1980s >> 1983 >> no-942-february-1983

Women’s Estate

The Women’s Liberation Movement could be said to be divided into two groups: Socialist Feminists and Revolutionary Feminists. In one editorial of Scarlet Women the Socialist Feminists say ” . . . we have to examine Socialist Feminist thought and seek to redevelop it. What we are looking for is nothing less than a total redefinition of Socialist thought and practice. We are looking towards a Socialism that abolishes patriarchy”. The Revolutionary Feminists stress the primacy of the sex struggle for women, in contrast to the Marxist emphasis on the class struggle. Their focus is on issues which directly concern the sexual subordination of women to men — rape, prostitution, control of reproduction and pornography. They claim that Marxist analyses which are based on the primacy of the class struggle are incapable of adequately dealing with these issues or any others which they say cut across class boundaries. They see women as a sex class. So there is a tendency in the women’s movement to be critical of Marxist theory as neglecting the sexual division.
 
Simone de Beauvoir, in her book Second Sex, says men are encouraged to play out their lives in the realm of transcendence, whereas women are confined to immanence. In other words, men work, create, do things, are in positions of authority and make their own histories, whereas women are confined to the home where their function is not to create but to maintain. Women keep house and raise children. Of course, reality is not quite like this, since work in a capitalist society is often stifling and stunting and men engaging in it could hardly be described as creating their own histories by transcending themselves. Within the present social context, however, it is still true that men are trained to go out, work and, within limits, shape their own lives and that, even bearing in mind the alienating nature of work, they have more opportunities to satisfy their need for creativity than women. The myth that woman’s natural place is in the home and that naturally she will find the fulfilment of her creativity in bearing and raising children is terribly destructive.
 
A woman may, and does, work while living with a man, although many a wife maintains a home for her husband and lives for him and through him rather than for and through herself. A mother’s job outside the home may offer the family more than week-to-week subsistence. It is her wage that enables the family to eat better food, have a holiday or new clothes. It does not follow that the job will be satisfying; many jobs open to women are unpleasant — waitresses, clerks, salesgirls, typists and factory hands. Usually the nature of these jobs makes marriage seem more attractive, and often girls hope to find the best available man for financial security or to escape from the crowded and repressive home.
 
The pattern of wifely subservience is changing, however, and the myth that child bearing and rearing is the fulfilment of a woman’s destiny is being questioned. Having children is no substitute for creating one’s own life, but many women are conditioned to devote themselves to nothing else and so end up as intolerable burdens on their children.
 
Much of the resentment in Women’s Liberation movements against men is sexual — they feel they are being treated as objects (as. in fact, many are). Fashions, advertising, films and magazines all betray the fact that women are culturally conceived of as objects and, worse still, often accept this definition and try to make themselves into a more desirable commodity on the sexual market. We must recognise that this self-definition and conscious acceptance is related to economic and social structures. Men and women are oppressed together and must be liberated together. Women will not achieve anything by venting their hostility on men. They must recognise that capitalist society inculcates destructive beliefs about themselves and must understand the extent to which they have been conditioned since childhood.
 
If we recognise that the problems facing women are related to the structure of the whole society, then we see that the only solution is to change society fundamentally. We live in a capitalist society where goods are produced for sale with a view to profit. Simple manufacture has evolved into a gigantic electronic technology. The world retains the same basic social relations, in both public and private sectors, of capital and wage labour. All over the world there is poverty, famine, insecurity, inequality and war. The basic reason is the commodity nature of wealth under capitalism — the fact that wealth is socially produced and privately owned. Every social system has its basis through which almost every feature of it can be traced and explained. The morals, attitudes and institutions of capitalism are explained through the class ownership of the means of producing and distributing the world’s wealth.
 
A section of the population, as direct proprietors or company shareholders, own the land, factories, mines, workshops, ships, banks and any other trading concern, or invest their money in government or municipal securities. This is the basic social condition which forms social relationships like buying and selling, employing and being employed. It is also responsible for social institutions like shops and markets, which are needed for the relationships to operate. On one side is the capitalist class and on the other the working class.
 
A class is a group of people who, although they may differ in their nationality or background or their so-called race, have economic interests in common. A class, with its common economic interests, exists whether or not its members realise it. A capitalist is someone who has enough ownership to be able to live without going to work for a wage or salary. Because of this ownership the capitalist’s interests are opposed to those of the working class — those people who do not own enough to give them a living but who rely for their livelihood on selling their labour power to the employer for wages.
 
Whenever a commodity is bought or sold there immediately occurs a clash of interests, for it is to the advantage of the seller to sell for the highest possible price and of the buyer to buy at the lowest price possible. Therefore it is in the interest of the working class to get the highest wages and best working conditions they can, and in the interest of the employers to exploit workers as intensely as they can for as little as possible. This dooms the majority of capitalism’s people to poverty. Capitalism produces for profit — when profit is not available production ceases or wealth is destroyed. Because of its basic characteristics, capitalism is unable to satisfy the needs and desires of the world’s people. It must always deprive, undermine and suppress them.
 
If the Women’s Liberation Movement achieves all its immediate demands, such as equal pay, educational opportunities, 24 hour nurseries, free contraception and abortion on demand, there will remain the need for a revolutionary change in society.
 
Although Women’s Liberation came into existence in the late nineteen-sixties, feminist organisations were in being long before. Juliet Mitchell in Women’s Estate says of the Suffragettes ” . . and indeed when in 1918 in England it (the vote) was given to women over thirty who owned property the most powerful wing of the movement was satisfied and the struggle evaporated”. The Women’s Liberation movement is not different from other reformist organisations which choose to put immediate aims before a revolutionary change in society.
Doreen Davies

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