Gender, Race and Class - Belated reply

ermadog at freenet.edmonton.ab.ca ermadog at freenet.edmonton.ab.ca
Wed Dec 26 02:15:02 MST 2001


The events in Argentina overshadowed this discussion from last week. Here
is my reply to Stan.

> I don't want to overthrow marxist categories, but to seek new categories
> in addition to the ones we have.

So far, I just haven't seen a need to seek new categories. Gender
oppression is a matter of gender roles, having very little to do with
sexuality as such, and can be treated as a subset of bourgeois ideology
whose roots can be found in the historic bunk handed down from one form of
class society to another. The main reason for the existence of gender
oppression is bound up with the issue of the family as reproducer of
class.

My perspective on the family is shaped by my experience as a child in a
dysfunctional family, not by feminist theory.

> Some of the issues:  How do you respond to this? "Sexuality is to
feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one's own, yet most
taken away... feminism fundamentally identifies sexuality as the primary
social sphere of male power.." <

For most women, sexuality is a secondary issue. The mother/wife role is
the survival role, so much so that many women will deny the existence of
child abuse in the family in order to maintain this role. Are you aware
that the famous Kinsey report showed that 20% of women studied had no
conscious awareness of their own sexual feelings? Are you aware of polls
which show that most working mothers, if given a choice, would prefer more
sleep to more sex? Are you aware that, on average, women who divorce
experience a 70% drop in standard of living, whereas men experience a
rise?

> In a sense, then, if we accept this (and I provisionally do), there is
no such thing as genuine consent on the part of women,

There is actually very little genuine consent on the part of anyone in
this society. I think of this whenever I see instructions to children
about "inappropriate touching". Does this term include corporal
punishment, or being forced to hug/kiss/shake hands with relatives whom
you don't really like?

Did the average German really consent to the Holocaust?

> As DIALECTICAL and not mechanical materialists, we have to acknowledge
that the power to "explain" is a form of acting on the world, and a form
of material power.<

Absolutely! And who owns the institutions of explanation - the media, the
advertising agencies, the school boards? The men at the top of these
institutions are wielding economic power, not sexual power.

> My own experience with my kids tells me how powerful the notion of
"normalcy" is.

This is a more general question of the power of the status quo.

> Reproduction is so critical from a survival of species standpoint,

I've never bought this argument, especially for non-human life. I doubt
very much that my dogs know or care what genes are, much less what happens
to them.

Anyone who has ever had any experience with free-ranging animals knows
that animals often make indifferent mothers, particularly if they have no
role models to follow.. I had to feed Elsie's pups by hand because she
simply wouldn't go near them. She was utterly indifferent to their care,
seeing them more as a safety issue on those occasions when they strayed
from a small area which she had designated as safe. My parents both told
me stories from their childhood of barn cats who wouldn't raise their
young;  and every chicken raiser knows the value of a good broody hen who
will hatch eggs ignored by indifferent layers.

Human women tend to lose their reproductive capacity in situations of
extreme stress, such as in concentration camps, where you would expect the
reproductive "imperative" to be of primary importance.

> But I still wonder why we seem to seek the source of gender oppression,
or oppression based on sexuality, today, based on unconfimable hypotheses
of the distant past. .... Because Engels' attempt to show this was based
on a lot of bad information, as it turned out.<

What are you talking about? Everything I've read about the past confirms
the tribe to patriarchy outline provided by PPFS. I have about twelve
books in my bookcase upon which I can draw for this; and I'm just a
general reader picking up books in discount bins.

> But again, when we begin to study the question of homophobia, a huge
issue I have with my dear comrades in Haiti, how do we get at the
relations between homophobia and sexism.  We are forced to look again at
sexuality, NOT male and female. <

Again, everything I've read leads me to a different conclusion. In all
societies that I've looked at, it's a matter of gender role enforcement,
not sexuality. Most homophobia seems to be directed against men who appear
to be too effeminate, and against women who appear to be too independent
and confident.

> question of war is intriguing, as an historical material foundation for
masculinity. <

The Roman model is often seen as the classic patriarchy. In this model,
women and young men are equally exploited by the elder males. The young
men are cannon fodder for the wars of the older men; and women are war
booty.

I thought Engels went into this some; but, it's been some time since I've
read him. The slight advantage men have in upper body strength lent itself
to the activities of hunting and war. Although this provided the basis for
the first division of labour in tribal societies, it did not give rise to
such a significant material advantage as to engender significant
exploitation of women in pre-class societies. The balance was tipped when
the development of iron tools gave men an exponential advantage.

> I am very interested in the thinking of Nancy C. M. Hartsock on the
Homeric warrior ideal. <

I don't know her; but, for my money, Joseph Campbell is the quintessential
mythology guy to consult for the history of the development of the Hero
archetype.

> But what constitutes the gender antagonism of today?  NOT antagonism
between male and female--that would be absurd. <

The statistics you cite on domestic violence, as horrific as they are,
should be seen in perspective. Throughout the history of class society,
interpersonal violence has been a way of life: owners beat slaves, masters
beat apprentices, teachers beat students, parents beat children. However,
I'm not at all certain that today's violence is merely a carryover from
times past. Capitalism has intensified tension between the genders.

As I mentioned earlier, the logic of the rationalization of production
requires that the capitalist extract more from the unit of production than
what he puts in, regardless of the fact that subsistence is not possible
for the worker should that remuneration fall below a certain level. Yet
the human being, in order to be human, requires a certain amount of human
input. I'm not sure whether Marx actually spelled out what he meant by
"reproduction of labour"; but, I see that it takes essentially two forms:
the creation of the next generation, who must be molded to society's
expectations and also taught labour skills; and the recreation, on a
day-to-day basis, of the creative powers exhausted by the labourer during
the working shift.

Historically, this reproduction has occurred within the confines of the
family/kinship unit; and historically, women's role in this has been
undervalued or not valued at all, so that women have been economically
dependent on men. In industrial urban centres, the material resources
traditionally used by women - the kitchen garden she tended, the wild
areas in which she foraged - are just not available; yet the capitalist
still expects "the unit of production" to satisfy his personal needs in
private.  In other words, this aspect of life, although a necessity,
simply is not a factor in the capitalist's accounting system.

More and more, the atomizing effects of modern capitalism isolate the
individual as the basis of society; yet, the individual still needs a
social safety net. This is the basis of today's antagonism between the
genders. This antagonism will increase as the neoliberal austerity
measures eat away at the social safety nets which had partially resolved
this antagonism in more affluent times, and, at the same time drive down
wages for both male and female workers. The cult of family values, pushed
as an opiate of the masses by the religious right, will prove to be an
illusory solution to the problem of the disappearing safety nets.

> <snip>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.<snip> I disagree again, respectfully.  Working class Southern
white boys are the very worst about this.  We can't be glib and
superimpose class on this.<

It's not glib at all. Different classes have different requirements for
their women. The upper classes have traditionally valued their women as
Vessels of the Race, and their sexual purity is paramount. The fear of the
"great unwashed" is a fear of the raw power of the toilers; and this raw
power has a sexual element to it. Race adds another dimension of
prejudice. I had in mind the rank fear of the slave owner, presuming that
cultural expressions engendered in a previous era would still have life of
some kind today.

You are quite right about the Southern working class white male. The
toiling masses have always had different requirements for their women.
They need their women to be strong pillars of the hearth, standing by
their man.  They suspect all women have hidden reserves of strength, but
need to believe they can tame this power for themselves. Again, race adds
another dimension to this.

You are also right about how irrational the whole thing is.  "You can't
talk to a man, With a shotgun in his hand. He's keeping the streets all
safe for his wives and daughters." -Carole King


Joan Cameron



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