Analyst Taryn Fivek, in her recent article on the CPUSA website, offers explanations for women’s frequent reluctance to take part in progressive politics. She calls for more involvement of women in the struggle for socialism. Here we review some of her conclusions and argue that women’s role in struggle must be large, both because of the nature of socialist struggle and because of women’s experience and special qualifications.
Fivek points to barriers of male prejudice and of misplaced disparagement of women’s work, both in the workplace and in “social reproduction.” Not only do woman work for relatively low wages “in the productive sphere of the economy,” but, as she claims, “they are also working unpaid in the reproductive sphere” and, indeed, are “35% more likely than men to live in poverty.”
She points out that, “[w]omen’s economic well-being is often tied to their role as primary laborer in a male-dominated household” and economic dependency may lead to “difficulty in leaving abusive relationships.” Fivek attributes women’s hesitancy to act politically to the assumption by most women, shared by society at large, that as care-givers “the major site of their oppression — the interpersonal or reproductive sphere … [is] ‘private’ and ‘personal.’”
The prevailing version of social reproduction alluded to by Fivek centers on home-based activities concerned with nurturing, protecting, and preparing workers for the future. In fact, as she points out, “social reproduction is not a private affair.” She is also embracing a more far-reaching definition such as this one: social reproduction has to do with ways “by which a society maintains and transforms its social order, formations, and relations across time and space”.
She insists that, “To say that the personal is not political is to accept the gender gap in our political work.” Women are to be accommodated and “included in all areas of political work.” She asks: “What can the [Communist] Party do to increase participation and leadership of women in the struggle for socialism?”
At issue are the characteristics of social reproduction operating in the public sphere. Women and men are already politically involved in that arena, but more women are needed.
Some assumptions intrude. With its mechanistic overtones and utilitarian implications of supplying future workers, the unattractive term social reproduction needs replacing. And the customary linkage of social reproduction with women’s major role in family life must evolve, as a work in progress, into a larger role for men. Lastly, capitalists will not soon view any kind of social-reproduction work as other than a “free gift,” or as deserving merely of crumbs.
As envisioned here, the social-reproduction project is huge, so much so that working-class women and men will reject injustices impinging on their lives; will listen, learn, collaborate, and teach; care for people and nature; and manage affairs. Confronting governments, local ones not least, they will continue to agitate for livable incomes, roofs over heads; access to schooling from infant day-care to universities, lifelong education, sicknesses prevented and treated, no hunger, solidarity with workers abroad. – with no one left out.
The premise is that family-based tasks of taking-care-of and caring-for are expandable, and are important in society. In conversation long ago with an American Communist and poet (Pulitzer Prize!) of provocative bent, that message was clear. Hearing about a male, myself, learning to be a doctor, he exclaimed in mock horror something like, “Why, that’s women’s work!”
Those whose work is that of perpetuating the generations have a name, not a laughably awkward one like “social reproducer,” but rather “socialist,” that is to say, socialist men and socialist women.
Many or most women have the experience, predisposition, and – as it seems – the skills to take care of people and things – in other words, to be socialists. Today, socialist parties and socialist organizations badly need women as colleagues and comrades. Tasks ahead are momentous and recruits are needed who are prepared.
According to Psychology Today, “Girls and women … have advantages for many basic language-related skills … [and most] 12-year-old girls were more skilled than the average same-age boy at making inferences about the thoughts, feelings, and social perspective of their peers.”
It’s no surprise that, as reported recently by pewresearch.org, “Young women are more likely to be enrolled in college today than young men, and among those ages 25 and older, women are more likely than men to have a four-year college degree. The gap in college completion is even wider among younger adults ages 25 to 34.”
A University of Zurich study in 2018 claims that: “Demand for high-skilled workers who perform cognitive tasks has increased dramatically in the United States … [We find that] the probability that a college-educated man was employed in such a job fell, while the prospects for college-educated women improved. The key driver seems to be growing demand for social skills, such as empathy, communication, emotion recognition and verbal expression, in which evidence from psychological research indicates that women have a comparative advantage.”
Reporting on a United Nations-organized conference in Chile in 2015 about women and political power, Winnie Byanyima, then the executive-director of Oxfam International, states that, “[W]hen you have more women in public decision-making, you get policies that benefit women, children and families in general …There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women’s leadership. Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions.”
Caretaking means peacemaking. UN-sponsored research looking at 40 peace processes between 1989 and 2014 showed in 2015 that, “women have managed to make substantial contributions to peacemaking and constitution-making negotiations.” The study showed that, “where women were able to exercise strong influence on a negotiation process, the chances of agreements being reached and implemented were much higher than when women’s groups exercised moderate, weak, or no influence.”
Former Cuban president Raúl Castro has the last word. Reporting to a Cuban Communist Party Congress in 2016, Castro noted with regret that women occupied only “38% of positions in state bodies, government agencies, national entities.” This was despite women representing 49% of Cuba’s workforce and “66.8% of the best technically and professionally qualified workforce of the country.”
He continued: “I stand by the strictest truth when I affirm, based on my experience in many years of Revolution, that women, generally, are more mature and better managers than men. Therefore, although I recognize the progress made, I believe that under the leadership of the Party, the promotion of our combative females should continue rising, especially to decision-making positions nationwide.”