Are men oppressed? NO!
Paul.Benedek at SPAMBTFinancialgroup.com
Paul.Benedek at SPAMBTFinancialgroup.com
Wed Dec 22 21:48:08 MST 1999
Firstly, I think it's great that this discussion has opened up - feminism, the current
weakness of the movement (backlash), Marxist feminism Vs liberal feminism, men's
groups, etc. There is heaps to discuss and debate, and there certainly have been, and
continue to be, weaknesses in Marxist activists analysis and practice in relation to
women's liberation. (For example, the ISO and most of the ultralefts in Aust have the
position that women's liberation is ALWAYS a petty-bourgeois movement, and divides the
working class - disgusting. Most movements currently, including the worker's movement,
are led by liberal forces - but that is part of our struggle. And as to division -
sheesh! Of course, IT IS SEXISM, perpetuated by the ruling class, the capitalist
system, which divides the working class...the struggle for women's liberation is the
struggle to REMOVE an obstacle from class unity. Next they'' oppose anti-racism as
dividing the working class....)
Anyway, to the case at hand
At first glance Jim appeared to, especially with his sign-off of "let the flame wars
begin", suggest he is taking a position counter to those that have been posted.
Although I think he has missed or misunderstood some of the points of the question of
"men's oppression", I don't think his position is dramatically different to that which
has been put forward here.
[...indeed, after writing most of this and seeing follow-up posts, it is apparent that
Jim (and other posts I have seen) is taking the Marxist position of supporting women's
liberation and opposing groups or ideology purporting to fight "male" oppression]
The key points, in a nutshell.....
Women are oppressed as a sex, as women, systematically. They are also oppressed as
workers, lesbians, women of colour, etc. Men are oppressed too - as workers, blacks,
gays, etc. But men are NOT oppressed as a sex. That's not to say that sexism does not
distort the role of men....but this is not oppression in the sense Marxists use it.
Capitalists too, are distorted under capitalism - but hardly oppressed and exploited.
When we speak of women's oppression - of being second-class citizens, comodified
sex-objects, defined as meant for having and raising children, no control over bodies,
etc - an immediuate question may be - if women are oppressed (yes they are) who are
their oppressors? It is men who are the agents of women's oppression. Just as it is
white people who are the agents of racism. In both cases, there is an immediate,
short-term MATERIAL benefit to the agent of oppression from the oppression (this is
the material basis on which the oppression can rest). So as a white male I can
"benefit" from racism when interviewed for a job competing with a black person; or I
can "benefit" from sexism if competing with a woman, or from having someone who will
ensure my dinner is on the table when I get home.
But Marxist go deeper than that, of course, to look for the origins of women's
oppression. We see that women's oppression arose with class society, and indeed
women's oppression and the family unit became essential to maintaining capitalist
society. Thus we see women's oppression as benefitting (and essential to) the
interests of the ruling CLASS.
How does women's oppression benefit the ruling class?
The family, as right-wing Aust PM Howard says, is the "best welfare system". It
certainly is for the Kists, because it is the cheapest - all social needs - childcare,
food preparation, etc - are provided in the home, predominantly by women, for free.
The family is a key institution for young people to learn submission to authority.
Individual family units are isolated and compete against others. And on top of this,
to reinforce the status of women and make some extra profit on the side, Kists push
the objectification of women - the diet industry, cosmetics (including cosmetic
surgery), clothing, etc. This is obviously just a snippet of the extent and reasons
behind women's oppression under Kism.
Thus the struggle for women's liberation is, fundamentally, an anti-capitalist
struggle. And so for men, our class interests lie in absolutely supporting women's
struggle against their oppression.
Why should we oppose the notion of 'men's' oppression?
Firstly, we should clarify that we are talking about oppression of men as a sex. We
agree that men are oppressed as workers, blacks, etc. But we should oppose the notion
of a specific 'male' oppression (ie that men are oppressed as a sex), for the same
reasons we should oppose the notion that white people are oppressed racially, or
heterosexuals are oppressed for their sexuality. These are reactionary analyses.
Ultra-right wing racist Pauline Hanson says that the middle-aged (or middle-class?)
white male is the most oppressed person in "our" society. In the US, affirmative
action is pushed back under the notion of "equality". Marxists must be crystal clear
on who is oppressed and where that oppression comes from, to argue why we support
affirmative action for women and blacks (ie that hundreds of years of systematic
racism and oppression must be compensated for and reversed), and oppose such "rights"
for whites and men (because they already have them triplefold).
So, to a few of the key points raised by Jim. Firstly, it is not that surprising to
see the show Jim mentions (Marry a millionaire) on a pro-family network. Capitalism
has a mass contradiction with the family - it needs it desperately, but at the same
time, it is (through the possibility of women being individual productive units, the
continued alienation and much more) TEARING the family apart. ANother contradiction is
that for us, the family is both an extremely oppressive institution (especially for
women), including having the majority of murders, domestic violence, etc; YET it is
often the only place many can turn to for some love and companionship.....
Jim makes the point that, just as the women on the tacky show are participants in
their dehumanization and oppression, so to are men often through their role as workers
etc. As we've seen above, this is undoubtably true, but the important distinction is
that men do not suffer this same systematic oppression as a sex.
Jim is spot on, as explained above, that women's oppression is not the only
oppression, and indeed, crucially, stems from class society, class oppression. Thus
there is a material reason for Marxists to see class as crucial, the starting
point.....no class, then there wouldn't have been the pre-conditions for women's
But i think it's not helpful to try to "rank" oppressions - is a black male or a white
woman more oppressed? Such heirarchy is not useful.
Also, we should be careful to dismiss oppression if someone happens to be in the
ruling class. Margaret Thatcher was STILL oppressed AS A WOMAN. Of course, the effects
would be less severe - for example any economic barriers to abortion would not effect
the wealthy Thatcher the way they would an unemployed woman. But sexist ideology that
women shouldn't have control over there bodies WOULD be a barrier, EVEN to a Thatcher,
in controlling her body and having access to abortion.
>I have never met a white academic middle-class feminist who, if allowed to
>switch positions with that of a typical Reservation Indian male or Ghetto
>African-American male or migrant Hispanic farmworker would not run back to
>the the typical degrees and forms of oppression faced by the academic, white
>(or not the more "unfavorable" non-white), middle-class, feminist woman.
I think a raped white middle-class feminist might want to switch. But no doubt Jim's
right about the majority of cases. But the point is Marxists shouldn't play off
feminism Vs working class Vs anti-racism. We shouldn't pit black male Vs white female
- who's more oppressed (no doubt there are cases where the oppression of women is far
stronger than racial oppression).
And let's not buy the bourgeois version of feminism - for us it means the liberation
of ALL women, and the only way to open up the opportunity to do that, ultimately, is
to destroy the system which maintains it - that is, capitalism. But in no way should
women, or blacks, or gays and lesbians, or any oppressed group be encouraged to sit
back and wait for their liberation - these struggles are all part of the struggle for
a new society.
NO SOCIALISM WITHOUT WOMENS LIBERATION!
NO WOMENS LIBERATION WITHOUT SOCIALISM!
From: Craven, Jim [mailto:jcraven at clark.edu]
Sent: Thursday,23 December 1999 10:56
To: 'marxism at lists.panix.com';
'leninist-international at buo319b.econ.utah.edu'
Subject: RE: Are men oppressed? NO!
There is an upcoming show on Fox Network being billed as an audition to
marry a millionaire. Supposedly 50 women have signed on to "audition" to
become a wife of a millionaire with a real wedding ceremony to take place at
the end of the show when the "winner" is picked. Supposedly these women will
commodify themselves--and allow themselves to be commodified--in all the
usual ways that are found in typical "beauty" contests: swimsuit parade,
talent demonstration, personal philosophy etc etc. Supposedly these women
know nothing about the man except that he is a "millionaire". Now there are
several interesting aspects to all of this: 1) Here is the ultra-right-wing
Fox Network, opposed to gay marriages, supposedly "pro-family" and
"pro-marriage" demeaning and commodifying the "institution" of
marriage--demeaning in their own professed right-wing terms not necessarily
in terms of those non right-wing; 2) promoting some of the same sleaze etc
(like "Dating Game type questions that you know will focus on sex for
titilation) that they purport to decry;
But there are other interesting aspects here to. As for the women who choose
to commodify and demean themselves, most feminists would accuse them of
"false consciousness" yet participants in their own dehumanization and
oppression. Why not the same for males? Yes there are males who are
oppressors of women, yet who are also oppressed by their bosses and the
system in some of the same ways that they oppress women in their own lives.
Secondly oppression is a multi-facted beast that takes many forms and
levels; there are also women who oppress other women as bosses over workers
or academics over students, there are women in positions of power over many
males (although the women typically have less power than the males at the
same structural levels) and so on.
So I guess what I object to, and this is not a response to Louis or Nestor
only a tag-on on to their own missives, is this simple-minded notion of
power, oppression and even simple-minded feminism. Indeed, if it were so
simple that women are oppressed and males are the oppressors, then set up a
good sperm bank and kill all the males. But things are not so simple. I
still believe, and have been given no counter-evidence of substance, that
the fundamental basis of oppression (however one quantifies and qualifies
oppression) is class and then within class, further forms and levels of
oppression occur along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, language,
religion etc. Does anyone want to make the case that the likes of a Judith
Butler--a white middle-class academic or "professional"--or Butler herself,
is more oppressed than the average Ghettoized African-American Male or
Reservation Indian male? Really? Of course the average Ghettoized poor or
working class African-American female is far more oppressed than the average
poor or working class African American male, and the same for the average
Reservation Indian female versus the average Reservation Indian male, but
really, since people are using the term "oppression", I presume they have
some concept of quantities and qualities of oppression, and however they
wish to define "oppression", the realities and forms of oppression suffered
by poor non-white males are far far beyond (in quantity or degree and in
quality) that typically suffered by say some of the middle-class white and
even non-white academic feminists writing on the net about feminism; and if
gender were the fundamental and overriding basis of oppression such that the
categorical "males are not oppressed and women are" could be made, the real
world cases would not likely prevail as they so clearly do.
I remember many years ago when "Ms" did a special on upwardly-mobile women
and their feature was a woman General who, it turned out from the interview
with her, was horribly right-wing and a hard-core militarist. Great!
"Feminism" or "Woman's Liberation" is having an equal opportunity to become
a tool or even a boss of the system of imperalism. Or perhaps having an
"equal opportunity" to become a concentration camp guard? That is where the
insulated petit-bourgeois mentalities and "feminism" of some of the
academics and Butler types lead. On class levels, yes, no doubt, the average
white woman is far more oppressed than the average white male and when we
add race and other factors into the equation, it gets more muddled--e.g.
average white middle class woman versus average African-American middle
class male? (I don't know).
And the simple-minded, petit-bourgeois a-class feminism reminds me of the
same on the environmental level: simple-minded or petit-bourgeois
environmentalism. I am reminded of a passage from James Pool's "Hitler and
His Secret Partners":
His [Hitler's] pilot, Hans Baur, remembered himn watching fims from India
sent by a maharaja. Hitler could calmly look at scenes of the bloody bodies
of people who had been attacked by tigers. But during scenes of animals
being hunted and killed he would sometimes cover his eyes with his hands
like a child and ask to be told when it was over. He hated blood sports and
sometimes would cry at the sight of a wounded animal."
Like the "free woman" and self-professed "environmentalist" I met in Seattle
(and so many other places) who had so much feeling for whales but no emotion
at all about the Makah, far closer to extinction than whales, an no emotion
about the imperative of defending what is left of Treaty rights to defend
what is left of whole Peoples on the verge of extermination, I find in some
of the self-professed feminists some of the same class-based and parochial
arrogance and myopia. Bottom line, all sorts of people who do their own
forms of oppression, like males dominating females, are also oppressed; and
indeed one of the instruments of oppression used to dominate the males is to
allow them the fiction that when they dominate and oppress women, this gives
them some kind of measure of power to alleviate their own oppression from
other dimensions of the logic and dynamics of capitalism. Just as thw women
lined up to "marry the millionaire" particpate in/facilitate their own
oppression and that of their sisters, so the poor and working class males
participate in/facilitate their own oppression through oppression of women
and their own false consciousness IMHO.
I have never met a white academic middle-class feminist who, if allowed to
switch positions with that of a typical Reservation Indian male or Ghetto
African-American male or migrant Hispanic farmworker would not run back to
the the typical degrees and forms of oppression faced by the academic, white
(or not the more "unfavorable" non-white), middle-class, feminist woman.
That's just my opinion and experience. Let the "flames--I mean
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From: Louis Proyect [mailto:lnp3 at panix.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December 22, 1999 2:42 PM
To: marxism at lists.panix.com
Subject: RE: Are men oppressed? NO!
>There is such a basic truth in what Rachel says...
>I am reminded of an old saying: 'We all live under the conditions
>of imperialist and capitalist exploitation, but the consequences
>of this sad state of thigs are quite different on a peasant in
>Ethiopia and on a shareholder in New York'.
>If the latter is 'dehumanised', the former simply is starved.
>Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
>gorojovsky at inea.com.ar
"As Karl Marx said, those who live in a palace do not think about the same
things, nor in the same way, as those who live in a hut. This struggle to
defend the trees and the forest is above all a struggle against
imperialism. Imperialism is the pyromaniac setting fire to our forests and
(The final paragraph of Thomas Sankara's Feb. 5, 1986 speech "Save Our
Trees, Our Environment, Our Lives, which is on the "Words of Struggle"
section of the Marxism list website)
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