For a Feminist Socialism

By Simone Morgen

Why a Feminist Socialism?

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Why, indeed? Isn’t Rosa Luxemburg a socialist icon? Don’t socialism’s core values of equal treatment of all persons, without prejudice or disparate treatment, address feminist concerns?


Formally, yes – but a cursory examination of the ways in which issues are addressed even within socialist circles brings this into question. Even in these more favorable environs, the need for an explicitly feminist view remains. After all, patriarchy as a sex/gender system of organizing society existed long before the capitalist mode of production revolutionized society and colored its directives.

How would feminism change our common vision?

Most obviously, feminist socialism recognizes that work and economics are different for men and women and takes that into account. Too often, socialists overlook the fact that women's earnings trail men's for many reasons. These include 1) their greater representation in low-wage jobs; 2) greater numbers in government jobs, which have been getting cut due to the recession and attacks on public sector workers; and 3) lifetime lower earnings, due to a pay differential that has hardly moved in the past 10 years. Outside the formal economy, women also do the vast majority of un-waged work, whether in the home or the informal economy. A feminist socialist vision recognizes the immense unpaid labor that sustains the capitalist economy and the need to address it when developing an alternative, so that the burden of holding up family and community doesn’t fall disproportionately on women yet again.

Why is this critical fact so often overlooked by socialists who lack a feminist analysis?

First, because identifying specific disadvantaged groups based on color, country of origin, ethnicity, etc. involves defining those groupings by their characteristics and often by location and/or proximity. Women, by contrast, are a worldwide group that encompasses any or all characteristics, and are always present – that is, they are visible and not visible. This results from their daily interaction with men as wives, mothers, employees, etc., in both public and private life, rather than as a discrete racial or ethnic group that specific people may not encounter on a regular basis. Women are thus not recognized as a class, either economically or politically.

Second, many socialists think in terms of economics but not culture, whereas feminists understand that in a patriarchal society, assumptions regarding women’s inferiority to men become so deeply embedded that they are an unconscious part of our dominant worldview, introduced in childhood and enforced throughout life. The economic and cultural limitations under which women live their lives are often simply not noticed by men and are frequently policed by both men and women (often subconsciously, sometimes not).

One instance that may illustrate this is the incredibly misogynous jokes directed at Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 presidential election. Racist comments were rightly denounced, but sexist ones didn’t evoke the same reaction. While Clinton and New York mayoral candidate Christine Quinn are neoliberal capitalist women, their treatment demonstrates that women have still not achieved the (admittedly insufficient) first stage of making people uncomfortable with openly misogynous remarks, in the same way that people often make sure to hide or disguise racial prejudice.

What does this mean for the struggle for democratic socialism?

Much as we simply cannot understand class without understanding race, so no understanding is complete without an analysis of how patriarchy intersects with capitalism. Under the continuing brutal economic assaults of exploitative capitalism, many economically disadvantaged men need to have a “lesser” that can enhance their feelings of worth in an economy and society that provides limited pathways for their success. Long-established cultural norms and the needs of the capitalist class combine to reinforce this devalued position and set expectations for woman’s role as helpmate and supporter rather than as an equal economic actor. Socialists undercut our own movement by not speaking to the needs of women, who are, after all, more than half the world.

But an adequate socialist feminist analysis would move beyond simply identifying the varying levels of gender disadvantage to a more rigorous identification of how society is constructed. As feminists, we would pay attention to the underlying and unexamined expectations that shape gender-related questions such as who does caregiving, how we organize family and private life, what kind of work confers respect on the worker, etc. We would subject economic, historical and social patterns to socialist analysis and measure them against socialist ideals. Finally, we would analyze how gender intersects with other categories of identity such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and citizenship.

The struggle to integrate women’s experience thoroughly into socialist theory and practice and to de-emphasize male experience as the paradigm will not be achieved immediately.  We cannot erase thousands of years of deeply absorbed assumptions and widely distributed cultural attitudes in a few generations. We have little awareness of how ingrained and unconscious these barriers are except for when that still, small voice occasionally says in a woman’s ear “that’s not fair!”  But socialists cannot allow half of the population to be an afterthought. While DSAers discuss reproductive justice in the context of the recent surge in punitive activity, that and other feminist issues tend to trail low wages, immigration, the continuing recession, etc., as a focus of discussion, and the feminist take on each of these issues is not fully explored. This must change.

With our socialist commitment to a more egalitarian distribution of the world’s rewards, we are in a prime position to make this a reality. The way will be long, but as capitalism is built on a foundation of women’s subordination, undermining patriarchy should help us undercut capitalism as well. Pushed by socialist feminist activists, DSA (and the rest of the world) has made progress on the gender front; let’s move forward with purpose and a sense of urgency.

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Simone Morgen is a member of DSA's National Political Committee and co-chair of Columbus DSA.

 

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 68 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.