The higher you go up the social scale the fewer women you see. Ask yourself these simple questions. How many women head multinational corporations? How many women have achieved world-wide recognition as scientists or inventors? How many women Prime Ministers can you name? Not many.
You can draw two conclusions from these simple observations. Either women just can’t do those types of things or something is working against us that prevents us from having an equal footing with men.
I stand by the latter explanation. Something is working against us: it’s called capitalism.
We live in a society that thinks women should stick with what they do best: look after the kids, keep their husbands satisfied, be understanding, and spend a lot of time on our hair. It’s alright to work, as long as it doesn’t interfere with family commitments, which is why so many women are in low paid part-time jobs.
And of course there are certain things women aren’t supposed to do like become miners or builders, but we can become nurses, cleaners, teachers or secretaries. The biggest sin is to go and get pregnant and have the kid all on our own. According to the Tories, single mums are responsible for everything from mass unemployment to this summer’s rioting.
Men, however, are encouraged to do little more than change nappies and do the ironing. What with men being such strong, rational thinking creatures, they are encouraged to pursue their ambitions. Its perfectly possible to hold down a job, have a few good nights out with the lads and be a loving daddy of three. Fixing a babysitter isn’t a problem when the wife will look after the kids.
This may sound like a stereotype but things haven’t changed a fat lot for most women.
In the west, some values have changed from the days when our mothers were our age.
It’s more acceptable to live with a man without getting married. Because of contraception, especially the Pill, more women can make choices about whether they want to have children. Some women have benefited from education and have become solicitors, directors, and doctors.
Some women have even ventured into the almost exclusively male territory of the fire service, but not without a fair share of sexual and verbal harassment.
But despite all of these advances, for the vast majority of women the burden of running the home and looking after the kids still dominates their lives. There are millions of women working in Britain. But a recent survey, Social Focus on Women, shows that women earn consistently less than men. This report blows the “new man” myth apart. Women, working or not, still tend to prepare the evening meal, do the washing, ironing and cleaning. Men have ventured to do a few more dishes and of course, most of the household repairs.
Being responsible for the bulk of childcare and household chores prevents women from participating in other aspects of life.
Looking after kids is a full-time job. When women try and do other things like full-time work or education there are a multitude of barriers that make it very hard for us. How many universities or workplaces provide free, top quality childcare? In reality very few.
Private childcare can cost anything from £90 a week or more. This means that a woman on her own with a child would have to earn at least £300 a week if she wanted to work. Most working class women work in low paid jobs and have to rely on family and friends (most often other women) to look after the children. Other mothers can’t afford to go to work and end up living in poverty on benefits.
All this benefits the rich capitalists. Just think about it. Women do all that work for nothing.
For the bosses this means that future generations of workers are fed, washed, clothed and nursed all free of charge. The social function that women provide for society can’t be underestimated. If society as a whole was responsible for providing all of these services, for example, running free creches, restaurants and laundrettes, it would be a massive drain on the profits of the bosses. This is why the capitalists keep things the way they are.
And in order to do that the capitalists do everything in their power to convince people that this is the way things should stay. To keep women in their place we are fed all sorts of lies that portray women as inferior.
The media, the church, schools and our own family all spread reactionary ideas about women. The Catholic church tells women that divorce is a sin, even if your husband is a wife beater. Contraception is forbidden and abortion is murder. This means that women are denied any rights over their own fertility. In Ireland, where abortion is illegal, the state recently denied a 14 year-old rape victim the right to an abortion.
Our bodies are treated as objects by men. We are told that our role is to satisfy the sexual needs of men. Millions of men see images of women as sexual objects and little else. Men are taught to believe that we are their property and if we play up ,hey can beat us, rape us, and treat us like animals.
And when women fight back, like Sara Thornton, who killed her husband after years of brutal violence, the courts condemned her to a life sentence. Even now she has not been cleared.
The hypocrisy of the bosses knows no bounds. Prostitutes are portrayed as dirty, immoral women. And yet, not only do company directors and politicians go to brothels and call-girls, they create the poverty conditions that drive thousands of women into prostitution in the first place.
For women in the third world, life is particularly brutal. They have to work in the most appalling conditions for pitifully low wages. These countries, sucked dry by debt repayments to the west, provide little or no support to families.
Women end up trying to raise families in the face of famine and terrible exploitation. The growth of religion, in particular Islamic Fundamentalism, backs up the treatment of women as second class citizens. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan women are considered the property of men to the extent that beating your wife is considered acceptable. Millions of women suffer clitiderectomy (the removal of the clitoris) or infibulation (the sewing up of the vagina until the marriage night).
As long as capitalism exists women will remain oppressed. Some women can buy themselves out of their oppression. Women with money can afford nannies, giving them the freedom to pursue a career or an education and become financially independent. But for the vast majority of working class women this is no way out.
Yet women have never been passive victims. There is a courageous history of women fighting for equal rights.
From the Suffragettes and their campaign for a womens’ vote to the struggles of women workers at Timex against redundancies, women have organised against injustice and oppression.
We cannot separate the struggle against womens’ oppression from the struggle against the capitalist profit system. The role of women in the family lies at the heart of the capitalist system. That means smashing the whole system of profit and greed and replacing it with socialism.
Socialism can provide a real solution to the problems women face today. By organising a society based a democratic plan to meet peoples’ needs we could provide all the things that women are expected to do on their own. Free, high quality child care would give women and men more freedom to do other things. Communal restaurants and professional cleaning services could be provided collectively.
The bosses moan and tell us there isn’t enough money for such things. They are liars. The truth is they don’t want to share their billions of profits with the likes of us. There’s only one solution to that – take all the wealth from them and run things together for need not greed.
A socialist society would not only allow all women to participate as equal human beings in every aspect of life but it would create a culture of respect and equality so that all the reactionary ideas of the past would be challenged. Sexist behaviour in men would not be tolerated and a massive campaign to promote positive images of women would be used to undermine negative views.
A socialist society would provide free contraception and abortion so that we could make informed decisions about whether we want to have children or not.
Women are different from men. We can have babies and men can’t . We have breasts and a vagina and men have a penis,
This is a biological fact. But capitalism tries to make us slaves to our bodies.
Socialism lays the basis for a society that gives us the freedom to control our fertility and our lives. It is a society that will be based upon the best examples of human solidarity and compassion. This is a goal worth fighting for.