Saturday, January 20, 2018

Men are not the enemy

The 2017 Women's March was the largest single-day protest in U.S. History. More than 4 million people across the world participated in the protest in 2017, spanning cities across the United States and other countries. The second Women's March is happening on January 20. If women's bodies are used to sell everything from mustard to motor cars, this is an expression of their peculiar oppression under capitalism. Whether we examine the family, women's sexuality or women's employment opportunities, we find the same kind of story.

It is true, many women are in severely oppressive situations at home and at work. Women get more than their fair share of the work, less than their fair share of the cake and less freedom than the men they share their lives with. Women are subordinate to men. Knowingly and unknowingly, men abuse the power they have over women—but not all men and not all the time. The problem of sexism is complex and linked to a larger problem; that of the way the whole world is organized.The majority of women and men in the world feel and are powerless in the face of the minority powers-that-be. Part of the problem of sexism is simply a "kicking the cat” syndrome. a white employed man, oppressed by his employer (or depressed by the dole queue) comes home and puts his wife in her place, for much the same reason that the pair of them will insult their black neighbours. It is an ignoble and inadequate solution to one’s own lack of self-esteem and autonomy, to undermine someone else’s. but without self-respect, it is hard to respect others. A feeling of self-respect in our present system is for most people constantly under threat.

The idea that women are (or ought to be) independent and autonomous individuals is a relatively recent one, that is still far from being accepted among much of the world's population. In general, women are economically, legally and socially inferior to men. In many parts of the world women have no legal title to property — they themselves are the property of their fathers or husbands. In feudal times peasant women were subject to the rule of both their fathers or husbands and of the feudal lord. The practice of jus primae noctis (the right of the first night) was common in much of Europe. The feudal lord had the right to take the virginity of the bride of any of his vassals or serfs unless the couple paid a certain amount of produce in redemption dues. The idea of women as property to be sexually exploited continues to the present even though the law in most modern westernised nations formally recognises women as independent. Sexual harassment of female employees by their male employers is commonplace. Again women are faced with the choice of suffering in silence or risking losing their jobs. The idea of women as men's property is reflected in the fact that in many countries rape within marriage is not a crime. The marriage contract is such that it is considered to effectively represent permanent consent of the wife to her husband for sexual relations. Rape then has been and continues to be. a horrifying aspect of war. The maleness of the military, the total environment of violence and the brutalising effects of that violence are breeding grounds for rape. But rape in war has an important symbolic quality too: it is a symbolic occupation, a forced humiliation, and the imposition of subordinate status. Rape is the act of a conqueror and women's bodies merely part of the spoils of victory. It is not only rape that we should be concerned about but the whole spectrum of sexual behaviour. And we cannot begin to understand that until we understand the nature of the wider society from which it is derived. Sexuality is natural but there is nothing natural about the ways in which we express that sexuality: it is shaped and conditioned by the society in which we live and the kinds of sexual expression that are considered acceptable are a product of particular cultures at particular times. The fact that so many people in our society express their sexuality in ways that are twisted, coercive, violent and brutal should make us very concerned about the nature of the society that produced that sexuality.

To the Socialist Party, it doesn't matter what colour or gender you are. What matters is that you are a worker. The politicisation of gender, like ethnicity, helps keep the working class divided and thus too weak to break out of its own misery. Capitalism is a master at instilling its oppressive and divisive structures at an early age. The task of revolutionaries is to identify and break those structures. And we can do it, so long as workers are willing to try to understand each other. Women have been speaking out and must continue to do so in order to lift the veil of silence. For their part, men need to understand that ignoring women's subjective experience of patriarchy is the same as perpetuating it. Either you are fighting oppression or you are complicit in it. When a man suffers rage, helplessness, and frustration, he is experiencing what it means to be a worker. But when he takes his rage out on a woman he is doing the bosses' dirty work for them and he is a class traitor.

As things are, all around the world, women and women’s work are undervalued—by men, other women and themselves. This is serious, not just because of the damage inflicted on that particular half of the adult population, but also because it threatens the well-being of the whole human race. Socialism involves a complete change in the way the whole of humanity organizes, itself so that we have a system which provides goods and services because people need them and not because of money. There is no money and there is no property. The land is owned and controlled by the whole of humanity. There are no national boundaries. It must be highly organised, but in a genuinely democratic way. so that all people are involved in making decisions that affect their lives. There are no hierarchies. no distinctions of class, race or sex.  Such a system seems like the impossible dream, but the potential for it is there. Even in capitalism, men and women can be fair and compassionate and co-operate with each other. People derive pleasure from working for themselves and others without monetary reward. What it will take is for the majority of people in the world to decide that this is how they want to live, and to set about organising it.

In linking women's oppression to property society, we differ from those who argue that women's enemies are men. Men also love and care for women, and work to support women and children. Some men have been women’s best friends at crucial times in their lives—and some men are subordinate to some women: a wealthy woman may hand out orders to a male wage-slave. It is surely preferable for women to work with women and men to change the whole system than against men in the hope of changing just one aspect of it. Some men are sometimes women’s enemies—but so are some women. Many men and women are women's potential friends and allies. If capitalism is to be overthrown then the working class must be united. Women and men, whatever their age or colour, have to work together in the fight for socialism. The Socialist Party's struggle is aiming at the liberation of all, regardless of gender, age or colour.


Tim Hart said...

This is a very important article that steers us away from the fickle characteristics of identity politics which are ever more prevalent nowadays, a recent manifestation of which is the resurrection of the #MeToo movement led by the sanctimonious Hollywood glitterati against their own errant members. (such criticism is not intended to detract from the individual suffering and genuine grievances of the women involved) The article points out very eloquently the way in which this false representation of the problem as an ‘issue’ rather than as ‘systemic’ perpetuates, rather than alleviates, the oppression of women; the systemic problem being the pernicious nature of capitalism itself. The importance of resisting identity politics, so often a lazy cause of the Left, is wonderfully summed up in this quote from the article:
"The politicisation of gender, like ethnicity, helps keep the working class divided and thus too weak to break out of its own misery. Capitalism is a master at instilling its oppressive and divisive structures at an early age."

Thanks for posting the article. I’d be interested to know the source?

ajohnstone said...

It was not an original article but a collation of extracts plagiarise from various SOCIALIST STANDARD article over the years.

Tim Hart said...

Thanks for the clarification