Older men, younger women

Philip Ferguson plf13 at SPAMit.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Nov 7 21:41:24 MST 2000

Lou Paulsen writes to John E:

>All right, John, let me come back to you.  You got into this argument by
>responding to Anthony, who wrote that most heterosexual relationships were
>"probably oppressive".  Anthony didn't specify a country; presumably he
>meant "in the world".  You contended that most "normal" heterosexual
>relationships were NOT oppressive.  I pressed you to elaborate.  Instead,
>you reply that women in New Zealand have won a lot of elected offices.


Having argued that differences in age (older men, younger women) are
inherently unequal, are you now arguing that heterosexual relationships are
inherently oppressive?

> This
>is good news, but it doesn't speak to the point, particularly since, as we
>know, elected offices are window-dressing.

Actually, many of these offices are not elected.  The CEO of the largest
company in the country is not 'window dressing'.  The governor-general is
not 'window-dressing'.  (This one is especially amusing, as the
governor-general in Australia sacked the elected Labor government in 1974,
some window-dressing!!!).  The chief justice is not an elected office and

These are positions of *real power*.  They can be occupied by women - and
in NZ the 7 (!!!) most powerful positions in the country are all occupied
by women - because we *do not live in a 'patriarchy*; we live in a
capitalist society in which the critical division is *class*.

Moreover, one of the interesting things that has happened in NZ with the
'new right' economic restructuring, which was the most extreme anywhere in
the developed and democratic capitalist world (ie the imperialist
countries) is that the more 'pure' capitalism became - ie the increase
commodification and reach of the market - the more gender and racial
barriers were actually removed.  (This had nothing to do with feminism -
indeed the feminist movement pretty much died here after the sisters took
to each other with fists and whicker swords at the mass United Women's
Convention of 1979 and there has never been another since.)

Because most of the left is aging, and grew up and had its formative
political experiences when discrimination on the basis of gender, race and
sexual orientation and so on was extremely pronounced, much of the left
think such discrimination will basically be maintained this side of a
socialist revolution.  This just isn't so.  A large part of it can be, and
is being, removed.

For instance, ultimately it is immaterial to capital who performs domestic
labour.  What is important is that *someone* performs it, otherwise it
becomes an added cost for capital.  These days, the bulk of domestic labour
is *still* performed by women, but the younger generation of men perform a
great deal more than their fathers or grandfathers did.  This isn't solely,
or even mainly, because of the feminist movement.  It is largely because of
other changes in capitalist society and in the labour market.

For instance, when I lived in Ireland, I lived in a very poor part of
Dublin.  A great deal of domestic labour was performed by young working
class males in the area where I lived - in fact, my male friends who had
partners and children performed rtaher more domestic labour than their
female partners.  This was because they were unemployed, and their female
partners had more chance of getting some (fairly drudgish and low-paid)

It is as daft to say that these women 'oppress' their male partners who re
stuck at home doing domestic labour as it is to suggest that men working in
factories and offices all day 'oppress' their female partners who are stuck
at home performing domestic labour.  What is involved is simply a division
of labour between the domestic/unpaid and employed/paid sphere, which is
essential to capital and in which traditional sex roles are being
increasingly undermined, dertainly in the developed capitlaist countries.

In any case, the Marxist aim is to abolish domestic labour not divvy it up
differently (the feminist aim).

Lou Paulsen, again to John E:
>However, you believe that these
>events in New Zealand "must surely lead us to reassess the theories we have
>relied on in the past to explain women's oppression" and that "the theory of
>patriarchy as a key element of capitalism is seriously in need of review.
>Capitalism in New Zealand has no problem giving any and all of the top jobs
>to women."  Please don't be offended, though, if I touch delicately on the
>fact that New Zealand is not exactly central to the capitalist metropole,
>and that the rest of the imperialist world is not necessarily foredoomed to
>follow New Zealand's example.

Actually, they pretty much are.  Despite your US-centric blinkers.

The thing about NZ is that the economic restructuring here was the *most*
extreme; the more economic restructuring takes place in the US, the more
Hilary Clintons and Janet Renos you are likely to see, occupying *real
positions of power* and - hopefully - the more obvious it will become that
patriarchy theory is just plain wrong.

When Hilary is president after 2004 and half her cabinet are women, and the
head of the Supreme Court is a woman, etc etc, maybe you will face up to

>In any case, the private sphere will be the
>LAST sphere in which equality is achieved, sometime AFTER equality in wages,
>which, you concede, you have not got yet.

Well, the difference in income between the working class and the ruling
class is massively greater (and growing) than the difference in income
between men and women (which is tiny by comparison and decreasing).  If we
really lived in a 'patriarchy' this would not be so.  Moreover, men per se
would constitute a ruling class and women per se would constitute an
exploited class.  This just isn't how the capitalist world is, however.

Which takes us a long way from older men and younger women. . . bless 'em.

Philip Ferguson

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