Feminism

I never knew I needed feminism.

 I was a daughter of a pastor with very strong ideas on gender roles for men and women. I was expected to wear dresses on Sundays, keep my hair long and defer to a mans judgement on any issue of any importance. It was made very clear from as early as I could understand, that my purpose in life was to be a devoted and obedient wife. My parents believed their duty was to prepare me for this, and nothing more. 

As we grew older, my dad conceded on his harder lines. The  expectation to be a wife and mother was always at the forefront in how he viewed us, but he did eventually decide that possibly we could have careers as well. At least in the meantime, but only gender-suitable ones of course.

“She’s going to be a missionary, she’ll be a nurse and she will use that to spread the gospel.” My dad stated to my mum once, discussing their hopes for my future. 

“Why couldn’t she be a doctor?” My mum asked.

“She’s a girl!” My dad replied incredulous. I wonder how he really felt when I enrolled as a car mechanics apprentice at the age of sixteen. 

Sex education was not something I was ever allowed to learn, in fact I’m sure my dad even made complaints about diagrams I had to draw for biology. I would be told that that was a subject for parents to discuss with their children privately at an appropriate time. That time never came. Little wonder I was pregnant at 17, much to the shame of my dad.

I was told nothing about my period. I remember screaming from the bathroom while everyone enjoyed their Sunday dinner, thinking something was terribly wrong. Mum appeared at the door, took a look at me and disappeared. She reappeared moments later with a sanitary pad, thrust it through the door, and quietly retreated back downstairs. We were never allowed to use tampons, my dad was convinced that would mean we weren’t virgins anymore and we’d never find anyone to marry us.

We were expected to dress appropriately, which meant covering as much of ourselves as possible in order to prevent the sexual abuse that would surely be our own fault in the event of an attack. When I told my dad that grown men had made sexualised comments to me as I walked home from school he wanted to know why. What had I been wearing? What did I do and say to elicit this attention? Women, like children, must be seen and not heard.

By the time my parents marriage fell apart and we all moved to England in dribs and drabs, I had a fair idea that my upbringing was a bit strange to a lot of people, particularly those with no concept of a strict religious regime. I had begun to realise that things I had been told were untrue. I began to realise my self worth, and that I was much more than those aspects of me which would make a good wife, or mother, or nurse. 

Around this time, when feminism was a word I had begun using frequently, when those issues I had taken to be the norm became real issues of struggle and rebellion in my personal life, I came into contact with my first real, active, self-proclaimed anarcha-feminists. At least that’s what’s they said they were.

In reality, what I seemed to have stumbled upon was a hive of lunacy. I was led to believe that if a man looked at me and appreciated how I looked, then he was a disgusting pig. He couldn’t possibly just find me attractive. It must be perverse and oppressive – there was no mention of how I looked at the man. 

I was also told that despite never having been allowed to wear makeup in order to maintain my chastity, if I now chose to do so I was a slave to the agenda that men had set for me. That if a woman wanted to be a wife and mother, then they were cowing rather than fulfilling themselves. The woman I wanted to be was not a good enough woman for them.

It felt very much as though I was being forced to walk a tightrope. On the one side, I was pushed toward society’s idea, particularly the church’s idea, of what a woman was supposed to be. On the other, I was pushed toward the stereotypical image of what a feminist must be. 

You must cut your hair, dress differently, remove your makeup – I had thought the point of the feminist movement, in part, was to remove the norm of judging women on how they looked, but they were judging every woman who didn’t look like them. Feminism apparently had a uniform.

It seemed every nugget of truth and sense led to a labyrinth of contradiction and hysteria. Where before I may have at times felt coerced into sexual activity, now every sexual encounter was considered abusive, every recount of experience was combed for any sign of sexism that might be exploded and used to tar swathes of people. 

Every argument I had with a man was used as an example of the rampant sexism on the left – even though the men around me were some of the first men I’d ever met who even cared about feminism and women’s rights. In fact, the assigning of their own negative gender roles and stereotypes was a daily occurrence.

Despite the mantra of equality, that didn’t seem to be the aim; women were always victims or ‘survivors’, whatever happened was always traumatic, and men, especially the ones closest to us, were always oppressing us in some way. Apparently women were never powerful or in control enough to make their own mistakes. Instead of coming up with ways to overcome sexism in society, the only thing it seemed a ‘feminist’ needed to do was ‘call out’ men over the smallest fault, and be needlessly cruel or bullying to the men in their lives. 
 Of course I want to be seen to be as clever, strong, fast and funny as a man. But I don’t think the man needs to be made to feel stupid, weak, slow and ignorant to do that. 

This was not about the equality of the sexes. This was a power trip for a bunch of women who felt their subcultural friendship scene was a good platform to use to launch their own arguments and generalise them for the degradation of everyone. 

I split up with a boyfriend for example, a bit messily, but nothing that would’ve ended the world. Within a week, this was a saga about my abuse and oppression at the hands of a wicked sexist who was out only to ruin my life for his own perverse pleasure. 
Bollocks. 

People split up, people argue, people fall out and fall together. The constant use of ‘gender politics’ (which in this case was basically a game of top trumps – let’s not worry actually solving problems, let’s just have a competition of who can be the most oppressed) to launch personal vendettas was absolutely rife, and I’ve since discovered now happens across the left. 

Men aren’t the only victims: as soon as they realised I wasn’t going to use my break up to help them lynch my ex, I was shut off, probably denounced as an apologist. The idea of having an analysis of oppression, like feminism or Marxism, is that we can start looking out our problems rationally with less fear and greater unity; it gives us more confidence to speak up, and help others to speak up for themselves. 

It should make us feel more empowered and actually less oppressed. Instead everyone was constantly offended and aggressive, and I was terrified to open my mouth for fear of having a label slapped across my forehead to wear as an outcast.

I feel as strong as any man, but they would have me believe I am a waif with no strength other than that which I borrow from the feminist collective. Instead of encouraging bravery in women, they seem to encourage fear: everything is dangerous and traumatic, male and abusive. 

If men are loud and aggressive on demos, they are ‘macho manarchists’ and are only acting that way in order to push out women. When I’m at a demo with women, I’m just as loud and aggressive. What does that make me? Why is it assumed those qualities and behaviours belong only to men? 

Because of this I have always distanced myself from the feminist movement. I want to be part of a movement that makes us strong and courageous, and capable. A movement that facilitates us to work side by side with men, not drive a wedge further between us. I want to be part of a movement that Emmeline Pankhurst could be proud of. 

What I’ve seen is not a movement, it is the mass ego massaging of a certain group of women who think they know more about what it is to be the woman I am, than even I do.
Today’s feminism, my experience of it, is not what I want to fight for. Women are treated so unequally in this world, there is absolutely a need for feminism as much as ever, to help us understand our enemy and fight for equality. 

But by further splitting and splintering, chasing outrage and exclusion, we only alienate other women who really need feminism. Maybe not your brand, but you’re not every woman. Your personal experience is not more than everyone else – that doesn’t mean “check your privilege” it means collective analysis, targets, goals – solutions – are more important than petty vendettas and word games. 

It’s only when we begin to actually see ourselves as equal and treat each other accordingly that we will be able to implement this in our politics.

Kapital in a Nutshell Pt. 1

I’ve been reading Kapital. Well, actually I havent because I’m not a complete masochist, what Ive been doing is reading a lot of stuff about Kapital so that I dont have to tackle the beast head on by myself, and die cold and alone drowning in a sea of intellectual genius that I cant quite grasp. So, this is what I make of it. If you have any questions or you think its total bollocks, please do let me know and I will be sure to deny any involvement in the production of this overview.

Commodification
Commodities are all the things around us that are made and manufactured. All this stuff that can be used or sold, we call the Wealth of Capitalist Society. It used to be the case that things were made to be used – cups were made for drinking, clothes were made for wearing. Since the rise of capitalism around the globe, commodities now have another purpose – to be sold. We make more things for sale now than ever, where we used to make clothes to cover our backs now they are mass produced to generate a profit. This is not natural – this is manmade. The commodification of produce is unique to capitalism.

There is a duality in the value of the commodity. It is valuable both in terms of how useful it is and how profitable it is. These values are at odds with each other, so as a commidity becomes more valuable and profitable, its use-value is alienated. As capitalism pushes for ever increasing profit, this clashes with the human need for food, warmth, shelter etc. The use-value of commodities is abused and distorted in order to make it more profitable. To the extent that a commodity is financially valuable, its use-value is lessened.

We can use the example of a loaf of bread sitting on a supermarket shelf. This has a use value in that it can be eaten and fulfill the human need for sustenance. However, unless the value of the product is fulfilled – unless you can pick it up and pay for it, the use-value is totally irrelevant. It will continue to rot on the shelf regardless of its use-value until somebody can afford to buy it. In this way, the use of commodities is abused in order to further profit. This can also be seen from another angle through manufacture – as long as products are being sold, companies are happy to cut costs of production and compromise on the safety of the product and the security of the labour force as long as the result is profitable. The use-value becomes irrelevant.
So. That’s commodity. A thing that is made, which at once is both useful and profitable. As the profitability of a commodity is increased, the use-value of it is decreased.

Over-Production
An inevitable result of this constant quest for profit is overproduction. There comes a point when business produces ‘too much’ of a certain commodity – or rather, produce an amount that cannot be bought up by society. It may be that a building firm for example has built a number of houses, which people cannot afford to buy. This does not mean that there is no longer a demand for housing, just that the people who need it cannot afford to pay for it. As a result of this overproduction – where more things are made than can be sold, prices and profits fall. This is because companies in competition with each other for profit must reduce the cost of the commodities they produce in order to encourage people to buy them.

In order to raise the prices and profits and to tackle this over-production, business destroys part of its produce. Rather than give those houses away to people who need them, they would rather pull them down – causing a shortage, and thereby pushing prices and profit back up. They are not in the business of promoting use-value and fulfilling human need, but rather of making profit. If it is not profitable, it is irrelevant how useful it can be. It must be destroyed to ensure the price hike of the remainder of the produce.

Even though people may be starving, if there is an overproduction of food which causes the price to fall – it will be destroyed rather than distributed to ensure the increasing value of food afterward. Produce is destroyed on the basis that if there is less of a thing for people to fight over, they are inclined to pay more for it, and thereby increase profit for business.

Exchange-Value
We now know that commodities are produced in capitalist society in order to be exchanged, either for other commodities or money, in order to generate a profit. But how is it decided what is a fair exchange? In a literal sense, there is no such thing as a fair exchange, because no two items are the same. Up to this point, it is simply the case that people have been content to make unfair exchange, but under capitalism where profit reigns over all, we are now talking about ‘systemic commodity exchange’ which must be regulated in order to maximise profit.

That is, the capitalist system is entirely built upon the premise of the exchange of commodity. Whilst all commodities are exchangable and materially unique – as before, no two items are of exact equal worth. However, under this system, there is something that all commodities have in common, and that is the human effort required for its production or appropriation for sale and profit. This measure is what provides the basis for exchange in capitalist society. Using this rule, a table which takes one man one day to make is of equal value to, say, a basket of apples which took one man one day to harvest. Although this is much more complex and Marx explains this much more in-depth, this is the basis of the principle. The exchange-value of commodity is dictated by the value of labour-time.

Useful and Abstract Labour
Useful labour, or Concrete labour, is how we refer to the physical act of labour. This is different and unique to each commodity. A mill workers labour is not equally measurable to a bakers labour, they may differ in terms of intensity and skill. However when the miller looks at a bag of flour, he sees so many hours of work. When the baker looks at a loaf of bread, he too sees so many hours of labour. In this way the labour-time of the two is comparable and the exchange-value of the commodities can be measured.

It does not matter how long it actually takes to make the product. No matter how slowly you work, the commodity you produce is only worth what the average labourer would expend in making it. The actual time spent producing useful labour is irrelevant, only the amount of socially standard labour, or what people would normally expect, dictates the value of the product. When machinery is introduced to a milk farm, for example. The time taken to milk the cow is dramatically reduced, and therefore so is the value of the commodity – milk. Those farmers who do not have the same machinery will find that their milk will be greatly reduced in value regardless of the their concrete labour time, because of the level of socially standard labour has changed. This concept we refer to as abstract labour – a scale whereby all useful labour can be measured equally in order to facilitate exchange.

The alienation of useful labour is a result of this. As society focuses on the abstract concept presented to them, the obvious literal value of useful labour is obscured. In this way, all commodities are equally measurable and exchangeable. The basic principal of buying and selling commodities is a social attribute of a capitalist society.
Part Two: https://redraskova.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/kapital-in-a-nutshell-pt-2/