dual systems and adaptation in general

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Nov 8 07:47:53 MST 1994

Withought signing on dual systems theory, which I still regard as an
explanatory mess, I'd like to make two brief comments on Tom's defense, or
assertion, of the "superstructural" nature of women's oppression and the
issue of whether women are exploited or merely oppressed. Or three such

First, it does not follow from the claim, even if true, that women are not
exploited by men but only oppressed by them that women's oppression is
"superstructural," if the latter means that women's oppression can be
explained wholly or largely in terms of the prevailing system of class
exploitation in a society.

Second, there is a good argument that women are exploited by men, if by
exploited we mean forced to do unpaid surplus labor outside market
relations. The stats, compiled by people like Hochschild (The Second
Shift), are quite clear that women do the lionesses' share of housework
and childcare. This labor is unpaid in that women have no legal right to
compensation for it. And they are forced to do it, even if they want to,
because of their weakened social and economic position relative to men.

Let me remark that if reference to women's weakened economic position
impels people (or Tom) to say, see! Class is at the bottom of it! I told
you so, that this begs the question. The analysis showing that women are
exploited does not as presented say why women's position is economically
weaker. It might be because men as a group prefer to have the unpaid
labor of women, or partly because of that, and not (just) because women are
better exploited in the labor market by caputalists if their position is

Let me also say that with regard regard to Tom's claim that if we say that
women are exploited by men we set up a demand for class war between the
sexes and the overthrow of men that this is nonsense. We set up only a
demand for the end of exploitation. Moreover it would not reduce the
conflict of interest between men and women, though it would alter the
terms of that conflict, were we to insist that the relation between men
and women is merely oppressive and not exploitative. Oppression can be
just as or more onerous for the oppressede and rewarding and beneficial
to the oppressors as exploition can to the exploited and the exploiters.

Third, the base-superstructure picture is exceedingly vexed., whatever we
want to put in the base and whatever in the superstructure. This language
is a Marxist-specific way of asserting the explanatory priority of the
base. But in fact that priority is hard to maintain even if we consider
the classic cases of the base as the economic relations of production
(wage labor and private productive) and, say, ideology. Doubtless false
and distorted beliefs do help maintain capitalist PR, but this isn't to
say that CPR explain those beliefs or their falsity! They might do so, but
to make this out takes a good deal of work.

To apply this to the case of women's oppression and/or exploitation: if
you want to maintain that class exploitation explains women's--call it
subordination, just to pick a neutral term, you have to get down into the
machinery and explain how the former is explanatorily primary and what
that means.

Actually as I said before I think this is rather a waste of time,
particularly if we are going into this with an agenda to prove that
women's subordination is derivative or basic or independent. It's
important to understand what the relations are, but they can be traced out
without calling the shots on that question.

--Justin Schwartz


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