It’s been one hell of a week and I have to be honest, I am really angry. Four times this week, I have been told that women are not oppressed under Capitalism in Advanced Capitalist Economies; this has come from the mouths of three men (one of whom is supposedly on the hard left) and one time by a young woman. I have come to the conclusion that either they do not understand women’s oppression under capitalism or they are in major denial about the reality as to what women actually experience daily.
These discussions cut across a number of issues, some of them addressing reforms in advanced capitalist countries and how women are no longer oppressed due to these reforms. Another point where this issue was addressed even if a bit obliquely was a statement in response to my request on a discussion on accessibility for women that we should have childcare at political meetings (or even a room large enough so that children can sit, read, play and be watched at a meeting by their mothers). The principle behind this is to make certain that women with young children can attend meetings as we want more women to attend. I was then told by a man that men also take care of children so that we should talk about parents rather than women – that fits into the reform or shifts in social awareness so that women are not the only ones responsible for child care so that oppression is mitigated or doesn’t exist.
The discussion with a group of young women sent me alternatively into anger and despair; it was like one of them was channelling Phyllis Schlafly. All the right-wing media buzzwords appeared, women have children with different fathers, why should we have to cover them with benefits paid out of our taxes? Why should we pay tax to cover childcare that we won’t use? I asked if they opposed paying taxes for children’s education. I was told that we needed to educate children; but somehow they missed the fact that childcare provides education and that children learn from play.
According to these women, not only were women not oppressed in advanced capitalist societies, there was no reason to demand women’s financial independence from men (which was one of the demands from the women’s movement in the 1970s) as though control over women through who controls the money still does not exist. In a rather unpleasant throwback, a new benefits’ policy in Britain called Universal Credit treats couples as a unit and gives all benefits money to the men in the relationship; up until now, it was women who received child benefit as they make sure children are fed and clothed. Now if this is passed, all benefits will go to the man in the couple; yes, let’s talk about who actually primarily cares for children in a heterosexual relationship.
According to these people, women are only oppressed in non-advanced capitalist countries; so we need to discuss that more. This brings me back to the idea that the women’s oppression was solved here and we have to only help women in developing economies. Which then led me to think about the arguments by Neo-cons and some liberals that it is the job of the advanced capitalist world to protect women and use that as an excuse for the latest military intervention and imperialism; literally using Muslim women’s bodies as a justification for war and hence as a justification for imperialism as though women are not oppressed domestically; so we in the advanced capitalist world must bring “democracy and feminism” to those oppressed Muslim women as clearly they are unable to fight for themselves.
When I raised reproductive rights and how we don’t have autonomy in our bodies and that is clearly oppression, there was some agreement (but then the fact that women do not use birth control and have children with different men was raised in response and that women must be told to use contraceptives; it is as though we can never escape Malthus in this day and age). In response to sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, I was told men are subject to sexual harassment routinely by women and that women “cry rape”. This was recognised as serious but the fightback against sexual harassment and assault is going too far, “men should not be fined for wolf whistling.” I kept calm (amazingly enough) and kept talking trying to find a point where I could engage with them; I noted that they were taking a rare occurrence and making it the general argument (yes, that wonderful logical fallacy employed routinely by the right wing and those that are vulnerable to their arguments).
The same woman that spoke about wolf whistling then claimed that women’s work in the home is not work and calling it so is heading into dangerous territory (as that is our contribution to society; like we neither are capable of doing anything else nor that we do not do anything else), and then came the favourite dog whistle of the right, that women have children to get benefits from the state.
It was in many senses my fault. I was thinking about what to write and I mentioned this; I put up my article on 24 hour Childcare when they asked what I write about (I know it is controversial but I wanted them to think outside the box of what women are socially responsible for which is treated as natural rather than social). I patiently explained that like the NHS, this was for all British women, not only those with low incomes. Moreover, that 24 hour childcare would help women; that women are working several part-time jobs to feed family around school hours, that women do not have income to pay for private childcare and that we should provide it in communities for free at the point of demand, funded by taxation. That childcare should not be limited for work, women may want to get further education, may need assistance to do any number of things.
Finally (I always save the best for last), as the discussion was winding down and many had already left, the woman that said that women are not oppressed and that defining women’s unpaid labour in the home as work was dangerous came back for one last salvo. She articulated one of my favourite arguments which is why Phyllis Schlafly came to mind which is that men fight wars for us, protect us, and sacrifice and that we will miss this protection if things changed too much as we may have to do that; should I be grateful that she didn’t talk about them opening doors for us. This was dear Phyllis’s line against the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s and quite honestly, I was hoping to not hear that crap coming out of a young woman’s mouth. I really (stupidly) had thought that this argument was of the past and no one would be raising it today, particularly anyone younger than 80 years of age.
I told her that just because things have been done in a specific way in societies that doesn’t mean that we have to do things that way forever; we can change things. Women have fought in wars, we have spent our lives fighting for justice and there is no reason why things have to stay the same way. Women are not passive: women have fought for justice and social justice (sometimes taking up weapons) and will continue to do so. Racism and sexism were social, not natural, and can be ended once the societies that use them are ended; we need to fight today so that it is easier to eliminate them once we end the societies that rely upon divide and rule.
Now place all this discussion in the context of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape that is going on in the media; I say in the media as women have faced this every day; for women, this is the default norm. There is not a single woman that I know that has not been sexually assaulted and sexually harassed. Far more than the statistics are saying and that is clearly the case for rape as well. So we can look at statistics (and take them as a floor) but so many women have never reported these incidents to the police, to human resources at work, to teachers; never mind filing a lawsuit and criminal charges. So, what the hell is going on that people are pretending to be shocked at something that we knew was happening on a daily basis to most women and at work regularly in situations in male dominated professions or where men were dominant in the most powerful positions in an industry.
So I am really angry and I simply refuse at this point in my life to stay silent about it!
So, what is women’s oppression under capitalism?
In an earlier piece for the ACM, I discussed women’s oppression in capitalism in detail. I will repeat some of it here. To understand women’s oppression in capitalism, we need to understand what socially necessary labour is: it is that part of labour that ensures the subsistence and reproduction of the working class. Essentially, unless the working class is reproduced either domestically by physical reproduction or by immigration then the system cannot continue as workers need to be reproduced in order to enable the continuation of production of surplus value (which if the goods and services are sold will become profits (and rents) – assuming workers only get the wage needed to subsist and reproduce – which can then be reinvested and capital can be further accumulated and economic growth and capital will expand and this is the fundamental point of interest for the capitalist economic system.
Social Reproduction and Socially Necessary Labour:
Socially Necessary Labour essentially consists of 3 things:
- Maintenance and renewal of workers
- Subsistence and care of non-working members of the family
- Reproduction of the labour force through generational changes
Some of these activities are part of the capitalist production process, so the wages paid to labourers for their ability to labour partially cover general maintenance and renewal of the members of the working class. In Marx (and in the classical economists) wages need to cover reproduction of the working class itself.
However, there are clearly parts of necessary labour that are not done in the context of the capitalist production process. This labour, which forms part of social reproduction, is done at home without pay. As such, the labourers are not exploited as exploitation occurs in the context of capitalist labour process where labourers produce commodities that have more value than what they receive as wages. Surplus labour time and hence exploitation only can occur in the context of the capitalist labour process. Yet, this domestic labour is an essential part of the reproduction of the working class and is done outside the capitalist labour market itself and this is an essential part of necessary labour although it is unwaged.
There is a part of necessary labour that is done domestically as domestic labour; it is the portion of necessary labour performed outside the context of the capitalist economic system. For the reproduction of labour power to take place, both the unpaid domestic component and the social component must be performed. That is, wages may enable a worker to purchase commodities, but additional labour – domestic labour – must generally be performed before these commodities can be consumed. In addition, many of the labour processes associated with generational replacement of labour-power are carried out as part of domestic labour. In capitalist societies, then, the relationship between surplus and necessary labour time has two aspects. On the one hand, the demarcation between surplus-labour and the social component of necessary labour is obscured through the payment of wages in the capitalist labour process. On the other hand, the domestic component of necessary labour becomes dissociated from wage-labour which is the arena in which surplus labour is performed (Lise Vogel, 1983, Marxism and the Oppression of Women, p. 159).
Food needs to be prepared from its raw constituents so that it actually provides nutrition, clothing needs to be cleaned, houses need to be cleaned, care needs to be provided to children, the infirm and sick and to elderly members of the family (or the society) who either cannot work or are no longer able to do so. This goes on at the individual level and on the society wide level as well. Most of these processes are independent of the sex of the individual doing it; there is absolutely no reason why a man (of any age) could not take care of the first two.
It is only a very specific part of necessary labour that part of reproduction that requires that women actually do it; that is, the actual physical reproduction of the child, the physical birth process itself is something that can essentially be done only by women; in addition there is the actual act of breast feeding which is an important part of the social bonding process of children (but breastmilk can be pumped and children can be fed by anyone in that case, but we should mention that as it is an essential part of the mother-child relationship and relates to the bonding process itself). In any case, the fact that during portions of the pregnancy and for the immediate period afterwards, women are unable to sell their labour in the marketplace and must essentially be maintained by the wages of her partner (or through maternity leave money which is why that is so important) along with the child.
This dependence of women on men has a biological component relating to reproduction of the working class during which time (and it is a very limited time) where women are essentially dependent upon men. However, this biological component which is based upon a difference between men and women doesn’t necessarily imply oppression. It is perfectly plausible and it has been the case in previous modes of production that there is a sexual division of labour.
What is different in capitalism compared to previous modes of production?
The main difference that is clear is that capitalist relations of production only provide for a portion of necessary consumption; the domestic labour portion is done outside the market and consists of unpaid labour. The exploitation of labour is done in the capitalist production process the wage only covers part of the subsistence and reproduction of the working class. Not only is exploitation disguised as the worker receives only the value of their power; but necessary production is separated into social production and private reproduction in the home.
Social reproduction is not only physical reproduction of giving birth to children; even those who have not done so understand that the physical birth is just the beginning of the process. It includes education and socialisation, nursing and loving care of the children, ensuring they are clothed, fed, clean, and able to develop as individuals irrespective of what potential role they have in our societies. Social reproduction involves a whole series of activities to ensure that children can survive in the societies in which we live. Moreover, social reproduction includes caring for the family and the family home, caring, nursing and support for the elderly (in the absence of pensions or inadequate pensions, this is part of general caring in societies), for the sick (children and extended family), and for those with infirmities (the vast majority of caring for its disabled members is done by family members). In the vast majority of cases, this is done by mothers, by daughters, by wives and partners.
This work is still predominately undertaken by women; usually mothers of the children and in cultures which have a strong extended family, sisters, aunts and grandmothers share this responsibility. Moreover, this work (which involves a wide variety of tasks and skills: cooking, cleaning, sewing, teaching, nursing, caring, socialisation – think what would happen if children are not toilet trained for example or that children do not know that fire can be dangerous, or that they do not understand the terms “safe” or “dangerous”) is not seen to be work, but falls under the name of social responsibility and there is no financial compensation for this work, it is essentially unpaid labour.
Social reproduction in the context of a modern nuclear family are tasks that primarily done by women at home for no pay; it is unpaid labour. Moreover, this preserves the absurd idea that women’s paid labour is only “pin money” as it is men that are the primary “bread-winners.” Women are viewed (incorrectly) as only working to supplement their partner or husband’s earnings, but not as supporting the household. This is absurd in many senses: the stagnation (and lowering) of incomes throughout the advanced capitalist world requires both parents to work (if there is a couple) to cover needs (our incomes are not dispensable), single mothers’ earnings are the main support for her family, and hey, guess what, sometimes women actually have the larger income … so a reality check is in order. We are not living in the past (and even then it was not true as women have worked as paid labourers since capitalism has developed) and we need to understand, yes, that women actually do paid labour outside the home. In fact, our incomes are not pin money they are essential to ensure that our family’s incomes enable not the purchase of little luxury goods, but a decent standard of living.
The Feminisation of Labour
In the context of the contemporary period of Neoliberalism where wages have stagnated and even fell and women’s labour force participation is increasing to cover basic needs for the family, where receipt of social welfare benefits is harder and tied to conditionality of working (or looking for work), and receiving child care is tied to working, more and more women are working in both advanced capitalist countries as well as emerging capitalist economies and in peripheral capitalist economies.
Moreover, women are still trapped in both traditional women’s labour and in part-time work as they are responsible for caring for families and the home. As this traditional women’s labour is deemed “women’s work,” if it is done for payment, invariably, its skills and importance to society are underrated and wages are low. There is still significant gender job segregation both in terms of type of employment and whether paid labour is full-time or part-time (overwhelmingly, women are overrepresented in part-time work deriving from their responsibilities to home and family). It is assumed that anyone can do traditional women’s work and that skills used are low level, and hence there is a surfeit of people that can do this labour. Add to that the fact that a lot of this work is unpaid labour done at home, then why should employers hire people to do it?
If sold in the marketplace, women’s traditional labour both exists in the production of goods (e.g., sewing, clothes making, and food production) where labour is highly exploited and women’s labour has always been in use since the beginnings of the capitalist mode of production. In its more socialised forms often done in the public sector and of a more relatively recent creation in such as in education, child-care, care for the elderly and infirm and in nursing, it has been socialised due to the need to ensure that not only are women able to be in paid employment, but also to reduce the amount of their labour tied up in work at home due to need for them in paid employment during periods of economic growth, war-time, and post-war scenarios where as they were needed to work in the production process itself. Some of paid women’s traditional labour forms part of what is known as socially necessary labour time (labour that is required to reproduce the economy and society and for that matter, the working class; it is not all of socially necessary labour time as that also relates to workers’ consumption goods, but it is socialised traditional women’s labour).
Parts of traditional women’s labour have been socialised and brought out of the home especially around the issues of caring. If sold in the market, sometimes it is a luxury good affordable to the wealthy only (i.e., nannies) or those with higher incomes (e.g., child care when there is no free childcare), as I said earlier, education and nursing (once performed by women as part of their tasks in social reproduction) have been socialised. However, most often it is considered low skilled labour done by women. Think about sweated women’s labour in the garment trades doing cutting and sewing, while tailoring was considered a skilled job done by men.
For a lot of it and especially the parts that fall into the service sector, it is a form of work where there are serious limits to profits that can be obtained if any (that means that it is not “productive” of a surplus product; everything is consumed and there is not extra produced and, as such, it is not “productive” labour where more than is needed to reproduce things exactly is needed). Productive labour has a very specific meaning in political economy which relates to the production of a surplus product (classical theory) or surplus value (in Marx).
What is important to understand is that these forms of work are necessary both that done in the labour market and that at home are extremely important (downright essential) and in its absence, society cannot be reproduced (and we are not only talking about the labour force here). The capitalist economy – like all other class economies preceding it – requires a labour force to do the work as that is from where goods and services are produced and this is from where surplus is derived which if sold can be realised as profit.
In the absence of human labour deliberately applied in production this just does not happen. Food does not exist, clothes do not exist, and the houses we live in would not exist; unless they are deliberately produced for human use and consumption.
One of the main problems is if these types of labour are brought into the private sector, that they will only be used if they fulfil a profitability criterion for those hiring the labour and selling it as services. What that means is that domestic workers will only be employed as such if their labour can earn a profit for the capitalist or their employer. It also means that it will be demanded only by those that can pay for this labour; that is other workers with higher incomes or directly doing the work for a woman of the ruling classes. As a result, we find women (usually women of colour and migrants) doing the work that they did at home for free for someone else while their children do not have the same – their mother takes care of someone else’s family and their extended family needs to cover their own children. Moreover, since this is not labour that produces a surplus product the only way to make money on it is to underpay the labourer. This happens for private domestic workers (nannies, house cleaners), those in the privatised care sector, employed as cleaners in hotels, etc.
If done outside the marketplace, at home, there is no value produced as value is only produced in the context of the sale of labour power in the market for use in production. However, there is no question that this labour indirectly is a part of necessary consumption and if it were paid for it would increase the time needed for the working class to subsist and reproduce and will as such, decrease surplus labour time.
However, while this labour clearly is a portion of worker’s subsistence, it is not done in the context of the capitalist labour market and is unwaged; not only does it not produce a surplus (everything is consumed) it is provided for free at home. The maintenance of family and home being paid for out of wages (the idea of a family wage) is an issue that is important; if this wage is supposed to cover subsistence and reproduction, it means that it should contain enough to enable the latter while recognising that non-working members have to be provided for.
So that is why women are oppressed under capitalism and how they are oppressed. Reforms have occurred and they have helped women, but they have not eliminated the oppression of women under capitalism. We can now get education, we can work, we can own property and wealth, we can vote, we even have some control over our reproductive rights (but that is a continual struggle in many places in the advanced capitalist world as well as those countries that are not in the advanced capitalist world). So women’s oppression has not been eliminated in advanced capitalist countries because men help with childcare and there is equal pay legislation and other reforms like allowing us to have bank accounts and own property rather than be the property of our fathers, male members of the society and our husbands (if we have them)?
On sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and violence against women
This is a really broad topic as it applies to a whole series of things; e.g., domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, physical and psychological violence, and feminocide. What does link these issues is not only how they do impact upon victims and who the victims are; but also the reasons for the violence that does happen. In many senses, it is not only “rape culture” which we do hear about, but a culture of misogyny and the normalisation of misogyny. This is very evident; anyone that has been watching political discussions in the US has to have their head really buried in the sand to miss it.
Think about it, the current President of the US is a serial sexual assaulter, bragging about “grabbing women’s pussies” and even worse; while Hillary Clinton won 54% of women voters, Donald Trump won the votes of 53% of white women voters; for white women voters without college degrees, Trump beat Clinton by 27%. Let’s give another example from the US, the attempted redefinition of rape in 2011 to only include “stranger rape” or “violent rape” (as though all rape was not violent by definition) by several Republican congressmen. The most grotesquely cynical part of this was the reason for doing it. It was not as you may suspect an attempt to eliminate the idea of rape in marriage (although that certainly may play a part in it) but it was an attempt to eliminate as much funding as possible for abortion as the Hyde Amendment (which eliminated federal funding for abortion following abortion being legalised in the US) allows state funding for abortion on the conditions of rape, incest and the life of the mother. While most of these people lost their seats in the subsequent election; what did this attempt actually do? Think about it …
The term Feminocide was coined in Mexico, but the murder of women is not limited to Mexico nor is it limited to Latin America; it exists in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It originally referred to an epidemic of rapes and murders in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua since 1993. Those murdered worked in maquiladoras (the free trade zones or export processing zones where predominately women work as factory workers to produce goods to be sold in foreign markets that are notorious not only for the extreme levels of exploitation but also where basic human rights are violated constantly, where women are subjected to constant sexual harassment among other things by male managers), sectors of the informal economy (which is where women that are entering the labour market often start, so nannies, carers, domestic cleaners) or were students; as of 2005, more than 370 young women and girls had been murdered, in 2011, more than 300 women had been murdered. On October 11th, a man was sentenced to 430 years for the murder of 11 women in Ciudad Juarez; he lured them with lies, or kidnapped the women, drugged them, forced them to work as prostitutes and then killed them and dumped their bodies.
I want to add one more point which needs to be included here and which actually had to formally gain recognition by the UN in the 1990s which is sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war; we do not have to go back to Homer’s Iliad following the Greek sacking of Troy. Getting formal recognition for this was not an easy struggle irrespective of the fact that it is well documented. Rape during the Rwandan genocide was well documented, rape in the DRC during the civil war, the rape of Yezidi women captured by ISIS has also been documented; in Nigeria, women captured by Boko Haram were clearly subjected to rape.
It even has its own definition, wartime sexual violence:
Is rape or other forms of sexual violence committed by combatants during armed conflict or war or military occupations often as spoils of war; but sometimes, particularly in ethnic conflict, the phenomenon has broader sociological motives. Wartime sexual violence may also include gang rape and rape with objects. […] It also covers the situation where girls and women are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery by an occupying power. During war and armed conflict, rape is frequently used as a means of psychological warfare in order to humiliate the enemy. Wartime sexual violence may occur in a variety of situations, including institutionalized sexual slavery, wartime sexual violence associated with specific battles or massacres, and individual or isolated acts of sexual violence.
Rape can also be recognized as genocide and/or ethnic cleansing when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group; however, rape remains widespread in conflict zones. There are other international legal instruments to prosecute perpetrators but this has occurred as late as the 1990s. […] However, these legal instruments have so far only been used for international conflicts, thus putting the burden of proof in citing the international nature of conflict in order for prosecution to proceed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wartime_sexual_violence).
However, look at the examples, I just gave above; all of them have arose in the context of civil wars. So how is that dealt with? Reconciliation discussions? Criminal trials in the countries?
Here’s the formal definition of Gender Based Violence according to the UN:
Violence against women is defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of acts such as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life (Source: United Nations General Assembly, 1993, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women).
One of the things that I found impressive when the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s acts of rape, sexual assault and constant sexual harassment of women was the expression of shock on the part of so many celebrities and politicians who counted him as friend. I actually was wondering what planet were those who were claiming to be shocked living on? Really, how could this be shocking as though no one ever heard of this (what did they think all this ended with Louis B Mayer, the head of MGM who was notorious for this behaviour)? It is as if they actually thought that men using their power to harass, sexually assault and rape women have disappeared from civilised society.
Another thing that became rather clear if you were following the #me too was that clearly statistics were under-representing the amount of sexual assaults, sexual harassment and rape that women experience. I do not think that the fact that me and most of my friends grew up in the 1960s-80s is the reason that almost all of us have been victimised at least once, if not more than that.
Rape, sexual assaults and harassment are not reported for many reasons: women do not want to be twice victimised by reporting it to the police given conviction rates and the fear of their whole lives being dragged into court, if it happens at work, we are worried about losing our jobs, if it happens while walking on the street or in classes or at a party or a bar, we are often too shocked to act at the moment; then of course, there is the shame that this has happened to you as though somehow you (rather than the person that raped, assaulted, beat, and harassed you should feel shame); this is part of the blame the victim ideology, but it is also how we are socialised and what is considered acceptable and part of the problem is that women are not seen as equal people to men. Yesterday I saw an article in which an Alabama Republican legislator named Ed Henry said that he thinks that women who were sexually assaulted by evangelical former Judge and Republican candidate (to replace Jeff Sessions) Roy Moore, should be prosecuted for not reporting what happened to them when they were teenagers; in fact, this legislator explains, by accident, why women who are raped and sexually assaulted and abused do not come forward often, the problem is he is not hearing what he is saying. So, let’s prosecute the victims … this is the logic of a misogynistic society: blame the victim for being a victim and terrified of the consequences and the shame that they feel about being the victim of a sexual predator…
On the day in which the Weinstein attacks were reported in the British press, there was also another story in the news about a young woman (17 years old) who was sexually attacked 3 different times in the space of an hour in East London as she tried to get home after a night out after becoming separated from her friends. So, we need to recognise that this is a societal wide discussion, not an individual one and that it must be addressed at the societal level as it is not confined to celebrities, politicians, and members of religious sects, it happens to all of us.
The thing that angers me the most is that women that are sexually assaulted, harassed and raped often blame themselves; even worse, society still plays blame the victim (it is what you are wearing, it is what you look like, it is that you are out instead of staying at home); one of my favourites following discussions of rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses came from Phyllis Schlafly (one of the women that led the attack on the Equal Rights Amendment in the US in the 1970s and an ardent anti-feminist) who said that women were being raped at college because there were too many of them at college; the ratios between men and women were now only 40:60%.
The obvious question to Phyllis is, as more women were sexually assaulted when they aren’t university students (given that not all women go to university, that shouldn’t be a surprise) than those that were university students, is what, should we be chained up at home where we are “safe” (of course, she doesn’t believe that women could be raped in marriage as we “consent” once we sign that marriage contract or the fact that in the case of most sexual assaults we know the attacker)? Horrifically, women have to live regularly with both sexual assaults and sexual harassment as a part of our everyday lives; it is almost the norm especially when you are young.
Every day there are more and more revelations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault by politicians, religious leaders, and celebrities. Every time I look at the news, more and more women are stepping forward with complaints of sexual harassment, assault and rape in the US; it has impacted in Britain as well.
Women MPs spoke about sexual harassment and assault in Westminster. One member of the British government Michael Fallon (the former Defense Minister) has had to step down from government; another Minister Damien Green is facing an inquiry. Two MPs of the Labour Party (Jared O’Mara and Kelvin Hopkins) have been suspended over verbal abuse to women and homosexuals and sexual misconduct respectively. I have been informed about the sexual harassment policy of the Labour Party by email. But what is happening in Parliament is merely a reflection of what is happening daily to women in the societies in which we live. While I am happy that the Labour Party has a policy on it, I am wondering what can be done to address this situation in the societies in which we live? In fact, that was what I asked my local MP when he asked why no women were raising the sexual harassment allegations in parliament, I asked him what can be done in the society at large … perhaps, mandatory classes starting at nursery school teaching children about consent? No response, he just got red in the face. We are facing the real possibility of a general election being called due to this scandal and the election of a Labour government; so Theresa May is in a rather precarious political situation (as it is not only the issue of sexual violence by her ministers, but also she is having difficulty with her cabinet due to splits in the Tory party and her weakness as a Prime Minister with no majority and dependent upon the North Ireland Democratic Unionist Party).
How does the increase in violence against women relate to women’s oppression?
I have been thinking about this as have many socialist feminists. I found an excellent and interesting article by Tithi Bhattacharya in which she discussed gender violence in the age of Neoliberalism which tries to address this; now it was written in 2013, but that does not make it dated. I cannot do justice to the article, so please read it.
As Bhattacharya says:
First, the last four decades of neoliberalism have created a marked escalation in gender crimes in most countries. The financial crisis of 2008 exacerbated what was already a serious problem; this is no longer a situation of “business as usual” and it requires socialists to critically engage with the problem. Second, as Marxists it is not enough for us to describe the effects of this current intensification of violence, we need to also provide an explanation for it. Third, capitalism, faced with a crisis, is seeking a resolution in two connected ways: (a) through an attempt to restructure production, as manifest in the drive for austerity and (b) by trying to reorder social reproduction, as evidenced in its efforts to recraft gender identities and recirculate certain ideologies regarding the working-class family. In order to understand this simultaneity and unity in capitalist restructuring, we need to revisit the Marxist analysis of women’s oppression that is best approached through the analytical framework of social reproduction theory (“Explaining gender violence in the neoliberal era,” December 28, 2013)
She argues that the feminisation of the labour force (as more and more women enter the labour force), the restructuring production due to austerity, the attacks on the social welfare state, the destruction of working conditions due to the restructuring, the low wages and wage incomes and the privatisation of social services at the same time that we are seeing attempts to normalise misogyny and rising gender violence may be related. The increase in reactionary ideology with attempts to normalise misogyny and rape culture is evidence of a contradiction.
The stagnation of wages in the advanced capitalist world; how has that impacted women? The fantasy of a male breadwinner which was a part of ideology and where women’s work was only “pin money” has been demonstrated to be a fantasy. The destruction of industry and manufacturing and the trade unions that were able to fight for better wages and working conditions have allowed the ruling class after the 2007-8 economic crisis to squeeze wages (that is part of the wage freeze and then cap in the public sector), destroy working conditions, due to both high unemployment and the weakness of trade unions to fight. The economy crashed and in the absence of growth – the introduction of austerity was a direct attack on working people. But the stagnation of wages already begins in the Thatcher-Reagan era along with the shift of manufacturing and industry outside of the advanced capitalist world (that is also part of neoliberalism), the free movement of capital towards areas where wages, working conditions, easy access to cheaper raw materials and less fixed capital initially made for higher profits; the free trade zones or export production zones in which women predominantly work which exist in peripheral capitalist economies all courtesy of neoliberalism.
So on the one hand women are driven into the work force as they need to do paid work to cover what is needed for covering their family’s reproduction and renewal. On the other hand, we are seeing the resurgence and use of “traditional family values” ideology by politicians and political commentators which views women stepping out of traditional roles of wife and mother as threatening and calls for limiting of women’s work in the labour market to those traditional areas of women’s work which invariably are low paid, often part-time and precarious jobs and undermining our bodily autonomy. Even more so, women are still overwhelmingly responsible for unpaid labour in the home and are primarily responsible for social reproduction. We are in a never-ending cycle where we are unable to do everything that has traditionally been our responsibility; this is the restructuring of social reproduction that Bhattacharya refers to in her article.
How does this contradiction relate to increased gender violence?
Does it wholly determine it? Probably not, as there is a whole host of reactionary ideology where men’s control and power will not suffer threat. In 1689, in The Two Treatises of Government John Locke wrote that we all have property in our bodies and we cannot be the property of anyone else in response to Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha which argued that while men were subjects (the property) of the king; women and children were subjects of the father and husband. Yet, 330 years later, women are still being treated as the property of the men in their lives; our access to reproductive rights is a constant struggle in many countries. While you would think that now that women can formally own property rather than be property of men that this nonsense should disappear, but it is hauled out of mothballs when it is convenient like when men are being threatened due to economic restructuring; you saw it in the industrial revolution when men were losing jobs due to elimination of skilled crafts. The old “women are taking our jobs and our roles” (which we could see even in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution) is still being used; but we never competed for the same jobs back then and guess what there is gender segregation today. We see it again when the elimination of good work contracts, decent wages and skilled jobs are becoming more and more scarce. Women are a threat, Phyllis Schlafy’s “there are too many women in universities” is this argument writ large.
Why is violence against women so endemic? How is the restructuring of production and social reproduction related to violence against women? Does the fact that men also suffer from precarity in jobs and lower wages somehow relate to domestic violence? Does the ideology that men are breadwinners and women homemakers (which let’s be real only existed for a very short period of time in the post-war period) relate to this? Is the change in women’s roles seen as threatening to men and their perception of their roles and is that why there is an increase in violence against women? Is the fact that the work that women are doing which puts them under the thumb of men as issue? What about the constant sexual harassment and sexual assault that women experience in the workplace, on the street, why is that continuing? Let’s open the discussion … and it is a discussion … I will try not to growl (it is becoming harder and harder). Geminijen and I are planning to write a longer analysis of the situation together.