Middle Eastern women WANT anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist world

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Wed Aug 16 00:26:09 MDT 2000



Hello comrades! Last week I went through all the volumes of socialist
magazine _Monthly Review_ for a project I am working on. Although
disappointed to see a couple of articles by liberal missives in recent
volumes, I encountered a very persuasively written article by a
socialist *Iranian feminist*.  I don't remember the title of the article
at the moment. Criticizing post-modern feminism for being ideological,
the author was arguing that the  postmodern invitation to cultural
difference does not only see the cultures of non-western societies as a
monolithic entity, but also hide class, gender and racial oppressions
that stem from class inequalities in the capitalist periphery of the
world system.


The argument that class does not matter is a JOKE. It is the ideological
representation of post-modernist silliness that takes a refuge to the
claims bourgeois ideologues in the age of post-cold war. The fact that
socialism has failed does not mean that it is the triumph of capitalism,
or that there is no socialist alternative so the class struggle is over.
We have to continue to struggle (actually, which is what Fidel is doing,
but not Taliban, sorry!) Post-modernist invitation to cultural
"difference" in the name of multi-culturalism, meaning defining one's
identity in *one* dimension only (i.e.., Muslim women, Christian women,
or whatever)  has  tremendous "closet" orientalist effects on third
world people. It is a reversed orientalism. Who has the right to define
my identity, as a  middle eastern women, as Muslim *only* and then
*universalize* my "womanhood" in terms of the critea of wearing hijab or
not? This is a political struggle not a simple choice! Many middle
eastern women (Arab Muslim Women's Solidarity of Nawal Sadawi)  are
struggling against 1)imposed veiling 2)imposed virginity 3)imposed
sterilization  4) effects of neo-liberal programs on different classes
of women 5) female genital mutilation. These are basic human rights not
cultural rights! if Muslim women wearing hijab raise these issues, they
are welcome to the struggle. But as long as they define their identity
in terms of religion only, they tend to obscure class differences
existing among Muslim women. Defending cultural autonomy without
addressing gender oppression for the purpose of letting the* third world
men off the hook* contributes nothing, but to the persistence of
capitalist patriarchy in the third world.

Class still matters. Women of lower classes are more exploited than
women of higher classes. Period. In countries like mine, Turkey,middle
class women have much easier access to education whereas lower class
women have to drop school in the early stages because they have to work
and take the financial responsibility of their families. You would mot
believe me  but I had ZERO perception of money till I came to US. I
still have, so I know what I am talking about. Privileged third world
women gain their identity through the class structure they belong:
mothers, sisters, wives, daughters of someone else, that is, men of
certain classes. Class cuts across gender in terms of how one's identity
is formed.

Within a world system defined by capitalist patriarchy in gender
relations,  third world women are are more exploited than first world
women by virtue of  their location in the periphery of the world system
which is being constantly exploited by the core through  comprador
capitalists located in the periphery.  Class oppression does not pertain
only at the inter-national level, but also at the national level, in
*interaction* with global system.. Simple evidence is that the women in
East Asia who is forcefully down into sex industry are not chosen from
women of elite classes but, mostly,  from women of lower classes,
rural/peasent women-- the women who are in need of money under severe
circumstances of poverty and who have no option but to sell their bodies
to subsidy their children and families. These women are suffering the
burdens of local patriarchal elites in service of western capitalists.
Accordingly, Taliban sympethizers, who have been trading women from
Kabul to Pakistan at 1800 dollars are capitulated to the interests of
imperialism, despite their hypocritical claims to the contrary. The men
who sell my sisters for the purposes of money raising are NOT MY MEN
whoever they are! These women should be compensated for the material,
social and sexual damage they have suffered in the hands of UN sanctions
and Taliban sectarians!


that is what I say. have a good night to all comrades. Sleep well!

Mine

See the article at:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/healthnet/SAsia/repro2/jyoti_sangera.htm

The Socio Economic Base - Class and Patriarchy. It is certainly true
that some form of prostitution, that is, contractual exchange of sexual
services in lieu of cash or other material benefits in kind, has existed
for as long as society has been characterized into classes based on
differential access to resources. The institution of prostitution also
goes back historically to the time when the newly emerging class society
began to organise its access to property and other regenerative
resources through social relations of patriarchy.  This implied that
within  a society structured along inequities lines economic and social
power accrued to that class who 'owned' property which was capable of
generating capital and therefore, more property. This 'owning' class was
also the class which could employ workers, or engage the services of the
'non-owning' classes by paying them either a wage in exchange for their
labour, or in kind. Simply put, the 'owning' or 'popertied' class
(referred to as the elite or the leisured class, as well) lived off its
property which was multiplied via business, production, trade and
investments. The 'non-owning' or the 'non-propertied' classes (also the
landless, the proletariat, the dispossessed strata) lived off selling
their labour in return for a wage or remuneration in kind by gaining
employment on the lands, trades, factories of the owning class.

Thus, for the non-propertied classes, the only asset they owned in a
society where the ability to subsist and live as a human being was tied
to assets, was their actual physical body. This body was pressed into
service performing manual labour in exchanging for an allowance via a
contractual arrangement referred to as employment or a job: Since
certain jobs require special skills, the body is then trained to acquire
these skills, be they physical or mental. The treatment of the body as
an asset, as a means to seek subsistence lies at the core of the
phenomenon of prostitution. The class structure of society, which
continues to this day, is not gender neutral. Each class in internally
divided along lines of gender, and the power accruing to each class is
structured through patriarchal relations. That is, in a society based on
structures of inequality, the members within each class are not equal;
gender based inequality dictates that the men within each class have
access to greater social and economic power than the women of that very
class. Furthermore, in most societies, women acquire their class status
only by virtue of their attachment to the men of that class, either as
daughters, wives, sisters, or mothers. Patriarchal relations within many
societies determine that women, even when they do enjoy the benefits and
privileges of the class they belong to, do not have a secure,
independent status in their own right. Hence, when the men of her family
or class withdraw their support away from a woman she may become
virtually propertlyless even when she does claim a middle-class status.
At any event, she would be forced to engage in a long drawn legal battle
to claim her rights through a judicial process which is itself marked by
patriarchal and class biases. Thus, women as a gender, are vulnerable
citizens of our modern civil society characterized by class and
patriarchal hierarchies. This  vulnerability of women constitutes an
essential ingredient of women's relative powerlessness, and factors in
significantly into prostitution.


All women are not Equal : Unsisterly Relations

Just as class is not a homogenous category and is internally divided
along gender lines, gender itself is not a homogenous or universal
category. While all women are subjected to some measure of patriarchal
prejudice within each class, and this fact may form the basis of gender
solidarity among women across classes, yet women are in turn
hierarchically located with respect to each other on the basis of class,
racial, ethnic and regional background. Thus while a woman from a
marginalized cultural community such as the Tamang from Nepal, may face
patriarchal discrimination just as a white woman from a privileged class
in Canada may, the commonality of oppression ends right there, and this
commonality too is very fragile. A exploration of the several matrices
of power and privilege which define a Tamang woman's life will reveal
that her reality is linked to that of the woman from Canada not through
bonds of similarity but through a hierarchical structure of privilege
and oppression with the former unequivocally oppressed in relation to
the latter who is categorically privileged. The oppressed status of the
Tamang woman flows out of an intricate web of social, economic and
political relations which determine her location within her family
community, country, region and the world. Her oppression and
marginalization, and therefore, her extremely restricted options in this
world, stem out of the complex nexus of her multiple identities : as a
woman from an impoverished family of the socio-culturally marginalized
Tamang community, a minority ethnic group, which does not adhere to the
religious or linguistic practices of the mainstream Nepali society, as a
Tamang woman from Nepal, globally one of the poorest countries of the
relatively less-developed South Asian region of the world; as a third
world woman, inescapably caught in the web of globalization which
defines her as producer of goods and services consumer by the wealthier
women and
men  in countries of the industrialized world as well as her own region.
Her labour is super-exploited  since as a poor, illiterate, minority,
third world woman, she is paid a pittance for a wage for more than 12
hours of work in extremely hazardous conditions. Day and night she sits
in a dank, seedy, airless room, weaving carpets for the world market. In
order to compete in the global market, these carpets (and other goods
produced by third world  women) have a relative advantage; they are sold
cheap. The principal reason why goods produced in the third world sell
at lower prices in the developed  world is not because exporters and
manufacturers keep prices low by compromising on their profit margins,
but because they are effectively able to keep their cost exploitation of
the workers/ producers by paying them a wage far below any acceptable
subsistence wage in
the West; in fact, often below a subsistence even in the third world.
Since no worker will accept such a wage in the West or in the developed
world, production is organised at advantageous sites in the third world
which offer large pools of vulnerable, exploitable labour, such as women
and children of socio-economically marginalized cultural communities.
Evidently despite a shared gender, the objective and subjective reality
of the two women from Nepal and Canada belonging to different classes is
very dissimilar. The one is grinding away under subhuman conditions for
her and her family's survival, while
the other has all her basic needs attended to, and now aspires to adorn
her house with carpets and other ethnic and consumer items produced in
exotic lands. The one struggles to subsist while the other aspires to a
higher standard of living by accumulating items of conspicuous
consumption. The struggle of the Tamang-Nepali woman as a producer to
secure a wage which will allow her a modicum of dignified existence is
directly pitted against the needs and preoccupation of the middle-class
woman from Canada as a consumer, for the lower the price of goods and
services the more she can sunsume and enhance her status and living
standard. She rummages through shopping malls and sales looking for
inexpensive, affordable goods. According to the dictates of
globalization and the global market today the cheapest goods can only be
produced in the third
world by marginalized women who have little  bargaining power to demand
a decent wage. Given this relative polarization in the world market
between consumers and producers, as consumer demand is whetted and
competition heightens, the clamour
for goods and services at evermore competetive prices increases and the
conditions for further exploitation of already marginalized sections
within society multiply.
And hence, we see that the oppressed status of a marginalized woman from
the third world is the outcome of complex local, national and
international forces woven steadily through history right into this
contemporary moment. Furthermore, within the context of globalization,
the process by which the oppression of third world women is constructed
is also the process which simultaneously constructs the privilege of
middle and upper-class women in the developed world and indeed elsewhere
as well. In fact, within the parameters of consumerist global expansion,
the status and power of women of the privileged classes is grounded in
and dependent on the oppression of underclassed, underprivileged women
from the South. And so, the sisters are connected through very
unsisterly relations of production and consumption under globalization.
Under such conditions, a Tamang woman from Nepal would have far more in
common with a poor Tamang man than she ever would with a white,
middle-class sister from Canada. The process, relations and connections
outlined above may appear to be bordering on the extremes. There may be
even some
truth in such criticism. Certainly, not all woman in the industrialized
world are connected to third world women through exploitative relations.
Many poor, aboriginal, immigrant and minority women in the West
replicate the economic and social status of marginalized women of the
third world. Similarly, the chasm between upper-class and marginalized
women within countries of the third world in not negligible either. At
the same time, it is not just women consumers from privileged countries
who are responsible for the production and intensified exploitation of
marginalized minority women in the third world, indeed, several forces
which bolster the structures of global capitalism are responsible for
this. However, one of the major purposes of charting out the above
complex and socio-economically antagonistic relationship between women
from the two worlds was to
problematize the notion of gender solidarity, and to show that inded,
they often inhabit two very separate worlds of social reality. Belonging
to the same gender does not automatically imply that we share the same
experiences, problems, and struggles; rather women do stand in opposite
camps when it comes to their class interests or concerns as members of
social
groups. This has become evident through global configuration of
socio-economic forces today.

The above discussion will serve as background to critiquing some
gender-based approaches to prostitution which have gained considerable
currency, as well as developing a third world perspective on
prostitution. As well, it will also serve as a spring
board for further discussion prostitution.


--

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222



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