A woman’s lot
Every so often a terrible event takes place which reveals the inhuman nature of the capitalist system. In May last year, the killing of George Floyd shone a spotlight on the racism inherent in capitalism. On 3 March this year, the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard, while she was making her way home from a friend’s house in South London, laid bare the misogyny and sexism that is rife in modern society. This triggered an outpouring of anger among women at what they see as a society that engenders violence directed at them. This anger was further fuelled when the police roughly handled women attending a vigil in Clapham Common on 13 March, and by the revelation that the alleged killer is a serving police officer.
In the UK last year 118 women were murdered by men. The pandemic has witnessed a spike in instances of violent abuses. According to a YouGov poll, 86 percent of young women in the UK have said that they have experienced sexual harassment, with 71 percent of women of any age reporting the same (Four-fifths of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, survey finds, Guardian, 24 March). There have been rises in the incidence of rape. As the perpetrators are invariably male, the focus has been on male behaviour. So there are suggestions that young boys should be educated at a young age to respect women and girls. The government has proposed sending plain-clothes officers into nightclubs and Jenny Jones of the Green Party advocated a punitive curfew on all men after 6 pm. However, none of these measures address the root of the problem.
If we are to combat misogyny and sexism, we need to look beyond individual male behaviour. With the rise of private property society, descent was traced through the male line, which allowed mainly men to accumulate private wealth and become dominant in the emerging ruling classes. The nuclear family, with the man at its head and the woman’s role mainly as mother and housekeeper, became the basic unit of social organisation. As social production moved away from home-based cottage industries to large-scale industry and manufacturing, women’s social power was further eroded. Although women have made advances in the better-paid ‘professional’ occupations and some have become political leaders, women are still disproportionately employed in the lower-paid and less secure jobs and usually earn less than their male counterparts. Under capitalism, women’s bodies have been sexualised through the pornography industry and are frequently used for the promotion of commercial products.
This does not mean that women and men have interests that are diametrically opposed to each other. On the contrary, working-class women and men have more in common with each other than they do with their counterparts in the capitalist class. They are both exploited by the capitalist system.
Therefore, working-class women and men must work together, not to work for palliative reforms that only treat the symptoms of the problem, but to get rid of the capitalist system altogether and establish socialism, where everyone, regardless of gender, can participate equally. A political movement where women are not treated as equals is not a revolutionary socialist one.