Every so often, humans make an innovation which changes their world forever. Fire, steel and computers are obvious examples of technological innovations. Equally important to technology are ideas which innovate people socially. Galileo's idea that the earth revolved around the sun or the American Founding Fathers' ideas about how government should be run are among numerous other examples. These ideas, often controversial and even revolutionary for their time, tended to require groups of people or movements to keep such ideas from being destroyed before they could be shared. The feminist movement has been both praised and scorned for their efforts to preserve and share numerous ideas to varying degrees. In particular, in her "Feminist Manifesto," Mina Loy helped to share the idea that gender roles were highly constrictive on both sexes with a rather remarkable insight for how things ultimately turned out.
According to Loy, traditional gender roles are no longer valid in modern society. She explains to women that "you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval all your pet illusions must be unmasked the lies of centuries have got to go" (Loy 338). As a modernist, Loy insists that many old traditions and ideas about how things are meant to be done are no longer relevant. In this case, she speaks directly to women and suggests that there can be more to life than what has been allotted to them in the past. More than mere hopeful speculation, Loy goes on to reference a number of topics which seem beyond a normal person's scope of vision.
Although the manifesto was written in 1914, Loy appears to have considerable insight into how things were changing. She expresses some basic understanding of the concepts presented in a 1993 book by Warren Farrell. In the second chapter of The Myth of Male Power, Farrell describes that for thousands of years, men and women had been forced into their respective gender roles out of necessity, which he refers to as Stage 1 marriages. Most people were poor and surviving through winter was far from a guarantee, so it was in the best interest of the species that men go out and work while women stay home and have kids. Then, as Farrell describes, after World War 2, we entered into what he calls Stage 2 marriages in which men and women got together not necessarily because they needed each other's labor, but because they wanted each other's company. This was made possible by the creation of numerous technological innovations as well as vast amounts of wealth which essentially freed women from the kitchens, but not men from the quarries. At the same time, this new sense of freedom allowed for new examinations of why men and women are the way they are, rather than simply enforcing how they should be.
Loy wishes to break with some of the more commonly held notions of feminism. She insists that women deny "that pathetic clap-trap war cry women is the equal of man for she is NOT" (Loy 339). What is often neglected in regards to equality between the sexes is what exactly equality means in this context. A commonly incorrect interpretation is that men and women are the same, that they are interchangeable. This idea would have been especially hard to counter at the time the Manifesto was written. However, recent studies, including one by Amber Hensley, in 2009, found that "Men tend to process better in the left hemisphere of the brain while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres" (Hensley). Quite simply, men feel emotions differently than women. The neurological make up of each of the sexes' brains means men tend to respond a certain way to a particular stimulus while women tend to respond in a different way to the exact same stimulus. By saying that men and women are not equal, Loy is not implying that one sex is superior to the other. Her point here is that men and women are different, similar to apples and oranges. Just as men and women are different but no less valuable than each other, they suffered differently but to equivalent degrees under restrictive gender roles.
Gender roles have historically constraining and even oppressive. Loy again addresses women when she informs them that they "have the choice between parasitism, & prostitution or negation" (Loy 339). Women of Loy's time, while on the verge of experiencing a revolutionary sort of freedom, were still heavily confined to their traditional gender roles, namely as wives and mothers. While many people then and now continue to uphold these roles as honorable and generally good, Loy likens them to the behavior of a parasite. In this view, the woman latches herself onto a man and sustains herself on the fruits of his labor as he is expected to go out and bring home those very fruits. Many people would say that this view is technically inaccurate since women did offer access to sex and children so it was a fairly even trade, unless of course women entered the contract of marriage while offering little to nothing in exchange. However, this is where prostitution comes in as the model of marriage at the time essentially involved women offering sex in exchange for wealth owned by men. The third option of negation is separated from the other two by Loy's emphasis of the words. Here, Loy begins to offer her solution to the old way of doing things, which she apparently was not fond of since she describes being a mother as no different from being a common prostitute.
While it is established that that restrictive gender roles can hurt the individual, they can also create tensions between the sexes. Loy suggests that "men & women are enemies, with the enmity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited" (Loy 339). Having already established women's status as parasites, Loy now refers to men as the exploited. Men have historically been the ones assigned to die in war, to work the most dangerous jobs and expected to be the unpaid body guards of women and society in general (Farrell 106). Men were and still are the beasts of burden upon whose backs society is built. Men are the ones who make up the vast majority of workplace deaths and almost make up the entirety of those jobs most likely to result in death, including truckers, coal miners, lumber jacks and construction workers to name a few. Men are the ones literally dying in order to support women and women are the ones in the position to most benefit from men's labor, if only by merit of living on after a man dies and having the option to find a new man. Considering the nature of male-female relationships as defined by such constrictive gender roles, it seems only natural that there by some degree of resentment held by either party who felt that they received the lesser end of the deal for whatever reason. Considering how closely Loy's statement that "the value of man is assessed entirely according to his use or interest to the community" is so similar to Farrell's own assertions, it does not seem impractical to speculate that Warren Farrell may have read and in turn been partially inspired by the "Feminist Manifesto" in writing his own book (Loy 340).
Fortunately, even with the numerous social and technological upheavals which defined the modernist era, there was still hope that something of the old ways could be salvaged and a new order established. Starting off on theoretical solutions or alternatives to gender roles, Loy explains that women are more than what they think or what they've been told. "Nature has endowed the complete woman with a faculty of expressing herself through all her functions" (Loy 339). Equally important to genes in determining how people turn out in life is socialization. A child raised in the slums and given a second rate education will turn out much differently than if he or she were raised in a gated community and sent to the finest of private schools. Not least among these differences is the child from the gated community will most likely turn out much more educated and have far more opportunities in life. In the same way, a woman and her brother brought up in a relatively fine home and sent to the same decent school would theoretically have the same number of opportunities in life. Loy is recommending that women pursue education in order to explore their faculties of expression and become better people.
If there is to be any great shift in the social order, men and women must find a new way of viewing themselves in order to keep any sort of harmonious relationship between the sexes. Loy begins her conclusion with the odd assertion that "women must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved" (Loy 341). A popular saying of modern feminism is that women do not need men. While it is true that today an individual woman does not need a man to survive, the fact that men are still the primary builders of infrastructure means that women as a group are still dependent on men as a group. In elaboration of what she meant by women destroying their desire to be loved, Loy lists off that women must additionally do away with their jealousy of men's attention, desire for the comfort provided by men and obsession with their physical appearance. When combined, these statements appear to suggest that Loy wished for women to more toward where they are now, a world where they are relatively free on an individual level, but still dependent as a group. Seeing as how there is no mention of this group dynamic, it is unclear whether she wanted women to eventually be where they are today or perhaps something beyond. In any case, Mina Loy yet again shows off an impressive insight for how things ultimately turned out.
Mina Loy's "Feminist Manifesto" did an exceptional job of dissecting the nature of gender roles, as is considered indicative of the early feminist movement. This is especially true when compared to more modern research which substantiates many of her claims. However, Loy's apparent dream of a truly equal and prosperous society is far from a reality. Many issues still remain, including the often ignored prejudices against both sexes as well as their various causes. Loy, like many feminists, seemed to dream of a true egalitarian society. While it is debatable whether or not such a thing is truly possible, Loy correctly pointed out how we can't have equality between men and women without addressing the problems of both; a lesson we could all stand to be reminded of from time to time.