Startseite Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft

deutsch: Weibliche Tugenden

Robert Kurz

Female Virtues
The Crisis of Feminism and the Postmodern Management


According to the biblical myth of creation, woman was created when God removed a rib from man. This patriarchal picture is ambiguous; on the one hand, woman seems to be just a mere derivative of man; but on the other hand, it is thereby also said that man himself is injured by the separation from the feminine and suffers a loss. The problem, of course, does not lie on an anatomical level. The "small difference," that children discover on their bodies early on, says basically nothing about the ways that cultural and social assignments are distributed according to gender. The male dominance (patriarchy) does not arise out of biological characteristics, but is a central element of the form of society and is therefore the result of historical processes.

Patriarchy is therefore by no means to be equally observed in all cultures. In the course of history, there have always been societies that have known a rather egalitarian relation between the sexes. Moreover, intercultural comparisons show that even those social or psychical characteristics that respectively are obviously seen as "typically female" or "typically male" can display themselves completely differently in different times, in different society structures, and modes of production.

The abstract universalism of modern commodity-producing societies has in a way always given the impression of being gender-neutral. Commodity is commodity and money is money—where is a gender valuation to be seen? On the surface, the continuation of patriarchal structures in family and society was seen as a mere remainder of a pre-modern past. In this sense, feminism demanded "equality" since the beginning of the French Revolution, like it was suggested as a promise by the universal form of the modern money economy. From this point of view, the masculine reduction of the slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!" was an utter subjective arbitrariness that came out of the handed down past male dominance and which had to be extended to a dimension of "sisterhood."

To this day, this feminism as politics did not advance any further than demanding the female participation in the universalism of the modern commodity-producing system. The "abstract human," the individual atom of society, could just as easily be a woman or man. However, feminist historical and social research has found out that the discrimination and valuation of being inferior in the modern era neither expresses a "remainder" of pre-modern conditions nor a subjective male claim to power, but is instead deeply rooted in these modern conditions themselves. For the modern commodity-producing system is not as universal, as it seems to be. It has, rather, a reverse side that remains dark in the official social theory: all areas and factors of life, which cannot be expressed in money. Moreover, this reverse side of the system is everything but gender-neutral, because women were made responsible for it.

On the one hand, it is a matter of concrete activities that have to take place inside of the household beyond the production of commodities: the cooking of food, washing and cleaning, childcare, etc. On the other hand, this duty defined to be "female" is more than just a mechanical activity; woman is to create a pleasant and affectionate atmosphere in which the piercing sound of competition does not rule like "outside in the real life" of public capitalist economics, politics, and science. A woman is also responsible for the "loving care," so to speak the "love work" on man and the children. In this sense, it belongs to the female virtues to have a knack for personal relationships, to be emotional and "soft"; contrariwise, man is to present himself as being intellectual, hard, and competitive. For that, he does not have to beautiful, because that is the primary duty of a woman.

Contrary to popular opinion, modernization did not reduce patriarchy, but intensified it. It was originally the capitalist economy, which divided man and woman to such an extreme extent as if they are beings from different planets. In the pre-modern societies, there was not yet any strict division of the production of commodities and the private household. Therefore, the assignments according to gender were not as one-sided; women had their own place in the agrarian and crafts production. Modern capitalism, however, transformed the production of goods into an autonomous sphere of abstract business economics profit-maximization and thereby into a central element of the male-dominated bourgeois public. As is well known, capitalists and managers are first and foremost men.

This new and intensified functional division of the sexes in the modern era could not have been egalitarian. It is true, that the activities and behaviors that are defined as "female" are seen just as necessary for the survival of society as is the production of commodities, which was delegated to the "male" functional area of business economics. However, women were not thanked for their part in the total social reproduction. Precisely because she was held responsible for all that which in its nature cannot be expressed in money and is therefore, according to capitalist criteria, "worth nothing," woman and her areas of activities, and the characteristics and virtues attributed to her, were all the more seen as inferior and second-rate.

Of course, in the modern era women were always to be seen in the public sector, in the economic sphere of employment just as in politics, culture, etc. Nevertheless, the stigma of their gender devaluation also extended to these areas. An employed or politically active woman does not lose the social characteristics that are attributed to her by the male-dominated culture. She is still principally held responsible for the kitchen, children, and "love," and is therefore economically and politically never completely taken seriously. And that is not just an externally imposed ideal, but also a psychical internalized factor that was acquired by means of a female socialization. As is well known, to this day women are occupationally and publicly active in smaller numbers than men are; they seldom reach high positions and as a rule, they are also paid less.

Here the dilemma of the feminist movement becomes evident: To really overcome patriarchy, it would have had to radically question the complete modern way of production; of course not in the sense of a retrogressive idealization of agrarian conditions, but as the demand for a completely different form of organization of the modern powers of production. As long as the destructive and "male" rationality of business economics is not broken, the "female" forms of activities and pseudo-characteristics defined as being inferior and which are split-off into the private sphere, will also be preserved. Only beyond the structural division and the "logic of money" on the one hand, and an "illogicality" of housework, personal affection on the other hand, can an emancipatory new relation of men and women can be won.

But a feminism, which instead limits itself to the demand of an "equal right" within the ruling mode of production, must necessarily stay helpless considering the divided form of social life. The mere moral appeal that men should participate in equal parts in the divided activities and behaviors of the personal and family life must die away unanswered. Conversely, the feminist view has increasingly narrowed itself to the economic-political sphere. The female emancipation is not measured according to the change of men in the private sector, but to the change of women in the public sector. The postmodern ideal is no longer the irrational cuddly woman, but rather an androgen type of "career woman." In addition to the living blond joke, the vamp, and the devoted little mother, there also appears the woman banker which jogs and surfs the Internet and makes her paved-with-bodies journey as a single woman just like a man.

Moreover, at least in the metropolises of financial capital, there seems to be an uncanny convergence between the sexes and their allocations. Whereas the employed woman must exhibit a greater degree of hardness and emotionless "objectivity" in order to make a career, the postmodern management has conversely discovered the so-called "emotional intelligence" for the business economics calculation and the individual plan of success in competition. It is therefore a matter of functionally manipulating the subjective perceptions and the own feelings. Lately, an "emotional management" is being offered as a training program in books and seminars. "Emotional experts" and "emotional scientists" are appearing in droves. There is talk of an "emotional culture" as well as an emotional "stress management." The emotionality, which was hitherto split off into the private sector and delegated to women, is in a sense to be capitalistically brought under control and transformed into a technique for success.

The perversion of this intention becomes especially clear, when the "emotional technology" appears as a business administrative or political personnel management. The German economist Hans Haumer, for example, in this sense talks of virtually of an "emotional capital" that must yield enough profit. An "emotional capital coefficient" is used as a gauge for measuring the magnitude with which the "human technology" of affection results in a business administrative yield. That means, that the conformation of wage workers to the demands of business economics flexibility, the acceptance of unreasonable demands of all sorts, and the stimulation of the individual performance is in a sense to be aided by an "emotional rationalization." The "emotionally intelligent" boss avoids personal frictions and gives the employees a feeling of being loved and appreciated, even if he actually treats them as mere human material. The use of "emotional capital" would be most efficient when people thank the management with tears of emotion in their eyes because they are being thrown out onto the streets.

Obviously a reintegration of the divided life forms and behaviors is taking place, but in the wrong direction. The autonomous economic system is starting to devour the norms, ideals, and "characteristics" which were hitherto reserved for the private household and intimacy, in order to instrumentalize them in accordance with the logic of money. Only to that extent, are postmodern men becoming more emotional than in the past, whereas the postmodern woman can now functionally use her economically socialized "female virtues." When the mass media suggests that women’s soccer, men’s striptease, or lesbian and homosexual marriages are easing tensions in the battle of the sexes, it is in reality an economic functional reduction of the emotional household. The androgyny consists of equally having male and female individuals mobilizing "feeling and hardness" for competition and uniting the objective competence with the emotional competence for relations in order to drive forward moneymaking.

If the emotional household of capitalist society was distributed one-sidedly in the past, it is now being lastingly destroyed. For especially in this respect, the law of shortage is ironically applicable. The personal affections and feelings that were used up business-economically in order to lubricate the economic machine are lost for the split-off area of private life and intimacy. If, as the reverse side of capitalist production, the "female" activities and behaviors are not dissolved along with the capitalist economy, but are instead sucked up by this same economy, then the result can only be a new dimension of the crisis. The necessary elements of social life, not being expressible in money form, will in this manner not be borne together by both men and women, but will decay into ruins.

Indeed, at present the media ideal of the "woman, that wants it all," that reconciles career and family and moreover, day in and day out makes herself pretty and dresses up seductively as "an object of desire," is fashionable. But for the majority, this is just too demanding and not at all viable. The percentage of women that manage to do this balancing act in grand style is extremely small. Only a small minority of "career women" can afford such an illusion by delegating the chores of private housework, childcare, to female domestics (migrants, black women, the underprivileged), which then no longer have any time for their own children. In the postmodern era patriarchy does not disappear, but becomes "wild" and separates into forms of barbarism, as the German feminist Roswitha Scholz writes. That is a world, which transforms children into killers and maniacs.