The ruthless global war against women

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IN THE U.S., the number of single-parent households on welfare has tripled since the 1960s, with most of them headed by women. Congress rightly calls this a national crisis. But the problem, say these legislative patriarchs, isn’t an economy that deprives women of childcare and a living wage. It’s out-of-wedlock births and fatherless families. Their solution: deny public aid to these unvalued families.

In Afghanistan, when Islamic fundamentalists seized Kabul in September, they yanked girls and women from schools and work and sent them home. Women who appeared in public without being covered from head to toe were beaten in the streets. The Taliban are cut from the same political cloth as the mujahideen, the U.S.-supported guerrillas who fought Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed government in the 1980s.

In Mexico, two-thirds of maquiladora workers are women. For a few dollars a day, they toil long hours in export sweatshops owned by multinational corporations like Sony. Miscarriages and injuries are common because environmental and job safety laws are nonexistent — and will remain so, thanks to NAFTA.

In the Philippines, meanwhile, women themselves are the largest export, often as sexual commodities. They are sent all over the world as “entertainers,” “domestic help,” and mail-order brides. The 300,000 women traded annually bring in $2 billion, helping the country pay interest on a $38 billion international debt racked up by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

More and more, it’s acknowledged that workers everywhere face a profound drive to slash living standards and destroy social gains. But this war against workers is first and inevitably a war against women, and this fact goes largely unrecognized: it is still, for the most part, capitalism’s dirty secret.

The female underclass. The profit system is hopelessly addicted to women’s underpaid labor on the job and unpaid labor at home. In the U.S., the average employed woman earns 74 cents to a man’s dollar, and then returns home to put in an additional shift for free.

For many women, the situation is even more grim, often desperate.

Seventy percent of the world’s poor are female. And when women are destitute, children are destitute. Among industrialized nations, the richest has the highest percentage of needy children: 22 percent of U.S. children live in poverty. Coming in second is Australia, with 14 percent.

And as the global captains of industry strain to keep their profits aloft by laying workers off and dismantling social benefits, they cause all the more suffering for women and children.

Blamed for every problem. Like any war, the war on women needs a propaganda effort.

Women are bombarded with contradictory demands. Television and glossy magazines show “real” women bringing home the bacon, frying it up in the pan, and staying sexy through it all. When women fall short of this fantasy standard, they are blamed by the media, politicians of all varieties, religious tyrants, and the right wing.

Moreover, both the blame and its repercussions fall most heavily on the women most unable to meet the standard in the first place.

Women of color, for example, are the most expendable and abused group in the workforce, and therefore have the most reason to need welfare — even though they are not, in fact, the majority of recipients in the U.S. Nevertheless, they are portrayed as drug-using deadbeats who have “illegitimate” babies just to stay on the dole.

Lesbian women, meanwhile, are stigmatized as inherently unfit mothers, and they regularly lose custody of their children.

Across the planet, the forms of oppression differ — from anorexic beauty standards to genital mutilation and female infanticide — but the goal is the same: to maintain the second-class social and political status of women that their continued super-exploitation depends on.

The rising of the women. The Russian Revolution of 1917 aimed, among other things, to be the opening blow for the global liberation of women. However, the workers state was handicapped by its material and cultural backwardness and pummeled by imperialism, paving the way for the rise of Stalinism and the sellout of the revolution’s best hopes and most progressive initiatives.

Today that workers state is gone, and with it the advances women had retained, such as childcare, paid maternity leave, and access to the professions. Sixty percent of women are now unemployed.

But the war isn’t lost, either in the former Soviet Union or around the world. Capitalism has made women victims, true — the most oppressed of every oppressed group. But by this same act, it has also turned them into warriors — not just for gender equality, but for an end to every type of mistreatment and every instance of injustice. This is the secret that threatens the bosses the most.

Feminism and the demand for the radical transformation of society, from the ground up, go hand in hand. And this is why every newly installed reactionary regime begins its reign of terror by executing communists and veiling women, or in some other way making them invisible.

It is no accident that it was women textile workers who sparked the Russian Revolution — just as it is no accident that it is women who are in the forefront of the efforts to unionize the export mills of Latin America today.

As lifelong feminist and Marxist Gloria Martin said, “The slaves of the ages are in revolt.” And when women workers rise up, a new and infinitely better civilization can not be far behind.

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