FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Who Needs Feminism, We Have Condi Rice

 

An all too common notion in mainstream society in the US and elsewhere in the West is that that there is no longer any need for a women’s movement. After all, goes the argument, look at the people in power. Condi Rice, for instance. If women (and Blacks) weren’t equal, how could she be in the position she’s in? Furthermore, it’s not only the far right that holds this opinion. Indeed, many folks of the more liberal persuasion also operate with this in mind. They point to the women in positions of political and economic power and to the large numbers of women in postsecondary education and the military and ask those of us who differ with their assumptions to come up with proof that women aren’t equal.

This is what Sharon Smith does in her recently-released book Women and Socialism. Smith is able to come up with such proof because she uses a methodology that is informed by class analysis and the politics of race in the United States-both of which provide the author and the reader with a basis to get beyond the individual achievements of some (mostly middle and upper class) US women and take a more radical look at the situation of US women in the 21st century.

When I say radical, I mean it first and foremost in it original Greek sense. That is, as in going to the root of something. Secondly, I mean it in the political sense. Of course, the distinction is minimal in this case. Why? Because most issues regarding human survival tend to be the most fundamental issues that women face. As Smith makes clear in her book, it is exactly these issues that today’s feminists ignore.

As Smith also makes clear, it is precisely because the women portrayed as feminist leaders-the Gloria Steinems, Hilary Rodham Clintons and Eleanor Smeals-do not have to concern themselves with issues of survival. The reason they don’t is because they have more than enough income to take care of those issues. Consequently, the women’s issues that these feminists concern themselves with are ones of individual gain and personal well-being.

Meanwhile, the majority of working-class and peasant women in the world must figure out not only how to feed their families, but how to discover and maintain a reason to continue. Until this majority of the world’s women can support their families, taking care of their personal wellbeing is a far off dream.

Smith’s text begins by laying down some fundamentals on the history of sexism and the mistreatment of women. Utilizing Engels’ work The Origins of Family, Private Property and the State as her basic text, Smith modernizes Engels’ theories and comments on where he is right and where he was wrong. She does this by quoting from the works of modern writers like Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson, and Chris Harman. In addition, she utilizes various anthropological works (also used by Engels and his successors), by Lewis Henry Morgan and others to make her point that it women’s oppression as a class does not stem from biology but from the economics of capitalism. In short, women’s roles did not become secondary to men’s until certain technologies made the accumulation of wealth and its consequent product, profit, possible. Once this dynamic began, women’s primary role became reproductive and, as men’s working conditions tailored themselves to the needs of capitalist industrialism, women’s domain became the private sphere and men’s became the public sphere. Before this change, there was considerably less separation between the two realms.

In 2001, George and Laura Bush used the argument that the war on Afghanistan would liberate the women there from the oppression of Islam. Even though many western feminists had focused on the various oppressive practices undertaken by some practitioners of Islam, never before had they used it as justification for war. The attack on Afghanistan changed all that, with some western feminists actually cheering on the war as a means to free the Afghani women from their very real oppression under the Taliban government. What these feminists failed to acknowledge (and still don’t) is that the Bush regime has its own agenda for suppressing the hard won gains made by the women’s movement in the 1970s. Since the war on Afghanistan began, the US has also attacked and occupied Iraq-a country where women were probably granted more rights than any other Arab nation and many Western ones, as well. There has also been an attack by European governments on the practice of wearing hajib, or scarf, that many Islamic women undertake. Nowhere was this battle more public than in France where tens of thousands of Islamic women took to the streets under the slogan “Not our father, not our brothers, We choose to wear the hajib.” Smith addresses the cultural chauvinism inherent in the laws against hajib while at the same time acknowledging the restrictive role women are expected to play in many Islamic communities. Once again, she puts this into context by observing that as capitalism creates more poverty and war in order that the wealthy remain at the top, religions of all kinds will be taken up by more and more of the poor. Marx understood this only too well when he wrote in 1844: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Furthermore, it is not only Islam that utilizes the suppression of women to keep its thrall. Catholicism and other Christianities have their own share of patriarchal assumptions and practices, as does Judaism-and that’s just the monotheistic religions.

Women and Socialism makes some of the same arguments that were made by leftist feminists in the past-most recently during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. It is a commentary on our time that the arguments are just as relevant today. Indeed, in our world of neoliberal capitalism where the population of the entire world really does work for the very few, these arguments are even more pertinent, Condi Rice or no Condi Rice.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: ron05401@yahoo.com

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 28, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Socialism Question
Vijay Prashad
Witnessing the Hell a Migrant Can Face
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Knives Out
Andrew Levine
Bloomberg: What Is He Good For?
T.J. Coles
The Space Force Becomes a Weapons System, Arms Companies Profit
Henry Giroux
Cult-Like Ignorance is Death: Trump and the Coronavirus
Paul Street
The So-Called Party of the People: From Nevada to South Carolina
Matthew Stevenson
Carolina and Super Tuesday on My Mind
Robert Hunziker
Forever-Chemicals Tap Water
Pete Dolack
No Thinking Please, We’re Red-Baiting
Nick Pemberton
If Bernie Sanders Is Unelectable, Then What The Hell Are The Rest Of You?
Jacob Hornberger
Immunity for Killings by Immigration Police
John Curiel – Jack R. Williams
Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election: No Evidence of Irregular Trends or Fraud
Ramzy Baroud
Israel at the Cusp of a Bleak Era
Ron Jacobs
Bloomberg’s Billionaire BS
Farzana Versey
Who Will Douse Delhi’s Flames?
Joseph Natoli
Dispelling the Darkness
Marshall Auerback
Boris Johnson, Not Donald Trump, is the Real Blue-Collar Conservative
Steve Early
VoteVets for Buttigieg:  Who’s Really Keeping Us in the Dark About Campaign Funding?
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Those Meddling Kids …
Arshad Khan
Trump Visits Modi and Delhi Erupts in Anti-Muslim Riots
Karen J. Greenberg
How Democracy Ends
Tom Clifford
Corona and Flu in Beijing: a Report From the Chinese Capital
Scott Tucker
Pete Buttigieg: The Energizer Bunny of Hegemony
Victor Grossman
Breakthroughs Against the Rightwing Menace in Germany
William Hartung
It’s Time to Debate Pentagon Spending
Seth Sandronsky
Struggling for Shelter: Resistance to California’s Housing Crisis Grows 
Daniel Warner
The UN, Homeostasis and China
Eve Ottenberg
Police Torture in Chicago
Kenn Orphan
The Ruling Class Will Stop at Nothing
Sean Reynolds
A Difficult Peace
W. T. Whitney
For the Climate: Protecting the Commons and Fixing Democracy
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Political Offences and Legal Restraints
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad – Jamie Buell
Does This Economy Work for Black Americans?
Tracey L. Rogers
Reflections on “Black Excellence”
Jill Richardson
Stop Calling Harmful Bigotry “Religious Freedom”
Barbara G. Ellis
Don’t Depend on FEMA to Save Us From Global-Warming’s Armageddon
Mike Garrity
Why We Sued Trump’s BLM Over Its Sagebrush-Juniper Burning Project in Montana
Christopher Brauchli
The Modi/Trump Anti-Muslim Alliance
John Kendall Hawkins
Science and the Turf Wars of Consciousness
John Peeler
Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Nicky Reid
Socialism Without Anti-Imperialism: A Different Flavor of Tyranny
Louis Proyect
Spies, Lies and Videotapes
David Yearsley
The Beef with Kobe
Andrew Stewart
How Netflix And “Manning Marable” Killed Malcolm X (The Third Time)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail