Women's condition in the 21st century

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Women's condition in the 21st century
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Women's condition in the 21st century. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

"In reality, the question of

"In reality, the question of woman's suffering in a society which to this day remains fundamentally patriarchal, continues to be of the greatest importance...how to create a society where women no longer suffer from this particular oppression? " What we are calling "patriarchy" - which, in itself, may sound fairly straight forward, and even friendly (after all we all love our fathers don't we, and specially our heavenly father!) - is actually a huge packet of attitudes, pre-conceived ideas and prejudices, mostly unamed, mostly unacknowledged, which permeate the whole of this society, running through it as a thread of metal runs through rock. The patriarchal authoritative outwardly heterosexual male who dominates society today, finds total support for his being in the capitalist system itself which supports all his beliefs, and embodies them in it's own practice. Patriarchy and capitalism are authorities not to be challenged in any way, because they are always right, and anything that disagrees with them must inevitably be wrong and inevitably crushed for the preservation of the status quo. Women are unfortunate here. For, not only are they not male themselves - which renders them inferior - but, in being desirable, they somehow manage to render their authoritative male partners weak and insecure, and thus find themselves resented for the very femininity which made them attractive in the first place. The patriarch very much resents anything that conspires to drain away his strength and self-belief and so comes to dislike women as much as he wants them. Similarly, with regard to gay men, the patriarchal mentality has no time for them because they are not properly and fully male, and even worse, tend to behave somewhat like females which is one of the greater crimes a man may commit. The patriarch is not I think one of the most balanced and happier members of this unhappy society, but he is one of it's basic pillars and his ideas are everywhere. At the present time his ideology is crumbling a little, as his financial backing takes a hit, but his overall and domineering worldview will not be so easily erased, even under communism, as he has ruled the world for many aeons, has sore memories of the results of striking women and the power they yielded (see the book " Blood Relations") and is determined to hang on. Fortunately for the rest of us, specially women and gays, he is already a sort of social dodo and well passed his extinction date. So look forward!

This is a serious article.

This is a serious article. Its approach to understanding the "woman question" through the transformation of the labour process is welcome. I do have a couple of points that struck me though:

1.) The article argues that captialism has prepared the ground for the transcendence of the "sexual division of labor". However, didn't most of these changes take place in the period the ICC identifies as decadence? It seems as if the break down of the sexual division of labor didn't really get started until the World Wars. Yes, we can find certain incidents of captialism exploiting cheap female labor before this, but in terms of a social transformation this seems to be a phenonomon of the mid and late 20th century. What is the meaning of this? If captialism is essentially gender blind (i.e. it only wants abstract labor) then how are we to understand the continued existence of a fairly profound sexual division of labor well into the late 20th century? What was the role of male workers in perpetuating this? The unions? etc.?

2.) Whatever the transformations that have taken place in terms of the sexual transformation of labor, we have to acknowledge that this has generated a serious culutural backlash. This comes from various factions of the ruling class (such as the Republican "war on women" in the US), but also it seems to come from among working class males as well. A similar phenomenon can be seen with affirmative action, immigration, etc. Whatever its source, this backlash seems to constitute a serious barrier to the development of class consciousness. How are we to understand this?

3.) We probably shouldn't overestimate the depth of the breakdown of the sexual division of labour. Some theorists have argued that the there are vast sectors of the economy that are more and more characterized by "feminized labour." This is particularly important in so-called "care work" (unskilled nursing, care of the elderly and disabled, etc.) where wages are low, conditions are bad and dignity is absent. While these jobs may no longer be held by women alone--they tend to be held by various groups of workers (such as immigrants) who--regardless of whether they are male or female in anatomy--are "feminized" through the labour process. Thus, the sexual division of labour hasn't been transcended, it has shifted to other categories. Women aren't necessarily the ones taking care of the kids anymore--people hire a Latina to do that. Or when mom and pop get too old to care for, they go into a retirement home staffed predominantly by African immigrants.

4.) The idea that there is a biological need for women to give birth makes me a little nervous. This sounds a little too essentialist to me. Is there a biological need for men to sire children also? There is a footnote qualifying this claim, but I guess this gets us into the Darwinist discussion of "species needs" and how that can or cannot manifest itself at the level of the individual.

Hi Rosa. From your reply

Hi Rosa. From your reply above, its clear you know a great deal about the "woman question" which is not perhaps the best way of labeling the matter. But you point out for us something we probably didn't know: "Some scholars, such as Joan Tronto, have studied this issue; their research can provide some useful insights for future ICC articles on the topic." But why do you leave it to the ICC and some possible future article of theirs to look into Ms Tronto? Why didn't you tell us what she said, and point out the relevances? Your thoughts on this matter could be very helpful in developing the thoughts of other readers on this forum - it isn't just the ICC's ideas that matter is it? - and, who knows, you might even provoke other readers into making their own responses and a real discussion might develop - which I believe is an aim of this forum - rather than people just making statements.

I hope you don't think I am being rude or offensive. I'm not. But I am interested and curious about you as an infrequent visitor to the forum, which overall could benefit from more visitors like you who actually speak. I don't know what puts them off. (Incidentally I am just a visitor myself.) And I wondered whether you are passionate ( strong word?) about issues effecting the proletariat other than the one confined to women and their efforts to acquire more fulfillment and a release from capitalism's chains, and whether you might comment on some of these other matters too.

After all, women are suffering badly from the war in Syria, and under the so-called revolution in Egypt too; women died in the Hillsborough melée, need to respond to the contagion of revolt as much as men, and must resent living in the current austerity, and be searching for a way out, as much as any unemployed man. As you say: the working class is essentially one. The proper freedom of women will only be possible when we all attain it, altogether. Don't you think so?

I think Rosa clarifies an

I think Rosa clarifies an important distinction--that between the "sexual division of labor" and the "gendered division of labor." Clearly, the sexual division of labor has been on the decline for some time, but a gendered division of labor remains, even if it is not always correlated with sexual biology.

In addition to Tronto's work on care labor, the distinction made in the exchange between political theorists Carole Pateman and Charles Mills on the "Sexual Contract" and the "Racial Contract," might be useful here. One argument that is made is that the Racial Contract--which defines modern civil society as the province of white Europeans, can be undone within the confines of modern captialism. The transition from slavery and other forms of labor exploitation to wage labor is enough to correct the exclusion of non-whites from captialist society (even if the effects of this original exclusion continue to linger for a long time afterwards). On the other hand, the sexual contract is fundamental to the very reproduction of capitalist civil society. There must be a category of workers that are segmented into "feminized work"--work not "visible to" or recognized by civil society through a wage relationship--in order for men to be free to participate in public life. The Sexual Contract cannot be undone without putting the fundamental premises of captialist civil society into question. Originally, it was women who were subject to feminized labor. But if even today, the sexual basis of this division of labor has been deconstructed, there must still be a "gendered" division of labor if captialism continues to exist. 

Today, of course, much of what counted as feminized labor that was "invisible" to captial in the past, is now actually waged. But this doesn't seem to change the fact that there is still a profound gendered division of labor today.