The Emancipation of Women
The radio often provides us with talks, arguments and debates which are alleged to be serious contributions on profound subjects. Actually they are often demonstrations of verbose futility which would be absurdly humorous if the social ignorance they reveal were not so tragic.
“Woman’s Hour,” for instance, recently featured an argument between four male speakers on the question of “woman’s emancipation.’’
Befuddled on the very definition of feminine emancipation, the speakers were nevertheless agreed that up to about forty years ago women were the virtual slaves of their men-folk. Forced to do their household chores uncomplainingly, tied unceasingly to the home, and browbeaten into subservient obedience by their male lords and masters, the women of the pre-emancipation era, according to the speakers, were indeed oppressed.
Agreement was also unanimous on the contention that women are now free of that oppression. They are now at liberty to complain of their household tasks, and they are no longer bound to obey their husbands. Moreover, careers outside of the home are no longer closed to women, and they can now, if they wish, go out to work in factory, office or warehouse, etc. This is the freedom now allegedly achieved by women.
We will credit the B.B.C. speakers with a sense of proportion and assume that when they speak of “men” and “women” they refer to the vast majority of men and women—i.e., the members of the working class. To us it is hard to imagine the average working-class husbands of forty or fifty years ago asserting any great authority over their spouses when the husbands themselves had expended most of their energy in an exhausting working day of twelve or thirteen hours.
The mass of women, like the mass of men, were certainly and completely enslaved, but by something more real, grim and ruthless than the dominance of the opposite sex.
Capitalism, the present social order, brings into being a working class, the members of which must sell their mental and physical energies to the class owning the land, factories and other means of wealth production. Their dependence upon the price (or wages) they receive for these energies (or labour power) places them in a position of continuous bondage to the capitalist class. This was the social system that made slaves of both men and women of the early twentieth century, and remains to enslave both the male and female workers of to-day.
The fact that many women to-day go out to work, though described by some as a sign of feminine freedom, is actually the reverse. The economic compulsion of women into the various spheres of capitalist production—the fact that they, in order to procure more of life’s necessities or, at most, a few extra comforts must augment their husband’s wages by selling their own labour-power to the capitalist class, is proof that working-class women, like their menfolk, are still enslaved.
Only when the establishment of Socialism rids the world of classes and the wages system will the economic and social emancipation of all become a reality.
F. W. Hawkins