Capitalism and sexism: how gender inequality is linked to class inequality

Over the last year thousands of young women have been on their first demonstrations. Some were protesting against rising tuition fees. Some were striking against attacks on their pensions.

Many others were taking to the streets on the Slutwalks, Million Women Rise, Reclaim the Night and others to say no to sexism, discrimination and violence against women.

Everyone knows the cuts are hitting women hard. Everyone knows the Tories are as sexist as they come – just look at Ken Clarke’s comments on rape or Nadine Dorries’ campaigns against women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Women have no choice but to protest – against every cut, against every sexist comment and to get this bigoted Con-Dem coalition out.

But what if we did get rid of them? What if all the cuts were stopped? Sure, we’d stop things getting worse but the gender pay gap would still be 15%. Women would still take more responsibility for chores within the home and for looking after children.

We would still mainly work in the three Cs – cleaning, care and catering. We would still risk being raped and then blamed for it if we’d been drinking or were wearing a skirt above the knee.

In the 90s women were told that we could have it all. Legal changes we needed had been made (although we had to struggle hard for every single one, and they still don’t go far enough!) so ‘all’ we had to do was take advantage of the new opportunities.

But most women will still be held back at some point because of their gender.

To really end sexism and inequality we need a more fundamental change. Some think the answer is to get more women into positions of power. The Socialist Party would like to see women’s voices more represented too.

But the only female British prime minister we have ever had carried out attacks on the services vital to the majority of women – the NHS, childcare, maternity rights, council housing.

And women bosses carry out exactly the same sexist business practices as their male counterparts. A woman who owns a big company will attack maternity pay if she can get away with it because that’s what profit demands – that’s how the system works.

Working class people are exploited every day – the bosses make money out of the time we spend working to make a living.

Working class women are doubly exploited. That’s not to say that middle and upper class women don’t suffer sexism and discrimination or that it’s any more acceptable. But class does make a difference.

If a woman is in a violent relationship and the local refuge has been closed for example, having money or not will make a difference about whether she feels she can leave.

But the most important link between class inequality and sex inequality is that they are both a result of the way society is organised.

Sexism isn’t a fact of nature. For 99% of human history, women didn’t suffer systematic oppression. In earlier societies, men and women might have had different roles but they weren’t differently valued.

So what changed? We started to produce more – more than we needed just to survive. To put it simply, society became divided into the minority who owned this surplus and the majority who produced it. Classes emerged, the haves and the have nots, the 1% and the 99%.

And it’s no coincidence that it was at that point that the downtrodden position of women became entrenched in the system.

In particular the surplus began to be passed down through families so men had to have control over women and their reproduction to ensure it was their own children inheriting their property.

Socialists don’t want to go back to living in caves to end sexism, we want to move forward to a better kind of society, one that can make the most of all the advances that have been made since that time.

Imagine if, instead of a tiny minority owning all the wealth, the rest of us took it over and ran things democratically.

Everyone would earn enough to live on so all women could have economic independence. This could mean real choice in personal relationships.

Ending the profit motive in health would mean the ability to invest in researching completely safe contraception.

We would free resources for huge investment in public services such as nurseries, public kitchens and care for the elderly, ending the ‘double burden’ of women having to do a second job when they get home!

And it wouldn’t just be a matter of these material changes. For socialists, changing economic relations also changes social relations – if society no longer rested on hierarchy (of class or sex) then attitudes towards women would start to change too.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution saw working class people taking real, democratic control of society for the first and only time in history. In most other areas of the world women were only just starting to fight for the right to vote.

Divorce and abortion were legalised on demand, equal pay for equal work, 16 weeks paid maternity leave and the right for nursing mothers to work no more than four days a week and to have regular time off for breast feeding were introduced. Day nurseries, public laundries and restaurants were opened.

Women’s commissions were set up at every level of government to make sure women’s voices were included in the democratic running of the new society and the women’s department organised discussions and printed newspapers to try and begin to change social attitudes as well.

A lot of these advances were undone by the dictatorship of Stalin that followed but it shows a hint of what could be achieved under genuine socialism.


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