Mina Loy (1882-1966) was a poet often associated with the literary Modernist movement, a movement which included towering figures of twentieth century literature such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, known for its highly experimental use of form. However, her best known work is not a poem but a manifesto, namely, the Feminist Manifesto.
Written in 1914, it is a short work - in fact it can be read in just a couple of minutes - but the striking tone of the manifesto, as well as its highly radical ideas are what make it so memorable. Speaking to women and particularly contemporary feminists rather than patriarchal society, she starts by saying, “The feminist movement as at present instituted is Inadequate. Women if you want to realize yourselves-you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval-all your pet illusions must be unmasked”. It thus becomes clear right from the beginning that this feminist manifesto is, ironically, going to perform a critique of contemporary feminism as it, intentionally capitalising the “I” of “Inadequate” to emphasise her point that the feminist movement is not doing enough.
Up to now, female emancipatory groups had mostly been focused on attaining freedom for women by pushing for certain reforms, such as the right of women to vote in elections; seeing liberation as a gradual process. However, Loy argues against this approach, declaring that “There is no half-measure—NO scratching on the surface of the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about Reform, the only method is Absolute Demolition”. She suggests that the only way to bring about true reform of women’s rights is to destroy the current establishment and its traditions entirely so as to start afresh. In other words, she wants a feminist revolution.
Observing that all it seems contemporary feminists want are “Professional and commercial careers” she then goes on to assert that “Men & women are enemies” adding that “The only point at which the interests of the sexes merge—is the sexual embrace.” Her point here is arguably more radical than her cry for “Demolition”, since to say that men and women are, or should be, naturally at loggerheads with one another is a very worrying thought, if correct.
But, in spite of her radical feminism, in the manifesto she also indulges in some rather eugenic thinking, conceiving of two classes of women, one of which is inferior to the other: “Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race-responsibility, in producing children in adequate proportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex”. This sort of fascistic talk may seem controversial to the modern reader, but back in the early twentieth century the idea that some people were superior to others and that these people should therefore try to match the breeding of those deemed inferior was common. The instruction suggests that Loy wishes to limit the fight for female emancipation to women who are intellectually competent, excluding women from the lower rungs of society who have been unable to have a proper education.
Arguably then, Mina Loy’s Feminist Manifesto is a work which promotes an extremely divided vision of society both in terms of gender and in terms of class, wishing to emphasise the differences between men and women, as well as between different classes of women.
Image: By AnonMoos, toa267 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons