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An overview of the feminism and the question of genuine equality in history

Andy Blunden for marxists. Leaving it to the bourgeois scholars to absorb themselves in discussion of the question of the superiority of one sex over the other, or in the weighing of brains and the comparing of the psychological structure of men and women, the followers of historical materialism fully accept the natural specificities of each sex and demand only that each person, whether man or woman, has a real opportunity for the fullest and freest self-determination, and the widest scope for the development and application of all natural inclinations.

The followers of historical materialism reject the existence of a special woman question separate from the general social question of our day. Specific economic factors were behind the subordination of women; natural qualities have been a secondary factor in this process. Only the complete disappearance of these factors, only the evolution of those forces which at some point in the past gave rise to the subjection of women, is able in a fundamental way to influence and change their social position.

In other words, women can become truly free and equal an overview of the feminism and the question of genuine equality in history in a world organised along new social and productive lines. On the contrary, each new gain of the working class represents a step leading mankind towards the kingdom of freedom and social equality: Political freedom is at the moment an essential prerequisite for the growth and power of the Russian bourgeoisie, without it, all the economic welfare of the latter will turn out to have been built upon sand.

The demand for political equality is for women a necessity that stems from life itself. Hence the passionate desire of women of the middle bourgeoisie to gain the franchise, and hence their hostility to the modern bureaucratic system.

However, in their demands for political equality our feminists are like their foreign sisters; the wide horizons opened by social democratic learning remain alien and incomprehensible to them. The feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society. They fight for prerogatives for themselves, without challenging the existing prerogatives and privileges.

The fact that the women who take part in the liberation movement do not represent one homogeneous mass is clear, to every unbiased observer. Each of the groups unconsciously takes its starting point from the interests of its own class, which gives a specific class colouring to the targets and tasks it sets itself. However apparently radical the demands of the feminists, one must not lose sight of the fact that the feminists cannot, on account of their class position, fight for that fundamental transformation of the contemporary economic and social structure of society without which the liberation of women cannot be complete.

If in certain circumstances the short-term tasks of women of all classes coincide, the final aims of the two camps, which in the long term determine the direction of the movement and the tactics to be used, differ sharply.

While for the feminists the achievement of equal rights with men in the framework of the contemporary capitalist world represents a sufficiently concrete end in itself, equal rights at the present time are, for the proletarian women, only a means of advancing the struggle against the economic slavery of the working class.

The Social Basis of the Woman Question

The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. Proletarian women have a different attitude. They do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, they think of men as their comrades, who share with them the drudgery of the daily round and fight with them for a better future.

The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life. It is true that several specific aspects of the contemporary system lie with double weight upon women, as it is also true that the conditions of hired labour sometimes turn working women into competitors and rivals to men.

But in these unfavourable situations, the working class knows who is guilty. The woman worker, no less than her brother in misfortune, hates that insatiable monster with its gilded maw which, concerned only to drain all the sap from its victims and to grow at the expense of millions of human lives, throws itself with equal greed at man, woman and child.

Thousands of threads bring the working man close. The aspirations of the bourgeois woman, on the other hand, seem strange and incomprehensible. They are not warming to the proletarian heart; they do not promise the proletarian woman that bright future towards which the eyes of all exploited humanity are turned. A woman can possess equal rights and be truly free only in a world of socialised labour, of harmony and justice.

Today's Feminism: Too Much Marketing, Not Enough Reality

The feminists are unwilling and incapable of understanding this; it seems to them that when equality is formally accepted by the letter of the law they will be able to win a comfortable place for themselves in the old world of oppression, enslavement and bondage, of tears and hardship. And this is true up to a certain point.

But each new concession won by the bourgeois woman would give her yet another weapon for the exploitation of her younger sister and would go on increasing the division between the women of the two opposite social camps.

Their interests would be more sharply in conflict, their aspirations more obviously in contradiction. Where is that unity of tasks and aspirations about which the feminists have so much to say?

  1. To ask us, then, to participate in a Lysistrata-like action makes me wonder if the gesture is designed more to give white ladies another opportunity for displaying unity, a kind of safari solidarity, than it is to provide women of color and working-class women tangible relief. Here, it is only important for us to note that the modern family structure, to a lesser or greater extent, oppresses women of all classes and all layers of the population.
  2. But the subjective solution of this question by individual women does not change the situation and does not relieve the overall gloomy picture of family life.
  3. How feeble these palliatives, when considered in the light of the gloomy reality of our modern family structure.
  4. Specific economic factors were behind the subordination of women; natural qualities have been a secondary factor in this process.
  5. Who, in actual fact, would stand to gain in the event of such an alliance?

A sober glance at reality shows that such unity does not and cannot exist. The conditions and forms of production have subjugated women throughout human history, and have gradually relegated them to the position of oppression and dependence in which most of them existed until now. A colossal upheaval of the entire social and economic structure was required before women could begin to retrieve the significance and independence they had lost.

Problems which at one time seemed too difficult for the most talented thinkers have now been solved by the inanimate but all-powerful conditions of production. The same forces which for thousands of years enslaved women now, at a further stage of development, are leading them along the path to freedom and independence.

The woman question assumed importance for woman of the bourgeois classes approximately in the middle of the nineteenth century — a considerable time after the proletarian women had arrived in the labour arena.

Under the impact of the monstrous successes of capitalism, the middle classes of the population were hit by waves of need. The economic changes had rendered the financial situation of the petty and middle bourgeoisie unstable, and the bourgeois women were faced with a dilemma of menacing proportions, either accept poverty, or achieve the right to work. Wives and daughters of these social groups began to knock at the doors of the universities, the art salons, the editorial houses, the offices, flooding to the professions that were open to them.

The women of the bourgeoisie met, from the very first, with stiff resistance from men. They forgot that in this matter of winning economic independence they were, as in other fields, travelling in the footsteps of their younger sisters and reaping the fruits of the efforts of their blistered hands. Only thanks to the fact that the labour of women workers had received recognition on the world market were the bourgeois women able to occupy the independent position in society in which the feminists take so much pride.

We find it difficult to point to even one fact in the history of the struggle of the proletarian women to improve their material conditions to which the general feminist movement has contributed significantly.

Whatever the proletarian women have achieved in the sphere of raising their own living standards is the result of the efforts of the working class in general and of themselves in particular.

The history of the struggle of the working women for better conditions of labour and for a more decent life is the history of the struggle of the proletariat for its liberation. What, if not the fear of a dangerous explosion of proletarian dissatisfaction, forces the factory owners to raise the price of labour, reduce hours and introduce better working conditions?

There is not one party in the world that has taken up the defence of women as social democracy has done. The working woman is first and foremost a member of the working class, and the more satisfactory the position and the general welfare of each member of the proletarian family, the greater the benefit in the long run to the whole of the working class.

In face of the growing social difficulties, the sincere fighter for the cause must stop in sad bewilderment. The future of humanity must seem grey, drab and uncertain to those women who are fighting for equality but who have not adopted the proletarian world outlook or developed a firm faith in the coming of a more perfect social system.

While the contemporary capitalist world remains unchanged, liberation must seem to them incomplete and impartial. What despair must grip the more thoughtful and sensitive of these women. Only the working class is capable of maintaining morale in the modern world with its distorted social relations.

With firm and measured step it advances steadily towards its aim. It draws the working women to its ranks. The proletarian woman bravely starts out on the thorny path of labour. Her legs sag; her body is torn. There are dangerous precipices along the way, and cruel beasts of prey are close at hand. But only by taking this path is the woman able to achieve that distant but alluring aim — her true liberation in a new world of labour.

During this difficult march to the bright future an overview of the feminism and the question of genuine equality in history proletarian woman, until recently a humiliated, downtrodden slave with no rights, learns to discard the slave mentality that has clung to her, step by step she transforms herself into an independent worker, an independent personality, free in love. For what reason, then, should the woman worker seek a union with the bourgeois feminists? Who, in actual fact, would stand to gain in the event of such an alliance?

Certainly not the woman worker. She is her own saviour; her future is in her own hands.

  1. With the transfer of educative functions from the family to society, the last tie holding together the modern isolated family will be loosened; the process of disintegration will proceed at an even faster pace, and the pale silhouettes of future marital relations will begin to emerge.
  2. The Struggle for Political Rights The feminists answer our criticisms by saying.
  3. And yet Key hopes to bequeath the family to socialist society! The question of relationships would cease to be such a painful one for the majority of women only if society, relieved women of all those petty household cares which are at present unavoidable given the existence of individual, scattered domestic economies , took over responsibility for the younger generation, protected maternity and gave the mother to the child for at least the first months after birth.

The working woman must not and does not forget that while the aim of bourgeois women is to secure their own welfare in the framework of a society antagonistic to us, our aim is to build, in the place of the old, outdated world, a bright temple of universal labour, comradely solidarity and joyful freedom.

Marriage and the Problem of the Family Let us turn our attention to another aspect of the woman question, the question of the family. The importance that the solution of this urgent and complex question has for the genuine emancipation of women is well known. The struggle for political rights, for the right to receive doctorates and other academic degrees, and for equal pay for equal work, is not the full sum of the fight for equality.

To become really free woman has to throw off the heavy chains of the current forms of the family, which are outmoded and oppressive. For women, the solution of the family question is no less important than the achievement of political equality and economic independence. In the family of today, the structure of which is confirmed by custom and law, woman is oppressed not only as a person but as a wife and mother, in most of the countries of the civilised world the civil code places women in a greater or lesser dependence on her husband, and awards the husband not, only the right to dispose of her property but also the right of moral and physical dominance over her.

Bourgeois society crushes woman with its savage economic vice, paying for her labour at a very low rate. Is it necessary to emphasise the dark sides of contemporary married life and the sufferings women experience in connection with their position in the present family structure? So much has already been written and said on this subject. Literature is full of depressing pictures of the snares of married and family life.

How many psychological dramas are enacted! How many lives are crippled! Here, it is only important for us to note that the modern family structure, to a lesser or greater extent, oppresses women of all classes and all layers of the population.

Customs and traditions persecute the young mother whatever the stratum of the population to which she belongs; the laws place bourgeois women, proletarian women and peasant women all under the guardianship of their husbands. Have we not discovered at last that aspect of the woman question over which women of all classes can unite?

Feminist Theory And The Law

Can they not struggle jointly against the conditions oppressing them? Is it not possible that the grief and suffering which women share in this instance will soften the claws of class antagonism and provide common aspirations and common action for the women of the different camps? Might it not be that on the basis of common desires and aims, co-operation between the bourgeois women and the proletarian women may become a possibility?

Here in Russia, women of the middle bourgeoisie — that army of independent wage-earners thrown on to the labour market during the 1860s — have long since settled in practice many of the confused aspects of the marriage question.

But the subjective solution of this question by individual women does not change the situation and does not relieve the overall gloomy picture of family life. The marriage question, in other words, is solved in their view without reference to the external situation; it is solved independently of changes in the economic structure of society.

The isolated, heroic efforts of individuals is enough. But less heroic women shake their heads in distrust. But what about those who have no capital, insufficient wages, no friends and little charm? Can it be realised as a common phenomenon, as the generally accepted norm rather than the individual exception, given the economic structure of our society? Is it possible to ignore the element of private property in contemporary marriage?

Is it possible, in an individualistic world, to ignore the formal marriage contract without damaging the interests of women?

For the marital contract is the only guarantee that all the difficulties of maternity will not fall on the woman alone. Will not that which once happened to the male worker now happen to the woman?

The removal of guild regulations, without the establishment of new rules governing the conduct of the masters, gave capital absolute power over the workers.