But Don’t Have Half the Power or Half the Wealth
The claim that the division between the sexes today is natural, or has always been this way, is not true. For most of human existence humans lived in small groups, worked together, shared the resources and took collective responsibility for the young and the old. There was no exploitation by a group that ruled over others. The work of society was divided between women and men and sometimes shared, depending on the tasks. Most importantly, decision-making was usually shared.
There was no benefit to these societies to have one group dominating another. There was no wealth or power to accumulate. If someone or a group became too bossy or controlling, the others would force them to stop, or just move. Land and resources were not owned or controlled by anyone.
Where the development of agriculture or domestication of herd animals began to allow for the accumulation of wealth and control over property – social divisions could emerge based on ownership of land or animals. And where wealth and power began to accumulate in the hands of a small group, societies divided into social classes. The development of a ruling class that lived off of the labor of others could not tolerate any democracy or equality. As productive forces grew, so did the demand for labor – more workers meant more wealth for those on top. The role of women often shifted from their role as participants and producers in broader society, to a focus on the household. Their productive activity was then largely a reproductive one – the producers of future workers. For those with wealth to inherit, women became the producers of heirs to wealth – their sexuality controlled and guarded by the men. The freedoms women previously enjoyed were greatly limited.
During industrialization, women were brought into the workforce at lower wages, and with worse conditions than men. This was of great benefit to the capitalists. Women also did the housework and raised the new generation of workers with no compensation. There was no need for society to take responsibility or provide services to families. That was “women’s work”. That work of women has usually been regarded as unpaid.
To enforce the unfair rules of class society, those in power always need to justify their position. The owning classes claim to be superior to those who work for them and similarly awful myths developed that women are inferior to men, weaker, more emotional and less rational, etc. This has served the rulers well as it has helped keep women from participating in making decisions about their lives. Some societies considered women as the property of their husbands, who could legally rape or even kill them. This continues today.
Throughout U.S. history, as in the rest of the world, women have fought back against their oppression – individually and collectively. We have seen this in the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the workers’ movement. As a result, today women have much greater access to jobs, education and equal rights then they did in the past. However, as we see in the U.S. today, these rights are constantly under attack.
We see in modern capitalist societies a continuation of this divide-and-conquer process used to keep the majority who share common interests from uniting. Nationalities and races are pitted against each other, immigrants against those born here, men against women and so on.
The nature of capitalism requires oppression and exploitation to keep its profits flowing and allow a small minority to wield power while denying the majority their rights and their fair share of society’s wealth. A handful of women in positions in governments or corporate boardrooms is just tokenism. Women’s liberation will come about when capitalism is overthrown and we live in a society that is run by the majority who do the work. This will be a society like those our species began with, which respects, values, and includes everyone and is organized to fulfill the needs of all.