So I’m working on stuff about syndicalism and socialism and an idea just popped into my head. Did feminism undermine socialism? I’m just thinking out loud, but think about it. When women weren’t part of the workforce in large numbers, the idea of organizing society and politics around our jobs was enormously popular. Syndicalism, socialism, trade unionism, corporatism, Veblenism, Swopism, big chunks of social democracy, etc etc, were premised in large parts on the idea that your job was your identity. “Workers of the world unite” and all that jazz. When women who didn’t work for a wage claimed that they were citizens — or fully entitled to citizenship — it undermined the view that You Are Your Job. And as women entered the workforce, the willingness of men to identify themselves solely by their work tended to erode. Perhaps sexism drove men to say that they were more than their job if a woman could do their job just as well (or well enough). Such claims were increasingly plausible as mechanization and the rise of the service industry took away the male physical advantage.
Obviously, there’s more to the story, but I think I’m on to something. Does this sound crazy?
Update: From a reader:
I think you’re probably wrong on the “feminism killed socialism” thing. For one thing, even in your own ruminations, it wouldn’t be “feminism” doing the killing but “sexism” (since the latter is what makes – on your argument – work-based identity impossible). Perhaps more importantly, it seems to me that socialism and at least some species of feminism share a common objective, namely the liberation of (all) individuals from the constraints of traditional morality/biology/the market. Perhaps that’s why the most feminist country in the world is also the most socialist – Sweden.
Me: All excellent points, though I didn’t say it killed it, merely undermined it. And I certainly agree that feminism and socialism are very closely linked ideologies, historically and intellectually. But didn’t socialism change with the introduction of feminism? It became more touchy-feely, more holistic, more Mommy Party and less concerned with Soviet-style posters of muscle-men with jackhammers. The reader is surely correct that sexism — or perhaps “anti-feminism” — is a major culprit. Indeed, as socialism and social democracy became more feminine, men became less sympathetic to it. Which was partly my point. As for Sweden, its socialism has many fathers, or mothers.
Anyway, I’m still noodling it.