By the editors
Thousands of women are organizing for reproductive rights and justice with the Women’s March on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC while many others march in cities across the US.
Trump not only belittles and abuses women, but his platform attacks women’s access to health care, living wages, affordable child care, and control over our bodies. While this may worsen it is not new. Clinton destroyed welfare for poor families as Hillary stood by in support. Obama has not been able to overturn the destruction of abortion services and the attacks on Planned Parenthood. US companies continue to establish businesses overseas where women and children labor for pennies. With unemployment so high around the world and warfare flourishing in so many countries, families are fleeing to other countries where they meet xenophobic assaults and camps. Muslim and non-white women also suffer racist assaults in the US.
Why Are Women Oppressed?
The ruling class (top 1%) treats women as sources of profit and free labor. On average in 2015, women earned around 83 cents for every dollar white men made. Racism and super-exploitation lower the wages of Black, Latin, Native, and Asian women workers, even more than white women. Latinas earned 58 cents, Asian women 87 cents, and black women 65 cents (Pew Research Center).
Women also provide most of the unpaid labor, such as birthing and raising new workers, cleaning, cooking, driving, and caring for the sick and elderly. Employers depends on this unpaid labor of (mostly) women, which means that the employers can actually pay their employees less. If a man had to pay someone to take care of him when he was sick, cook his meals, clean his home, etc, he’d would need to demand higher wages or use public assistance. But if he has a wife or female relative doing all that for him, he’ll get by on less. This creates enormous profit for employers while increasing the stress on women and putting men in a more dominant household position.
What Is the Role of Racism?
The US was founded on racist attacks on black and Native women. The colonialists enslaved black women using them as free labor and “breeders,” and stole Native lives and lands. White people who refused to end inter-racial relationships were sometime killed and eventually bribed into accepting a higher social and economic status, a problem of white supremacy that persists to this day. (Lerone Bennett, The Road Not Taken).
Racism also diminishes the value of women. Aside from the economic benefits for the rulers, stereotypes seed self-doubt, lies, and passivism. The media, including movies and books, portray black women as too aggressive, sluts or “Mammies,” Latinas as promiscuous and “illegal,” Native American women as drunks, and Asian women as the “model minority” or prostitutes. These slurs may reduce women’s activism. For example, many black women suppress their anger in order not to appear as the “angry black woman.” This suppression of anger against racist aggressions raises blood pressure and neutralizes people’s activism. In fact racism produces worse birth outcomes for black women with advanced degrees compared to white women without high school degrees.
Stereotyping gender roles also damages men and people who do not conform to strict rules of sex-specific behaviors. Yong gay black men have high HIV rates often due to stigma that makes them less likely to seek medical care. Society expects heterosexual men to act tough and provide for their families. While these roles are loosening with greater acceptance of gay and transgendered people, they persist.
Portraying white middle class women as the leaders of the women’s movement ignores the leadership of black, Latin, Asian and Native women. These women, Billye Avery, Loretta Ross, and Lucy Parsons to name just three, have broadened the movement’s issues, incorporating child care, incarceration, housing, racism, labor, the environment, education, and violence. The emphasis on “choice” for abortion totally ignores the severely limited options poor women have.
What Demands and Strategies Can We Use?
Many women, especially middle class professionals, want more women politicians, CEOs, and presidents, such as Hillary. They see all women equally oppressed ignoring the huge differences between working class women and women bosses. Women with higher economic status are disrespected, abused, and earn less, but electing women or promoting them through the glass ceiling does not eliminate exploitation. British president Margaret Thatcher destroyed unions, Indira Ghandi sterilized 1000s of Indian women, Golda Meir established Zionism, and anti-immigrant racist Marie LePen is running for president of France. Hillary supported the end of welfare, labeled young black men “super predators,” and backed increased policing and incarceration. Building support for Hillary, the Democratic or Green Parties will not solve the problems women face.
If capitalism depends on profiteering off of women workers, especially women of color, with low wages and free labor, then we need to abolish capitalism. This requires the unity of all women workers along with male workers. Is this possible? How can we change our attitudes about gender roles, link our issues, follow the leadership of young people of color who reject legislative, religious, and celebrity led campaigns, such as the youth in Ferguson and Baltimore?
What Are Our Hidden Histories?
Our history reveals strong leadership of women of color who expanded the scope of reproductive justice, promoted grass roots leadership, and engaged in more militant activist campaigns. They adopted issues of war, environmental justice, and criminal injustice as part of their movement for reproductive rights.
The Women’s March will draw one of the biggest crowds with women marching for different issues. Wealthier white women have been the voice of feminism pushing an agenda around abortion through legislative and judicial strategies. While access to abortion and contraception is critical, women’s health and well- being depends on much more – the elimination of racism and exploitation. The revival of this anti-sexist movement gives us the chance to unite working class women and men (the vast majority of people) to eliminate capitalism, the source of our problems.
This blog will report on the different groups in the feminist movement in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, check out these reads and suggest your favorites in the Comment section.
- The Road Not Taken, Lerone Bennett. https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/essays/bennettroad.html
- Undivided Rights, Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice. Silliman J, Ross, L et al., 2004.
- Lucy Parsons: an American Revolutionary by Carolyn Ashbaugh,
- Dixie Be Damned by S Stafford and N Shirley, 2015.
- Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts, 1998.
- Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/01/racial-gender-wage-gaps-persist-in-u-s-despite-some-progress/
- Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis, 1981.
- National Association for Pregnant Women, Lynn Paltrow, http://www.napw.org
- Sister Song at sistersong.net
- Black Women’s Health Imperative at http://www.bwhi.org
- The National Domestic Worker’s Union of America, domesticworkers.org. Similar organizations around the world.