Basic Understandings from the Work on Women’s Liberation (2012)

Since the RC Contemporary Women’s Issues Workshop in the United States in June 2012, we have put together some of the basic understandings that have come from the work done thus far on women freeing themselves from sexism and male domination.

A critical goal for all of us is to advance the work on sexism and male domination to where each woman makes facing these oppressions central to her own life and to all women’s lives, to where each of us never gives up until sexism and male domination are eliminated, and to where eliminating them is central to RC and to all organized activities of which we are a part.

Every woman is just the right woman to take on1 her own liberation as a woman, to fight for herself, and to fight for all women. Our liberation as women also includes fighting for men to free themselves from their oppression as men and from their oppressor role in the system of male domination and sexism. Both women and men have work to do in this battle.

Although women’s liberation continues both inside and outside of RC, for several decades the ideas of feminism have been under attack in the wide world, and in RC we have felt the effects of that. We have described these effects as a “plateauing” of our work together. Since the Contemporary Women’s Issues Workshop in 2009, we have worked on the ways that, particularly in the West, women’s liberation has been portrayed as irrelevant to the contemporary world. “Sexism is dead, or at least not particularly important” has been one of the widespread confusions.

It is crucial to challenge such myths. The following are some basic understandings that can assist us in doing that:

1. Everyone’s biology is fine—biology is not the problem.

I am fully female in every fiber!” is a direction that Harvey2 gave us females many years ago. Each female’s biology is fine, and each woman deserves to feel pleased and good. Men’s biology is also fine. In fact, human biology is fine, including where there may be gender ambiguity.

2. Biology is the pretext for, not the cause of, oppression.

The oppressive society spins off ideas to justify oppression. In the case of male domination and sexism, an idea pervasive since the beginning of class- and male-dominated societies is that biology is the cause of and reason for the social, economic, and political inequalities that exist between women and men; that women’s subordination and male dominance are inherent rather than caused by oppressive institutions. Also related to biological determinism, women have internalized the oppressive myth (connected to racism, anti-Jewish oppression, Gay oppression, and other oppressions) that some women are more female than others. Our policy is clear: every woman is a real woman, and a real woman is completely human.

In pre-class societies, the first and most basic division between humans was between females and males, because of women’s and men’s two different roles in reproduction. Interestingly, given that women were the child-bearers, men were more dispensable than women—fewer men were needed for procreation, as men’s role was to provide sperm. This was one of the reasons men were used as warriors and women played a large role in agriculture.

Later, with the development of class societies, women’s and men’s separate roles in reproduction became a pretext for oppression. The division between males and females became exploitative. This went along with the exploitation of workers and the control of wealth by a few, which are intrinsic to class but not pre-class societies.

3. Male domination and sexism are central to class societies.

Male domination and sexism are the oldest primary props of class societies. From the earliest to the present ones, almost all class societies have been male dominated. The forms this domination has taken have varied as the societies have evolved through slavery, feudalism, and different stages of capitalism, but male domination has been critical to each type of class society.

Male domination and sexism overlap and are both systematic. Sexism is the system in which men are the agents of female oppression. Male domination is the larger system, integral to class and every other oppression, in which almost everyone is oppressed by a dominant group of a few owning-class men.

The difference between sexism and male domination is subtle. For example, a young man can carry sexist distresses aimed at all women, including older women, but not be dominant with regard to older women.

4. Male domination, assumed to be inherent in societies, has rarely been challenged in totality.

While one can imagine the ending of many other oppressions, there has not yet been a major vision of a society without sexism and male domination (with the exception of a possible one-time Amazon nation, or projections by some feminists). This is because of the following:

a) The divisions of labor between men and women, and the oppression for which these divisions are the pretext, have been assumed to be natural, therefore making them almost universal.

b) With sexism and male domination (as with young people’s oppression), the oppressed and the oppressor are deeply, personally connected. Women have brothers, fathers, and husbands, and male cousins, friends, lovers, and so on. Among the deepest, most personal connections women and men have are the connections with each other.

The latter can be an advantage in terms of women winning men over as allies. However, it also makes it extremely hard to face the depth of the oppressed and oppressor patterns operating in close male-female relationships. The most blatant example of this is the sexual exploitation of women within intimate relationships. Also, few have understood or acknowledged the exploitative reality of reproduction and child raising. Reproduction and the raising of children have been seen as a natural role for women and not even considered work. The control of this labor has been, and still is, in the hands of men. The value of this labor is taken from women, and there is nothing natural about that. “Caretaking” remains one of the biggest oppressive limitations in women’s lives, despite the good things involved in it. In oppressive societies, reproduction has been used to limit women’s lives and as a punishment: women “pay the price” for having children—in terms of money, status, and more.

We cannot emphasize enough that the oppressive society assumes that it is natural for men to dominate and women to be subservient. It is like the air we breathe.

5. No one escapes the oppression.

Today there is a lot of mythology saying that sexism no longer exists—that unlike their mothers’ generation, a lot of younger women today no longer have to fight the oppression; that they have narrowly escaped, or are much less oppressed than their mothers. Another myth is that Western women are “lucky,” that it is the women in other parts of the world—the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe—who have to fight this gruesome oppression.

The oppressive society “likes” to convey the idea that women are “free”: that today’s institutions, including the sex industries and the beautification industries, are no longer sexist. The reality is that every female faces sexism and male domination. No one escapes. No one.

Sexism and male domination may look different depending on the generation and the part of the world, but they have not ended. And no matter who he is or what oppressions he faces, no man escapes the oppressor end of sexism.

6. Most women face multiple oppressions.

Women are oppressed as women and then usually face at least one other oppression, for example, racism, anti-Jewish oppression, colonialism, genocide, Gay oppression, class oppression, disability oppression, “mental health” oppression.

In each oppressed group the centrality of sexism is often denied. Women face the challenge of how to keep sexism in the forefront while also confronting the other oppression.

7. Women have been divided.

The earliest divide among women was between enslaved women and women of the owning class. Both groups were oppressed by sexism and male domination, but the enslaved women did domestic work for the owning-class women, as well as general slave work. The division among women between an oppressor and an oppressed has continued in a variety of forms up to the present. In the contemporary stage of capitalism, racism is the key divide. Throughout the world, racism permeates all the institutions of sexism, and overlaps with colonialism, poverty, and genocide. Women in oppressor groups, while being oppressed by sexism, can resist looking at their oppressor distresses.

Today age is a major divide among women. Young and young-adult women are targets of sexual objectification and exploitation within the sex industries, the beautification industries, the media, and the advertising industries—often with a focus on body image or size, the new “women’s diseases” (anorexia, bulimia), or the normalization, or glamorization as “freedom,” of exploitative sexual practices.

Middle-aged and older women are set up as agents of oppression of younger women. However, they themselves are oppressed by ageism and sexism. Race is important in the age divide. The symbol of the “preferred and desirable woman” is generally young, white, and blonde.

8. Men are also targets of male domination.

Male domination includes men being dominated by other men, often their fathers. Society tends to blame mothers or other strong women for men’s problems, but the real cause of their problems is often male domination.

Men targeted by racism are oppressed by the white world (women and men) and are also dominated by white men.

9. Men of oppressed groups are often stigmatized.

The oppressive society often stigmatizes the sexism of men of oppressed groups—Arab men, black men, working-class men, and so forth—by portraying them as the symbols of sexism and male domination. At the same time, the ultimate power of white owning-class men is disregarded, along with the accepted forms of sexism and male domination they exhibit.

10. Sexism is caused by societal institutions.

Men are the agents of female oppression. Sexism, like all other oppressions, is caused and perpetuated by societal institutions and related mechanisms of oppression. (See the women’s policy statement and program printed in Sisters No. 12.) Several institutions are the primary institutions of sexism. These include marriage, the beautification industries, the sex industries, child-raising and other women’s work (paid and unpaid), and institutions related to reproduction. Sexism also permeates many other institutions, such as politics, education, and the media.

Women and men need to discharge on their histories with these institutions—including the associated misinformation, expectations, and cultural norms (for example, “women should be married,” “having children is the most important job for women,” “some women are prettier than others,” “politics is for men”) that they have internalized.

11. We must address sexual exploitation.

The sexual exploitation of women has always been intrinsic to male-dominated class societies, up to the present. This has included sexual violence in wars; sexual violence (rape, abuse) in marriage, in families, and on the street; prostitution; and sexual harassment in the workforce.

Today—in pornography, the media, the sex industries, and the world of entertainment (all of which make billions of dollars each year)—sexual exploitation is visible, universally accepted, and considered normal.

The sexual exploitation of women is a key issue to address as we challenge sexism and male domination. In the Western world, the idea that women are sexually “free,” as opposed to sexually exploited, brings in untold profits, subjugates women in new and more deceptive ways, and viciously distorts all human relationships. It is certainly an explicit sign of a collapsing society.

Diane Balser
International Liberation 
Reference Person for Women
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

1 Take on means do something about.
2 Harvey Jackins

Last modified: 2021-06-09 00:49:15+00