The English Romantic poet Percy Shelley, who died in 1822 at age 29, played a significant role in developing the ideas of the feminist movement, author Carrie Gress says.
Ideas of the “the occult, smashing the patriarchy, and free love” played a significant role in Shelley’s writing and ideology, says Gress, author of the new book The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has Destroyed Us.
Shelley was a “barbaric man” who was “involved in the occult,” Gress says. His wife was Mary Shelley, author of the 1818 novel Frankenstein, she notes, and Shelley drew on the ideas of her parents—a vision of a “women’s revolution where there’s no monogamy, there’s no marriage, all of these things are just erased, and people just live this bucolic life without any reference to their human nature.”
Shelley’s ideology contributed to the modern feminist movement, a movement that has led to what Gress calls “The End of Woman.”
Gress, also a fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the history of feminism and explain how the feminist movement has harmed women and left women unfulfilled.
Listen to the podcast or read a lightly edited transcript of today’s interview below:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by Carrie Gress. She is author of the new book The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has Destroyed Us. Carrie, thank you so much for being with us today.
Carrie Gress: My pleasure. It’s great to be here.
Allen: Carrie, you are a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. You’ve authored 10 books, you’re a wife, you’re a mom to five kids. How did you start researching and writing on the feminist movement? What sparked your interest?
Gress: Yeah, it’s actually funny because when I was in graduate school, I swore I would never get involved in women’s issues. I mean, I even said it out loud, and so I still kind of laugh and it’s something that I’m interested in.
But one of the reasons why I didn’t like it was I felt like there was a lot of good content out there for women to sort of skirt around the radical feminist movement, but so much of it was written very academically and it was not anything that I could pass on to friends or family or to people that I knew that were really struggling with their lives and lifestyles.
So anyway, it just was one of those things that just sort of came about. I just started writing, really, about the very first—one of the first books that I wrote on women was about motherhood and just how much motherhood transforms us.
I think going from that experience of thinking that next week it’s going to get easier with my newborn, next week will be easier, next week will be easier, and then finally realizing, like, wait a minute, maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. Maybe this is helping me become a better person through these trials and all these things that are pulling me out of my own sort of narcissistic cocoon that I had created for myself.
So anyway, it’s just been very gradual. But yeah, feminism itself, I really didn’t intend to take it on in this huge way I do with this book until I started looking into the first wave feminism. And I’m sure you’ve heard so many people say feminism was hijacked in the second wave.
And so I was just expecting to sort of dig into the first wave and thought, well, it’s just going to be all these really nice, lovely things about women and much pure understanding of womanhood. And I was just shocked at what I found because it was so different and it was also so clear to me that what we are seeing in the second wave actually had its roots in the first wave.
So that’s really kind of the arc of how we got to this point.
Allen: When we talk about the feminist movement, when we say that word, feminism, for the purposes of our discussion, what do you mean by that?
Gress: I think that’s a fantastic question because it’s used almost differently by every woman, I think. And the one thing that seems to be kind of common is this idea that feminism is you’re pro-woman. The problem is, of course, is that what I mean by pro-woman is going to be very different than what Gloria Steinem means by pro-woman, and that’s where things break down.
So the definition that I work with now is really focused on three elements that I think run through first wave, second wave. There are obviously going to be variations of this, and I’ll go into those three in a second. They’re going to be variations of it. And I think it’s really incumbent upon people that still call themselves feminists to define what they mean because these three are so pernicious.
But the first one is free love, which is the end of monogamy and really the breakdown of the family.
The second one is what started out being called restructuring society. It later was called smashing the patriarchy and actually, angles had something to do with that. This wasn’t just some feminist item. In fact, a lot of these ideas did come from men. So that’s the other one, smashing the patriarch.
And then the third one is just the involvement of the occult.
So those are the three threads that I found running throughout the first and the second wave, and certainly, we’re seeing it now in the third and fourth waves of feminism. So that’s what I mean by feminism when I’m using it in this context.
Allen: Thank you. OK, so let’s go all the way back then to the beginning of the feminist movement. And I love that you take us all the way back in the book to the 1700s and you talk about a woman named Mary Wollstonecraft. You say that she’s considered the first feminist. Who was she and why is she considered the start of the feminist movement?
Gress: So, Mary Wollstonecraft was a woman that she was very much involved with a lot of the revolutionary ideas connected with the French Revolution, and Thomas Paine actually helped her out. Much of his help was quiet because he didn’t want to detract from his other efforts.
Certainly, in the French Revolution and beyond, people think of him as sort of the first socialist, actually. He went from writing “Common Sense,” United States, and then just kept going more and more deeper into what we would now call leftism. …
So she was very much influenced by him and you can see that in her work.
So she’s following up Thomas Paine, and then she writes her kind of magnum opus, or what people know her for, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which followed on that. So her work follows, in many respects, a lot of the intellectual threads of the French Revolution. …
Talleyrand was someone that she was involved with, had a relationship with, and actually, I think she dedicated the book to him. So she’s deep into that kind of thought.
But in the meantime, she was in Paris during the French Revolution. She had a relationship with an American man. She became pregnant. They never married, but he actually told the U.S. Embassy that she was his wife. And so she was actually spared from the guillotine because of her American affiliation. So she had this child, daughter, out of wedlock and moved back to England.
And then from there she ended up meeting, again, a man that she’d already met through Thomas Paine, a man named William Godwin, who was at the forefront of the anarchist movement and the end of monogamy, the free love movement. He just thought marriage was this kind of slavery. And he was kind of known throughout England and France and in more radical circles and had kind of a celebrity because of it.
So she marries him after they get pregnant also, and they have Mary Godwin, later Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein.
What she set forth was really kind of this French revolutionary crush everything, get rid of patriarchy, get rid of what I guess you would call the hierarchy in the church and in the military and all those kinds of things. And she’s trying to create this equality among men and women.
So that’s really the first spark, you could say, that set off the movement from there. So yeah, she’s a fascinating character. She herself had horrible parents, really incredibly awful example of what men and women should be, and I think that that kind of comes through in her work as well.
So yeah, she’s a very colorful woman. She died in childbirth, actually, when Mary Godwin was born. So that’s really the end of her story at that point. And after that, of course, the story moves on, of feminism, with Mary Godwin Shelley and Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy B. Shelley, the poet, the well-known poet who integrated a lot of Mary’s ideas.
Allen: So how did her ideas then go and translate into the wave of feminism? First, obviously starting with the first wave of feminism and moving along?
Gress: Well, this is where I think it’s really interesting because I think very few people realize that feminism, these three pieces—the occult, smashing the patriarchy, and free love—all came together in the work of Percy Shelley.
In his poetry, he was trying to create what he called the women’s revolution. So he’s taking ideas from Godwin, he’s taking ideas from Wollstonecraft, putting them together, adding his own.
I mean, this was a barbaric man, actually. He was involved in the occult. There’s this whole string of suicides of women that he had seduced, including his wife, had committed suicide, his first wife.
So he was really an awful man. But what he saw was kind of the vision of Mary Shelley’s parents, which was this women’s revolution where there’s no monogamy, there’s no marriage, all of these things are just erased, and people just live this bucolic life without any reference to their human nature.
He concocts this, actually, interestingly, around the same time that his wife is writing Frankenstein, he develops this character named Cythna, who is basically the first independent woman in all of literature. She has no husband, she has no children. The one relationship she does have is to Satan. And this woman becomes the model in the minds of later feminists in the 1800s, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as the movement is moving forward.
So he’s the one that kind of put his stamp on it and gave people someone tangible to think about in these very new and radical terms.
Allen: I’m just so fascinated by this. I’ve never heard anyone bring up the occult roots within the feminist movement. How did you discover this and why don’t people talk about this?
Gress: Yeah, no, I mean, part of it is it feels old and unimportant. I think that some of it’s 1800s, who cares? And I think we also have this sense of the 1800s as being a very pristine time, sort of Victorian mores and whatnot. And I can tell you, my research sort of blew all of that out of the water in terms of prostitution, abortion, all this unfaithfulness. I mean, it just was everywhere I looked, but I had already sort of started seeing pieces of it.
There’s one book that brought a lot of the elements to light for me, and I discovered it several years ago, and it’s called Satanic Feminism, and it’s by a Swedish professor. It was published by Oxford University Press. It’s in English. And it’s one of those books that when I first read it, I thought that he was against satanic feminism. And of course, the deeper I get into the footnotes and references, I’m beginning to realize, no, he actually thinks this is a positive thing.
So it was really fascinating to read because he goes through this period of feminism, very first wave feminism, that most people don’t touch and is making all of these different connections. Incredibly well-researched book.
So from there, that provided me with something of a guideline or a backbone for my research. But then I was able to dig into primary sources and secondary sources and start really piecing together the bigger picture of what all this means and the incredible damage connected with all of it.
Allen: In our conversation, we’re even using those terms, first wave, second wave, third wave of feminism. Is that the right way, or do you think the most accurate way, to talk about feminism? Should we be thinking about it differently?
Gress: I think that in my own mind, I don’t actually separate them up that way anymore, partially because in the 1800s, the occult is playing a very active role in the 1800s. You’ve got the Great Awakening in the United States, you’ve got seances. You also really see this connection. Electricity is happening and the telegram and all these ways people are connecting with people in long-distance fashions.
And so something like a seance doesn’t feel so crazy anymore. They’re just like these telephone poles between this life and the next. This is what they thought mediums were and didn’t think anything about having a seance and those kinds of things. So that’s a fascinating part.
I think when you get to the 1900s, the dynamic changes significantly because then you’re venturing into communism. You’re also venturing into the influence of Nietzsche and existentialism and all of these long names that I think blur people’s eyes over.
But I think that it fundamentally changed because feminism started pairing itself easily with communism. Communism was worried about restructuring society and ending monogamy and the nuclear family, and they were atheists. So there was really just one piece, this occult piece, this atheist and occult piece that were different between the two movements.
And I think that was easily overcome by the two groups, the communist and the feminist, and they realized that they had the same ends in mind and could work together. So I think that happens.
And then second wave really is just this explosion of what we now know to be the woke movement. It’s these Frankfurt thinkers that really injected the ideas of the New Left and the Frankfurt School into the feminist movement. And you see a lot of overlap.
Angela Davis is the name that comes up over and over again. In fact, I just read Christopher Rufo’s new book, [America’s Cultural Revolution], which is excellent. But it was really interesting to see how much Angela Davis played in his trajectory. And there’s overlap, of course, with feminism as well.
And I think everything just spates out of that. I don’t think you have further waves from that. I think it’s just all a big mess of—and answering this question, maybe a better way to bring all these pieces together is to say, the question that early feminists were asking was, how do we make women more like men?
And if we look at it through that lens, then all of a sudden the last 200 years makes sense. And we see they are trying to make us men, and we see that happening biologically now. We have the technology to turn our bodies into something that appears more masculine, even though it can never be done thoroughly.
But yeah, I think that kind of bridges these pieces and connects them together in ways that might be difficult to see sometimes. But that fundamental question I think is how you can sort of see the tweaking going on. And now even the infighting between those who are for trans and those who are against trans, it’s just the ideology is really turning against itself.
Allen: The book is The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has destroyed Us. It is out and available on Aug. 15, but it’s available for pre-order now. Carrie, thank you for your time and for being with us today.
Gress: Thanks so much. It’s been great to be with you.
Virginia Allen is a senior news producer and podcast host for The Daily Signal. She is the co-host of “The Daily Signal Podcast” and “Problematic Women.” Send an email to Virginia.
Copyright 2023 The Daily Signal
React to This Article
What do you think of our coverage in this article? We value your feedback as we continue to grow.