Aspects of The “Woman Question.”
(Based on Notes of a series of Lectures on ‘ The Sexes in Evolution.”)
Many have contended that the work of propaganda among women requires essentially different methods than are used among men. Woman is dependent upon man—yes, that is true, at least of the majority. But what is man dependent on? A wage, which in turn depends on a job. Who owns the job ? Not always the man who does it. So that woman’s dependence and man’s dependence are all of a piece— it is all part of the same problem. Where women have gone into industry they have shifted, to some extent, their economic dependence from husband or father, to that of an employer. But even so, it has only made her problem more identical with that of the working man.
I am unable at the moment to give the latest figures of the number of women employed, but this is relatively unimportant. Their actual industrial position is reflected by the amount of wages received by them. Here again actual figures are lacking, but the crucial point is this—the Capitalist system finds in the huge body of unemployed a source of strength in that they compete with each other in the labour market. Women further intensify this competition by the fact that they can be compelled to accept a lower wage than a man. The minimum wage of all labour being determined by the amount on which a man can live, it is taken for granted that this must be higher for a man than for a woman. Woman, whether true or not, is looked upon as having no dependents, and her known ability to live more cheaply than man is undoubtedly taken into account.
The same laws of competition, over-supply, etc., hold with the labourer, whether man or woman. There is no difference whatever in the way in which Capitalism exploits men and women. In the economic fight it has been the one who endeavoured to maintain life on the barest necessities, and who possessed at the same time the least power of resistance, who has been pushed to the wall—whether man or woman. As pointed out by J. A. Hobson —”It is not the difference of sex which is the chief factor in determining the industrial position of woman. Machinery knows neither age nor sex, but chooses the labour embodied in man, woman or child which is the cheapest in relation to the degree of its efficiency.”
Women, also, are badly organised—they are not good trade unionists. Possibly this is partly because she is by training domestic, and that such things as trade unions, politics, etc., have not come within her purview. Partly too, because she hopes that her entry into industry will not be permanent. . . .
As regards home and family life, even the most superficial observer will agree that the prevailing system exerts a harmful effect.
Take the case of marriage. It is a prevailing impression that marriages are based on the love and mutual respect of two persons for each other. So they are in many cases, but often with consequences of economic disaster. In a large number of cases, however, there is not the slightest doubt that girls enter into marriage for the express purpose of escaping from a life of toil in the office or factory. The marriages and social affairs of the idle rich we can leave out of account—their carryings-on would take volumes to describe. So that from this standpoint alone we can see that it is not remarkable that when economic trouble arises domestic life is directly affected. A good deal of the existing unhappiness in working-class homes is traceable to this source. We all know of the misery entailed through couples being unable either to furnish or buy a house. Either there is a shortage of houses to let or a shortage of money to buy one. After so influencing the structure of family life as to make it conform to its requirements, and then helping to undermine the very foundations of this structure by its degrading conditions, Capitalism goes yet further and displays complete indifference to the fact that for thousands there are no homes at all ! So cheaply is human life regarded. And yet if any lapse from the path of moral rectitude occurs, we are taught to look on it as a shame or a disgrace—that is unless one belongs to the upper ten. The more we look into it, the more do we see the necessity for the closer co-operation of men and women in the fight for the conquest of political power. Many advocates of women suffrage have only sought and worked for sex emancipation, quite failing to realise that its full significance lies in a full social and political education for both sexes before its value can be fully utilized.
(To be continued)
(Socialist Standard, November 1929)