“Just Another Radical Marxist for Women’s Liberation.”
I’m going start this piece by making an unpopular statement: the feminist movement doesn’t go far enough. The feminist movement made some progressive gains for women, and stands for the social, political and economic equality between the sexes, but we have to take that further if we’re serious. I’m not one to mince words. I think everyone fighting for women’s liberation should be a Marxist. Marxism explains where oppression originates. Understanding where oppression comes from, and how it develops within society, is intrinsic to kicking that antiquated shit to the curb. Marxism also shows that the working class women and men of the world are the ones with the real axe to grind, and have the collective ability to make demands and effect real change. Feminism tells us that “Patriarchy” and “Privilege” are our oppressors. Sure, but where do they come from? They come from Capitalism! Now I think showing solidarity instead of instituting segregation should be the way we fight for social justice and equality. I think that uprooting oppression takes a revolutionary strategy that doesn’t stop at nonprofits and candle light vigils. I think women have always played integral roles in revolts, insurrection, and full-scale revolution, and I know we’re just getting started.
It’s important to locate the origins of women’s oppression to fully understand the role it plays in society currently. Only when you understand what you’re fighting can you begin to dismantle it. Now, I’ll keep it as concise as possible, I could write volumes on the subject (and people have) but I want to provide a snapshot to incite a dialogue about where women’s oppression stems from. But more than that--how I believe a Marxist strategy provides the framework to imagine a better world and start chipping away at the old one.
My academic background is in Feminist Theory, and let me preface with this, I wouldn’t trade my support or experiences within that program, however I recognize it’s predominant line of thought as incomplete and flawed because it plays to the ideas of privilege and patriarchy as the highest oppressors. This theory rarely takes economic or historical factors into contextual consideration. It also precludes that there is a global sisterhood shared by all women through their oppression from sexism.
From a realistic standpoint Hillary Clinton and I both share in oppression from sexism as women, however we experience it differently because of our respective class status. If we needed abortion services, she would indeed have a much easier time obtaining those services. Why? Because she would not have to worry about cost, finding an abortion fund to help with that cost, transportation, scheduling off from her 9-5 job, making rent after paying for the service, or having good insurance if there are attached complications. Hillary Clinton, along with all other rich, ruling class women do not experience threats to their reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy the way I and other working class /poor women experience those threats. This kicks to the curb the idea of a “global sisterhood.”
It’s time to stop the absurd unpacking of the “privilege knapsack,” and address the real threat to solidarity-the the ruling class. Not being stopped by the cops because of your outward appearance isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. Having access to decent healthcare isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. Being able to keep a roof over your head, regardless of what the economy is doing, isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. And it is a fundamental right for all to be able to go to a good school, and receive a quality education, it is not a privilege.
Oppressions need to be taken out of the abstract and made all the easier to get rid of; starting with sexism. Marxists draw upon Marx and Engels’ ideas which rejected outright the perspective (upheld by conservatives, but also by some feminists) that the low status of women was an unchanging feature of human existence—fixed for all time by human biology or by the ideas in people’s heads. Marxism’s understanding of history views human beings as not only products of the natural world, but as active agents able to interact with their environments, effecting change within themselves, their social structures and the natural world around them. This understanding doesn’t mesh with the flawed perspective that holds women as always being inferior, because it looks at the evidence of the evolution of human society.
Women’s status in society has always been related to the role they have played in the family, and the various forms the “family” has taken in history. Women’s roles changed with the development of private property. According to the sexual division of labor, men tended to take charge of heavier agricultural jobs, like plowing, since it was more difficult for pregnant or nursing women. As production shifted away from the household, the role of reproduction changed.
The shift toward agricultural production sharply increased the productivity of labor. This, in turn, increased the demand for labor because the greater the number of field workers meant the higher the yield. Thus, unlike previous hunter-gatherer societies, which sought to limit the number of offspring, agricultural societies sought to maximize women’s reproductive potential, so the family would have more children to help out with the work. Therefore, at the same time that men were playing an increasingly exclusive role in production, women were required to play a much more central role in reproduction.
The rigid sexual division of labor remained the same, but production shifted away from the household. The family no longer served anything but a reproductive function- it became an economic unit of consumption. Women became trapped within their individual families, as the reproducers of society, cut off from production. These changes took place first among the property-owning families, the first ruling class. But eventually, the nuclear family became an economic unit of society as a whole.
That is why capitalism has a vested interest in the continued oppression of women. If women had the unchallenged ability to control their reproductive means, and were compensated for work equally in society, the ruling class would lose its manufacturers of the next generation of poor workers. Capitalism is not only invested in creating sexist rhetoric to, “keep women in their place,” but it also has an interest in promoting racism, queer phobia, ageism, and disability exclusion as a means of weakening and dividing the working class, thereby driving down the costs of labour.
Marx was right about another thing, if oppression is made –that is, if it is not indigenous to the human spirit, but is created by people- then it also could be unmade. The first step in un-making social oppression is to understand where it comes from. Once we understand what we are up against, we can begin to destroy it. This means rejecting the capitalist system that fosters oppression, and joining the political struggle for full democracy. The working people of the world experience oppression everyday of their lives, and this is especially true of working women. We need to unite against what is made to divide us; we must struggle together as a united working class to achieve our own liberation. We must fight together for a just and equal society.