'Women still face great inequality'

Saturday, November 8, 2008 - 11:00

The following article is based on a speech given by Chere Bowman at the Wollongong Reclaim the Night rally on October 23. Bowman spoke as a member of Resistance.

Many people today, women included, would argue that women are liberated. They can vote, become doctors and lawyers, and can be elected to parliament. Some even try to prove that feminism has "gone too far".

So what's the problem then?

For a start, let's examine a couple of differences in the way men and women are treated in society today. Take the visual media. Women who work in the visual media are still subject to a use-by date that has nothing to do with their ability to present TV shows or to report information.

What counts is whether they look young enough.

Another major double standard can be found in what is deemed to be acceptable sexual activity for women. A largely held stereotype is when a woman has several sexual encounters she is a slut; whereas a man will be congratulated and praised for "scoring", as though he's some kind of sports star.

But these examples of sexist social attitudes are not all that is wrong. For anyone not convinced that women still face great inequality let us examine some statistics.

•Although women today can supposedly work in virtually any profession they are still paid 30% less than men.

•The majority of the world's 1.3 million absolute poor are women.

•75% of the world's illiterates are women.

•Domestic violence is among the leading causes of death and injury to women worldwide.

•95% of people with anorexia are women.

•In Australia, one in four women will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

•Women have a one-in-three likelihood of suffering sexual assault over their lifetime.

These statistics are appalling. So why is it that women are still so oppressed today?

While sexist attitudes from men have a role to play in this situation, in order to truly understand and overcome this oppression we must look to the system which perpetuates and maintains it.

In modern capitalist society the class divide is between the wealthy, consisting of mainly of landowners, businesses and big corporations on one hand, and the working class on the other.

The system depends on exploiting working people — both men and women. The big capitalists do no work themselves — they simply own the means by which things are produced in society. They don't pay out in wages the whole value of what workers produce. They keep a portion of it for themselves — profit.

But along with this, the role of the family is also crucial to the functioning of the capitalist system.

The family system provides childcare, care for the ill, and household labour free of charge to the capitalist class as a whole. It has been estimated that unpaid domestic labour is equivalent to 40% of the gross domestic product. Some reports estimate this is even higher.

If domestic labour was paid in the same manner as wage labour, the cost would be more than $320 billion every year. But it suits the profit margins of the capitalist class to keep women in this subordinate role.

Sexism is the ideology that justifies this unpaid domestic labour that women still overwhelmingly perform today.

In "traditional" family situations, the woman is predominately the cook, cleaner and nurse. With so much of their time and energy consumed in this way, women have far less energy for self-growth, education and career opportunities.

As a result, women also experience greater levels of isolation, both from one another and from society at large. Women in this situation are often in no position to unite together to fight for their liberation.

This is why our rally tonight is so important for women worldwide.

The corporate media helps to perpetuate women's role in the home. Sexist ideas also mean women are perceived as objects to be conquered and possessed by men. This systematic oppression is so deeply ingrained within society that some rarely give it a second thought.

Sexist gender roles are often unconsciously passed on to children by their parents. Boys wear blue and girls wear pink. Boys play with trucks and girls with dolls.

Thus what the majority of people see as being "natural" behaviour for women is not natural at all, but is a socially manufactured construct.

Sexist ideas also help to justify the concentration of women in some of the lowest paid occupations such as nurses, cooks, childcare workers and cleaners.

I would like to see how the capitalist system would fare, however, if women across the world united and went on strike. Then, perhaps, women would be granted the respect and financial remuneration they deserve for their unpaid role.

Sexism affects all women. Therefore women from all socioeconomic backgrounds have an interest to unite in order to truly make a real and lasting difference for women worldwide.

Part of our goal must be to convince men to shift the way they often see women as sexual objects. Men must learn to see women as the hardworking, intelligent, creative and valuable members of society they are.

Only if working-class men and women unite will the working class be able to topple the greedy elite off its perch.

Men have a direct interest in overthrowing women's oppression, because accepting lower wages for women serves to put downward pressure on their own. Solidarity must be achieved between men and women who must together work as equals and earn as equals.

The kind of society we want is one where women are equal to men in respect; women are equal to men in pay; and women are equal for men in political power.

Fighting for women's liberation is an essential part of Resistance's goal to dismantle and smash the corrupt system of capitalism that has allowed these atrocities against women to occur in the first place.

From GLW issue 774

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