[Marxism] Women's Rights, or how to make blanket assumptions
emusis at adelphia.net
Thu Apr 29 22:44:51 MDT 2004
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 15:52:09 -0400
From: "Charles Brown" <cbrown at michiganlegal.org>
Subject: [Marxism] Women's rights
To: <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Message-ID: <200404281956.i3SJudGu001111 at beesky.beesky.com>
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FYI The following is some of Jenny's ( who Waistline quotes in his post)
discussion and argument with Melvin and DMS. This offlist discussion is a
continuation of a debate on Marxmail from a number of months ago. Jenny's
post (and others) amounts to a response to DMS's challenge, made here, to
take the discussion of the Chinese policy in front of a "women's group"
(which arose parenthetically to the Great depletion of oil debate). Jenny's
views are probably representative of many left woman's views, and so her
discussion is a decent response to DMS's challenge ,even though she isn't
literally "a group".
Jenny: OK, I don't have the time to do this line by line, I'll try to give
you the overall picture that I see. Birth control has been practiced down
through the ages. It has also been brutally suppressed, especially in the
west starting around the 1300s. Although at various times the ruling class
has wanted to control the population of various groups it's trying to
subdue, in general (and certainly since the early 19th Century) the ruling
class wants women to produce more babies, more children, and more
people--especially when it doesn't have to pay the costs and can throw them
fully on women in particular and the working class in general. Why? Cannon
fodder and cheap labor. (This doesn't mean that it doesn't also manipulate
the influx of immigrants to various places at one time or another, or that
it doesn't try to exterminate certain populations and replace them with ones
more loyal--the most obvious case here being the American Indians.) Produce
children so we can use them to undercut the price of adult labor. Produce
fully functioning adults so we can pit them against each other for jobs and
drive down the price of labor. Keep the pipeline going beyond your capacity
The primary goal of all this is not simply the subjugation of women (any
more than workers are subjugated as the primary goal) it's the actual
product, the actual benefit from exploitation that they want to achieve--in
one case it's labor power, in the other it's a labor force. Whether that
takes less or more force to achieve, whatever. If you can do it with
ideology about home and hearth and church and all that shit, that's cheaper
than enforcing laws at gunpoint, but they will do that, too.
This is not the same as a socialist government trying to deal with out of
whack dependency ratios and struggling to get economic development going,
through policies fair or foul. It's just not the same beast. You can argue
it's just as beastly, but my point is that you have to look at the class and
sex content of the thing--not just the form. Just like some people adopt
nonviolence without looking at the class content, so it's possible to look
at contraception, abortion, sterilization, etc. without looking at the class
Of course a lot of limits that are not natural nonetheless exist for the
while and can't be fixed instantly a socialist government wrests power
(especially not with socialism in one, two, a few countries.) So if there
are difficult circumstances (presumably transitional), the question is what
to do about them, you can't just say they wouldn't exist if your policies
were enacted--what if you don't win in the argument for those policies?
What if you can't convince your compatriots? Should we continue to bear for
9 months babies that we know will starve? You think so, apparently.
Back to the capitalist world. You cite as proof that my model is wrong the
various declining birth rates in various places, including the U.S. But
these declines are a result of the struggle of women to control our lives,
just as rising wage rates in the U.S. through 1968 were not a result of the
fine and proper functioning of capitalism but of working class strength.
And just as they'd like to force wage rates down more--and are--they'd like
to force birth rates up. They haven't been able to do it to their
satisfaction but then they haven't gotten wage rates down to their
satisfaction either. This is not proof they don't want to. Women in the
U.S. have a higher birthrate than most other developed countries because we
have less access to birth control and birth control information and
abortion. If we had more, we'd have a lower birthrate, too. So in effect
they have been able to force birthrates up, compared to what our sisters in
the 'developed' world are doing, and with much less in terms of social
supports than they have in Italy, Japan, Spain to name a few with very low
birthrates (social supports including national healthcare, subsidized
childcare, paid parental leave, child allowances etc.)
>Several ancillary issues: Jenny asserts there is "forced overproduction
>of human beings beyond the capacity of female human beings." I do not
>know what Jenny means by this, I do not know where or when this has
It's occurring in pretty much every industrializing country and in the U.S.
How can I say this? Because I stand subjectively on the side of women, and
women are saying this is beyond what we will do. How do I know? Cause
these women are risking very unsafe abortions, which they _know_ are unsafe,
in other words they're risking their lives to not have a(nother) child.
This includes women in the U.S. who can't afford safe abortions. Would they
have children in great numbers if they were living under better conditions?
The evidence is not clear on this, when things are pretty good and women
have failsafe control over pregnancy, and they have other things to do in
their lives (aren't blocked out of jobs other than motherhood) women tend to
have fewer children than they're having when these things aren't true. You
attribute this to something called development, but there are mechanisms in
there at work. It's true, as you say, that women in the U.S. have to work
long hours from economic necessity and that when they can, they control
their births (putting them off) to deal with that negative situation--that's
women going on strike to some extent.
The ruling class's response has been to try to outlaw abortion (the strike
weapon) and restrict contraception and sex education (there are hundreds of
anti-abortion laws in state legislatures right now--someone at the march
said over 300 are up for consideration, such things as parental consent
laws--up right now in Florida--which in effect force young women to carry a
pregnancy to term--and byzantine restrictions on clinics to shut them down.
And attacks on contraception I've already mentioned.)
Of course, various negative conditions aside, as with the length of the
workweek, there is probably a comfortable range that people would fall into
if the obvious constraints were removed. And since we are a reasoning
animal, again like the length of the workweek, we can think about what's
needed in a rational system and see that, say, replacement rate is about
what we need to keep things going, if we don't need to produce a whole lot
of people who may be killed in war and industry, if we just want a community
with a stable age-balance, if we're not being forced to speed up.
In a message dated 4/24/04 10:04:58 AM, dmschanoes at earthlink.net writes:
The further we go, the less we see in this discussion. I tried to
summarize the origin of the disagreement in the hope that we could
concentrate on those basics and get some concrete answers to those basic
questions. Don't think we're getting closer to that. Indeed, the more
concrete questions I ask, the less I understand your answers.
So... the discussion orbits around a remarkable contention that the
forced sterilization of women-- not contraception, not voluntary
abortion, not voluntary sterilization-- the forced, enforced, policed,
state powered sterilization of women is a rational response to
I have repeatedly stated that overpopulation is not a natural event, as
we don't live in a state of nature where our resources are determined by
the environment. We live in social organization where resources are
produced by the organization of labor and property in specific forms.
Population pressures as such are problems of that organization.
In response to the assertion that forced sterilization is a rational
response to economic problems I have asked for any data that shows
sterilizaton as causing or contributing to economic recovery, improved
social welfare as measured by the usual standards of longevity, calorie
intake, mortality rates. No data has been provided.
Instead, the rather remarkable assertion has been made that forced
sterilization has contributed to the welfare of women by relieving them
of the burden of pregnancy, childbirth, and I guess child care. Again
I have asked for empirical, verifiable data supporting this assertion.
None has been provided. Instead a logic has been provided that says,
pregnancy requires more food, delivery is hard labor and dangerous work,
childbirth is a debilitating process, a risk...etc. and-- sterilizing
women means less maternity, ergo maternal death rates decline.... QED.
This is what I have called NUTS LOGIC.
Let me try one last time to illuminate how nuts nuts logic is, and if
CB or JB still don't see the nuts but only the logic....well, we'll burn
that bridge when we come to it:
Suppose, and we know this to be the case, numbers of women are living in
areas of high concentrations of hydrocarbons and toxic chemicals in the
drinking water, and hydrocarbon and toxic airborne emissions from
chemical plants. And suppose, as we know to be the case, infant
mortality and birth defect rates are higher among these women. And
suppose that the response of whoever our Great Helmsman happens to be at
the time is to order the sterilization of women in these areas-- and
Voila! the Great Helmsman in his next state of the ship of state address
produces a graph that shows a marked decline in birth defect and infant
mortality rates in those areas-- With the biggest of big grins on his
face, he says "Problem Solved!"
Do my opposites in this debate stand and applaud the Great Helmsman? Or
do they stay seated and quoting the word, singular, of the US airborne
commander during the Battle of the Bulge, shout "NUTS!" You make the
Several ancillary issues: Jenny asserts there is "forced overproduction
of human beings beyond the capacity of female human beings." I do not
know what Jenny means by this, I do not know where or when this has
occurred. First, the human capacity for reproduction, if taken out of
economic and social context, cannot be measured. Any real meaning to
this notion of human capacity is historical, economic. Raw capacity is
a simple, and simple-minded, mathematical exercise (the equivalent of
nuts logic) that says women have 400 eggs. Fertility begins at age 12
(and even this number is a social number as fertility is impacted
dramatically by nutrition, labor, etc.) and ends 45 and the capacity is
33 children. Like I said, an ignorant exercise, literally.
But if we look into some historical studies of fertility in other than
advanced capitalist societies, there is evidence that women were "with
child" far more frequently than they are now, giving birth to more than
the 2.110 children (generally considered the "replacement rate").
We see birth rates fall with overall economic development, with the fall
in infant and maternal mortality rates.
(Re dumping milk: Sorry I thought you were referring to more current
circumstances. Milk hasn't been dumped in a while. Subsidies work not
so much to keep prices high, but to maintain the production process
despite the inability of the product prices to sustain a sufficient rate
of profit. )
Jenny also argues that women are compelled to produce more children than
they would otherwise in order to keep the price of labor down. Hey, I'm
as much a fan of conspiracy theories as the next person ( On 9/12/01 I
argued and wrote that 9/11 was a set up; that the only thing surprising
about it was that CNN didn't have a camera crew on every plane). But
Jenny's assertion makes no sense given the trend of declining birth
rates among women in the US, black and white, coincident with the
decline in real wages 1973-1993.
While I agree with the evidence Jenny produces re contraception, and the
fact that the prohibition of contraception is an attack upon women, I
think that it is essentially the same attack as forced sterilization--
to maintain women's subjugation, to domestic requirements, certainly,
but moreso to an inferior wage status themselves, not as the
breeders of a surplus working population.
Re: birthrate in 2004. It's a little early don't you think to make
claims about the birthrate in 2004-- 3.5 months into the year. Who's
gathering and generating that statistic.
I do know some statistics about birth and fertility rates from the 2003
Stat Abstract of the US and that shows for 2001 and 2002 birth rates
supplying a steady 45% of net population growth (pretty amazing, don't
you think, only 45%?). Immigration rates for the 1990-2000 decade on
the other hand increased to their highest level since the 1920s.
Overall birth rates declined from 16.7 per 1000 in 1990 to 14.1 per 1000
Fertility rates have increased. But how are fertility rates calculated?
A fertility rate is the number of births 1000 women would have in their
lifetimes, I repeat in their lifetimes, if at each year of age they
experienced births at the rates of a specified year. So in 2001, the
US fertility rate was the same as it was 1990 and 16.6% greater than the
rate in 1980. Except....except that increased 2001 fertility rate is
still 13% below the 1970 rate.
More remarkable than fertility or overall birth rates has been a
remarkable increase in the birth rates for women in age category 30-40
years, i.e. women postponing birth as their participation in the labor
force expands, and the material conditions of their participation
become, not so much "better," but more essential to their own and their
family's survival. And this too is potentiated by improved medical
care, something the bourgeoisie are doing their best to reverse.
So let me conclude with a concrete question. In a capitalist less
developed country with "high birth rates" would you support government
policies of forced sterilization of women? If not, why not? Because it
would be applied in a discriminatory fashion? Would your argument be
then that you, as a socialist, are more capable of non-discriminatory
sterilization? Of course, I would say that's another manifestation of
nuts logic, as the non-discrimination is actually based upon the biggest
discrimination of all-- against more than half the population that holds
up the sky.
See you on the Mall, I'll be the one holding the sign that says "Nuts to
From: Waistline2 at aol.com
(The below is a rewritten personal correspondence to Comrade DMS.)
What comrade ********** has written is tragic because he places his
ideological conceptions within the Marxist tradition. Jenny has written that
birth rates drives underdevelopment and are used by the bourgeoisie to drive
the cost - value of labor power and its price - down. That is the more
people there are, the more the bourgeoisie can drive down the value of labor
power is her logic.
This is pure Malthus.
Under development is of course "under" or below, something. What is being
Walter Rodney popularized the term "underdevelopment" roughly 30 years ago
in his "How Europe Under Developed Africa." Even here, Mr. Rodney is looking
at economic - the bourgeois property relation, development based on the
Jenny apparently views women as a class and I do not object to deploying a
concept of women as a class in relationship to bourgeois property. My
starting point however is that the proletariat is female as opposed to a
concept that views the existence of women as a category and the proletariat
as a category, that happen to intermingle.
It's not really clear, but I'm assuming the exchange above was sparked over
China's restrictions on child birth and the Bush administration coming down
firmly on the "pro-life" side about it. Well, from reading it, I think
there's a lot of pressure in the pro-choice camp to polemcize against the
religious right, when the division isn't that simple. My cousin is
"pro-life" in terms of never having an abortion herself, but she certainly
has used birth control and supports such things as sex education and the
distribution of birth control. I wouldn't exactly say she's hostile to
women controlling their procreation. I have mixed feelings about abortion
myself. Not in terms of not thinking it shouldn't be free and on demand,
but in terms of if I'd ever have one. I certainly can understand, I think,
why women might choose to. There'd potentially be nothing better than
having a child by an abusive, asshole boyfriend that you might want out of
your life to keep that person in your life. At least that is how a friend
of mine faced with that situation explained her decision to have an abortion
to me. But I've never been in that situation, so I don't know what I would
I'm not really sure what variety of leftist female Jenny is supposed to
represent. She pretty much sounds like a feminist whose gotten a hold of
some Marxist jargon, at least she does to my ears. I'm not a feminist
myself, but mainly because I'm pretty hostile to dealing with people on the
basis of schemas. So there's a lot about feminist culture, if you want to
call it that, that I look on with a pretty skeptical eye. I had one
feminist professor of mine admit to the class that she sometimes thought the
far right made sense, and this was a lesbian female without any
children-i.e. maybe the last person one would expect to have any interest in
supporting anything the far right does. She wasn't a lesbian seperatist.
In fact, she seemed to have some Marxist sympathies. But at one point, she
made that off hand comment in front of the class.
There's some things about feminism that I just think are reactionary through
and through and it has to do with their love of schemas. As an English
major in the feminist drenched literature departments of Antioch College and
UB, I found it was very common in feminist literary culture to come up with
psychoanalytical schemas as far as what a non-sexist male would be like or
what a fully liberated female might look like, and use such notions to go
after what they perceive to be the superstructure of sexism in literarture.
This shit bores me to tears. It's like these people are too busy reading
about life instead of living it, when good writers have a lot to write about
because they've lived a full life. Anyways, the right likes to come up
with schemas too. There's a lot of council out there about what it means to
be a lady or what it means to be a gentleman and a lot of cant about the
working class being subhuman because they get perceived as being neither
gentlemen or ladies. But I'm really under the impression that there's a lot
about being a "lady" that feminists associate with not doing anything
"stupid" and winding up pregnant. I think something like 40% of pregnancies
are unplanned, so I guess there's a lot of "stupid" women out there. I
don't think working class women are any more stupid than any other women.
Stupidity is a transex and transclass phenomena. No one has a monopoly on
it, but one form of stupidity is arrogance.
As far as I know, it isn't population alone that's the problem. More like
the way resources get distributed. There's certainly a lot of problems with
agriculture in the way it gets practiced in the U.S. by companies like
Cargill. They and a couple of others pretty much have a stranglehold on the
export market, and do a lot by way of dictating what farmers should grow and
how they grow it, even if there's better ways of growing food than trying to
sterilize it by dumping tons of pesticides on it. Not that I romanticize
farmers or anything. Agriculture in the States is pretty much big business,
and one thing that homesteaders were good at were killing off Native
Americans. But there's a lot that gets in the way of food production under
capitalism when as it stands, when I think there's the means of growing
enough food to meet the needs of the earth's entire population, especially
if it were distributed properly. Sure. There's going to be more and more
problems with pollution if the crappy American lifestyle is increasingly
adopted. But again, that isn't population. That's lifestyle. I don't
think population is at the heart of the problem. More like poverty and war.
views are probably representative of many left woman's views, and so her
discussion is a decent response to DMS's challenge ,even though she isn't
literally "a group".
You know what C.B.? Not all women on the left are Jenny. Maybe not even
most women. Last time I checked, there was a great deal of individual
variance in this huge category of women. The right claims women's
allegience. Feminists claim women's allegience. I think all of those
schemas are for the propaganda mill. The truth isn't so simple. I'd
rather be a "bourgeois" individualist about the woman question than a full
fledged feminist any day. I'm an agnostic feminist at best.
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