Gender, Class, and Race (was Re: Re: contradiction (was: facts in , the minds...)

ermadog at freenet.edmonton.ab.ca ermadog at freenet.edmonton.ab.ca
Thu Dec 20 18:10:16 MST 2001


Hi Stan,

I'll skip your opening remarks because I think we're talking at cross
purposes. You seem to think I was accusing you of something; and it wasn't
intended that way at all.

On Thu, 20 Dec 2001 sherrynstan at igc.org wrote:

> "I feel like even this attempt to relocate gender on a materialist
> foundation is inadequate, WHEN that foundation is "reproduction."

I have trouble imagining what other material foundation would serve. The
female role as Keeper of the Hearth has always been an adjunct to her
biological connection to children. Her role as Vessel of the Race was used
as justification of domestic confinement; and the mythology of Pillar of
the Home was designed to mollify and to sanctify.

> Marx and Engels not only failed to follow up, Engels advanced his
> argument in FPPS with a host of sexist assumptions, and Marx himself in
> a query once said the characterstic he most admired in women was
> weakness.

No argument from me! Marx was obviously unaware that it is precisely
woman's *strength* that is required in her role as Pillar of the Home, the
primary institution of the patriarchy. Women are expected to be able to
"take everything their man dishes out and keep coming back for more".
"Weak sisters" are often treated more contemptuously by women than by men.

> Reproduction ties the whole question to biology, and this simply will
> not do.  I really believe marxists must come to terms with the concrete
> reality of gender oppression and quit trying to subsume it into the
> current epistemological framework of marxism.

I don't see that the pre-class gender based divisions of labour were
always and necessarily oppressive to women. Discriminatory and unfair -
sometimes a bit nasty - but certainly not institutionalized oppression.
Gender only became a source of institutionalized oppression when the need
for class reproduction sanctified the family unit as the prime social
institution.

The very uncertainty of reproduction is one of the sources of tension
between the genders. On average, it takes about 25 tries before pregnancy
ensues (note to young readers: do NOT assume you can't get pregnant on the
first try!) And, as many a young woman has discovered to her regret, it
has historically been very easy for a man to deny paternity.

> There most definitely is an ireeconcilable antagonism between
> men and women, but it is not biological any more than productive class
> is.  That's why I say its not an anatagonism between those with cunts
> and those with cocks, but between something closer to "the masculine
> class" and "the feminine class".

No. It's an antagonism between the public sphere and the private sphere.
Ironically, the private sphere got its start in the Men's Houses of
pre-class society, where men first began learning the art of psychological
preparedness for war. Today, the private is guarded by the Pillar of the
Hearth. It is precisely because the family is seen as an alternative to
social safety nets that the religious right is so heavily invested in the
cult of family values.

The "masculine class" and the "feminine class" are not, as your
terminology suggests, heterogenous and monolithic wholes. Quite the
contrary. Gender roles differ quite markedly from class to class, from
social layer to social layer, and from historical period to historical
period. For instance, in _Marriage and the Family in the MIddle Ages_, I
see that the grande chatelaines of the early middle ages were replaced by
major d'omos of the high middle ages. As the aristocracy became wealthy,
the role of the upper class woman became more and more circumscribed as
the purity of the fruit of her womb became more and more valuable. Work
previously done by ladies was now relegated to a whole host of
professional servants - butlers, valets, retainers - who guarded the man
of the house as jealously as any wife might. (Didn't Jeremy Irons portray
this in "The Remains of the Day"?)

For the vast majority of women, located amongst the toiling masses,
Harriet Tubman's "Ain't I a Woman" speach is a more accurate description
of their lot in life.

> Gender oppression has a peculiar power, as we know.  Every
> time I confront inequality in the South, and you are familiar with this
> phenomenon, I am confronting race, but when we confront race, one of the
> most powerful and unspoken perpetuators of racism is the white male's
> sexual terror related to the black man.  If we understood how this
> dynamic works, I really believe, we could make a quantum leap forward in
> de-legitimizing racist institutions.

Here, you're touching on the interrelationships between power, violence,
and sexuality. Feminists are correct in characterizing rape as an act of
power; but, we should not forget that power is also an aphrodisiac. One of
the most hideous aspects of any atrocity is the fact that violence and
sexual pleasure are often intermingled. Some commentators have
characterized as pornographic the most lurid examples of the Nazi
anti-semitic propaganda.

The legendary fear of black male sexuality is, in part, a fear of the raw
power of toilers which is characteristically felt by men of leisure. Since
the life force is always understood as being sexual, much of this fear
expresses itself as sexual fear. Skin colour adds another dimension.

> So feminists, even the non-marxist varieties, as psychologists and
> anthropologists and even cultural critics, are terribly important to us,
> all of us, as marxists, and as men.  In my own life, right now, this
> question of what "masculinity" has done to me personally,

I can't speak to your experience directly, since I don't know you; but,
this legendary emasculation of black men was once a big concern of white
sociologists who tried to blame the social problems of the ghetto on
strong black women, who often held the family together when black men
couldn't find work. I don't know if this blame is still going on today;
but, I see the stereotype of the strong black woman has become legendary
amongst the black middle class. It was often used by black activists to
denigrate feminism as a white middle class concern.

Personally, I'm getting awefully tired of Whoopi Goldberg and her "wise
black mama" routine (as on Star Truck). First of all, this role doesn't
seem to fit on her very well; and, second, women don't need more patience
- we need to get up on our hind legs and move the furniture around some.

Joan Cameron


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