Women’s Liberation and Alienation: A Marxist Perspective

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Introduction

The question of Women’s Liberation has always been one of a strenuous nature. Even amongst the broader Left, the role and function of Women’s Liberation has varied greatly. I will set the record straight by first not using the phrase ‘Women’s Rights’; I find this terminology highly frustrating because it tends to assume that women can reach some form of social worth within the existing capitalist framework. Functionally, this is not possible. As capitalist social relations serve to exploit and commodify the toiler, so do they women. Thus, the question is not one of furthering Women’s Rights but achieving Women’s Liberation.

First, let us establish what we mean by Women’s Liberation. What are they being liberated from? Similar to how Labor has been subjected to Capital, women have been subjected to the interests of men; for the former, the course of capitalist social relations, however, the latter has been a subjugation for millennia.

“Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality. But, in fact, it screens the non-freedom and inferiority of women, the non-freedom and inferiority of the toilers and exploited.” – Vladimir Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women

Alienation

“Worst of all, it is women who usually have to do, usually alone, all the dirty work of the kitchen and household, work that is unimportant, hard, tiresome, and soul-destroying” – Vladimir Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women

The alienation experienced by literally billions of women today is difficult to swallow. Skeptics will point to the relative advances of women in the 1st World, ignoring the brutal conditions that exist for women in the vast majority of the Earth. Even with these relative advances the position of women still remains one of subservience to male interests in much of the world. World politics, social commentary, and economic action is largely dominated by white wealthy men. Although women perform around 60% of the world’s labor, they own about 1% of the world’s property (source: UNIFEM). This incredible inequality is only compounded upon the dredging social position women are chained to.

Women, throughout history, have largely been treated as little more than glorified cattle by the establishment males. Even the Bible illustrates stories of how women were traded as property between men, married off in the young teens, and victims of horrible sexual atrocities during war and peace time. To be a woman in this world is a daunting task.

This alienation has created a learned helplessness in so many women; where “male leadership” becomes the normative route of escape for many alienated women. This can lead to a life filled with chronic depression, general anxiety, and no hope for self-actualization. In this sense women, even if they in the 1st World have reached some level of material comfort above their 3rd World counterparts, are still normally treated as property of men and suffer the mental and emotional damage that comes with being viewed as a commodity and not a human being.

Analysis

Now that we recognize the oppressive conditions to which so many women are subjugated, we must begin to explore the nature of this liberation from said conditions. No doubt this means the destruction of gender roles as we know them today. Gender roles must be replaced with a cooperative arrangement of social stewardship and childcare that maximizes effective techniques and respects the equality of men and women.

The key to liberation, whether from capitalist property relations or gender roles, requires us to understand the forces that necessitate these relationships. Similar to feudalism, capitalism established a very dominant male role within society to ensure its own survival. Why male dominance? There are a few reasons for the establishment of male dominance, especially in early industrial capitalism. First, so that property and property rights could be passed through a patrilineal scope. Second, so that the male could be freed to do more labor for the capitalist (and also so the wealthier wives of capitalists could manage the affairs of the household for the male.). And thirdly, so that the means of sexual reproduction could be externally controlled in the favor a comfortable labor supply. All of this begins to explain why as society’s become more ‘affluent’, the clamor for women’s liberation begins to grow. The role of patriarchy within capitalism has degenerated with the course of the Law of Value. Production is no longer so reliant on an expansive growth in labor, namely large families; thus women are beginning to find freedom outside of these gender roles that have dominated their lives for centuries.

Some will say this analysis trivializes the situation of women to be a symptom of socio-economic relations. This criticism, although perhaps partially true, ignores a couple critical elements. First, ALL systemic exploitation within the realm of capitalism can be attributed to the functions of capitalist property relations. Second, the idea that women’s liberation is actually a quest for sexual control illustrates women as static monoliths of history that can only be consumed by a single-issue. This fixedness upon the sexual nature of women is an intellectual dead end. Women must be liberated FROM the defining nature of their reproductive organs in the same way that workers must be liberated FROM their function as cogs within the capitalist machine. This crucial understanding paints the goal of Women’s Liberation to be as vital to the revolutionary movement as the liberation of the working class.

“There cannot be, nor is there nor will there ever be “equality” between the oppressed and the oppressors, between the exploited and the exploiters. There cannot be, nor is there nor will there ever be real “freedom” as long as there is no freedom for women from the privileges which the law grants to men, as long as there is no freedom for the workers from the yoke of capital, and no freedom for the toiling peasants from the yoke of the capitalists, landlords and merchants.” – Vladimir Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women

Understand, this does not mean we wish to replace the female reproductive process with some ludicrous pseudo-science as is portrayed in the dystopian Brave New World. Rather, we wish to reinvent the process of childrearing and stewardship, functions of the female gender role, as cooperative and just processes that reflect the socialist nature of the productive reorganization of society. A reorganization that smashes gender roles and looks upon men and women as human beings, not machines, embodied with a social value that exists outside of their alienating functions within gender fixedness.

The ‘Agent’ of Liberation?

Obviously the question must arise as to who shall do the liberating? As the goal of workers and women’s liberation’s are uniquely related, so is the nature of this agent. In the same way that the toiling class must be the engine of their emancipation, so must women be at the forefront of Women’s Liberation. This should not mean that women fall prey to the Liberal fixation on reproductive rights. There is no doubt, that matters of abortion, contraception, and family planning are of incredible importance to the movement. Yet, women must seek to advance themselves in all points of society, especially in socio-economic relations. This begins with the ultimate goal, the destruction of capitalism.

The importance of women in their liberation cannot be stressed enough. More than a practical point of organizing and mobilizing, the struggle of women, for women, ensures that there is no presence of bourgeois male ‘heroism’ as we saw for so long (and still see) in the sexist Disney movies. Where the heroic and courageous man saves the helpless, ‘damsel in distress’. How disgusting. This false ‘heroism’ must also be resisted in all liberation movements for marginalized peoples. Including depictions of Black Liberation, especially in recent movies such as Spielberg’s Lincoln where the black population is depicted as static and helpless in the face of white oppression; where only white people could save them.

Although, this does not mean that the male feminist has no role in his female comrade’s campaign. The male feminist finds himself in an important position as well. He must not only support women in their liberation, but fight for the original premise of feminism, the equality of the sexes; thus, he must set out for the destruction of gender roles. The male feminist, then, must embody this spirit of cooperation and solidarity in a collective struggle with his female comrades against women’s exploitation; in all facets of society, including his personal life.

Personal Relationships 

Thus the most controversial aspect of Women’s Liberation arises: how personal relationships function within the umbrella of the movement?

Some have suggested polyamory and similar “free love” movements as appropriate models for this movement. The decision to identify with the “free love” community or a polyamorous relationship is a personal one and one that should be respected like all other relationships between consenting adults. However, the fallacy here is to believe that “free love” and polyamory are by nature, aligned with the movement for Women’s Liberation. Similarly, not all monogamous relationships are identified against the Women’s Liberation movement. Let us not confuse a very intimate and personal choice between consenting adults with an attitude towards revolutionary change. Polyamorous men can still be manipulative and oppressive, men in the “free love” community can still be misogynist and sexist. A guiding principle for the male feminist should be the famous quote, “women hold up half the sky” (and according to world labor reports, a bit more than half). The way a male feminist treats his female comrades should always be tempered with the same respect that he treats his male comrades. Especially in an emotional relationship. An attitude of bilateral (or multilateral) cooperation should always supersede some machoist conception of “male leadership”.

“Manarchists”?

What we cannot accept is this tongue-in-cheek mocking of Women’s movements by those on the Left; especially by the so called “manarchists”.

What a joke. A bunch of coffee-shop revolutionaries who come together to discuss how men are so unfairly dominated by a sense of “male disposability”, forgetting the literal millennia of oppression women have faced: socially, economically, politically, and legally.

There is no question that the male gender role must also be destroyed, but the neo-social conservatism of these “manarchists” is detestable. They have taken the right-’libertarian’ stance against social justice and concluded that all feminist movements must be dominated by “white knights” and misandry. This is not the proper way men should articulate arguments against male gender roles. Rather than find solidarity with the feminist movement they would engage in all sorts of subtle misogyny like “slut shaming”. Disgusting.

Conclusion

But unlike the “manarchists”, the traditional social conservatives actually hold influence outside of 4chan.

This is where the fight for Women’s Liberation begins, the social arena. It is the duty of all feminists to bring gender roles into the general public discourse and to propagate the values of a cooperative and truly emancipated society. More so than discourse, grass roots action against misogyny must be waged in every strata of socio-economic and political life. This is the struggle that lays ahead of us and must only be intensified.

“Freedom and equality for the oppressed sex! Freedom and equality for the workers, for the toiling peasants! A fight against the oppressors, a fight against the capitalists…That is our fighting slogan, that is our proletarian truth, the truth of the struggle against capital, the truth which we flung in the face of the world of capital with its  honeyed, hypocritical, pompous phrases about freedom and equality in general, about  freedom and equality for all.”  – Vladimir Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women

 

Zak DrabczykWomen’s Liberation and Alienation: A Marxist Perspective

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