This article is from a talk given at a Women’s History Month event on the fight against male supremacy, held March 9 at Unity Center in Chicago. Another presentation at the event, “Male supremacy is not just women’s problem,” by John Bachtell, appeared in the 3/25-31 issue.
The fight for women’s equality is a momentous historical struggle whose victory is necessary to bring about the kind of world we desire. Even though many ills beset the world today, such as hunger, disease, religious conflict and national distrust, real headway in their resolution rests in women obtaining equality. In the United States today progress that has been made for women’s equality is being threatened by the Bush White House and the ultra-right corporate agenda it represents. Of special concern is women’s right to have legal abortions (a question of privacy and controlling their own bodies). And of course, the undervaluing of women’s labor in the workplace and home is constantly pursued in capitalist society.
For capitalism to maintain its dominance as a social and economic system, it must promote social and wage inequality among people. One of the greatest differences it seeks to convince people of is that men are superior to women and that the social and economic hierarchy should reflect that. Capitalism takes that as a fact that stands on its own — in other words, that men make $1 for every 75 cents made by women has nothing to do with capitalism and super-exploitation, but rather to men being better workers, that is, superior.
The Bush administration and ultra-right would argue they want equality for women. But they rarely if ever place emphasis on the wage gap between men and women. They ask us to look to some mythical equality of a bygone era or a time coming when women will tend properly to the home and children. This implies that many of our social ills are because too many women have lost their way, not adhering to their husbands or the guidelines of patriarchy, and as a result home, community and by extension the nation have become unstable.
In the face of this nonsense, reality makes its presence known. Capitalism has a worldwide impact on women and all humanity which results in almost unspeakable horror.
In our country, more and more capitalism is being exposed for the devastation it is leaving for the masses of people and the tremendous wealth it generates for the rich. Whether through job losses that lay waste to communities, or poor schools, or its exposure as non-caring with its response to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, people are learning lessons.
However, the Bush administration and the ultra-right continue to push their ideology, trying to find or create differences that will make unity difficult to obtain. But reality does exist, and working-class men have to be struggled with to better understand the nature of capitalism. In that context, men can be moved to greater support of the labor movement and its fight to win better wages and working conditions for women and all workers.
A case in point that clearly shows how male supremacy is used is Wal-Mart, which is driving wages and benefits to the bottom for all workers. It employs 72 percent women, yet men hold 90 percent of store management positions. Less than one-third of management overall at Wal-Mart is female.
In the March 2004 issue of Political Affairs, Joel Wendland cites a Business Week article that declared, “Boys are becoming the second sex.” It stated that 57 percent of all new bachelor’s degrees and 58 percent of master degrees are awarded to women. This “education gap” is the source of the “new gender gap,” said Business Week.
This ultra-right position has to be countered among working-class men with other statistics pointed out by Wendland — for example: 8 of 10 retired women are not eligible for pension benefits; 50 percent of women who receive pension benefits get on the average only 60 cents for every dollar received by male pensioners; retired women depend on Social Security for 71 percent of their income; and about 25 percent of retired women rely solely on Social Security. The AFL-CIO says the average woman will lose $523,000 in her lifetime to unequal pay.
Wendland poses a pertinent question: if the average woman loses $523,000 in income in her life, costing women as a whole $200 billion yearly, is this amount gained by men? His answer is no. This amount goes to the employers as labor cost savings.
This is the point that has to be made to working-class men over and over again. Our jobs, communities, schools, senior citizen homes, indeed our entire standard of living, are falling due in large part to the superexploitation of women. The pockets of the rich are overflowing. Unity between the labor movement, women’s movement and people’s movement is necessary to begin to change this injustice.
Shelby Richardson is a public worker and trade unionist in Chicago.