The class struggle and worldwide status of women.
We undoubtedly owe a debt to dialectical materialism for having shed the greatest light on the problem of the conditions women face, allowing us to understand the exploitation of women as part of a general system of exploitation. Dialectical materialism defines human society not as a natural, unchanging fact, but as the exact opposite.
Humankind does not submit passively to the power of nature. It takes control over this power. This process is not an internal or subjective one. It takes place objectively in practice, once women cease to be viewed as mere sexual beings, once we look beyond their biological functions and become conscious of their weight as an active social force. What’s more, woman’s consciousness of herself is not only a product of her sexuality. It reflects her position as determined by the economic structure of society, which in turn expresses the level reached by humankind in technological development and the relations between classes.
The importance of dialectical materialism lies in going beyond the inherent limits of biology, rejecting simplistic theories about our being slaves to the nature of our species, and, instead, placing facts in their social and economic context.
From the beginning of human history, man’s mastering of nature has never been accomplished with his bare hands alone. The hand with the opposable thumb is extended by the tool, which increases the hand’s power. It was thus not physical attributes alone – musculature or the capacity to give birth, for example – that determined the unequal status of men and women. Nor was it technological progress as such that institutionalized this inequality. In certain cases, in certain parts of the globe, women were able to eliminate the physical difference that separated them from men.
It was the transition from one form of society to another that served to institutionalize women’s inequality. This inequality was produced by our own minds and intelligence in order to develop a concrete form of domination and exploitation. The social functions and roles to which women have been relegated ever since are a living reflection of this fact. Today, her childbearing functions and the social obligation to conform to models of elegance determined by men prevent any woman who might want to from developing a so-called male musculature.
For millenia, from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, relations between the sexes were, in the opinion of the most skilled paleontologists, positive and complementary in character. So it was for eight millenia. Relations were based on collaboration and interaction, in contrast to the patriarchy, where women’s exclusion is a generalized characteristic of the modern historical era.
Frederick Engels not only traced the evolution of technology but also of the historic enslavement of women, which was born with the arrival of private property, owing to the transition from one mode of production to another, and from one form of social organization to another.
With the intensive labor required to clear the forests, cultivate the fields, and put natural resources to best use, a division of labour developed. Selfishness, laziness, looking for the easy way out – in short, taking the most with the least effort – emerged from the depths of the human spirit and became elevated into principles.
Te protective tenderness of women toward the family and the clan became a trap tat delivered her up to domination by the male. Innocence and generosity fell victim to deceit and base motives. Love was made a mockery. Dignity was tarnished. All genuine feelings were transformed into objects of barter. From this moment on, women’s hospitality and desire to share succumbed to the trickery of the deceitful.
Though conscious of this deceit, which imposed on them an unequal share of the burdens, women followed men in order to care for and raise all that they loved. For their part, men exploited women’s great self sacrifice to the hilt. Later, this seed of criminal exploitation established terrible social imperatives, going far beyond the conscious concessions made by women, who had been historically betrayed.
Humankind first knew slavery with the advent of private property. Man, master of his slaves and of the land, also became the owner of the woman. This was the great historic defeat of the female sex. It came about with the upheaval in the division of labour, a result of new modes of production and a revolution in the means of production.
In this way, paternal right replaced maternal right. Property was not handed down from father to son, rather than as before from the woman to her clan. The patriarchal family made it’s appearance, founded on the sole and personal property of the father, who had become head of the family. Within this family the woman was oppressed.
Reigning supreme, the man satisfied his sexual whims by mating with his slaves or concubines. Women became his booty, his conquest in trade. He profited from their labour power and took his fill from the myriad of pleasures they afforded him.
For their part, as soon as the masters gave them the chance, women took revenge in infidelity. Thus adultery became the natural counterpart of marriage. It was the women’s only form of defense against the domestic slavery to which she was subjected. Her social oppression was a direct reflection of her economic oppression.
Given this cycle of violence, inequality can be done away with only by establishing a new society, where men and women enjoy equal rights, resulting from an upheaval in the means of production as well as in all social relations. That is, women’s lot will improve only with the elimination of the system that exploits them.
In fact, throughout the ages and wherever the patriarchy triumphed, there has been a close parallel between class exploitation and women’s oppression. Of course there were brighter periods where women, priestesses or female warriors, broke out of their oppressive chains. But the essential features of her subjugation survived and were consolidated, both in everyday activity and in intellectual and moral repression. Her status overturned by private property, banished from her very self, relegated to the role of child raiser and servant, written out of history by philosophy (Aristotle, Pythagoras, and others) and the most entrenched religions, stripped of all worth by mythology, woman shared the lot of a slave, who in slave society was nothing more than a beast of burden with a human face.
So it is not surprising that in its ascending phase the capitalist system, for which human beings are just so many numbers, should be the economic system that has exploited women the most cynically and with the most sophistication. So, we are told, manufacturers in those days employed only women on their mechanized looms. They gave preference to women who were married and, among them, to those with a family at home to support. These women paid greater attention to their work than single women and were more docile. They had no choice but to work to the point of exhaustion o earn the barest subsistence for their families.
In this way the woman’s particular attributes are used against her, and all the most moral and delicate qualities of her nature become the means by which she is enslaved. Her tenderness, her love for her family, the meticulous care she brings to her work – all this is used against her, as she guards against flaws she may have.
Thus, throughout the ages and throughout different types of society, women suffered a sorry fate, in a continually reinforced . position of inferiority to men. Though the inequality was expressed in many and varied ways, it continued to exist nevertheless. In slave society, the male slave was looked upon as an animal, a means of production of goods and services. The woman, whatever her social rank, was crushed within her own class and outside of that class. This was the case even for women who belonged to the exploiting classes. In feudal society, women were kept in a state of absolute dependence on men, justified by their supposed physical and psychological weakness. Often seen as a defiled object and a primary gent of indiscretion, women, with a few rare exceptions, were kept out of places of worship. In capitalist society, the woman, already morally and socially persecuted, is also subjugated economically. Kept by the man if she does not work, she remains under a man’s domination even if she works herself to death. We will never be able to paint an adequate picture of the misery women suffer, nor show too strongly that women share the misery of proletarians as a whole.
End of part 2.