This is an extract from a zine written by Resistance members. You can pick up a copy from a Resistance stall on campus during Orientation week.
Like any other day, a female student is on her way to campus. As she rides her bike down the main road, a head pops out a moving car window and yells out to her: “Nice legs!” Later that day she receives a text from one of the men in her group assessment task who she barely knows: “Hey beautiful we should definitely have a beer sometime ;)”.
While writing up her group presentation report, she pauses to imagine her future workplace after finishing the hard slog of uni. In her news feed, she learns that the gender pay gap between male and female graduates has more than doubled since last year.
Meanwhile, the string of commercials she saw on morning television of women enjoying using cleaning products, and the billboards of women in lingerie she saw as she rode her bike, build upon a growing sense that the major roles for women in her society are as a carer in the home or a desirable object.
She finishes writing her report in the evening. Because there had been three sexual assaults on campus last semester, she walks quickly and cautiously to get to her bike, devising plans along the way about how she might protect herself in the event of an attack.
Many women have the same experience of sexism every day. This is because sexism is institutionalised at all levels of society — in the workplace, the home and family, our parliaments, the welfare and judicial systems, and in institutions like universities. Our society relates to women in such a way that it discriminates against them based on their gender.
Sexism is the product of a class-based economic system that gains and prospers from underpaying, or not paying, stereotyping, belittling and sexualising women. Capitalism needs sexism to survive — to continue to sell its products, and to continue to extract profit from the hard work of ordinary people.
Women’s bodies are brazenly sexualised at every turn. Capitalist culture manufactures acceptance of the idea, among both men and women, that women’s bodies exist for the pleasure of men.
This is reinforced through the corporate media, commercial advertising, and a flourishing pornography industry. Capitalism commodifies women’s bodies, selling sexist stereotypes of women on the market for profit. “Sex sells!” and it has dire consequences.
Research has linked sexist and sexualised depictions of women and girls to sexist attitudes, and gendered violence. About a third of women in Australia will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Many young people are encouraged to embrace gender roles that objectify women. Without education on what constitutes rape or sexual assault, or how to form equitable sexual relationships, sexual abuse against women is increasing among young people in Australia.
Sexualisation places enormous pressure on women of all ages to conform to restrictive standards of “beauty” and sexual behaviour. These standards mean that 68% of 15-year-old females are dieting and approximately one in 100 adolescent girls develop anorexia and five in 100 develop bulimia.
By objectifying women, capitalist culture belittles women. It works to limit women’s access to positive gender roles and stifles their development as equal participants in society.
The society we live in is steeped in sexism. Even if it takes different forms here in Australia to other places on the globe, sexism stems from one global root — the systematic oppression of women.
When you want to know why something is the way it is today, it’s best to go back to the beginning. Has there ever been a society in which women were not oppressed?
Anthropological studies suggest that in hunter-gatherer societies, men and women generally lived as equals, sharing everything. Human society existed this way for tens of thousands of years.
The development of agriculture meant humans could better control the supply of their own food. They could grow more food than they immediately needed, and the person who had control over this “surplus” also had a power over others that produced less.
This was the beginning of private property, and the beginning of a society divided into “classes”, where a small group of powerful people could live off the labour of the rest of society.
This is how the oppression of women began. Women began to be valued as property because they were the ones who could produce the next generation of workers.
The role of women changed and they were excluded from economic and political decisions of society. They were now required to raise children, and make sure men had all of their needs met in the home, so that they could be replenished for work again.
This is known as “reproductive labour”, and continues to be mostly performed by women today in the home for no pay. Even outside the home, women make up the vast majority of social and community workers whose wages are low in comparison to other occupations.
The continuing oppression of women serves to uphold this unpaid “reproductive labour”.
Even with most women being part of the workforce in Australia, the balance of responsibility for domestic tasks has in fact changed very little, leading to many women taking on a “second shift” when they get home. Even government-commissioned research shows this.
The right-wing focus on upholding the traditional “nuclear” family model of a male and a female parent, joined by marriage, raising their own offspring, and similarly denying women control over their reproductive systems, is geared towards maintaining access to this source of unpaid labour — a necessity for big corporations to keep rolling in ever-growing profits.
This incentive to maintain oppression of women means that women will not be truly liberated until class society is abolished. However, even if those oppressed by capitalism manage to overthrow it, there is no guarantee that the oppression of women (along with other oppressions, such as racism) will automatically disappear.
Only the oppressed can liberate themselves. Only working-women have a complete interest in ending sexism and women’s oppression. But in order to do this, they need to organise, to educate and agitate.
They need to link up with the broader progressive movement, and further the struggle against the capitalist system. They need to draw working class men into the struggle to fight for a new society.
Resistance is an organisation of socialist, feminist and environmentalist young people. It aims to bring young activists together to fight to end sexism, homophobia, racism, class divisions and all forms of oppression.