And I still experience that to this day. Everybody looks suspect to me. The challenges of housing and employment bedevil many ex-offenders. In the winter, VanderWaal says, she has a particularly hard time finding places to accommodate all the homeless ex-prisoners. Those who do find a place to live often find it difficult to pay their rent. The carceral state has, in effect, become a credentialing institution as significant as the military, public schools, or universities—but the credentialing that prison or jail offers is negative.
In her book, Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration , Devah Pager, the Harvard sociologist, notes that most employers say that they would not hire a job applicant with a criminal record. Ex-offenders are excluded from a wide variety of jobs, running the gamut from septic-tank cleaner to barber to real-estate agent, depending on the state.
And in the limited job pool that ex-offenders can swim in, blacks and whites are not equal.
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For her research, Pager pulled together four testers to pose as men looking for low-wage work. One white man and one black man would pose as job seekers without a criminal record, and another black man and white man would pose as job seekers with a criminal record. The negative credential of prison impaired the employment efforts of both the black man and the white man, but it impaired those of the black man more.
Startlingly, the effect was not limited to the black man with a criminal record. The black man without a criminal record fared worse than the white man with one. Effectively, the job market in America regards black men who have never been criminals as though they were. One of the great challenges reformers will have to face is not merely reforming the prison system, but reckoning with the broad secondary damage wrought by our policies.
Just as ex-offenders had to learn to acculturate themselves to prison, they have to learn to re-acculturate themselves to the outside. But the attitude that helps one survive in prison is almost the opposite of the kind needed to make it outside. Linda VanderWaal told me that re-acculturation is essential to thriving in an already compromised job market. In America, the men and women who find themselves lost in the Gray Wastes are not picked at random. There is good deal of sociological and economic study on mass incarceration, but considerably less in the way of history.
What I would love to see is a book that took the long view of incarceration, crime, and racism. Too many accounts begin in the s. One can imagine a separate world where the state would see these maladies through the lens of government education or public-health programs. Instead it has decided to see them through the lens of criminal justice.
As the number of prison beds has risen in this country, the number of public-psychiatric-hospital beds has fallen. The Gray Wastes draw from the most socioeconomically unfortunate among us, and thus take particular interest in those who are black. It is impossible to conceive of the Gray Wastes without first conceiving of a large swath of its inhabitants as both more than criminal and less than human.
These inhabitants, black people, are the preeminent outlaws of the American imagination. The crime of absconding was thought to be linked to other criminal inclinations among blacks. Michelle Alexander has taken some criticism for asserting, in her book The New Jim Crow , the connections between slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration.
Honestly, I was one of skeptics. But there are all kinds of ways one can respond to a crime surge. In , a Missouri man named Robert Newsom purchased a girl named Celia, who was about 14 years old. For the next five years, he repeatedly raped her. Celia birthed at least one child by Newsom. While she was in jail, she gave birth to the child, who arrived stillborn. Not long after, Celia was hanged.
Antebellum Virginia had 73 crimes that could garner the death penalty for slaves—and only one for whites. The end of enslavement posed an existential crisis for white supremacy, because an open labor market meant blacks competing with whites for jobs and resources, and—most frightening—black men competing for the attention of white women.
Postbellum Alabama solved this problem by manufacturing criminals. Blacks who could not find work were labeled vagrants and sent to jail, where they were leased as labor to the very people who had once enslaved them. Without the work of Khalil Gibran Muhammad, this section would not be possible. Instead the charge was a weapon wielded to claim that blacks were not entitled to the same rights as others. Another essential text. Rape, according to the mythology of the day, remained the crime of choice for blacks.
Before Emancipation, enslaved blacks were rarely lynched, because whites were loath to destroy their own property. But after the Civil War, the number of lynchings rose, peaked at the turn of the century, then persisted at a high level until just before the Second World War, not petering out entirely until the height of the civil-rights movement, in the s.
Even as African American leaders petitioned the government to stop the lynching, they conceded that the Vardamans of the world had a point. Some of the most painful moments in this research came in looking at the black response to lynching. In an lecture, W. Lynching is awful, and injustice and caste are hard to bear; but if they are to be successfully attacked they must cease to have even this terrible justification.
In this climate of white repression and paralyzed black leadership, the federal government launched, in , its first war on drugs When people discuss the drug war, they are usually referring to the one that began in the s, without realizing that this was, at least, our third drug war in the 20th century.
I found David F. It was depressing to see that drug wars, in this country, are almost never launched purely out of concern for public health. In almost every instance that Musto looks at there is some fear of an outsider—blacks and cocaine, Mexican-Americans and marijuana, Chinese-Americans and opium.
I feel compelled to also mention Kathleen J. The reasoning was unoriginal. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI for nearly half a century, harassed three generations of leaders. In , he attacked Martin Luther King Jr. Today Hoover is viewed unsympathetically as having stood outside mainstream ideas of law and order.
Moreover, Hoover was operating within an American tradition of criminalizing black leadership. In its time, the Underground Railroad was regarded by supporters of slavery as an interstate criminal enterprise devoted to the theft of property. Harriet Tubman, purloiner of many thousands of dollars in human bodies, was considered a bandit of the highest order. The same is true today. Yet blacks were 14 percent more likely to be subjected to force. If policing in New York under Giuliani and Bloomberg was crime prevention tainted by racist presumptions, in other areas of the country ostensible crime prevention has mutated into little more than open pillage.
These findings had been augured by the reporting of The Washington Post The reporter for The Washington Post deserves to be cited by name— Radley Balko , whose writing and reporting on the problems of modern policing has greatly improved my own understanding of the issue. This was not public safety driving policy—it was law enforcement tasked with the job of municipal plunder. It is patently true that black communities, home to a class of people regularly discriminated against and impoverished, have long suffered higher crime rates.
The historian David M. Leniency toward Negro defendants in cases involving crimes against other Negroes is thus actually a form of discrimination. Crime within the black community was primarily seen as a black problem, and became a societal problem mainly when it seemed to threaten the white population. Take the case of New Orleans between the world wars, when, as Jeffrey S.
The principal source of the intensifying war on crime was white anxiety about social control. In , the Supreme Court had ruled that a racial-zoning scheme in the city was unconstitutional. The black population of New Orleans was growing. And there was increasing pressure from some government officials to spread New Deal programs to black people. The staggering rise in incarceration rates in interwar Louisiana coincided with a sense among whites that the old order was under siege.
In the coming decades, this phenomenon would be replicated on a massive, national scale. The American response to crime cannot be divorced from a history of equating black struggle—individual and collective—with black villainy. And so it is unsurprising that in the midst of the civil-rights movement, rising crime was repeatedly linked with black advancement. Should Joe Biden run for president, he has to be asked about his time spent cheerleading for more prisons. As president, Nixon did just that: During his second term, incarceration rates began their historic rise. They must be hunted to the end of the earth.
I wish I could claim to have dug these up. I cannot. We knew it.
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A centuries-long legacy of equating blacks with criminals and moral degenerates did the work for him. In , while campaigning for president, Nixon was taped rehearsing a campaign ad. As incarceration rates rose and prison terms became longer, the idea of rehabilitation was mostly abandoned in favor of incapacitation.
Mandatory minimums—sentences that set a minimum length of punishment for the convicted—were a bipartisan achievement of the s backed not just by conservatives such as Strom Thurmond but by liberals such as Ted Kennedy. Conservatives believed mandatory sentencing would prevent judges from exercising too much leniency; liberals believed it would prevent racism from infecting the bench. Before reform, prisoners typically served 40 to 70 percent of their sentences.
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After reform, they served 87 to percent of their sentences. Moreover, despite what liberals had hoped for, bias was not eliminated, because discretion now lay with prosecutors, who could determine the length of a sentence by deciding what crimes to charge someone with. District attorneys with reelection to consider could demonstrate their zeal to protect the public with the number of criminals jailed and the length of their stay. Prosecutors were not alone in their quest to appear tough on crime.
There was no real doubt as to who would be the target of this newfound toughness. Senate seat in New York. He was respected as a scholar and renowned for his intellect. But his preoccupations had not changed. This might well have been true as a description of drug enforcement policies , but it was not true of actual drug abuse: Surveys have repeatedly shown that blacks and whites use drugs at remarkably comparable rates. Moynihan had by the late Reagan era evidently come to believe the worst distortions of his own report.
Gone was any talk of root causes; in its place was something darker. In seeming to abandon scholarship for rhetoric, Moynihan had plenty of company among social scientists and political pundits. James Q. But the thrust of his rhetoric was martial. Even as The Atlantic published those words, violent crime had begun to plunge. But thought leaders were slow to catch up.
In , William J. Bennett, John P. Walters, and John J. DiIulio Jr. For the next decade, incarceration rates shot up even further. The justification for resorting to incarceration was the same in as it was in Many African Americans concurred that crime was a problem. The argument that high crime is the predictable result of a series of oppressive racist policies does not render the victims of those policies bulletproof.
Likewise, noting that fear of crime is well grounded does not make that fear a solid foundation for public policy. In , the ACLU published a report noting a year uptick in marijuana arrests. And yet by the close of the 20th century, prison was a more common experience for young black men than college graduation or military service. This conclusion was reached not warily, but lustily.
As a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton flew home to Arkansas to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally disabled, partially lobotomized black man who had murdered two people in Joe Biden, then the junior senator from Delaware, quickly became the point man for showing that Democrats would not go soft on criminals. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for , new state prison cells. In Texas, the Democratic governor, Ann Richards, had come to power in advocating rehabilitation, but she ended up following the national trend, curtailing the latitude of judges and the parole board in favor of fixed sentencing, which gave power to prosecutors.
In New York, another liberal governor, Mario Cuomo, found himself facing an exploding prison population. After voters rejected funding for more prisons, Cuomo pulled the money from the Urban Development Corporation, an agency that was supposed to build public housing for the poor. It did—in prison. Under the avowedly liberal Cuomo, New York added more prison beds than under all his predecessors combined.
This was penal welfarism at its finest. Prison presented a solution: jobs for whites, and warehousing for blacks. Dark predictions of rising crime did not bear out. Like the bestial blacks of the 19th century, super-predators proved to be the stuff of myth. This realization cannot be regarded strictly as a matter of hindsight. In the end, she voted for it. Pepper also voted for it. In , President Clinton signed a new crime bill, which offered grants to states that built prisons and cut back on parole. Those were, and are, real problems. But even in trying to explain his policies, Clinton neglected to retract the assumption underlying them—that incarcerating large swaths of one population was a purely well-intended, logical, and nonracist response to crime.
Even at the time of its passage, Democrats—much like the Republican Nixon a quarter century earlier—knew that the crime bill was actually about something more than that. On the evening of December 19, , Odell Newton, who was then 16 years old, stepped into a cab in Baltimore with a friend, rode half a block, then shot and killed the driver, Edward Mintz. The State of Maryland charged Odell with crimes including murder in the first degree and sentenced him to life in prison. He has now spent 41 years behind bars, but by all accounts he is a man reformed.
He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his crimes. He has not committed an infraction in 36 years. The Maryland Parole Commission has recommended Odell for release three times since In the s, when Odell committed his crime, this was largely a formality. But in our era of penal cruelty, Maryland has effectively abolished parole for lifers—even juvenile offenders such as Odell. In , the U. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles found guilty of crimes other than homicide were unconstitutional.
Two years later, it held the same for mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile homicide offenders. But the Court has yet to rule on whether that more recent decision was retroactive. The vast majority of them—84 percent—are black. Clara had just driven seven hours round-trip to visit Odell at Eastern Correctional Institution, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and she was full of worry. He was being treated for hepatitis. He had sores around his eyes. I asked Clara how they managed to visit Odell regularly. She explained that family members trade visits. I got so bad one time, I was losing weight … Just thinking, Was it gonna be all right?
Was it gonna kill him? Was he gonna die? Clara was born and raised in Westmoreland, Virginia. She had her first child, Jackie, when she was only They moved to Baltimore so that John could pursue a job at a bakery. They were married for 53 years, until John passed away, in Odell Newton was born in When he was 4 years old, he fell ill and almost died. The family took him to the hospital. Doctors put a hole in his throat to help him breathe. They transferred Odell to another hospital, where he was diagnosed with lead poisoning.
It turned out that he had been putting his mouth on the windowsill. In prison, Odell has repeatedly attempted to gain his G. In June of , the family moved into a nicer house, in Edmondson Village. Sometime around ninth grade, Clara began to suspect that Odell was lagging behind the other kids in his class. Odell Newton is now If men and women like Odell are cast deep within the barrens of the Gray Wastes, their families are held in a kind of orbit, on the outskirts, by the relentless gravity of the carceral state.
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For starters, the family must contend with the financial expense of having a loved one incarcerated. And then there is the emotional weight, a mix of anger and sadness. While I was in Detroit last winter, I interviewed Patricia Lowe, whose son Edward Span had been incarcerated at age 16, sentenced to nine and a half to 15 years for carjacking, among other offenses. When I met with Patricia, Edward was about three years into his sentence, and she was as worried for him as she was angry at him.
She was afraid he was being extorted by other prisoners. So you gave me heartache out here. But the heartache was unavoidable. But I know different because he has a female friend he calls. Two years later, he took a job with the State of Maryland as a corrections officer. For 20 years, while one son, Odell, served time under the state, another son, Tim, worked for it. Whereas inmates had once done their time and gone to pre-release facilities, now they were staying longer. Requirements for release became more onerous.
Meanwhile, the prisons were filling to capacity and beyond. The prisons began holding two people in cells meant for one. They cut out the weights being in the yard. The overcrowding, the stripping of programs and resources, were part of the national movement toward punishing inmates more harshly and for longer periods. Officially, Maryland has two kinds of life sentences—life with the possibility of parole, and life without. Ehrlich Jr.
This changed almost nothing. This is not sound policy for fighting crime or protecting citizens. In Maryland, the average lifer who has been recommended for but not granted release is 60 years old. Almost none of those 80 or so men and women, despite meeting a stringent set of requirements, was granted release by the governor.
The choice given to judges to levy sentences for life either with or without parole no longer has any meaning. Newton as an employee, and would rehire Odell at any time. But the program was suspended for lifers in May of , after a convicted murderer fled while visiting his son. The Stokes killing followed just weeks later.
After that, parole was effectively taken off the table for all lifers, and Maryland ended work release for them as well. Believing for years that Odell was on his way to coming home, and then seeing the road to freedom snatched away, frustrated the family. It would be wrong to conclude from this that family is irrelevant. Odell was born in the midst of an era of government-backed housing discrimination. Indeed, Baltimore was a pioneer in this practice—in , the city council had zoned the city by race. After the U. Supreme Court ruled such explicit racial-zoning schemes unconstitutional, in , the city turned to other means—restrictive covenants, civic associations, and redlining—to keep blacks isolated.
You can see that on display here in this conversation with Terry Gross. These efforts curtailed the ability of black people to buy better housing, to move to better neighborhoods, and to build wealth. Also, by confining black people to the same neighborhoods, these efforts ensured that people who were discriminated against, and hence had little, tended to be neighbors only with others who also had little.
Thus while an individual in that community might be high-achieving, even high-earning, his or her ability to increase that achievement and wealth and social capital, through friendship, marriage, or neighborhood organizations, would always be limited. A lot of this section depends on the ever-insightful Robert Sampson, and more broadly the focus on neighborhood dynamics in contemporary sociology.
The notion of compounded deprivation, which Rob discusses here, really elucidates the difficulty in making easy comparisons between blacks and whites. Specifically, the world of the black middle class is—because of policy—significantly poorer. Thus to wonder about the difference in outcomes between the black and white middle class, is really to wonder about the difference in weight between humans living on the Earth and humans living on the moon.
Finally, racial zoning condemned black people to the oldest and worst housing in the city—the kind where one was more likely to be exposed, as Odell Newton was, to lead. That families are better off the stronger and more stable they are is self-evidently important.
But so is the notion that no family can ever be made impregnable, that families are social structures existing within larger social structures. Black people face this tangle of perils at its densest. In a recent study, Sampson and a co-author looked at two types of deprivation—being individually poor, and living in a poor neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, they found that blacks tend to be individually poor and to live in poor neighborhoods.
But even blacks who are not themselves individually poor are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than whites and Latinos who are individually poor. For black people, escaping poverty does not mean escaping a poor neighborhood. And blacks are much more likely than all other groups to fall into compounded deprivation later in life Taken from a forthcoming paper by Sampson and Kristin L. But what the data show is that you have these multiple assaults on life chances that make transcending those circumstances difficult and at times nearly impossible.
Shakur is a community activist and the author of two books chronicling his road to prison, his experience inside, and his return to society. Shakur, who is 42, recalls a town ravaged by deindustrialization, where unemployment was rampant, social institutions had failed, and gangs had taken their place. Drugs, gangs, lack of education all came to the forefront. And prison and incarceration. Taylor, who is 66, recalls a more hopeful community where black professionals lived next door to black factory workers and black maids and black gangsters, and the streets were packed with bars, factories, and restaurants.
It was smaller factories all up and down. But the strip was here also. The legendary Chit Chat Lounge was down here, where the Motown and jazz musicians played. We stopped on the desolate corner of Hazelwood and 12th Street. He pointed out at the street, gesturing toward businesses and neighbors long gone. There was a black woman right here that owned a drapery-cleaning business. Negroes used to have draperies!
Here was the wig shop and the beauty salon for the street girls. I lived right here, and this is a very powerful place for me. And within those boundaries an order took root. This world was the product of oppression—but it was a world beloved by the people who lived there. It is a matter of some irony that the time period and the communities Taylor was describing with fond nostalgia are the same ones that so alarmed Daniel Patrick Moynihan in On July 23, , the Detroit police raided an after-hours watering hole on the West Side.
As Thomas J. Automakers began moving to other parts of the country, and eventually to other parts of the world. The loss of jobs meant a loss of buying power, affecting drugstores, grocery stores, restaurants, and department stores. One of my great irritants is how so much of our discussions on race and racism proceed from the notion that American history begins in the s.
The discussions around Detroit is the obvious example. There is a popular narrative which holds that Detroit was a glorious city and the riots ruined it. Thomas J. Black residents of Detroit had to cope not just with the same structural problems as white residents but also with pervasive racism. Within a precarious economy, black people generally worked the lowest-paying jobs. Some were better educated than others. But all were constricted, not by a tangle of pathologies, but by a tangle of structural perils.
The fires of conveniently obscured those perils.
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Possibly two of their mothers have been killed. I never talked with a lawyer until he was sending me to prison. I never talked with a judge until he convicted me. The blacks incarcerated in this country are not like the majority of Americans. That is why the liberation of the working class, for example, has been slow.
And even today woman is heavily handicapped, though her situation is beginning to change. Even when her rights are legally recognised in the abstract, long-standing custom prevents their full expression in the mores. In the economic sphere men and women can almost be said to make up two castes; other things being equal, the former hold the better jobs, get higher wages, and have more opportunity for success than their new competitors.
In industry and politics men have a great many more positions and they monopolise the most important posts. In addition to all this, they enjoy a traditional prestige that the education of children tends in every way to support, for the present enshrines the past — and in the past all history has been made by men. At the present time, when women are beginning to take part in the affairs of the world, it is still a world that belongs to men — they have no doubt of it at all and women have scarcely any. To decline to be the Other, to refuse to be a party to the deal — this would be for women to renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by their alliance with the superior caste.
Man-the-sovereign will provide woman-the-liege with material protection and will undertake the moral justification of her existence; thus she can evade at once both economic risk and the metaphysical risk of a liberty in which ends and aims must be contrived without assistance. Indeed, along with the ethical urge of each individual to affirm his subjective existence, there is also the temptation to forgo liberty and become a thing. But it is an easy road; on it one avoids the strain involved in undertaking an authentic existence. When man makes of woman the Other, he may, then, expect to manifest deep-seated tendencies towards complicity.
Thus, woman may fail to lay claim to the status of subject because she lacks definite resources, because she feels the necessary bond that ties her to man regardless of reciprocity, and because she is often very well pleased with her role as the Other. But it will be asked at once: how did all this begin?
It is easy to see that the duality of the sexes, like any duality, gives rise to conflict. And doubtless the winner will assume the status of absolute. But why should man have won from the start? It seems possible that women could have won the victory; or that the outcome of the conflict might never have been decided. How is it that this world has always belonged to the men and that things have begun to change only recently? Is this change a good thing? Will it bring about an equal sharing of the world between men and women?
These questions are not new, and they have often been answered. But the very fact that woman is the Other tends to cast suspicion upon all the justifications that men have ever been able to provide for it. But the males could not enjoy this privilege fully unless they believed it to be founded on the absolute and the eternal; they sought to make the fact of their supremacy into a right.
Legislators, priests, philosophers, writers, and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of woman is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth. The religions invented by men reflect this wish for domination. In the legends of Eve and Pandora men have taken up arms against women. They have made use of philosophy and theology, as the quotations from Aristotle and St Thomas have shown. Since ancient times satirists and moralists have delighted in showing up the weaknesses of women. We are familiar with the savage indictments hurled against women throughout French literature.
Montherlant, for example, follows the tradition of Jean de Meung, though with less gusto. This hostility may at times be well founded, often it is gratuitous; but in truth it more or less successfully conceals a desire for self-justification. Sometimes what is going on is clear enough. No wonder intrigue and strife abound. It was only later, in the eighteenth century, that genuinely democratic men began to view the matter objectively.
Diderot, among others, strove to show that woman is, like man, a human being. Later John Stuart Mill came fervently to her defence. But these philosophers displayed unusual impartiality. In the nineteenth century the feminist quarrel became again a quarrel of partisans. One of the consequences of the industrial revolution was the entrance of women into productive labour, and it was just here that the claims of the feminists emerged from the realm of theory and acquired an economic basis, while their opponents became the more aggressive. Although landed property lost power to some extent, the bourgeoisie clung to the old morality that found the guarantee of private property in the solidity of the family.
Woman was ordered back into the home the more harshly as her emancipation became a real menace. As is well known, this so-called equalitarian segregation has resulted only in the most extreme discrimination. The similarity just noted is in no way due to chance, for whether it is a race, a caste, a class, or a sex that is reduced to a position of inferiority, the methods of justification are the same. True, the Jewish problem is on the whole very different from the other two — to the anti-Semite the Jew is not so much an inferior as he is an enemy for whom there is to be granted no place on earth, for whom annihilation is the fate desired.
But there are deep similarities between the situation of woman and that of the Negro. In both cases the dominant class bases its argument on a state of affairs that it has itself created. Yes, women on the whole are today inferior to men; that is, their situation affords them fewer possibilities. The question is: should that state of affairs continue? Many men hope that it will continue; not all have given up the battle.
The conservative bourgeoisie still see in the emancipation of women a menace to their morality and their interests. Some men dread feminine competition. And economic interests are not the only ones concerned. Similarly, the most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women. It was much easier for M. It may be that she reflects ideas originating with men, but then, even among men there are those who have been known to appropriate ideas not their own; and one can well ask whether Claude Mauriac might not find more interesting a conversation reflecting Descartes, Marx, or Gide rather than himself.
What is really remarkable is that by using the questionable we he identifies himself with St Paul, Hegel, Lenin, and Nietzsche, and from the lofty eminence of their grandeur looks down disdainfully upon the bevy of women who make bold to converse with him on a footing of equality.
I have lingered on this example because the masculine attitude is here displayed with disarming ingenuousness. But men profit in many more subtle ways from the otherness, the alterity of woman. Here is a miraculous balm for those afflicted with an inferiority complex, and indeed no one is more arrogant towards women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility.
Those who are not fear-ridden in the presence of their fellow men are much more disposed to recognise a fellow creature in woman; but even to these the myth of Woman, the Other, is precious for many reasons. They cannot be blamed for not cheerfully relinquishing all the benefits they derive from the myth, for they realize what they would lose in relinquishing woman as they fancy her to be, while they fail to realize what they have to gain from the woman of tomorrow. Refusal to pose oneself as the Subject, unique and absolute, requires great self-denial.
Furthermore, the vast majority of men make no such claim explicitly. They do not postulate woman as inferior, for today they are too thoroughly imbued with the ideal of democracy not to recognise all human beings as equals. In the bosom of the family, woman seems in the eyes of childhood and youth to be clothed in the same social dignity as the adult males.
Later on, the young man, desiring and loving, experiences the resistance, the independence of the woman desired and loved; in marriage, he respects woman as wife and mother, and in the concrete events of conjugal life she stands there before him as a free being. He can therefore feel that social subordination as between the sexes no longer exists and that on the whole, in spite of differences, woman is an equal. As, however, he observes some points of inferiority — the most important being unfitness for the professions — he attributes these to natural causes. When he is in a co-operative and benevolent relation with woman, his theme is the principle of abstract equality, and he does not base his attitude upon such inequality as may exist.
But when he is in conflict with her, the situation is reversed: his theme will be the existing inequality, and he will even take it as justification for denying abstract equality. So it is that many men will affirm as if in good faith that women are the equals of man and that they have nothing to clamour for, while at the same time they will say that women can never be the equals of man and that their demands are in vain. It is, in point of fact, a difficult matter for man to realize the extreme importance of social discriminations which seem outwardly insignificant but which produce in woman moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to spring from her original nature.
And there is no reason to put much trust in the men when they rush to the defence of privileges whose full extent they can hardly measure. We should consider the arguments of the feminists with no less suspicion, however, for very often their controversial aim deprives them of all real value. People have tirelessly sought to prove that woman is superior, inferior, or equal to man.
Some say that, having been created after Adam, she is evidently a secondary being: others say on the contrary that Adam was only a rough draft and that God succeeded in producing the human being in perfection when He created Eve. Christ was made a man; yes, but perhaps for his greater humility. Each argument at once suggests its opposite, and both are often fallacious. If we are to gain understanding, we must get out of these ruts; we must discard the vague notions of superiority, inferiority, equality which have hitherto corrupted every discussion of the subject and start afresh.
Very well, but just how shall we pose the question? And, to begin with, who are we to propound it at all? Man is at once judge and party to the case; but so is woman. What we need is an angel — neither man nor woman — but where shall we find one? Still, the angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem.
With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither. It looks to me as if there are, after all, certain women who are best qualified to elucidate the situation of woman. Let us not be misled by the sophism that because Epimenides was a Cretan he was necessarily a liar; it is not a mysterious essence that compels men and women to act in good or in bad faith, it is their situation that inclines them more or less towards the search for truth.
We are no longer like our partisan elders; by and large we have won the game. In recent debates on the status of women the United Nations has persistently maintained that the equality of the sexes is now becoming a reality, and already some of us have never had to sense in our femininity an inconvenience or an obstacle.
Many problems appear to us to be more pressing than those which concern us in particular, and this detachment even allows us to hope that our attitude will be objective. Still, we know the feminine world more intimately than do the men because we have our roots in it, we grasp more immediately than do men what it means to a human being to be feminine; and we are more concerned with such knowledge.
I have said that there are more pressing problems, but this does not prevent us from seeing some importance in asking how the fact of being women will affect our lives. What opportunities precisely have been given us and what withheld? What fate awaits our younger sisters, and what directions should they take? It is significant that books by women on women are in general animated in our day less by a wish to demand our rights than by an effort towards clarity and understanding.
As we emerge from an era of excessive controversy, this book is offered as one attempt among others to confirm that statement. But it is doubtless impossible to approach any human problem with a mind free from bias. The way in which questions are put, the points of view assumed, presuppose a relativity of interest; all characteristics imply values, and every objective description, so called, implies an ethical background. Rather than attempt to conceal principles more or less definitely implied, it is better to state them openly, at the beginning. This will make it unnecessary to specify on every page in just what sense one uses such words as superior, inferior, better, worse, progress, reaction , and the like.
If we survey some of the works on woman, we note that one of the points of view most frequently adopted is that of the public good, the general interest; and one always means by this the benefit of society as one wishes it to be maintained or established. For our part, we hold that the only public good is that which assures the private good of the citizens; we shall pass judgement on institutions according to their effectiveness in giving concrete opportunities to individuals.
But we do not confuse the idea of private interest with that of happiness, although that is another common point of view. Are not women of the harem more happy than women voters? Is not the housekeeper happier than the working-woman? It is not too clear just what the word happy really means and still less what true values it may mask. There is no possibility of measuring the happiness of others, and it is always easy to describe as happy the situation in which one wishes to place them.
In particular those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy on the pretext that happiness consists in being at rest. This notion we reject, for our perspective is that of existentialist ethics. Every subject plays his part as such specifically through exploits or projects that serve as a mode of transcendence; he achieves liberty only through a continual reaching out towards other liberties.
There is no justification for present existence other than its expansion into an indefinitely open future. This downfall represents a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression. In both cases it is an absolute evil.