To be unequal is a harsh reality. We grew up in the USA under the belief system that all men are created equal. Historically, that concept was a great advance in opposition to the concept of innate superiority of the nobility and royals in England. Today, we generally have sense enough to say all men and women are created equal, but that still does not make it so.
Inequality is rooted in the nature of the system under which we live. If you own the means of production, private property, you can hoard what is produced by many others. That is the fundamental basis of inequality in our society: if one owns productive means, it confers unequal access to controlling the power levers in our society, including government and the media.
All working people can be brought to understand this pivotal Marxist point, class inequality based on exploitation. Eliminating this type of inequality is in the fundamental interest of all of the working class, male and female. Therefore it is also in the interest of the working class to understand other forms of inequality and how they reinforce each other, on one hand, and on the other hand, how they create the material foundation for the alliance of the most powerful forces of resistance to inequality in our society.
The inequality of women pivots around not biological or intellectual differences between men and women (difference does not mean unequal), but fundamentally the social enslavement of women, the exertion of social control over women to produce the heirs of private property. By and large, in the past women were not owners of private property even though some women were members of propertied classes. The inequality of women is a survival from the past which is remolded and continuously reproduced to suit the needs of today’s society.
Arguments concerning the intellectual, emotional and psychological inferiority of women were an attempt to justify the control of whatever ruling class was in power at the time over the whole existence of women, including their reproductive capacity. Today, the struggle over women’s reproductive capacity continues. For all women the brand of being unequal remains, but for working class and nationally oppressed women it means greater exploitation in the workplace and a greater, though sometimes unacknowledged, degree of devaluation. It’s strange, but often working class and nationally oppressed women are not included when some speak of women in general.
This issue of having the power to control economic, political and social levers in our society and to exercise control over non-property-owning classes and women has to be consciously explored. It is in the interest of the working class for us to expose and explain that this class has no objective benefit from that domination, oppression and, for some, extra exploitation. In fact, we have to make the effort to prove how it is in the interest of the working class to stand with women to win the fight for their freedom and equality against the institutionalized powers and structures.
The absence of consciousness can be deadly, literally. Women die every day at the hands of victims who become victimizers, as well as from being sick and tired of being sick and tired in the workplace and struggling with the double duty of the home.
Men and women can get caught up in the web of lies that supports inequality. Within some spheres, passive aggression has become a hidden method to seek to attain superiority and control, especially over women. This has particular and troublesome expression within progressive circles, as it hides the subtle maintenance of traditional hierarchies, especially but not only male supremacy, instead of facilitating their elimination. Full-blown passive aggression is actually a personality disorder which can manifest itself as the covert pathological pursuit of control over others. Though women can develop the problem, it is more prevalent among men.
The illusion of superiority has a dangerous allure. Members of the big-enterprise private-property-owning class have unequal advantage in every sphere of life, (except the fight for social progress) because — some defenders of class stratification actually argue — they are superior. To get caught up in the trap of striving and needing to be looked upon as superior is to play a ruling class game which the ruling class invariably wins.
The working class has an interest in proving that the wealthy are not superior to working and poor folk, whites are not superior to people of color, and men are not superior to women. Not only must such illusions of superiority be defeated, but the basis of inequality must be challenged and the real basis for equality must be created and sustained. The stabilization and advance of democracy in our country require and demand it.
Dee Myles is a Chicago activist.