Male Supremacy, Sexism, & the Workers' Movement

John Edmundson JWE21 at
Thu Nov 9 00:48:51 MST 2000

> John Edmundson wrote:
> >  between older men and younger women are "potentially" oppressive.
> That seems a careful statement -- they certainly are potentially
> oppressive and I don't see why anyone would dispute the position so
> stated. No one that I know of says they are *always* oppressive.

As I said, I do know people who do, or at least did claim this. Of
course it is an empty statement to simply say, without context,
that such relationships are "potentially" oppressive. The context
was the assumption that they "usually are", made by Anthony and
supported by Lou Poulson.
> > Such relationships are obviously nothing like the case of Nicolle
> > Smith however.
> I have always considered the citing of odd examples as strong evidence
> of an inability to understand the importance of the "woman question."
> I can't respect an argument that pulls in Nicolle Smith (or any other
> particular person -- e.g., Albright or Thatcher or ...)

I cited Thatcher precicely to discount her example as an "odd
example". The point is that in New Zealand today, women in
positions of real power are not "odd examples" but increasingly
"common examples", accepted without question by the whole of
New Zealand society, without any sign of a right-wing backlash.
We can't keep ignoring the increasing number of women (in New
Zealand at least) in positions of power as "odd examples" for ever.
We have to try to understand the phenomenon and its implications.

> >  But neither .  . .nor the women whom Healy pursued were in anything
> >  like the situation people like my mother in law or the women
> >  described in Lou's post were. To suggest that there is a useful
> >  parallel here is absurd.
> I don't know anything about the legitimacy of the parallel, but
> denying the parallel tells us nothing about the Healy case. Being put
> in jail overnight is not quite parallel to a death sentence -- but may
> be an outrage nevertheless.

Yes, it may, or it may not.

A single relationship between the leader
> of a party and some young woman in would not be objectionable. A
> series of such relations probably is -- and even it it isn't, feeling
> a need to defend it seems to me to constitute insensitivity to the
> gravity of the question of the position of women in the workers'
> movement.
Carrol, when did I even remotely attempt to defend Healy's sleazy

> > Of course women are still exploited in New Zealand. Women
> > consistently earn less than men - on average - for example. But
> > things have changed here which must surely lead us to reassess the
> > theories we have relied on in the past to explain women's
> > oppression.
> The operative consideration is the status of women within the workers'
> movement. Defensiveness on the part of men on the list is strong
> evidence that we have a serious problem here. Listing important women
> as relevant is really offensive.
On the contrary, there is nothing "defensive" about suggesting the
need to reassess the usefulness of theory on any question. You
may find the idea of "Listing important women as relevant is really
offensive" but they are relevant. Patriarchy theory claims that
women are A) oppressed by men as individuals, and B) oppressed
collectively by men as a group. Implicit in this theory is the idea
that men will not allow women into positions of real power. When
that happened with an isolated individual like Thatcher, I along with
everyone else thought that this had no significance, and maybe it
didn't. But when it becomes widespread, it means we need to
reassess our theories. It doesn't mean we now pretend there is no
oppression of women. It means we look at patriarchy theory and
say, "does it allow for the arrival of many women into positions of
power without "the patriarchy" batting an eyelid? Such an invasion
of the halls of power by workers would elicit a response I suspect.
> > the Prime Minister is a woman, ....[clip]
> >
> > Politically, these are the top jobs in the country. Economically,
> > quite a few of them are also dominated by women.
> This is nonsense. It is about as relevant as a discussion of the
> flavors of ice cream available.

When does a trend stop being nonsense? Certainly the feminist
movement here (or what's left of it) regard this development as
more important than icecream flavours. Didn't Marx say somewhere
(you and others are more familiar than I with his writing) that there
comes a point when quantitative change becomes qualitative
change? What appears to be happening (again - in New Zealand at
least) is that the quantitative measure is growing well beyond what
I would have thought the tolerance level of patriarchy theory could

> > To this we can add the minister of health, the associate ministers
> > of health, the deputy leader of the government's junior coalition
> > partner, the co- leader of the government's key non-government ally
> > in parliament. We have by far the largest proportion of women in
> > parliament that we have ever had. One of the most conservative
> > provincial electorates in the country elected a transsexual woman
> > first as mayor, then as member of parliament. I'm not trying to
> > pretend that women have gained absolute equality, despite some
> > leading women politicians and feminists having hinted at this. What
> > I am saying is 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. This is
> > not like when Thatcher was around and we could say, "Well she's an
> > aberation, one woman in power doesn't change anything." What is
> > more, there is no sign of a reactionary backlash against the success
> > of women in these jobs. Is this a characteristic of patriarchy?
> This is really obnoxious. We are considering a group who make up over
> half of the working class -- and probably the politically most
> important part, and someone offers us a list of all the important
> women among the enemy.
Yes women are over half the working class, and patriarchy theory
conceals this by defining victories for women in high places as
victories for all women. Working class women aren't helped particularly
by the rise to power of corporate or political women (presumably the
reason you find my post "really obnoxious"). So we can either
applaud the development, (which puts middle class women ahead
of working class women), we can ignore it, (which makes our
politics irrelevant to explaining the "woman question"), or we can
try to understand it. And we don't understand it by deeming the
discussion of it "really obnoxious".

> > Yoshie's suggestion of a need to address issues like the age of
> > consent is an excellent one.
> Let's forget older men and age of consent. That was the point of
> departure for this discussion, but now we are discussing the very
> possibility of a workers' movement with any chance of success, and we
> can't base that discussion on endless fuss over this or that
> particular question.

I agree here. Age is never the determinant (child sex excluded) in
the oppressive nature of a relationship. Other, normally economic
factors override age.

> > Questions around sexuality, like age of consent, prostitution etc
> > need to be studied anew if we are to have an informed position on
> > the nature of gender in capitalism in the 21st century, rather than
> > carrying over the outdated theories of the 20th. Things have
> > changed. In New Zealand, we don't have places where sodomy is
> > illegal, where sex is illegal until age 21, as I understand still
> > applies in some US states. So these things need to be looked at
> > again by Marxists, rather than adopted by them from the feminist
> > movement. In the third world, a low age of consent is seen as a sign
> > of oppressive religious power, witness Lou P's Afghan example. In
> > the Southern US, conservative religion does exactly the opposite,
> > both by enforcing a high age of consent and proscribing the
> > permissable forms of sexual expression.
> All irrelevant.

To your current concerns perhaps, not to the points raised by
some others.

> > To return to the point I made at the start of this post, we can't
> > begin to understand these issues if we lump together the experience
> > of all women, whether in advanced capitalist countries or in
> > villages still primarily governed by pre-capitalist religious
> > practice.
> Well then, drop this filibuster and begin to explore the question of
> women and the workers' movement . It sounds to me as though you are an
> objective defender of the preeminence of men in the workers' movement.
Not at all. I'm not sure how you draw that conclusion. What I'm
suggesting is that the wholesale adoption of patriarchy theory,
which seemed to fit with society in the sixties and seventies,when
women in power were rare indeed, is increasingly out of sync with
the modern trajectory of capitalism. We need different theories, not
as you imply of me, no theories.
John Edmundson

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