A Marxist-feminist view on gender - Nadia De Mond

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Outline of the lecture

Part 1

The origin of women’s oppression We reject a biological, essentialist explanation of inequality by situating female subordination and male supremacy in their historical, socio-economic and cultural context.

Women’s oppression is not an eternal fact. But it exists since thousands of years, in the whole period of written history and all over the world.

Let’s go back to a previous period. 1)What do we read in the fundamental Marxist writings: Engels in The origin of the family, private property and the State. His hypothesis, based on the first ethnological studies, notably on the work of Morgan, is the existence of a primitive egalitarian society :primitive communism and matriarchy. This hypothesis has been refuted later. What is important, is the methodology, the rejection of the monogamous patriarchal family as a universal model.

2) What does current anthropology tell us? The first human societies consisted of small informal groups living from gathering, fishing and hunting, an activity shared by everyone. They consumed what they produced. A first division of labour could have developed with the hunting of large animals whereby women remained nearer to the living place during pregnancy and breast feeding. This division was functional and did not attribute a different value to the sexes. This refutes the explanation of the subordination of women through the myth of “man the hunter” who developed superior skills. Most hunter gatherer societies have a matrilinear and matrilocal structure. Debate on the causes of the evolution towards patrilocality, male dominance in kinship systems, the exchange of women (C.L. Strauss). Neolithic revolution: important changes in the living conditions of women, the beginnings of agriculture, animal husbandry and sedentary life. Creation of a surplus and of private property. Control is now in the hand of the male leader of the kinship group. Importance of seniority and of the control on procreative capacities of women in order to insure control over descendants.

Part 2

Patriarchy

= the system of domination by one sex over another, exists since at least 7-8000 years in all different class societies through history worldwide. This system applies to different modes of production. The position of women and the different family structures vary according to historical epochs and geographical latitudes. Its essence consists of the appropriation, the use and the control by men over: - women’s labour (her work force and the products of it) - reproduction and sexuality of women (women’s bodies)

It penetrates all spheres of existence. We will limit ourselves to the analysis of the current epoch. Imperfect insertion of women in the economy - industrial reserve army – horizontal and vertical segregation – precariousness – “feminisation” of the labour market

Exploitation of social reproductive work done for free by women Interesting idea of feminism of the care sector

Looking at the modern family Beyond the fact that it is the space of female reproductive work, it is also the place of procreation and of control over sexuality, the birth place of gender identities Training for masculine and feminine characteristics (no third choice!) for a functional role in society The division of the world into two exclusive genders, who are opposed and complementary, is permeating all our thinking The false neutrality of the masculine: (the body of) the male is the norm, (the body of) the female is a derivative product Women’s oppression – economical, social, political, cultural, ideological – works inescapably through her body; this goes also for the struggles of the women’s movement.

Sexual differences or gender differences?

The so called ideal nuclear, monogamous, heterosexual family imposed on us … and reality. Do we really need “Romantic love” ? Reich: no liberation of the human race without sexual revolution.

Oppression of women in the public domain Recent access– but not universal – to education The discovery of women’s role in history, arts, science, “Women’s Studies” are relatively recent Sexism in the public sphere The political sphere – the preserve of men – in content and in form

Part 3 The concept of gender again = forging a sexual identity according to the dominant ideology = a historic, social and cultural construction which varies in time and space

Introduction of this concept in academia, amongst NGO’s, usage as a “sweetener”. Use by Marxists

Gender as a straitjacket, especially for LGBTQ persons Heteronormativity/normality Homophobia Extreme oppression by monotheist religions

The perception of sexual identities varies in different cultures Examples: the Arab world; African pre-colonisation societies; Indian peoples of the America’s

The refusal of gender Queer theory Judith Butler Adrienne Rich

The LGBTQ movement