Aspects of the “Woman Question.”

(Based on Notes of a series of lectures on “The Sexes in Evolution.”)

< Continued.

We are told there is a sex antagonism. Any morning we can open the pages of the stunt press and find articles calling attention to the intensity of the sex war. In the old days of the Women’s Suffrage agitation the success of the movement depended upon women’s adherence to, and recognition of, this sex war. As a matter of fact there is no sex antagonism and hasn’t been for thousands of years. How many books have been written explaining the sex problem ? Yet—there isn’t a sex problem. There is a problem, but it is a social problem. And that problem is the problem of getting a decent living. Hunger and Love are the two dominating factors of life. They are the basic biological principles which underlie every form of living activity and every institution. The satisfaction of these two primal necessities is the first concern of all living things. But since we—different from most other animals—are obliged to cooperate with each other in order to obtain the food we require, the question becomes a social one. Further, since we find that the means of getting a living are in the possession of another class, the social question becomes a social problem, and, by the very nature of the existing structure of society, a political one as well. Incidentally, we know quite well that a problem is a problem no longer when its solution is known. We know the solution as readers of this journal will be well aware. For present purposes, however, we speak of the “social problem.”

The so-called Women’s Movement, so far as it has gone, has been a movement for the advancement of certain reforms within the framework of the present social system. It would be true to say that even if all their claims for equal political and social rights were achieved it would not mean the emancipation of women, or anything near it. Only those women would benefit who belong to the privileged, or propertied class in society—those with sufficient wealth to possess a political “pull.” The majority of women, like the majority of men, belong to the wage-earning class, and this class cannot benefit so long as the tools of production —and not only the tools of production but the product as well—remain the property of another class.

To those who see the effects only and do not trouble to trace causes, the women’s struggle appears to be a struggle of sex against sex, and this idea is carefully worked upon. This mistake was made by the leaders themselves in the early feminist movement. They accepted the suggestion that woman was inferior to man, and in thousands of homes—especially those of working folk—it went without question.

That women are in a condition of subjection goes without saying. But they are not in subjection to the men. Individuals certainly may be, but not as a class. Men are in subjection—slaves to a system, and because the men are in subjection the women necessarily are in subjection, too. Morgan, in his valuable book, ” Ancient Society,” has shown that human society has an essentially economic basis. He has shown that the evolution of human society has progressed in accordance with the development of the means of production, and the methods of their ownership. Here we have the secret of the origin of all forms of social slavery, the subjection of women among the rest. Without the introduction of economic inequality, sex inequality could never have spread throughout the civilised world as it has done.

In the days of the adult suffrage agitation it was maintained that the acquisition of complete enfranchisement would mean sex equality. How true this claim was has now a chance of being shown. But right here it can be said that to make this claim is to lose sight of the true function of politics. Woman’s subjection did not arise from political disabilities—in fact these disabilities themselves arose from woman’s subjection— and, as already stated, this subjection has its roots deep down in economic inequality. Politics are the result of economic conditions, and in all its variety political action has gone upon the lines of economic interests. The enfranchisement of every man and every woman, now that it is practically universal, will certainly extend the possibilities of political action, but cannot of itself remove or alter the economic conditions under which people suffer. That is, so long as the majority of men and women remain un-conscious of their class position in society. So that universal suffrage, to be of value, depends upon the use to which it is put. Granting the vote to every man and woman does not in the least jeopardise the position of the exploiting class at the present stage of working-class political education. We need only ask : who possessed the greatest social power—the woman employer who hadn’t a vote, or the enfranchised wage-worker she exploited?

(To be continued.)


(Socialist Standard, October 1929)

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