Feminism Today - A Socialist View

First published in the Socialist WebZine, March 2011.

As a woman and a socialist who is a founding mother of what was then a decidedly socialist “Women’s Liberation Movement” I look at our many triumphs and some tragedies as well. Our triumphs have been that we won some positions of equality. We wanted equality in the labor force and as far as our percentage of the labor force goes, we have equality. We are half of all US employees. However, we have achieved equality within a system of gross inequality. Our vision as socialists was that if we on the bottom rose up, we would bring everyone with us. That has not happened. The reverse has happened.

The quality of life for both male and female workers has degenerated. The United States went from being the most egalitarian nation in the Western industrialized world in 1970 to the most inegalitarian nation now. Wage differences between rich and poor have vastly increased. CEOs, who were paid about forty times more than average employees in the 1960s and 1970s, now make about 400 times more money even as they drive their corporations into the ground. Work hours have increased for all Americans, women included. Americans work 20% longer hours than do our compatriots in the rest of the industrialized world.

We now earn 77.1% of what men earn for comparable work. Men still have 22.9% wage supplement for being male. That is a big improvement over the 59% of men’s wages we earned at the beginning of our movement in 1968 when men got a 41% financial bonus for their maleness (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Sept. 2010). Sixty-seven percent of us are still concentrated in pink collar jobs in social service work, and the health care and food service industries (Lindell, Dec. 17, 2010). These industries are low wage industries. However, they are the industries that are growing while typical male stereotyped, more testosterone driven jobs are increasingly outmoded. Construction, heavy machine operating and finance jobs have been decimated. Managers are increasingly female. Female skills in social relationships, teamwork and connection building are in greater demand than the aggressive confrontational behavior that conforms to a machismo stereotype.

Our rights as independent women have expanded. Our personal lives have radically changed. We are no longer constrained to stay home, nor are we able to. We need to be financially independent because men can no longer support us. White men used to be bread earners able to support dependent wives and children on sufficient wages. Minority men and single women never received a family wage, even though, they too supported families. Women maintained domestic, physical and emotional well-being for men and children within households while, as in the case of white men, men supported women financially. Women provided emotional support for each other as well as for the rest of the family. We still do domestic and emotional jobs at home in addition to our paid work outside of the home.

We have adjusted to the need for our paid labor in the marketplace. We also had a movement to support us in that economic role. Men have not made a similar adjustment or commitment to share domestic and emotional. Women still do 70% of the housework and 82% of the childcare labor (Fraad, Resnick, Wolff 2009, p.17-70). We are also rejecting marriage. For the first time in US history most women are single and most divorces are initiated by women. For the first time since the US began collecting statistics in 1880, most people of prime marriageable age, from 18-34 years old, are not married. Fully 40% of US children are born outside of a marriage. Marriage has broken down. Half of young people of marriageable age think marriage is obsolete (“New Vow: I Don’t Take Thee” Wall Street Journal, 9/29/2010, “Marriage Rate Falls to About 50% As People Say Institution Is Obsolete” Bloomberg, 11/18/2010, and “Recession Rips at US Marriages, Expands Income Gap Associated Press, 10/20/2010).

The US women who are at greatest risk are mothers (Lerner, 2010). There are scant social supports to help the mass of working women who have children. We are the only Western industrial nation that does not provide paid maternity leaves to working mothers. We are the only nation that does not routinely provide free medical and maternity care (UNICEF 2007). Consequently, one of the best predictors of poverty in the US is having a child.

The women’s movement created equality for women within a nation of inequality. The mass of women have been freed from restrictive roles within the home. The failing US economy and our wish to be part of a fuller life, have combined to propel us into the labor force without the social supports that would give us the time to enjoy our fuller lives, our partners, or our children. Our personal lives are overwrought, overworked and desperate. Men are in trouble as well. Their jobs are even more precarious and more easily outsourced. They are losing their wives and children who were once their emotional anchors. Only privileged women can afford to stay married with the domestic relief and child care provided by other women poorly paid as maids, nannies, daycare workers, etc.

In order to achieve the socialist goals of the original Women’s Liberation Movement, which were full, productive and loving lives for all women, we would need to mobilize our government to expand the domestic and child care supports that permit us to participate in the labor force and also enjoy our lives, have sharing partnerships with our husbands, wives or lovers and nurture our children. If we embraced socialist programs, that would be possible. Funds for the free quality childcare and health care enjoyed by other nations are available. We need to tax the rich, stop costly endless, wars, and create: quality child care centers, after school and summer programs, low cost attractive quality restaurants, free quality universal medical care and mandatory paid vacations. The nations that best provide the lives we need are not as rich as the United States. The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and France are either governed by socialists or
have powerful well organized socialist and communist parties. It is up to us to create a nurturing socialist society for women, children and men, for everyone.

Fraad, H. Resnick, S. and Wolff, R. 2009. “For Every Knight in Shining Armour, There’s A Castle Waiting to be Cleaned: A Marxist-Feminist Analysis of the Household.” In Class Struggle on the Home Front. Ed. G. Cassano. New York: Palgrave.Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Sept. 2010.
“The Gender Wage Gap: 2009-Updated Sept. 2010. Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.Lerner, S. 2010. The War on Moms. Hoboken, NJ. Wiley and Sons.Lindell, R. Dec. 17, 2010.
“Pink Collar Jobs Spare Women from Recession.” Global Banking Alliance for Women.

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