By Kathy Newnam
"The general level of emancipation of a society is indicated by the level of emancipation of its women." This statement, drawn from the studies of Marx and his close collaborator, Engels, holds as true today as ever.
Sexism runs deep in capitalist society. Marx understood that it has not always existed, nor is it an inevitable product of biological difference. The work of Marx and Engels in developing a historical understanding of the rise of women's oppression along with the rise of class divisions in society is critical for feminists in understanding how to achieve liberation.
Women's oppression arose with the development of class society — that is, society based upon the exploitation of the majority for the enrichment of the minority. For these divisions to be perpetuated through generations, there must be a way for the ruling class to hand on their wealth. This is one of the driving forces behind the historical development of the family system.
With the rise of the family system came the systematic oppression of women. Women's primary role became that of child-bearer and carer. In fact, the word "family" comes from the Latin word which means "the totality of slaves belonging to one man".
This is why the fight against sexism and for women's liberation goes to the very heart of the capitalist system.