17 de agosto de 2007

Marxismo e Feminismo Hoje

Judith Orr

International Socialism

Tradução / Segundo Sir Stuart Rose, o presidente executivo extrovertido de Marks e Spencer, as mulheres (ou "meninas", como ele diz) "nunca tiveram tão bem":

Apart from the fact that you’ve got more equality than you can ever deal with, the fact of the matter is you’ve got real democracy and there are really no glass ceilings, despite the fact you moan about it all the time…you have women astronauts, women dentists, women doctors, women managing directors. What is it you haven’t got?1

Bem, Stuart, pagamento igual, representação política genuína, justiça para vítimas de estupro, fim de estereótipos sexistas... a lista é longa.

É verdade que as mulheres ganharam muitas batalhas desde 1970, quando a primeira conferência de libertação feminina foi realizada na Grã-Bretanha no Ruskin College, Oxford. Os trabalhos que foram proibidos por lei ou tradição no passado estão agora abertos a mulheres. Today the majority of adult women in Britain (71 percent) work outside the home, and even after they have children 68 percent work—the percentage rises as children get older.2 Women are almost 50 percent of the workforce in Britain. In the United States the percentage of women in the workforce is about to break through 50 percent. To mark the event the Economist magazine ran a front page in December 2009 declaring, “We did it!” alongside a picture of the iconic Rosie the Riveter.

There have also been many changes in women’s personal lives thanks to gains including the contraceptive pill, abortion rights, access to divorce and changes in attitudes towards sex and pregnancy outside marriage. “The provisional number of marriages registered in England and Wales in 2008 was 232,990. This currently represents the lowest numbers of marriages in England and Wales since 1895 (228,204)”.3 Weddings have declined by a quarter since early 1990s. But systematic discrimination against women is still a fundamental feature of modern capitalism. Women may be 50 percent of workers but they are not spread evenly across the workforce. “Only 2 percent of the bosses of Fortune 500 companies and five of those in the FTSE 100 stock market index are women. Women make up less than 13 percent of board members in America”.4

Previously the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) calculated that at the current rate of progress it would take 73 years for women in Britain to gain equal representation on the boards of the FTSE 100.5

Political representation is greater than it ever has been, but women MPs are still only a minority in parliament. May’s general election result increased the number of women in parliament from 126 to 142, a rise from 18 percent to 22 percent of MPs. More media attention was focused on the sartorial choices of male politicians’ wives than women candidates in the general election. The EHRC calculated that, at the current rate, “a snail could crawl the entire length of the Great Wall of China in 212 years, just slightly longer than the 200 years it will take for women to be equally represented in parliament”.6

The vast majority of women are nowhere near touching the glass ceiling however; it’s the “sticky floor” that is their main concern. Two thirds of those trying to survive on the minimum wage are women and the average gender pay gap across society is 18 percent of full-time work and an astonishing 36.6 percent for part-time jobs, the majority of which are done by women.

There have been advances in relation to violence against women and rape, not least that rape in marriage was finally recognised as a crime in 1991 (the law was only formally changed in 1994). But as reported rapes have risen the conviction rate has fallen to 6.1 percent. Last year the BBC discovered, after a freedom of information request, that British police forces were failing even to record more than 40 percent of cases of reported rape. The scale of the crime is impossible to quantify.

So much has been gained, yet much remains to be fought for. But the purpose of this article is not to assess the general position of women in society today but instead to focus on one particular aspect—the rise of what has been coined “the new sexism” and the political responses to it. It is not that new. I wrote in July 2003 bemoaning the fact that “the new sexism is deemed ‘ironic’ and witty, not degrading and insulting, because women are seen as having won equality”.7

The issues—sexist images, the impact of porn, the commodification of women’s bodies—are not new. Many women who have fought for women’s rights for decades will be aghast that it now appears that many of the gains that we made in the past are crumbling in the face of a shifting popular culture in which the objectification of women’s bodies breaks new boundaries.

The experience of the new sexism is uneven but its impact on young women in particular is striking. Although the problem may appear familiar, it takes place in a different context to the debates of the 1970s and 1980s and so needs a different political response.

Journalist Natasha Walter writes that she was driven to write her new book, Living Dolls, because the situation for women today made her acknowledge she had got it wrong when she wrote in 1998 that women now had the freedom to live, dress and behave as they wanted: “[The US] often looks as if it is mired in an old fashioned sexist culture that is dying out in Britain”.8

She could not have been more wrong. Not only is “old fashioned” sexism alive and kicking but in some cases it has changed into a much more crude and explicit sexism that has been labelled “raunch culture”, “hypersexualisation” or “pornification” of culture.

The rise of this new sexism has not gone unchallenged and has led to a resurgence of interest in ideas around women’s liberation. Debates about patriarchy, violence against women, sexuality, the relationship between exploitation and oppression, and the ideas of feminism are taking place on college campuses across the country.

In London we have also seen two conferences of the London Feminist Network—last year’s filled Conway Hall in London with over 200 women. Reclaim the Night demonstrations now take place annually again, with over a thousand women marching, many of them young. New women’s and feminist groups are sprouting up and organising debates and activities around the country. For example, I spoke at the launch meeting for Bristol University Feminist Society. The meeting attracted over 100 students, women and men, packed into a lecture theatre and the discussion covered why more women don’t do engineering, the role of men, commodification and if you need socialism to get rid of women’s oppression.

Socialist Worker Student Societies have led campaigns against sexual harassment and co-hosted meetings and forums with women’s groups and feminist societies. Socialists have been at the centre of debates about how to challenge sexism.

In March this year BBC Four ran a series of three documentaries called Women. They looked at some of the leading women writers and organisers from the 1960s and pointed to the fact that debate about fighting for women’s rights was on the rise again in Britain.

Are we seeing a new wave of feminism? What are the ideas that underpin feminism today and how do they relate to the women’s movements of past generations? Historians have referred to past women’s movements as the first and second waves, which implies there is no connection between the different periods. This is an oversimplification, but nevertheless it is a useful framework.
The suffragettes and the Russian Revolution

At the turn of the 20th century women were denied basic rights including the right to vote, which was restricted in Britain to a minority of wealthy men. The first wave of feminist struggle is identified with the fight for women’s suffrage in the period leading up to the First World War. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which became known as the Suffragettes, became the leading organisation of the suffrage movement. It involved both working class women, who worked in industries like the cotton mills, and wealthy upper class women. These included most famously Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.

Founded out of the Independent Labour Party, the WSPU grew into a militant and active force across the country. Women organised meetings and mass marches and disrupted political rallies to get their voice heard. One demonstration in Hyde Park in London saw between a quarter and half a million people take to the streets. When the government showed no sign of shifting, some women took to arson and smashing the windows of politicians who spoke out against women getting the vote. The state responded with arrests and many women took part in courageous hunger strikes in prison in protest. This led to them enduring even more vicious treatment as prison warders physically forced tubes down their throats to feed them.

When Emmeline and Christabel led the WSPU to split from its Labour roots the youngest Pankhurst daughter, Sylvia, who became more politically radical in the course of the struggle, went on to work with poor and working class women in her East London Federation. For many working class women the fight for the vote was only one part of a struggle against poverty and slum housing. Many of them argued for universal suffrage—saying that to win women’s suffrage on the same basis as men would still leave many men and women disenfranchised. Sylvia eventually transformed the paper she edited in East London from the Women’s Dreadnought into the Workers’ Dreadnought. Inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and all it achieved, she was for a time a member of the newly formed Communist Party. A minority of women—those over 30 years of age or property owners—won the right to vote when the war ended in 1918. But full suffrage for all women and men over 21 was only achieved in 1928.

Sheila Rowbotham gives a fascinating account and new insight into some of the debates, organisations and publications that flourished in Britain and the US during this period in her new book, Dreamers of a New Day. However, most accounts of first wave feminism do not refer to the debates that revolutionary socialists like Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai had with feminists and other socialists across Europe about how to fight women’s oppression for many years before the Russian Revolution.9

The revolution itself was the answer to the question about how best to fight for women’s liberation. It had a profound effect on the lives of millions of women living in some of the most brutal conditions, as Lenin proudly stated:

In the course of two years soviet power in one of the most backward countries of Europe did more to emancipate women and to make their status equal to that of the “strong” sex than all the advanced, enlightened, “democratic” republics of the world did in the course of 130 years.

Enlightenment, culture, civilisation, liberty—in all capitalist, bourgeois republics of the world all these fine words are combined with extremely infamous, disgustingly filthy and brutally coarse laws in which woman is treated as an inferior being, laws dealing with marriage rights and divorce, with the inferior status of a child born out of wedlock as compared with that of a “legitimate” child, laws granting privileges to men, laws that are humiliating and insulting to women. 10

Women had played an important part in the revolution. The march on International Women’s Day had been the trigger for the Revolution of February 1917. But the Bolsheviks understood the legacy of oppression for millions of women living in the most backward and impoverished conditions across this vast country. Women had to overcome not just poverty and illiteracy, but also the terrible burden of work in the home. The Bolsheviks knew that for the revolution to be successful they would have to reach these women and enable them to take part in the building of the socialist society and so they set up a department specifically to agitate among women—the Zhenotdel:

Zhenotdel volunteers travelled thousands of miles from their homes to factories and villages to campaign for the revolution. They used agit-trains or agit-ships, like the Red Star that travelled up and down the River Volga to reach remote areas. They travelled with poster art and song and dance groups; they held meetings, showed films and plays, and set up “reading cabins” with blackboards to teach literacy. Over 125,000 literacy schools were set up. The Zhenotdel produced publications on everything from socialised childcare to Soviet architects’ designs for new homes to take into account plans for communal facilities.11

The aspirations of the Russian Revolution were crushed by the revolution’s defeat under Stalinism, which saw women’s rights pushed back in every area of life. Leon Trotsky wrote that part of his measure of the defeat that Stalin inflicted on the revolution was seeing what happened to women. As collectivised provision broke down or failed to provide an alternative, women were pushed back into the home: “the so-called family hearth—that archaic, stuffy, and stagnant institution in which women of the toiling classes perform galley labour from childhood till death”.12

This defeat meant that when the women’s movements of the second wave in the 1960s exploded the achievements of the revolution were erased from popular memory.
Second wave feminism

When people today talk about feminism they are usually referring to the ideas that came out of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) that arose first in the US and then in Britain, in the 1960s and 1970s.

The post-war boom led to greater and greater numbers of women being sucked into expanding further education and the growing job market. This very quickly had an effect on women’s lives. In the 1950s many women would leave the family home only to marry and then very quickly have a family of their own. Women could not buy something on hire purchase (an early form of credit) without her husband’s signature and many jobs were closed to married women.

The birthrate had already been falling in the 1950s but the advent of the contraceptive pill revolutionised the ability of women to safely control when they became pregnant. The legalisation of abortion in Britain in 1967, and in the US after the Roe versus Wade court case in 1973, then opened the possibility for the first time for women legally and safely to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The speed of change was dramatic. Between 1960 and 1965 there was a 57 percent increase in women gaining degrees (the equivalent rise for men was 25 percent). The proportion of women living alone rose by 50 percent during the 1960s, for those between 20 and 34 years old the increase was 109 percent.

These material changes had a profound effect on the aspirations and expectations of women, which in turn shaped the struggles and demands they made. The achievement of material improvements for women only served to open up even greater demands and expectations. Anyone who has watched the television series Mad Men will have seen the signs of this period of change powerfully portrayed. Some women were beginning to assert themselves as more than dutiful housewives or obedient secretaries.

The WLM grew out of the movements of the 1960s which saw a generation politicised by momentous anti-imperialist and national liberation struggles across the globe. In the US the mass movement against the Vietnam War and the struggle for black civil rights shook society to its core.

The US anti-war movement was born in the burgeoning student population. The “new left”, as it was named, did not see itself as following in the footsteps of the US Communist Party or a socialist tradition which had long understood the need for women’s liberation, despite the distortions of the Soviet Union. This meant that when the civil rights and anti Vietnam War struggles broke out in the US in the 1960s there was no sense of women’s oppression as an issue that needed to be addressed.

Although many courageous and articulate women activists led in the struggles of the early 1960s many found their experience of being discriminated against and trivialised in wider society mirrored in the movement. In 1964 at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi, some women put forward a position paper pointing out that women were being treated in a wholly sexist way in the movement. Stokely Carmichael, one of the leading members in the Black Power Movement, responded by saying: “The only position of women in SNCC is prone”.13

In 1965 women speaking at the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) convention were laughed off the floor. One speaker was told she “just needs a good screw” and at the following year’s meeting women had tomatoes thrown at them. One early movement pamphlet described women’s skills in the movement as “workers and wives”—they serviced organisers with both typing and clerical skills and with their homemaking and sexual skills.

A growing disaffection among a section of women activists led to a group deciding to organise their own liberation struggle, on the model of a national liberation movement. But in reality the thread to early socialist ideas had not been completely severed. Sara Evans points out in her powerful account of the origins of the women’s liberation movement in the US, Personal Politics, that many of these key women who became founders of the WLM were in fact children of socialists, trade union organisers and Communists—red diaper women:

It is important to note that in my research I did not seek out “red diaper babies”. Rather, I pursued women and men who had participated in specific new left activities and in particular the women who provided the links between the new left and the early leadership of the women’s liberation movement. Again and again I was surprised to discover a radical family background.14

From this handful of women grew a movement which reached across the US and inspired similar movements in Europe. There were WLM “consciousness raising” groups, protests and an explosion of books, pamphlets and discussion papers debating the nature of women’s oppression and what sort of political ideas and action were needed to challenge it. The theory of patriarchy gained hegemony. Patriarchy meant different things to different writers but essentially it was seen as a system of control and dominance that pre-dated and acted alongside and separate to capitalism, by which all men colluded to oppress all women.

However, feminism was never defined as one specific ideology. Instead it always encompassed multiple and fluid meanings, often hotly contested. It challenged gender roles in the family, fought for women’s rights to control their fertility and demanded equal pay with men. The first four demands of the WLM were: equal pay; equal educational and job opportunities; free contraception and abortion on demand; and free 24-hour nurseries.

In the US the movement reflected the class base of its mainly middle class founders who had been to college and did not want their newly acquired opportunities to be thwarted by discrimination and bigotry. In Britain the context for the much smaller and shorter-lived WLM was different. Here the movement was shaped by the impact of a stronger left and a better rooted and organised labour and trade union movement, which affected the debates about the role of class and separatism. Its ideas reflected the demands and needs of working class women and many feminists took part in solidarity with working class women’s struggles of the period.

Ultimately second wave feminism crashed on the rocks of multiple identities of race, sexuality and political beliefs that fragmented and tore the movement apart. Separatist feminists accused heterosexual women of “sleeping with the enemy” and some women even declared themselves “political” lesbians, spurning men on principle. Feminists who supported Israel broke with women who sided with the struggle of the Palestinians and black and Asian women argued that the movement was dominated by white women who did not appreciate the experience of racism. This process of fragmentation cannot be separated from the more general decline of the 1960s insurgency during the second half of the 1970s.

It is easy to disparage and mock some of the extreme positions taken by the radical and separatist wing of the women’s movement, but it is important to understand that these arose from the specific circumstances of a deeply misogynist and sexist culture that led women, albeit a minority, to believe that they had to organise independently from men. Once you assert that all men are to blame for women’s oppression, there is a logic to the argument that leads to extreme separation.

The achievements that the women’s movement made during this period of struggle were considerable. They included equal pay legislation, abortion rights, greater rights to divorce, expanding of employment and education opportunities, and the right to political representation. The challenge to the stifling morality of the 1950s was exhilarating, although the changes took many years to filter through to the whole of society.

There was a layer of mainly middle class, well educated women who went on towards and beyond the glass ceiling to become lawyers, surgeons, politicians and bankers. Figures show that today almost 60 percent of degrees awarded in the US and Europe go to women, as do 59 percent of master’s degrees and 50 percent of doctorates in the US.

Some of these women have benefits sufficient to glue them to the system, which the US feminist academic Hester Eisenstein examines in some detail in her book Feminism Seduced. She writes of how the system could absorb at least some of the ideas of feminism in order to function more efficiently: “Unhappily in recent years I have come to fear that... feminism in its organised forms has become all too compatible with an increasingly unjust and dangerous corporate capitalist system”.15

One New Labour study on equal pay for women in Britain tried to convince bosses to comply with equal pay for women by assuring them that “gender equality is good for business”. Eisenstein quotes a US report which suggests this is a valid assertion: “Catalyst, the research organisation that tracks women at work, reported in 2004 that the Fortune 500 corporations with the most women in top positions yielded, on average, a 35 percent higher return on equity than those with the fewest female corporate officers”.16

In Britain many such women went to sit on women’s committees in local government and fill women-only short lists to become parliamentary candidates. Some of these women have been in the New Labour government over the last 13 years and have sat round the cabinet table, still claiming to speak and act in the name of feminism.

Third wave feminism

The term third wave feminism was coined in the 1990s. It is sometimes used merely to refer to younger feminists—children of the 1960s generation. But the term is often used to explicitly differentiate it from post-feminism and second wave feminism. The ideas of post feminism reflected the assumption that developed in the 1980s that women had won equality, that the battles were over and women no longer needed to be treated as a “special case”. Women who identify themselves as “third wave” feminists (as there is no mass movement, it is not a “wave” in the same sense as the first and second waves) challenge the notion that equality has been achieved.

They see themselves as continuing the struggle but are critical of the feminism that came out of the 1960s and 1970s as being associated primarily with the interests of middle class, Western white women. Third wave feminism is pluralistic, doesn’t claim to have a unitary project, and proclaims itself to be less prescriptive than second wave feminism which is, according to Walter, “associated with man hating and with a rather sullen kind of political correctness or Puritanism…the movement is seen as intolerant”.17

There are many ways women are rebelling against the stereotypes with which they are meant to conform today. In Atlanta and New Orleans, for example, there is a large cultural scene of young, mainly black, lesbians who wear the most fashionable male hip hop clothing styles—the baggy jeans, trainers and jewellery. Others, like the “riot grrls” [sic]—an underground feminist punk movement—use culture, art and music to express their rejection of what they see as new restrictions on how women are supposed to dress and behave.

Jessica Valenti, author of Full Frontal Feminism and founder of the US website feministing.com, says, “What I love about the third wave is that we’ve learned how to find feminism in everything—and make it our own.” The new feminism is sold as fun and sexy, apparently to distance it from the dungaree wearing unshaven women of the 1970s. “Is there anything wrong with being ugly, fat or hairy? Of course not. But let’s be honest. No one wants to be associated with something that is seen as uncool and unattractive”.18

This anything-goes feminism means you might be a feminist who makes porn films or one who protests against them. You might accept that biology determines our gender attributes or believe socialisation plays the dominant role. Most controversially, feminist ideals have been used to justify the war in Afghanistan and the prosecution of women who choose to wear the hijab or the niqab. Nina Power, author of One Dimensional Woman, comments that “one of the most profound and disturbing recent shifts in geopolitical discourse is the co-opting of the language of feminism by figures who ten or 15 years ago would have spoken out most vociferously against what feminism stands for”.19 Eisenstein calls this “Madeleine Albright feminism” and points out the distance travelled by a feminism that originally came out of a militant movement against US imperialism.20

But for many women, in particular young women, their growing interest in women’s liberation and feminism is not a product of the many historical debates, but a gut reaction to the shocking level of sometimes gross sexism that has become commonplace today.
What is the new sexism?

The first book to really examine the scale of the problem was Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, published in 2005. Levy identified the development of what she labelled raunch culture:

Only 30 years (my lifetime) ago, our mothers were “burning their bras” and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time? 21

She looked at young women and men and how their view of themselves and their relationships was shaped by the dominance of images and clichés of porn. But there was a new twist: raunch culture sold itself as “empowering”, a word which has become so detached from its original definition as to be meaningless.

This is what marks the new sexism from the old. It reflects and has absorbed the history and language of women’s struggles to have the right to assert their sexual needs and desires, to be more than mere objects for the enjoyment of others, all the better to continue that very process. Raunch culture is sold to us as a liberated way to express our sexuality and so, paradoxically, it has persuaded us to accept being objectified in ever more crude and shocking ways. This has led to a relentless seepage of values, images, behaviour and dress from the world of selling sex for money into mainstream culture and society.

Lap dancing clubs began opening in Britain in the late 1990s. But the opening of the first British branch of the international lap dancing club chain Spearmint Rhino in 2000 signalled that stripping had officially moved from the back street to the high street. The clubs were sold as an upmarket experience, a place to entertain business clients. Their garish posters and blacked out windows became ubiquitous in towns and cities across the country. The overt sale of women’s bodies became a multimillion pound corporate big business. While the women dancers have to pay from £80 per night for the “privilege” of dancing in the clubs, on top of handing over a percentage of any money earned, managing director John Gray raked in the profits.

City workers flocked to clubs. One finance boss was discovered to have spent £104,000 on a company credit card in the chain. In fact 86 percent of lap dancing clubs in London provide “discreet receipts” which don’t feature the name of the lap dancing club. This enables employees who use the clubs in a work context to claim back expenses from their employers without it being evident that the money was spent in a lap dancing club.22

In reality the culture shift has meant such coyness is rarely needed. The success of this quest for acceptability was proven by the fact that in September 2008 delegates to the Conservative Party conference were given vouchers offering £10 off entry to the Rocket Club, a lap dancing venue in Birmingham, with their official conference literature. Spearmint Rhino even got the royal seal of approval when Prince Harry visited one to celebrate the end of his army training.

Perhaps it might not be so surprising that Tories and bankers have been enthusiastic consumers of lap dancing and the new sexism. But its absorption into popular culture, particularly on university campuses, is.

Campus culture

The transformation of culture in universities in recent years has been dramatic. From the days when sexist posters would have been deemed unacceptable or been ripped down, the images and language used by many campus clubs, bars and societies on posters and advertising are rabidly sexist. “Pimp and ho” club nights abound. There is a celebration of some of the most backward ideas. In Essex University “slave auctions” have been held where women dressed as bunny girls get auctioned to do housework for blokes, all in the name of fundraising.

There has also been the growing promotion of pole dancing masquerading as a great way for women to exercise. Now many colleges and student unions have their own pole exercise societies. One college, South Devon College in Paignton, invited a burlesque and pole dancing company to give a pole dancing exhibition to an audience of 1,000 14 to 19 year olds as part of a Be Healthy Week. One of the company’s selling slogans is “Specialists in female empowerment”.

Beauty pageants have become a part of student life. The organiser of Miss University, Christian Emile, claims it’s not sexist because the women do not wear swimwear and are judged on personality as well as appearance, something Miss World has been claiming to do for years: “The girls wear evening dresses of their own choosing and there are a series of questions to demonstrate their personality and charisma… I don’t think it objectifies women. If you talk to any of the contestants, they will tell you it is actually empowering. They get their moment in the spotlight, it’s a bit of fun”.23

At Sussex University a woman student returning from the library one evening was surrounded and groped by a group of drunk and naked rugby club members. When a campaign was launched to demand the students’ union penalise the club for the behaviour of its members, the union refused citing the importance of forthcoming sporting fixtures to the team.

In Manchester student Freshers Fayres have been targeted by local lap dancing clubs giving away freebies and cut price tickets for students. In Bristol a local popular culture magazine marketed at students runs ads to entice female students into lap dancing to help pay off student loans.

When a woman student took a motion to a students’ union meeting at the London School of Economics to challenge the sale of lads mags in the university shop she faced a rampant mob of male students, mainly from the athletics club. Brandishing page three of the Sun newspaper they drowned her out with wolf whistles, shouts of “Lesbian” and other “insults”. One was asked to leave after he threw a missile at her.

Another example of just how far the boundaries of what is acceptable have shifted in this culture on college campuses was shown by a piece written by one vice-chancellor on lust:

Normal girls—more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos—will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do?

Enjoy her! She’s a perk. She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife. Yup, I’m afraid so. As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch.24

Terence Kealey is boss of the University of Buckingham, Britain’s only private university, and his comments appear to come straight out of a world untouched by the idea of women’s liberation.

Cosmetic changes

Another symptom of seepage from the sex for sale industry into the mainstream has been well documented—the soaring rates for cosmetic surgery. Breast enhancement may be the most popular surgery but toe shortening and heel implants (for those skyscraper heels) are now being offered. There is also a frightening growth of vaginal cosmetic surgery. One US website promoting the procedure talks about enhancing women’s sexuality and self-esteem and is open about where the trajectory of demand for such surgery is coming from:

Not long ago, labiaplasty was usually only performed within a select group of entertainers and performers—women such as swimsuit models, and centerfold models. But today, with the advent of more sexually permissive magazines/videos, apparel and behaviour, the importance of female genitalia is much more prevalent. Most often, labiaplasty is being done for two reasons…medical…and aesthetic.25

Self-esteem issues for women are now to be solved by invasive surgery to carve us into the porn stars we are encouraged to emulate.

Feminist responses

No wonder there is an interest in feminism. It in some ways represents a commonsense political response for women, although women today come to it through quite a different set of experiences from their predecessors in the WLM.

But there is also ambivalence. Some young women say they don’t need feminism or don’t want to identify as a feminist, that it’s old fashioned, they are equal to anyone and feminism is something only for people who see themselves as victims. Also the enduring caricature of feminists as dour man haters who are critical of lifestyles still has a resonance.26 But the rise in interest in women’s groups and feminist societies shows that people are looking for a way to resist and challenge the situation.

Nevertheless, beyond the general identification of feminism as a political response to sexism, there has been a woeful lack of political theory underpinning the ideas. The recent publication of a number of books on women and the politics of women’s liberation is both a symptom and a recognition of the resurgence of interest in the politics of feminism and women’s oppression. Living Dolls, by journalist Natasha Walter, records the rise of raunch culture and its corrosive effect through interviews with women, from school students to pole dancers. She also examines the resurgence in ideas of biological determinism that see gender attributes as unchanging and unchangeable elements of our genetic makeup.

Nina Power’s One Dimensional Women looks at how the idea of feminism today, particularly in the US, has become defined by superficial notions of self-gratification, consumerism, and an overwhelming desire to prove that feminism is sexy and fun. In a series of short polemical essays, with titles like “From Sexoleftism to Deflationary Acceptance” or “The Money Shot: Pornography and Capitalism”, she exposes the impact of raunch culture. Power argues that we are seeing the “feminisation of labour”, where all work is based on communication skills and flexibility. She also makes a case that vintage porn, in contrast to what is available today, was harmless fun.

The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard (who was until recently a campaigns officer for the Fawcett Society) sets itself out to be an assessment of where women stand today, both in Britain and across the world, a tall order in 240 pages. Based on 100 interviews with women, Banyard looks at the experience of women’s inequality today in chapters that each begin with one particular women’s story. She looks at violence against women, the sex industry and girls’ experiences of discrimination at school, and ends with a chapter on activism and the various groups and campaigns women can join.

Reclaiming the F Word by Catherine Redfern (who founded the popular F-Word website) and Kristin Aune sets out to be a comprehensive overview of the “new feminist movement”. It is also based on interviews and a survey of over a thousand women who have been involved in some way with feminist politics in the last ten years. This is not a polemic pursuing a specific analysis. Instead feminists who want to see a world without prostitution are represented, as are those who see it as just another job that merely needs to be better organised.

Academic titles on aspects of feminist theory are published every year, but what marks these latest books out is that they are aimed at a wider popular market. They represent attempts to theorise the new situation and the nature of feminism today. One other book I refer to is Feminism Seduced, by Hester Eisenstein, who describes herself as a Marxist Feminist and argues for a new marriage of Marxism and feminism. This is from a different mould from the books listed above. It is solely concerned with feminism in the US and is aimed at a more academic audience. Most importantly, it has a different, much more sophisticated and nuanced, polemic about the nature of 21st century feminism and its political trajectory since the high point of the WLM in the 1960s. She challenges the “equation of capitalist modernity with the emancipation of women”, in particular when this is to enlist feminist support for the war on terror.27

It is fascinating that this tranche of publications have come out at the same time. There is much to commend them, not least the evidence amassed of the reality of the impact of the new sexism. However, they rarely do more than describe the problem and offer very little to further an understanding of women’s oppression, its roots or how to fight it: “At some point in human history the concept of female inferiority was woven into the very fabric of how we see ourselves, how we treat each other, and how we organise society”.28

It is worth noting in passing the ghastly irony that two recent books on new feminism (Full Frontal Feminism and The New Sexism) have naked women’s torsos on their front covers. The authors may have had little or no control over the cover design but it shows that even when publishing a critique of the commodification of women’s bodies somebody somewhere deems it necessary to do precisely that in order to sell the books.

Some familiar arguments are repeated by the authors, for example the emphasis on the personal experiences of individual women and the elision of the full spectrum of behaviours from sexual harassment to rape as representing “male violence”. Banyard exposes the way men are sold the idea that they have to fulfill an image of masculinity, but makes a dangerous leap in logic. Referring to adverts for the Lynx deodorant for men—Lynx Bullet—that describe it as “pocket pulling power”, she writes:

In the Lynx Bullet, Unilever are offering men ammunition in their hunt for a sexual conquest. It is sexually callous, and it will undoubtedly sell by the bucket load. It really doesn’t require a great stretch of the imagination to see how a culture of hypermasculinity lays fertile ground for violence against women.29

I actually think it does require a quite considerable leap of imagination to assert that Lynx leads to hypermasculinity and male violence. In fact it would be investing in behaviour-changing attributes to the deodorant that even the manufacturers would blush at. But she carries on in a similar vein on the next page:

A man who decides to wolf whistle, holler or beep his car horn at a woman walking past is not realistically going to get a date with her—and he knows that. She is likely to feel intimidated from the very public proclamation that she is a sex object, and he will have proved his masculinity to his friends and co-workers looking on. Within a society of unequal gender relations and cultures of hypermasculinity, violence against women makes a disturbing amount of sense.30

Domestic and sexual violence are very real problems and it is insulting to women who have suffered attacks to equate them on some continuum with being whistled at in the street. But such generalisations abound. For example, “the truth is, nearly all of us are implicated in some way in the ubiquity of the sex industry: either as those who have used pornography, attended a pole dancing lesson, visited a lap dancing club, or simply remained quiet as the sex industry became louder and ever more dominant”.31

So men who buy Lynx (because the advertisers have spotted that they can exploit young men’s lack of confidence in attracting women) are the dangerous enemy and in fact we are all culpable in some way. Women are seen as weak victims throughout. The descriptions that start each chapter supposedly give an insight to one particular woman’s life and her suffering of oppression. They read instead like the headlines of the misery lit seen on magazine stands: “Only four stone but she still feels fat”, “Trapped with a man who beats her”. This is not seriously analysing the situation women find themselves in today and doesn’t advance the debate about how we go forward.

Sidelining class

Another familiar theme is the concentration on women without reference to class. Inequality and poverty are always acknowledged in these debates, but are usually seen as yet another variant of discrimination and simply a greater burden to be borne by the unfortunate victim. “Sexism doesn’t operate in a vacuum, but instead interacts with the multitude of other forces shaping our lives, such as race, class, age, disability, and sexuality”.32

But class is not just one of a list of discriminations, nor can it be reduced to poverty. It is the fundamental divide that shapes the rest of society. A Marxist view of class does not rely on what people think about their position. It is not defined by their income or even what specific tasks they do in their job. Socialists understand class as an objective and dynamic social relationship. Under capitalism a minority class owns and controls the means of producing and accumulating wealth. The working class only exists inasmuch as it is exploited by this class. The capitalists themselves depend on workers selling their labour power to them and creating a surplus off which they can live, invest in future production, etc. The exploiting class have an interest in the most efficient exploitation of their workforce, whatever their respective genders. The superficial trappings of class, for example what sort of homes we live in, what we wear, the holidays we take, all flow from this fundamental relationship, and these change over time.

Marx described how capitalism, by pulling the working class together in ever larger numbers to collectively produce wealth, had created its own gravedigger. It is a social force with immense potential economic power which when mobilised can challenge the very functioning of the system.

However, capitalism also divides us. It generates divisions of race, gender, sexuality and religion, all of which can weaken the ability of workers to successfully take on their bosses. So there is a contradiction: capitalism unites us into the one social force that has the potential to challenge the system, but it also divides workers, encouraging us to blame migrant workers, Muslims or women for the problems in society. But even the pursuit of day to day demands leads to workers cooperating and organising together, whatever the ideas in their heads. In the words of the old trade union slogan, “United we stand, divided we fall”.

There is a crude critique in the new feminist texts of the assertion that class is paramount. This claims that socialists deny the great impact the experience of oppression has on people and their lives and ignores the fact that people across the classes can suffer oppression. But the reality is that you cannot understand the full impact of oppression if you try and look at it in isolation from class.

Of course, oppression cannot be reduced to class. Women in all classes can suffer discrimination merely because they are women. Recent examples of this include the way women ministers in the Labour government were often treated in the media. Here is Rod Liddle in the Spectator:

So—Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober… Would you? I think you wouldn’t. I think you have more self-respect, a greater sense of self-worth, no matter how much you’ve had to drink. I think you’d make your excuses and leave... I think you’d do the same with most of the babes who were once, or are now, on the government front bench.

That’s the problem with Caroline Flint’s statement that Labour’s most senior women were used by the prime minister as “window dressing”. I mean, would you dress your window with Jacqui Smith, or Ruth Kelly, or Harriet? If you had a window? You might dress the window with Caroline Flint, who, we should all agree, is as fit as a butcher’s dog.33

Or there was the media reaction to Jacqui Smith making an early speech as home secretary, the first woman to hold the post, which concentrated on the fact that her cleavage was showing. The Sun newspaper used the opportunity to “mark a series of female MPs out of ten for the size of their breasts entitled, ‘the best of breastminster’.”34

This misogyny in the world of politics is echoed in the boardroom. Last year Cynthia Carroll, the chief executive of Anglo American in the UK, was subject to a sexist tirade from former Anglo deputy chairman Graham Boustred, 84, who told South Africa’s Business Day that women bosses were hard to find, “because most women are sexually frustrated. Men are not because they can fall back on call girls. If you have a CEO who is sexually frustrated, she can’t act properly”.35

There is no denying that such treatment is sexist, or that the gender pay gap between the highest paid bankers in the city is a phenomenal 44 percent, or that upper class women are trivialised as trophy wives, or breeding stock for an “heir and spare”. All of this is evidence that oppression can cut across class. But class shapes the very real material differences between the experience of oppression suffered by someone like Cynthia Carroll and millions of working class women. This is not just about economic disparity in society, although there will generally be a correlation.

Most importantly, the contradiction missed by much feminist thinking is that women workers suffer oppression and exploitation, but are also part of the social force that gives them potential power to challenge their position.

Feminists can miss this element because they accept two false assumptions: that working class people have no organised power, even if they perhaps did in the past; and women are excluded from the core sections of the working class in any case and so are denied the ability to organise effectively.

Women’s work is dismissed by the new feminist authors as marginal, peripheral or just providing the top up to male wages. In one instance the rise of women working outside the home is said to be “due partly to property prices necessitating two incomes”.36 This is a stunning and mistaken generalisation since the dramatic rise in women working outside the home began in the late 1960s. It also ignores the fact that women have dominated some occupations for generations. In the British textile industry of the 19th century, for example, women made up a significant proportion of the workforce, in some cases over 50 percent.

Walter wrote in 1998, “Yes, women are working more. But they often work on the fringes of the economy—in atypical jobs. Atypical work means part-time, temporary, seasonal employment; assisting relatives; homeworking; and illegal employment”.37 Can almost half the workforce be deemed “atypical”?

When Power argues that work has become feminised, that the supposed precariousness that women have faced in the world of work now affects all workers, she appears to be accepting that women’s role in the world of work has always been fragile and temporary. Redfern and Aune assert a similar argument about the neutering of class power when they claim that “affluent nations have become post-industrial, outsourcing industrial and agricultural production to poorer countries”.38 Of course, the impact of the economic crisis does mean that everyone feels more insecure about their jobs and future but it is a dangerous leap of logic to then claim the working class no longer has any power.

What is the reality behind the myths? Women are not on the margins of the workforce. The evidence shows that trends for the overall employment rate of women and men have been converging since 1971. The employment rate of working age men fell from 92 percent in 1971 to 79 percent in 2008, while the rate for working age women rose from 56 percent to 70 percent over the same period.39

Nor are women’s wages just a top up. Lone parents make up a quarter of all families and 90 percent of lone parents are women. Even in families with two parents working, women’s income is significant. Women’s income represents over half the family income in 21 percent of all working couples.40

Even when women have children they are not automatically thrown into a vortex of instability and marginal work. A recent Labour Force Survey shows that for women with children under one, the mean length of time they have been with their current employer is over six years.

Also a recent survey by the Department of Work and Pensions shows that since 2002 there has been a dramatic rise in women returning to the same employer after maternity leave. In 2002, 41 percent moved to a new employer, whereas in 2007 only 14 percent did. Staying with the same employer can mean retaining precious pay and skill levels that many women are forced to forego after having children.41 It’s true that the majority of part-time workers are women, but it doesn’t automatically follow that these part-time jobs are precarious.

We can and should complain about some of the sexist airline ads which virtually imply that the female cabin crew will be a businessman’s sex slave for the duration of his flight. But isn’t it significant that, whatever the advertising clichés, the reality is these very same women have the power to bring an airline company like British Airways to a halt when they decide to strike along side their male colleagues? These are women for whom mimicking a sexist stereotype unchanged since the 1950s and wearing makeup and high heels is part of their job description.

Disputes like BA and the recent PCS strikes by civil service and other public sector workers show women are and can be organised and are playing a leading role:

Females had higher union densities in 2009 than males in all occupations except administrative and secretarial, skilled trades, operatives and elementary occupations... For UK employees, male membership in 2009 fell by 157,000 compared with 2008 but only by 6,000 for females over the same period.42

Eisenstein shows similar trends in the US, albeit within the much smaller proportion of trade union members there: “Even as the nation’s unionisation rate has declined, the female share of union membership has expanded rapidly. In 2004, 43 percent of all the nation’s union members were women—a record high.” One writer suggests such figures meant that “with close to 7 million women covered by union contracts, organised labour arguably is the largest working women’s movement in the country”.43

Marxismo e feminismo

Cada sucessiva ascensão da luta contra a opressão das mulheres viu surgir debates entre marxismo e feminismo. Questões do relacionamento entre exploração e opressão, de classe e gênero, e como se organizar melhor para lutar pela libertação das mulheres são recorrentes, do século XIX até hoje.

A revolucionária socialista alemã Clara Zetkin esteve envolvida em muitos debates afiados com feministas de classe média, aos fins do século XIX e além, que lutavam por seus direitos em nome da igualdade das mulheres. De tempos em tempos, Zetkin deixou claro que havia uma distinção entre a igualdade que as mulheres de classe média procuravam e a mudança fundamental que as mulheres trabalhadoras precisavam conquistar para conseguir sua libertação.

A rejeição de Zetkin acerca da organização das mulheres em separado da divisão de classes não significava que ela subestimava o impacto da opressão na capacidade de luta das mulheres. Ela propôs a celebração anual do Dia Internacional das Mulheres precisamente para aumentar a confiança e a combatividade das mulheres trabalhadoras, para organizar mulheres e levantar as bandeiras do socialismo e da libertação. O poder de seus escritos e discursos ressoa através dos anos. Em um discurso de 1896, Zetkin disse:

A luta da mulher proletária por libertação não pode ser similar à luta que as mulheres burguesas travam contra os homens de sua classe. Pelo contrário, deve ser uma luta conjunta com os homens de sua classe contra toda a classe dos capitalistas. Ela não precisa lutar contra os homens de sua classe para romper as barreiras que foram levantadas contra sua participação na livre competição do mercado de trabalho... Seu objetivo final não é a livre competição com o homem, mas a conquista do rumo político do proletariado. A mulher proletária luta punho a punho com o homem de sua classe contra a sociedade capitalista (Zetkin apud Foner, 1984: 77).

Alexandra Kollontai levantou o tema nos anos de fermentação política que levaram à Revolução Russa de 1917, quando ela escreveu em 1913 sobre as feministas burguesas que pareciam se dedicar apenas à igualdade com os homens de sua classe:

O objetivo delas é conquistar as mesmas vantagens, o mesmo poder, os mesmos direitos dentro da sociedade capitalista que hoje possuem seus maridos, pais e irmãos. Qual é o objetivo das mulheres trabalhadoras? Seu objetivo é abolir todos os privilégios derivados de nascimento ou riqueza. Para as mulheres trabalhadoras é indiferente quem é o “mestre”, um homem ou uma mulher. Junto com o todo de sua classe, ela pode facilitar sua posição enquanto trabalhadora (Kollontai, 1984).

Estes não são debates abstratos. Eles foram colocados em um período em que a revolução se tornou uma questão concreta em toda a Europa, e milhões de mulheres e homens participaram de lutas contra a guerra, a exploração e a opressão.

Os debates foram revisitados após os enormes movimentos e lutas dos anos 1960. A lamentável posição das mulheres na União Soviética, um Estado que se definia socialista, levou algumas mulheres a concluir que o socialismo não garantia a libertação das mulheres. Elas propuseram duas lutas paralelas, uma contra a exploração e outra contra a opressão e o patriarcado.

Em resposta, marxistas retomaram a rica tradição estabelecida por gerações anteriores de revolucionários. Por exemplo, as páginas dessa publicação estavam recheadas do fervoroso debate sobre as ideias de Zetkin e Kollontai, a experiência da Revolução Russa e a teoria de Engels sobre as raízes da opressão às mulheres.

A teoria do patriarcado foi desafiada e uma nova geração de ativistas foi escolada nas ideias do materialismo histórico e da revolução da classe trabalhadora (Cliff, 1981a; Cliff, 1981b; German, 1981).

As ideias do patriarcado tinham poder porque aparentemente se encaixavam na realidade. A experiência diária da opressão não é abstratamente imposta “pelo sistema”. É articulada através de reais relacionamentos humanos entre indivíduos.

Algumas feministas, influenciadas pelo marxismo, procuraram fundir a abordagem marxista com a defesa da ideia do patriarcado. Elas citaram a exclusão legal das mulheres de certos setores da produção durante a Revolução Industrial como prova de que os homens da classe dominante e os da classe trabalhadora haviam conspirado, tendo um interesse comum em manter as mulheres fora da força de trabalho.

Esta interpretação ignorava o fato de que para muitas mulheres foi bem-vinda a fuga do chão de fábrica, onde elas muitas vezes eram forçadas a trabalhar até o nascimento de seus filhos e depois retornar dias depois com seus bebês em seu peito. Os níveis de mortalidade infantil e materna eram altos e, para algumas, as mudanças significavam um alívio à carga dupla de trabalho externo e doméstico.

Quanto aos homens, de fato, muitos sindicatos apoiavam as mudanças, pois o salário inferior das mulheres acabava rebaixando o salário dos homens. Mas a realidade foi de que muitas mulheres continuaram em seus trabalhos e muitos homens não receberam um aumento salarial equivalente ao que toda a família tinha direito ou necessitava.

O baixo salário das mulheres e a negação de provisão de creches beneficiavam os empregadores e pauperizavam mais toda a classe trabalhadora. Homens não se beneficiavam com os salários das mulheres sendo usados para miná-los ou para diminuir a renda doméstica.

Para algumas, a lógica do patriarcado era se organizar separadamente dos homens. Se os homens eram o problema, não podiam ser parte da solução. Socialistas partem do pressuposto de que defendemos o direito dos oprimidos de se organizarem e lutarem contra quem for. Mas não acreditamos que a libertação das mulheres será conquistada com as mulheres lutando sozinhas. Separar as questões da opressão à mulher da luta mais ampla contra o sistema enfraquece nossa habilidade de vencer.

Numerosas vigílias e marchas somente de mulheres foram organizadas no final dos anos 1970 contra ataques aos direitos de aborto. Mas a maior e mais decisiva foi quando a classe trabalhadora organizada, mulheres e homens, tomou as ruas em uma manifestação, com a força de 150.000, organizada pelo TUC1. O direito ao aborto não foi visto como um “assunto das mulheres”, sobre o qual apenas mulheres poderiam se mobilizar ao redor. Eles foram vistos como um assunto da classe, e sob esta base seguramos os fanáticos anti-aborto por quase três décadas.

Ver que a classe trabalhadora tem o poder para desafiar o capitalismo é não acreditar que alguma outra força virá junto e libertará as mulheres. As mulheres são o coração da classe trabalhadora. A verdadeira essência da genuína revolução da classe trabalhadora é sua habilidade em liderar a auto-emancipação das massas da humanidade. Como Marx e Engels apontaram no Manifesto do Partido Comunista:

Todos os movimentos precedentes foram movimentos de minorias ou em interesse de minorias. O movimento proletário é o movimento autônomo da imensa maioria no interesse da imensa maioria. O proletariado, a camada mais inferior na sociedade atual, não pode levantar-se, colocar-se de pé, sem mandar pelos ares todas as camadas superpostas que constituem a sociedade oficial (Marx e Engels, 1997: 19).

Em contraste, a experiência da opressão não leva automaticamente à resistência e nem mesmo à unidade com outros grupos oprimidos. Pode levar ao isolamento e à submissão.

Idealismo, materialismo e Engels

Uma explicação marxista das raízes da opressão das mulheres é baseada em um entendimento de que é o mundo material que forma as ideias em nossas cabeças e não o contrário. O comércio de escravos não se desenvolveu porque as pessoas brancas eram racistas: o racismo se desenvolveu como uma justificativa para a escravidão, ao considerar as pessoas negras menos humanas.

Somente o marxismo tem uma explicação concreta para as raízes da opressão das mulheres, que não se ancora no determinismo biológico de gênero ou no idealismo. Walter juntou uma excelente exposição do mito de que os comportamentos e habilidades de mulheres e homens são limitados e definidos por sua maquiagem genética. Tal determinismo de gênero – que reivindica, por exemplo, que mulheres gostam de rosa porque costumavam ter que procurar por frutos maduros em sociedades caçadoras – foi por muito tempo um forte argumento dos tabloides e da direita e é facilmente desmentido (Walter, 2010: 145). Mas muitas feministas também recorrem a uma forma de determinismo biológico que afirma que mulheres são, por definição, mais protetoras e homens são agressivos.

Por exemplo, era comum o argumento, quando os mercados financeiros entravam em colapso, que dizia que os hormônios masculinos eram culpados por aumentar os riscos, apostando nos mercados de ações, e que, se as mulheres controlassem as coisas, tais crises não ocorreriam.

A editora de negócios do The Observer, Ruth Sunderland, havia se referido ao “macho, marca de dente e garra do capitalismo, que causou o desastre em primeiro lugar”. A implicação disso é, claro, que há uma alternativa, gentil, o capitalismo feminino que ia trazer harmonia e riqueza para todos. Isto seria engraçado se não fosse levado tão a serio. Na Islândia, dois bancos falidos e o novo governo, encabeçados por mulheres, estão sendo alardeados como “o fim da era da testosterona”... Dr. Ros Altmann disse que uma causa da crise foi o “excesso de machismo... não havia o pensamento cooperativo que haveria se fosse um ambiente feminino... haveria uma tendência natural para uma mulher dizer ‘vamos escolher a visão de longo prazo’.”... Mulheres têm “uma mente cuidadosa, uma mente nutrida, uma mente que diz ‘vamos nos preocupar com o futuro’” (Orr, 2009).

Mesmo quando o determinismo biológico é rejeitado, há muito pouca solidez para substituí-lo na literatura feminista recente. Em vez disso, há um argumento circular: as ideias e expectativas sobre os papéis e o comportamento de mulheres e homens, moldam nossas ideias, expectativas e comportamentos. Por isso é que garotas gostam de rosa e garotos brincam com caminhões, etc. Claro, ideias e expectativas têm um impacto muito profundo em nosso comportamento, e nós temos que desafiar ideias que servem para justificar e manter desigualdade e opressão. Mas sempre temos que voltar a responder à questão: de onde essas ideias vêm em primeiro lugar?

O trabalho pioneiro de Fredrich Engels sobre a opressão das mulheres e a família abordou esta questão e lançou as bases para um entendimento que se mantém até hoje. Esta análise aponta para uma explicação materialista das ideias sexistas. Elas não são internalizadas com o leite da nossa mãe. Ao contrário, elas decorrem de um processo de socialização moldado pela forma como a sociedade está estruturada, em especial o papel desempenhado pela família. Enquanto o poder acena para as teorias de Marx e Engels, a maioria dos novos escritos feministas falha em se comprometer seriamente com seus avanços ou examinar a validade de seus argumentos.

As ideias de Engels nos deram uma compreensão de como a divisão de classes não existia na maior parte da história da humanidade e mostrou a importância da transição para as primeiras sociedades de classe. Ele descreveu as mudanças como a “derrota histórica mundial do sexo feminino”. Esta “derrota” foi enraizada no desenvolvimento da estrutura familiar monogâmica, em que as mulheres se tornaram responsáveis pela reprodução privada da próxima geração e os homens tornaram-se dominantes na esfera da produção social. Isto ocorreu no contexto da transição da vida em pequenos bandos de caçadores e coletores para a formação de sociedades mais estabilizadas, baseadas na horticultura e agricultura (Engels, 1978: 65).

O desenvolvimento do uso de arados, irrigação e barragens, dependendo do clima e da terra, fizeram grandes diferenças para a produtividade humana.

Estas novas técnicas tiveram um impacto significativo sobre o papel das mulheres na sociedade: o uso de equipamentos pesados, o início da troca de excedentes e o contato, alguns hostis, fora dos limites do grupo. De um período em que o trabalho das mulheres tinha produzido pelo menos tanta comida quanto o dos homens, e em muitos casos mais, as áreas de trabalho empreendidas pelos homens tornaram-se mais produtivas e mais centrais para a sobrevivência a longo do tempo.

Aqueles que produziam o excedente controlavam seu uso, e este por sua vez, deu poder a alguns homens no grupo. A educação infantil não poderia tão facilmente ser combinada com o centro de produção e, assim, desenvolveu-se uma divisão entre o papel cada vez mais privado e recorrente de reprodução (sociedades de horticultura estática ou agrícolas necessitavam e poderiam sustentar mais mãos para trabalhar a terra) desempenhado pelas mulheres e cada vez mais a produção social era realizada pelos homens.

Nem todos os homens controlavam ou produziam o excedente. Certas circunstâncias favoreceram uns sobre outros e as divisões resultaram também na divisão entre os homens. Hierarquias apareceram pela primeira vez e tinham implicações. Se você possui algo e outros não, e quer manter esta posse e passá-la, a herança se torna importante. Uma forma de identificar seus herdeiros legítimos é assegurar a monogamia. Todos estes desenvolvimentos têm implicações profundas para a posição das mulheres nessas sociedades.

Demonstrando que a opressão das mulheres está enraizada no modo como a estrutura da família cresceu com a ascensão da sociedade de classes e que não era uma característica das sociedades anteriores, é vital para a nossa análise de como lutar. Pode ser o ponto mais difícil de vencer. É contra-intuitivo. É muito mais fácil aceitar que a nossa forma de trabalhar, viver e organizar a nossa vida pessoal é como sempre foi e que só podemos ajustá-lo. Por exemplo, Redfern e Aune sugerem que “os homens precisam estar dispostos à queda de algumas horas de trabalho remunerado para cuidarem de suas famílias e os locais de trabalho precisam se adaptar a horários de trabalho flexíveis” (Redfern e Aune, 2010: 133). Mas o que isso faz é transferir o fardo e, claro, não é resposta para as mulheres que são mães solteiras.

Então, mesmo para feministas que conhecem o papel desempenhado pelas classes, que aceitam que o capitalismo é um problema e veem um papel para a luta de classes, a falha na compreensão das raízes materiais da opressão das mulheres leva a uma bifurcação na abordagem: uma luta contra a exploração e outra contra a opressão e o patriarcado. Hoje, entretanto, o patriarcado é raramente teorizado e é normalmente apenas utilizado como uma descrição da situação em que mulheres são discriminadas.

Em suas notas ao fim de seu clássico artigo “Women’s Liberation and Revolutionary Socialism”, Chris Harman escreveu que sua declaração de que os socialistas revolucionários não acreditam que a opressão às mulheres é algo que sempre existiu – tanto por causa das diferenças biológicas entres os sexos ou por alguma coisa inerente à psiché masculina... causou mais discussão entre as pessoas a quem eu mostrei o primeiro rascunho deste artigo do que virtualmente qualquer outro (Harman, 1984: 3).

Harman passa detalhadamente por estudos e dados antropológicos. Examina as falhas, incluindo a motivação e o pano de fundo de classe dos (principalmente) homens que impulsionaram os primeiros estudos antropológicos. Mas a evidência inegável segue sendo que os seres humanos viveram em comunidades que foram organizadas em uma miríade de maneiras diferentes.

Houve sociedades em que as pessoas não viviam em famílias nucleares, as mulheres não eram cidadãs de segunda classe, sexo gay não era considerado anormal, a cor da pele das pessoas não era visto como importante e fronteiras nacionais não existiam. Há muitos exemplos de sociedades onde a opressão das mulheres – a discriminação sistemática contra as mulheres – não era uma característica. Houve sociedades onde as mulheres tinham mais poder do que os homens e outras em que as diferenças de gênero eram de pouca ou nenhuma importância. O ponto essencial é que as mulheres e os homens viveram de forma diferente no passado e podem viver de maneira diferente no futuro.

A família hoje

Hoje, ainda que a maioria das mulheres não se dedique exclusivamente a dar à luz e criar as crianças, o papel da família ainda tem enormes benefícios econômicos e ideológicos para o sistema: econômicos porque famílias individuais são responsáveis por todos os custos de trazer a próxima geração; ideológicos porque as famílias são encorajadas a verem a si mesmas como atomizadas, unidades auto-suficientes em que, se você é pobre ou desempregado, culpa a si mesmo ao invés do racismo na sociedade, da crise econômica ou dos cortes na educação.

A família também é vista por muitos como um refúgio de um mundo brutal que trata cada um de nós como uma mera parte da engrenagem de um sistema impessoal. A família pode ser o único lugar em que nós podemos esperar e receber amor incondicional e apoio. A vida familiar é louvada na mídia, na propaganda e na cultura popular. Referências a “famílias que trabalham duro” são um refrão constante durante as eleições gerais, por políticos dos principais partidos.

O casamento ainda é retratado como a principal aspiração para as mulheres. Apesar de gerações de mulheres fazerem parte da força de trabalho, a casa ainda é supostamente a esfera feminina. É a mulher que precisa fazer malabarismos para trabalhar, ir às compras, cuidar do lar e das crianças para poder cumprir as expectativas da sociedade (e às vezes suas próprias) sobre seu papel “natural”. Isso leva as mulheres a quase sempre aceitarem trabalhos mal-remunerados ou de meio expediente que se encaixem com os horários escolares e os feriados, por exemplo.

A todo o tempo o Estado apoia e reforça esta visão “tradicional” da divisão de gênero, com os homens também esperando cumprir as expectativas como provedor. Os Tories2 querem oferecer incentivos fiscais para casais que se casarem porque estão preocupados com a tendência de que as pessoas rejeitem a submissão à tradicional unidade familiar. Mulheres têm filhos mais tarde. Algumas escolhem permanecer sem filhos. Desde os anos 1970, há uma queda na proporção de bebês nascidos de mulheres menores de 25 anos na Inglaterra e em Gales, de 47% (369.600 nascimentos vivos) em 1971 para 25% (180.700 nascimentos vivos) em 2008 (ONS, 2009: 3).

Enquanto ideias tradicionais sobre a família não se encaixam na realidade da sociedade hoje, sua resiliência reflete o fato de que ela sobreviveu enquanto uma estrutura social dominante, mesmo com mudanças profundas em nosso modo de viver e trabalhar. Ela serve a um importante propósito na manutenção e justificação do status quo. Este é o alicerce para as ideias sobre as mulheres que permeiam a sociedade.

A luta pela libertação das mulheres hoje

Socialistas precisam começar com o que nos une a mulheres recém politizadas identificadas com o feminismo – sua rejeição ao sexismo e raiva à injustiça e discriminação, e a disposição de lutar. Podemos ganhar uma nova geração para o socialismo revolucionário, mas não denunciando estridentemente o feminismo.

Também fazemos um desserviço a tais mulheres se apenas defendermos uma marca diferente de feminismo – um feminismo marxista ou socialista, por exemplo. Nossa visão de mundo e a fundamental transformação revolucionária para a qual lutamos são mais do que uma abordagem particular da reivindicação de direitos das mulheres. Lutamos contra a opressão das mulheres em todas as suas expressões, mas acreditando que a revolução socialista é o único caminho genuíno para alcançar a libertação das mulheres.

É vital que nos engajemos nos novos debates. Muitos podem pensar que podemos simplesmente refazer discussões que fizemos décadas atrás. Isso seria um erro. Ativistas que estão chegando a estas ideias têm uma experiência muito diferente daquela das mulheres dos anos 1960. Existem mulheres de muitas áreas da vida que foram barradas destes debates 40 anos atrás. A geração de hoje viveu um período em que há uma mudança na mentira que dizia que elas têm tudo. Elas viram mulheres no governo; cresceram com a compreensão de que vão trabalhar para viver; viram a internet transformar a habilidade de acesso à pornografia; e viram muitos dos ganhos dos anos 1960, a liberdade de expressar sua sexualidade, distorcida em um clichê estereotipado e vendido como libertação.

Marxistas se envolveram em debates anteriores sobre pornografia e prostituição, mercantilização e libertação sexual, e temos muito a oferecer nos debates atuais3. Marx escreveu sobre o processo de alienação, a habilidade do capitalismo de transformar partes intrínsecas de nossa humanidade em objetos alienados para serem comprados, vendidos e possuídos. Somos forçados a vender nossa habilidade de trabalhar se quisermos sobreviver. Então mesmo nossa sexualidade é transformada em algo alienado de nós. Uma nova liberdade de expressão, cuja luta foi difícil, é distorcida pelo sistema para transformar tudo em uma fonte de lucro. Libertação é transformada em seu oposto: mulheres são pressionadas para se conformarem em algo cada vez mais caricaturesco do que deveria ser sexy, enquanto homens são encorajados para ver a si mesmos enquanto indefesos prisioneiros de sua testosterona: sexualmente agressivos e insaciáveis.

Então, quando falamos em lutar contra o novo sexismo, temos que deixar claro que somos favoráveis à genuína libertação sexual, por uma maior abertura sobre o sexo e a sexualidade. Não estamos com os Tories e outros que possuem uma agenda profundamente reacionária sobre a sexualidade e o papel da mulher na sociedade4. Devemos nos distanciar daqueles que criticam o novo sexismo com ideias que pregam que a mulher deve ser acanhada e passiva quando se trata de relações sexuais ou procuram limitar a educação sexual em escolas ou impor censura. A censura permite aos juízes e políticos da classe dominante atuarem como árbitros do que é aceitável para lermos, assistirmos e produzirmos. Deixamos claro que somos contrários à grosseira mercantilização do corpo das mulheres, que é mostrada como confiança sexual.

Estamos nas garras de uma crise econômica global, cunhada pelo TUC como uma “crise de oportunidades iguais” (TUC, 2009). Isto porque as mulheres hoje são, mais que nunca, uma proporção maior da força de trabalho. Elas vão sofrer equivalentes cortes de emprego e redundâncias junto com os homens. Até então, os estudos apontam homens perdendo empregos em um grau maior que as mulheres, mas isto não é conclusivo. Entretanto, os planos de cortes devastadores para os gastos públicos, planejados pelo recém-eleito governo também terão um efeito. Quando serviços para idosos, pessoas com deficiência, crianças, etc., sofrerem cortes, é previsível que as mulheres de famílias da classe trabalhadora, que mais dependem destes serviços, sentirão sua falta.

Está claro que haverá muito pelo que lutar nos próximos meses. Quais estratégias são ofertadas pelas novas escritoras feministas? Defendem que sejamos ativas. Banyard (2010) lista todos os grupos de campanha aos quais as mulheres podem se somar. Redfens e Aune sugerem escrever para seu MP5, desafiando seu namorado, alterando seu estilo de vida. Por exemplo, em resposta ao sexismo na cultura popular: “Diversifique seu consumo, rejeite estereótipos preguiçosos sobre homens e mulheres que você escuta na vida cotidiana” (Redfern e Aune, 2010: 203). Nenhuma destas sugestões soam remotamente adequadas frente aos problemas que as mesmas autoras descreveram.

Ao invés disso, temos que ganhar as mulheres que estão chegando à política devido à suas experiências de opressão para uma tradição política diferente, uma que não separe as mulheres das mais amplas lutas de nossa classe. Todo período de grande resistência e revolta da classe trabalhadora viu as questões de mulheres surgirem. Não é surpresa que agora, depois de um período em que a luta da classe trabalhadora não demonstrou habilidade para desafiar o sistema, soluções de estilo de vida individuais, ou organizar-se separadamente enquanto mulheres, podem inicialmente parecer serem as únicas opções.

A História mostrou que quando os oprimidos se organizam para reagir, podem inspirar movimentos oposicionistas de massa, mas se eles se mantém focados em apenas um assunto, esbarram nos limites da sociedade atual.

O movimento de mulheres dos anos 1960 foi moldado pela hipótese de que o sistema estava se expandido, avançando. Havia um sentimento de que cada geração teria uma melhor qualidade de vida e maiores oportunidades que a anterior. E para muitos, isto era realidade.

Hoje o capitalismo está em uma prolongada e profunda crise, com guerras brutais sendo um componente permanente e mudanças climáticas aparecendo como uma ameaça à própria sobrevivência de nosso planeta. Milhões na Inglaterra sentem um profundo sentimento de ansiedade sobre o futuro e não há sentimento de possibilidade de que o sistema possa entregar uma vida mais igual e completa para as pessoas comuns. O impacto do mercado desenfreado em nome do neoliberalismo destruiu qualquer ilusão de que a provisão coletiva para os mais vulneráveis possa ser alcançada no futuro.

O argumento que precisamos para desafiar o sistema capitalista é popular. Muitas das jovens mulheres que se declaram feministas, que rasuram propagandas sexistas ou constroem novos websites e grupos feministas, estão longe de serem hostis às ideias socialistas.

Precisamos nos juntar a tais mulheres nas lutas que enfrentamos, seja contra os cortes na educação, ou as potenciais tentativas de ataque dos Tories aos direitos de aborto. Devemos organizar debates e protestos contra a propaganda sexista e sobre a luta pela genuína libertação sexual. Devemos ser parte de cada luta contra as manifestações de opressão às mulheres, mas estar a todo o tempo com uma visão de como podemos alcançar, todos juntos, uma sociedade livre de opressão.


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Judith Orr é editora da revista inglesa Socialist Review.

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