It’s not even about men.

In the capitalist system, we know that labour is the currency of the working class. It’s all we have to trade. But there are two types of labour.

Firstly, productive labour which is all the work that produces goods and services. Then there’s reproductive labour which refers to the work done in caring for the physical self, the home and the raising of children. This is typically seen in modern society as “women’s work.”

As we know from our (very) brief foray into Kapital, capitalism is based on the accumulation of profit. Most profit is generated through manufacturing, services, sales – productive labour, and so it is seen as more valuable than reproductive labour. 

As a result, because this is viewed as women’s work, women are seen as less economically valuable than men. In this way women are open to exploitation. Not only do they physically support the whole capitalist system in terms of their unpaid labour, they are also already viewed as less than men when they do enter into productive labour. 

This has always been the case since patriarchal societies (those where men have all the power) were introduced. Engels (manifesto guy) called this ‘the world historical defeat of the female sex.’

Because of the social conditions created by capitalism, the way men and women are viewed and valued, the first step to women’s liberation from their dependence on men is their entry into the paid labour system.

Of course, they will still share the class oppression of male workers – and here is where it becomes evident that liberation for women must mean liberation for all, through socialist revolution.

The class struggle, the desperate need for socialism, is not a new concept to most of us. But we must also realise that women’s struggle is rooted deeply in the oppression of the working class. 

Liberation must come from reform that improves conditions for the working class as a whole, only then will women of all levels of society be truly equal.

What this means is that we don’t fall into the trap of comparing men and women obsessively. We reject the idea that there’s a special question about the unique needs of working class women compared to working class men. 

Economic factors have subordinated women, and only economic factors can change their social position. This means we must, as a class, as a whole, attack the basis of capitalist society.

On the face of “women’s liberation” are working class women and liberal middle-class women, seemingly working together – but however “radical” – feminists are still loyal to their class. This is evident because the middle class liberals seek equality within the existing class society framework, they do not attack the basis as we do. 

Because they see men as the enemy, achievements of equal rights with men is a victory to them. They won’t fight for the social revolution needed to liberate them because it threatens their class position. Although our aims may overlap at times, our long term goals differ drastically. 

Each concession they gain is another weapon to use against their working class sisters, another privilege we are not afforded, and so the division between these classes of women grows. The ‘struggle’ and aims of their class are alien to us, and unsatisfying. 

Such small concessions are only the first step to liberation and equality for working class women who see men as their comrades, enslaved alongside them by the same social conditions. They know their enemy, and they strive together against the sickness rather than the symptoms.

It is the working woman who is the saviour of her own future. Only the upper classes can hope to benefit from a union between she and them. The only hope for her in these social conditions is an equal share of inequality, and so she rejects the basis of the measurement. 

“The working woman must not and does not forget that while the aim of bourgeois women is to secure their own welfare in the framework of a society antagonistic to us – our aim is to build, in place of the old, outdated world, a bright temple of universal labour, comradely solidarity and joyful wisdom.” – Alexandra Kollontai, 1909

The only liberation for women is liberation for all, for our class, and so we demand only the right for each to the fullest and freest self-determination. 

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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.

Asshole.

My mate got me this job in an Indian restaurant a couple months ago. I’d been struggling to find work so it was a welcome help. It’s not easy being a single mum, especially when the dole won’t recognise you as one. (More on this later.)

So I trotted off to my new job and to be honest I absolutely loved it. All the guys I worked with were lovely, friendly people who had a wealth of information to share on their culture and what it’s like to be Bangladeshi on Merseyside. I’d never really known much about it, I found it fascinating and I was constantly asking questions. We would work all evening listening to music, chatting and joking, and then I’d be sent home with a delicious dinner to boot. Couldn’t have asked more than that.

One day I got a call from my boss who said if I didn’t mind I’d been passed on to his uncle’s takeaway where they were desperate for staff. I didn’t mind at all, and off I went. 

I arrived at this place a little early expecting more of the same, but it was different. It was smaller, quieter, grubbier and my sense of humour didn’t seem to translate so well as it had before. I decided to give it some time anyway.

The boss took me round showing me where everything was and explaining which bits were my job. I explained to him that I’d done this all before but he insisted on showing me all over again – understandable really, most employers like things done a certain way. But there was something about this guy that made me uncomfortable from the off. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it soon became apparent that what was going on here was not retraining.   He was patronising me. He was treating me like I was stupid. 

I let it slide anyway and left happy, again with a full belly, when I went home that evening. Almost immediately I received a text from the boss. 

  

I thought nothing of it really, the guy was friendly, chatty. I replied with what I deemed appropriate and then I ignored anything that wasn’t work related. He spent a lot of time over the next couple of shifts telling me about his affluence, his cars, how he liked to go out drinking, how he had once been beaten up by a gang of lads for chatting up a girl. All pretty innocuous stuff, but it was building a picture I didn’t like, and alarm bells were ringing long before anything actually happened.

One of the things I noticed was that this guy seemed unable to take no for an answer. He would offer a cup of tea, or a biscuit, I would refuse three or four times and yet it would appear before me. He would check back two or three times to see if I’d drank it. Again, is this just generosity or good manners? Or is it a man that cannot take simple cues from a woman and accept the smallest of boundaries? I didn’t like it at all.

We were smoking by the back door during a quiet period, when he asked about the tattoos on my arms. I explained to him what they were – a skull, a frog, a symbol of love and solidarity. He said he would love tattoos but he wasn’t allowed to get them. As always what began as a friendly chat soon made me uncomfortable when he took a seemingly innocent step towards me and told me that there were lots of things he shouldn’t do, but that he kept certain aspects of his lifestyle to himself. I assumed he meant the smoking, and said so. He snorted and repeated himself. That shift took way too long to end and I was grateful when somebody else offered to give me a lift home.

I was off sick with a bad virus the next couple of weeks, and although I’d been slightly uncomfortable to begin with this is where he really ramped up the game. He was already using language that I found completely inappropriate for an employer, much less one who I had only met a couple of times up to this point.

   
 He was now texting me almost every day. I never replied, if I did it related solely to work and I made sure to mention my boyfriend as often as seemed appropriate. I was sending clear signals. He was not picking them up, or he was ignoring them. It was the unwanted cup of tea times a thousand. 

By this point I was dreading going to work, but I desperately needed the money. I had already contacted the guy who sent me there in the first place and told him I was uncomfortable. He said he would try to find me something else.

  
When I agreed to come to work that evening he offered to pick me up from the station, where I would be arriving about four hours before work started. How weird. I refused, and he later asked me why I hadn’t let him. I told him I didn’t need his help outside of work but I appreciated the offer. He made me a brew I didn’t want. I poured it down the sink. I was getting pretty tired of this shit but I still wasn’t sure. Was I just being a bitch? Was he just being nice, and was I just misunderstanding? If there was a word for what was going on I didn’t know it.

So, I arrived at work. I was immediately very uncomfortable, it was becoming impossible and I dreaded going. Once there I spent all evening staring at my shoes and trying to avoid conversation. Then he starts texting me every time he goes out on a delivery.

  
The chef was cool, I was 100% sure he’d said nothing of the sort, but I couldn’t deny my discomfort was palpable in the restaurant. I ignored most of the shit he sent me. I didn’t want any part of this and I convinced myself if I just kept ignoring it and got on with my job it would stop. It didn’t stop.

He said to me later that evening that, as usual, we were all going to eat together after work and they were going to cook lamb. By this late point in the evening I had decided that perhaps I was being silly and I should make more of an effort to be friendly. I said “cool, looking forward to it.”

Noticing the change in my attitude he took advantage and began telling me about his wife. How they were unhappy, how she had her own life that she got on with that he didn’t interfere with. He told me intimate things that I did not want to know, did not respond to, and found wholly inappropriate for anyone to discuss with a mere aquaintance nevermind someone who has worked for them for a whole five minutes. He continued despite my obvious discomfort. I was grateful when another delivery order arrived.

Despite the very light but uncomfortable touching of my knees or shoulders in passing, despite the comments that I was a “good looking woman and should have no problem with men,” despite even the insistence that when a group of men congregated in the kitchen I should leave and entertain myself elsewhere, I had convinced myself that surely this must all be innocent and I was just overreacting, being mean, surly and cold. Whenever the discomfort got so much it would be noted by others, I would take a mental note and attempt to relax and engage again, but each time I found myself back at the start. Nervous, embarrassed and very uncomfortable. 

It came to a head eventually when I saw the chef preparing the lamb as the boss had said for dinner just before closing time. The chef showed the pot to me and I smiled, approvingly. He put it on the back of the stove and began making something else. The hair prickled on my neck. Something was off.

As the boss counted the till, he handed the guys their wages. Except mine. Which he put into his pocket. By this time I knew something was up. As the rest of the staff left one by one, the chef carrying the second meal he’d made all packaged up, the boss said to me “We’re going to eat now, they are on a diet.” 

No no no no no no.

For the first time I blurted it out. “No! I’m not staying to eat with just you, I’m sorry but no way.” 

He told me he needed help counting the till. My wages were in his pocket. He said he would give me a lift home, my wages were in his pocket. He said it would all be fine, and my wages were still in his pocket. I desperately needed the money, that was the only reason I’d stayed working in the godforsaken place.

By some sort of miracle the till was up. There was £10 too much in the drawer. We counted it again and again. I was clock watching, counting the seconds which seemed to get longer and longer. He emptied his pockets and seeing my chance I grabbed my wages.

Relief washed over me. I felt like I had some of the power back. The till was balanced and he began to get out plates and cutlery for the food. I told him again, no. I don’t want to stay to eat. I want to go home. He carried on, laughing off my refusal.

Something snapped then, and I exploded through the kitchen and out of the front door. I ran all the way home, convinced he was following me and would pull me over. I phoned my boyfriend on the way and explained everything. I still felt like I’d overreacted but the weight of the discomfort told me otherwise. I had been scared in that kitchen, alone with him. Terrified. He had abused his position. 

He texted me again.

“What happened?”

I decided that desperate for a job or not this had to stop here and now, and I was never going to go back there. So I replied.

  

If I had received an apology, shock, embarrassment anything of the sort I might have felt silly. But what I got was “I don’t think so.” 

You don’t think so? I’m not asking your opinion I’m fucking telling you how it is. Even after all this he didn’t or wouldn’t understand. It enfuriated me. It made me so angry that the onus was put on me for running off rather than him for making me feel as though I had to. 

What angered me most was this man had given me a job knowing that what I desperately needed was the money and work to look after myself and my son. He exploited that situation until I was forced back out of work. He refused to take responsibility for his actions.

But above all else, I feel weak. And that is what enfuriated me most. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, or what I was supposed to have done differently to stop that asshole before it got to that. By now he will have moved on to letching over the next girl sent to him, not skipping a beat. I’m made to feel like I was the one being weird, and he gets to continue with his business and his flash car that impresses nobody and his bad teeth. 

I’m sick of hearing that sexism doesn’t exist anymore from so many of the women and men around me, that it’s just up to us to ‘stand up for ourselves’ now. It is not up to me to somehow changed the attitudes and actions of men who have a life of entitlement, a whole structure of privilege, and centuries of dominance to back themselves up. That is not my responsibility. 

To people like that boss, my worth as an employee was determined by my willingness to flirt with him, pay him special attention, to let him objectify me. As soon as I refused he was happy to let me go, and made out I was being weird. I feel sick and angry, I shake with indignation at the thought of other women in his life and what they have to put up with; because you can be sure where there’s any kind of power over women to be had, men like this abuse it. 

Yeah what happened to me had a lot to do with class as well, being an employee, but it had a lot to do with being a woman too. And now this woman is back on the dole, feeling as though standing up for yourself gets you nowhere. 

But despite the end result, standing your ground is always the right thing to do and I hope, at least, that other women reading this will too. Only when strong women become the rule and not the exception will dickheads like this become accountable. 

I wish I had more power. I wish my argument carried more weight. I wish I knew what else I could do