“According to Engels, women’s status is produced through social forces that give rise to ‘the origin of the family, private property, and the state.’ He assumes that answering the question, ‘How did it happen that women were first subordinated to men?’ is the same as addressing the question ‘Why are women oppressed and how can we change it?’ He equates the temporally first with the persistently fundamental. For Engels, capitalism presents the most highly evolved form of both women’s subjection and of economic class antagonism; that subjection must therefore be understood in its capitalist form if it is to be changed. But woman’s oppression, he also finds, predates capitalism; it arises with the first class society. Engels does not situate history within the present so as to tell whether or not fighting capitalism is fighting women’s subordination.” (MacKinnon, p 21)
Here is McKinnon’s explicit reference to the “history-version” argument for gender as a “secondary contradiction.”
I just want to break in long enough to highlight one question, which MacKinnon presents from the woman’s point of view, as opposed to the (unacknowledgedly gendered) “objective” stance that abstracts this discussion:
Is fighting capitalism necessarily synonymous with fighting gendered oppression?
Let me re-frame, to emphasize the right parts:
Can one fight the capitalist class without fighting gendered oppression?
The reason I bring these loaded question into this is that this is a mirror reflection of the challenge that was laid at the feet — often inappropriately — of feminists, by Marxists. It goes like this: Is Condoleeza Rice oppressed the same way as an Eastern North Carolina Black female poultry worker? Of course, it’s demagogic.
The question needs to be turned around? Do bourgeois men rape bourgeois women? Do working class men rape working class women?
Anyway, on to MacKinnon again… and note that this post is also categorized as “excerpts from my favorite books,” because I wil now quote MacKinnon extensively. If this motivates people to buy the book all the better.
“In [Engels'} double sense, women 'originally' became 'degraded, enthralled, the slave of man's lust, amere instrument for breeding children' when and because feamle monogamy was require3d to guarantee paternity for the inheritance of private property. The same exclusive appropriation of surplus product in the form of private property divided society into antagonistic classes, first into precapitalist forms (slave, feudal, mercantile) and later into the capitalist form, as commodity production became generalized. These developments increasingly required a state to contain the social conflict between classes for the advantage fo the ruling classes. Thus the rise of private property, class divisions, women's oppression, and the state 'coincided with' and required each other, linking the exploitation of man by man in production and social control through the instrument of the state with the subordination of woman to man in monogamyh and household drudgery.
"Before these four 'conicident' developments inaurgurted 'civilization,' Engels argued, labor was divided by sex within the clan, often with women in domestic roles, but woman;s social power was equal to or greater than man's. In pairing marriage, the family form which preceded monogamy, woman was supreme in the household, and lieage reckoned according to 'mother right.' With the rise of private property, the unity of the clan dissolved into antagonistic classes and isolated family units. As production shifted out of the household, leaving women behind in it, and more private wealth accumulatedin men's hands, lineage came to be traced by 'father right,' marking what Engels called 'the world historic defeat of the female sex.' The socialization of housework and the full entry of womeninto production is necessary to end woemn's isolation in the family and her subordination to men within it. Woman's liberation wil therfore come with the end of the the private property ownership and class relations that caused her oppression."
An aside: Isn't this too convenient a construction?
"Engels summarizes his view in an often quoted and as oten misread paragraph:
** Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of one sex by the other; it announces a struggle between sexes unknown throughout the whole previous pre-historic period. The first division of labor is that between man and woman for the propogation of children ... the first class opposition that appears in history coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamoud marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. It is the cellular form of civilized society in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be studied.** (close quote)
"Of this analysis, Wilhelm Reich wrote that 'Engels ... correctly surmised the nature of the relationships ... the origin of class divisions was to be found in the antithesis between man and woman.' Kate Millett concludes that Engels views 'sexual dominance [as] the ekystone to the total structure of humaninjustice.’ Both interpretations share a one-sidedsocial causality precisely backward. Engels does not think that a divisions of labor, on the basis of sex or anything else, is inherently exploitative. The firs division of labor, he says, was by sex for the propogation of children. The first CLASS [caps mine, SG] opposition, on the other hand, was presumably between slaves and slave owners. The *antagonism* between men and women — not the division of labor between men and women — arose wth economic classes. In Engels’ view, classes and sexual antagonism ‘coincided’ in that they developed at the same time, but they did not coincide in the sense of falling along the same lines.
“Women were not a class for Engels. He cannot be taken to mean, as he often is, that ‘this first class division among women and m en fomrs the basis for the exploitation of the working class,’ nor did he think that the the oppression of workers ‘is an extension of’ the oppression of women. [The claim-quotes here are from Susan Williams, a socialist feminist, writing in 1973.] To Engels, sex divides labor, not relations to the means fo production. His widely-quoted spectacular references to woman as man’s ‘slave’ (‘who only differs from the ordinary courtesan in that she does not let her body on piecework as a wage worker, but sells it once and for all into slavery’) and to the man in the family as ‘the voureois [while] the wife represents the proletariat,’ though highly suggestive, are essentially metaphors. To argue that women are a class renders capitalism one form of patriarchal society, rather thanone form of (economic) class society, in which the patriarchal family is the appropriate family structure. Basing class relations on gender relations would make the fundamental motive force of history a struggel or dialectic between the sexes. This is an argument, but it is not Engels’. In his work, family forms support and respond to changes in economic organization, not to a sex-bsed historical dialectic. Changes in amily fomrs changing productive structures would be contrary to all that Engels take historical materialism to be about.
“In Engels’ history of gender, the transition from group marriage to paring marriage places woman in the household with one man within a communal setting marked by matrilineal descent. The transition from pairing marriage to monogamy eliminates the communal context and the woman’s right to descent, leaving her in the modern nuclear household. Because dialectical materialism claims special competency in explaining social change, the inadequacy of Engels’ treatment of these dynamic movements is particularly telling.
“Pairing marriage first arose, according to Engels, in the transition from barbarism to savagery, at a time when slavery and private property existed but were not generalized. Class society had not emerged. Although women and men labored in separate spheres, no distinction existed between the public world of men;s work and the private world of women’s household service. The community was stilla large collective household withing which both sexes worked to produce goods primarily for use. Pring marriage was primarily distinguished from the previous communal form in that one man lived with one woman. Men could be polygamous or unfaithful, but infidelity by women was severely punished. Either party could dissolve the marriage bond; children were considered members of the mother’s family (‘mother right’). Why and how did this form of marital relationship arise to replace group marriage?
(quote from Engels)
The more the traditional sexual relations lost the naive, primitive character of forest life [sometimes translated 'jungle character'] owiing to the development of economic conditions with consequent undermining of the old communism and the growing density of population, the more oppressive and humiliating [sometimes translated 'degrading'] must the women have felt them to be; and the greater their longing for the right to chastity, of temporary or permanent marriage to one man only, as a way of release [sometimes translated 'deliverance']. This advance could not in any case have originated from the man, if only because it has never occurred to them, even to this day, ot renounce the pleasures of actual group marriage. (end quote)
“Engels seems to think that the existence of more people in a smaller space — higher density — of itself generates greater demand for sexual intercourse per woman. The basis for his view that women preferred marriage to one man is unclear. It seems to assume that the present reality that women largely have intercourse at men’s will rather than their own was present at the ‘origin’ of this system. Pairing marriage arose because the women, besieged by sexual demands, wanted it.”
Another aside: This weird Victorian notion is at the heart of Engels’ specific analysis, yet it is still glossed over by many Marxists as an irrelevant curiosity.
“Could not increased populaiton density as well support less intercourse, producing less crowding, or the ocntinuance of extended groups, since people were living so close together anyway? Engels assumes, rather, than explains, that s system of restricting women to one man but not restricting men to onw woman is an improvement over a system of equal lack of restraint on both. He assumes rather than explains tha tsexual intercourse with diverse partners in imposed by and desired by men, impose upon and unwanted by women. Male lust is not explained. [And the Marxist canon NEVER theorizes desire!!! -SG] Under what conditions would woomen ‘long for chastity’? The more marxist approach, methodologically, would be to inquire into the conditions that would create a person who experienced this desire or found such a social rule necessary or advantageous. The fact that men remained able to have many wives or be unfaithful while women’s fidelity was demanded makes one wonder what women gained fromthe rearrangement. Since, ‘mother right’ had supposedly given then supremacy in the clan household, women at this point presumably need not have accepted a situation they did not want.
End of part 2