Monday, March 2, 2015

A sloppy post (with great music!) about class and gender, with Astrud Gilberto, Frederick Engels, and Sharon Smith



Lyrics to Astrud Gilberto's "Maria Quiet":
They say that I was born
Of slave mogama and white man
My father slept in iron bed
My mother on cold sand
When my father called
My mother would come
Never said a word
As if she were dumb
A woman who will talk too much
Is soon to lose her man

They say God made man first
And made a woman second choice
And so that’s why woman should
Obey her master’s voice
When the man is hungry
She bakes the bread
When man is cold
She warms up the bed
Standing up or laying down
The woman has to work

They say poor man wakes early
And he works until it’s night
The rich man wakes up late
And tells the poor man what is right
So the poor prays to shango up above
So the rich will lose the money they love
But rich or poor the woman has
To work for both of them
I love this song, but the last line's a lie. Gender affects class, but it does not trump it. The poor man obeys the rich woman. I recently left this comment at "If you're a white man, you're playing life at the lowest difficulty level"
Here's the problem with Scalzi's analogy: Is it better to play the game as a rich black woman or a homeless white man? If your answer is (a), the lowest difficulty level is rich, not white or male. If your answer is (b), give away everything you have, live on the streets for a year, and get back to me.
Anyone serious about Marxist feminism, either for it or against it, should read Frederick Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, but before you do, I recommend the always-insightful Sharon Smith's essay, Engels and the Origin of Women's Oppression. She discusses some of the ways in which Engels' work was limited by the state of research in the late 1800s, and addresses a few of his later critics, and ends with this quote from Engels:
What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear. But what will there be new? That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman’s surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual–and that will be the end of it.
This post was inspired a bit of twittering about whether the faddish concept of "intersectionality" is useful. As I tend to, I took a couple of positions, saying
It's a fancy word for what's obvious to most people: you can be oppressed for more than one reason. It leads nowhere.
And to Jasper's "I find that intersectionality is always strategically deployed and almost always erases class," I said:
Intersectionalists treat class like trinitarians treat the Holy Ghost: they mention it out of duty sometimes.
In a more conciliatory mood, I said,
Where "intersectionality" may be useful is not race and gender, but gender and class.
But after rereading Smith's piece, I don't think I can make an argument for that.