Wednesday, September 5, 2012

sexism was the first classism: socialism and feminism

sexism was the first classism (6/14/9)

I'm reading Friedrich Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, partly because a mention of it in Indian Givers intrigued me. Many of its examples are dated now, but the book stays relevant because of its ideas—anyone interested in the history of feminism should read it. For example, Engels writes:
In an old unpublished manuscript, written by Marx and myself in 1846, I find the words: “The first division of labor is that between man and woman for the propagation of children.” And today I can add: The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.
Engels and capitalist feminists (10/4/9)

I'm generally loving Tristram Hunt's The Frock-Coated Communist (aka Marx's General in the paranoid USA), but I came on one bit that Hunt misunderstands. He's younger than me, so perhaps it's a generational thing. He cites Engels' mockery of some feminists and concludes,
...purposeful, intelligent women who were neither pretty nor named Marx were the subject of instinctive misogynistic abuse by Engels. He particularly disliked middle-aged female intellectuals...
But Hunt then goes on to cite the evidence against his own assertion:
...he was highly dismisive of the campaign for female suffrage—'these little madams, who clamour for women's rights'—and regarded their cause as a distraction behind which class rule would flourish. 'These Englishwomen who championed a women's formal right to allow themselves to be as thoroughly exploited by capitalists as men are, have, for the most part, a direct or indirect interest in the capitalist exploitation of both sexes,' he wrote to 'Mother Schack', explaining how he was more focused on the coming generation than on formal equality amongst the existing one. Yet when, in 1876, a female candidate bounced up the steps of No. 122 Regent's Park Road seeking Engels's vote for the London School Board elections (for which women were eligible to stand following the 1870 Education Act), he couldn't help but give her all his seven votes—as a result, 'she had more votes than any of the other seven candidates for election. Incidentally, the ladies who sit on school boards here are notable for the fact that they do very little talking and a great deal of working—as much on average as three men.'
Elsewhere, Hunt does a fine job of pointing out the importance of Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State to writers like Kate Millett and Shulamith Firestone. Hunt misses what Engels saw clearly: capitalist feminists of his day were exactly like modern capitalist reformers who refuse to discuss class issues. They have no interest in leveling the class pyramid. They only want to secure their place at its top.

male feminists of the 1840s: Friederich Engels and Frederick Douglass (12/30/10)

When Engels was in his early twenties, he wrote in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,
"If the rule of the wife over her husband—a natural consequence of the factory system—is unnatural, then the former rule of the husband over the wife must also have been unnatural."
From Wikipedia's entry on Frederick Douglass:
In 1848, Douglass attended the first women's rights convention, the Seneca Falls Convention, as the only African American.[12] Elizabeth Cady Stanton asked the assembly to pass a resolution asking for women's suffrage.[13] Many of those present opposed the idea, including influential Quakers James and Lucretia Mott.[14] Douglass stood and spoke eloquently in favor; he said that he could not accept the right to vote himself as a black man if woman could not also claim that right. Douglass projected that the world would be a better place if women were involved in the political sphere. "In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world."[14] Douglass's powerful words rang true with enough attendees that the resolution passed.[15]