Is the Future Female?

My friend, Hwee Yee, shared an article I wrote recently on the paradigm of sexism from Harvey Weinstein and beyond.  She commented on the irony of her mentor constantly referring to the future being “female” despite his own contribution to structural misogyny which she has had to endure while working with him.

Hwee Yee’s commentary made me think about how clichés like “the future is female” replicate the religious doxa that describes the condition of old such as that of peasants in England from the the High Middle Ages (c.1001—1300) through much of the 19th century.  In this arrangement, serfs, although not formally enslaved to local landowner, were nonetheless required to work for the lord of the manor for as long as it took to relieve his bondage.  While serfs occupied a plot of land, their time was not theirs as they had to work the land of the lord, mind his fields, labour in his mines, or comply with whatever task that was set before him. While women and men toiled in the fields, women were given the additional labour of all domestic chores.  Add to this painful existence of what is essentially forced servitude the plague and life for the serf was no easy or joyful existence.

Religion played a central role in the life of the serf who was convinced that this world was made for their suffering, a narrative that Catholic Church freely dispersed maintaining the social hierarchies of all.  And if the peasant suffers enough, but maintains an earthly obedience to the master, pays her dues to the lord of the manner, obeys the laws set before him, then she too might have a future of freedom from life’s suffering. The future, of course, was set up in the “life after death” proscribed within Christianity. So freedom became nothing other than an idea, never a pragmatic or realizable project.

In Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (1922), German sociologist, Max Weber wrote: “The most elementary forms of behavior motivated by religious…factors are oriented to this world.”  He goes on to identify some of the more important roles of religion which he viewed as the offering the hope of protection and the conterminous relief from suffering.  This theory is confirmed by Bronisław Malinowski in  “Culture,” Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (1931) wherein he writes: “Religion is not born out of speculation or reflection, still less out of illusion or misapprehension, but rather out of the real tragedies of human life, out of the conflict between human plans and reality” (621-46).

The progressive strengthening of power within the Catholic Church came at an extraordinary human cost whereby the labour of the unmentioned, unnamed millions of slaves, serfs, bordars, and cottagers who labored for wealthier people due to nothing more than the condition of their birth. The notion that these slaves would be freed of their suffering came at a high price and only after a lifetime of suffering and dutiful obeisance to their oppression, would the oppressed be liberated. It was through death that the slave hopefully wished her situation away as she toiled for the master.

Skip to the twentieth century and we see the more radical clerics within the Catholic Church not only discussing the horribly problematic theology of telling people to suffer in this life only to be liberated through death, but the Church actually made moves away from their colonial oppressions of much of the planet, in theory at least.  In August 1968 approximately 130 Catholic Bishops met in Vigolín, Colombia, to apply Vatican II to Latin America.  The bishops recognized the need for a different type of theology, specific to the needs of Latin America, that acknowledges a “solidarity of the church within a Latin American reality”(Gutiérrez, 148).  They denounced “institutional violence” directly referring to it as a “situation of sin” where the church’s past silence or inaction had contributed to the unjust situation in Latin America.  The bishops prescribed a new theology that makes way for a revolutionary interpretation of the Bible out of the experience of the poor  asserting that “faith and life are inseparable” (Gutiérrez, 1988 p. xix). Hence, liberation theology was born from the incorporation of the doxa and structures of the Catholic Church with the the political, social, and cultural realities of the oppressed.  The call for men and women alike to be freed of earthly bondage and torment by the wealthy was a massive force behind Latin American politics from the 1960s through today.

The question of my friend’s post today reminded me of Liberation Theology which contested that humans must suffer on earth to reap heavenly rewards. For if the future really is female, why are we not seeing any future now?  Or is this future, like that of the Medieval peasant, one that depends upon the death of the subject?  Here are some quick facts: nearly half the women who are murdered in the U.S. are killed by intimate partners, women face greater challenges in obtaining a line of credit, the declining population of females since 2001 in the South-East Asian region is indicative of femicide and ill-treatment of females, and the rise in self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 in the UK has risen by 68% in three years. Given these facts, one has to wonder if the future is at all female.

Indeed, do females even matter beyond folksy clichés which say absolutely nothing? Like the term “ahorita” in Latin America which means both “now” and, practically speaking, means “later”, “the future is female” will forever remain a sound byte for lefty men to sound progressive while shaking their heads in response to daily allegations made against Harvey Weinstein (as he claims to be “one of the good ones…trust me”).  It allows lefty men to superficially dawn the logos of progressivism while doing absolutely nothing to change the status quo.

The real question for women in and out of Hollywood is not if the future is female or not, but this:  when will the present be female?  ¿Ahorita

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: julian.vigo@gmail.com. Read other articles by Julian.