50 Years Ago: Equality of men and women
Along with the emancipation of the capitalist from the necessity of any form of personal labour proceeded the releasing of his wife from household duties, which more and more devolved upon hired servants. Likewise the divorce between ownership and work made it easier for such women to inherit properly direct with all the advantages of the same. Hence their modern demand for political influence.
On the other hand, a similar equalising of the sexes took place among the workers. Deprived by machinery of the market value of his skill and muscular power, the handi-craftsman was replaced by the wage-labourer, who owned no means of life but was compelled to sell himself to toil for another; his women-folk therefore became in reality, dependent, not on him, but upon the capitalist, while his family authority as father or husband degenerated into an obligation to send his wife and children out to earn wages in order to restore, however partially, the family income to the level of his former position had enabled him to maintain. Thus the male labourers are compelled to cut their own throats, so to speak, for the employment of women and children, once established, tends progressively to supplant the labour of men along with the advance of machinery. Whereas formerly the man was the bread-winner-in-chief, now the whole family offers itself for the consumption by Capital of its reductive efforts.
Thus modern industry has abolished economic distinctions between the sexes of the working class, not by raising woman to man’s level, but, by the abolition of his property, reducing him to hers’, worsening the conditions of both to an intense degree.
From the Socialist Standard, January 1916.