in all three journals. Her method begins with a stark, dramatic, and controversial statement about her topic. She follows this with a more analytical, thoughtful discussion that is intended to reveal the dialectical development of the issue. Antagonisms appear at the beginning of the essay and persist until a resolution appears at the end. Antagonisms between concepts or social forces are resolved in the direction of egoism, or the notion that the individual must draw on his or her own willand resources to assert p ower or acquire property.
Thus, the antagonism between the traditional ” servile condition” of women and the su ffrage movement reveals that suffragism produces only another form of “bondwomen.”
The conflict between traditional servility and suffragism is supplanted by egoism as the higher presupposition.
“Bondwomen” differ from ” freewomen” by a fundamental distinction: they are not autonomous individuals; they do not have a will, spirit, or intent of their own. There is nothing that establishes them as unique, independent individuals. “They are complements merely. By habit of thought, by form o f activity, and largely by preference, they round off the personality of some other individual, rather than cultivate their own .”
Historically, “bondwomen” defines the status and working practice of women. Using the concepts of master and servant, Marsden argues that women as a category have demonstrated in the past little but the attributes of the “servant,” while the qualities of the “master,” such as imposing law, setting standards, establishing rights and duties, acquiring property, have been relegated to men. Women have been the ” followers, believers, the law-abiding, the moral, the conventionally admiring” whose virtues are those of a subordinate class. Women have served as functionaries and servants. They live by the “borrowed precepts” issued by men. Societal hierarchies ensure that some men must be servants, but a l l women are servants and a l l the masters are men. What fundamentally characterizes women is their servile condition.