Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Exploitation or Oppression/Subordination?

I thought I would share 'Exploitation or Oppression/Subordination?', a section from Maria Mies' excellent book Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women and the International Division of Labour, because it was really interesting and makes clear the common (and uncommon) usages of the terms by feminists and class struggle folks. 

"In the feminist discourse words are used to denoate and explain the problem women are suffering from in our societies. The terms 'subordination' and 'oppression' are widely used to specify women's position in a hierarchically structured system and the methods of keeping them down. These concepts are used by women who would call themselves radical feminists as well as by those who come from a Marxist background or call themselves Marxist or socialist feminists. The latter usually do not talk of exploitation when discussing the problems of women because exploitation to them is a concept reserved for economic exploitation of the wage-worker under capitalism. As women's grievances go beyond those of wage-workers and part of the 'private' man-woman relation, which is not seen as an exploitative one, but an oppressive one, the term exploitation is avoided.

In the following discussion I shall, however, use the term expoitation to identify the root cause of the oppressive man-woman relationship. The reasons for this usage are the following:

When Marx specifies the particular capitalist form of exploitation which, according to him, consists in the appropriation of surplus labour by the capitalists, he uses this general term in a specific narrow sense. But 'exploitation'... has a much wider connotation. In the last analysis it means that someone gains something by robbing someone else or is living at the expense of someone else. It is bound up with the emergence of men's dominance over women and the dominance of one class over others, or one people over others.

If we do not talk of exploitation when we talk of the man-woman relationship, our talk about oppression, or subordination hangs somewhere in the air, for why should men be oppressive towards women if they had nothing to gain from it? Oppression or subordination, without reference to exploitation, becomes then a purely cultural or ideological matter, the basis of which cannot be made out, unless one has recourse to the notion of some inborn aggressive or sadistic tendencies in men. But exploitation is a historical - and not a biological or psychological - category which lies at the basis of the man-woman relation. It was historically created by patriarchal tribes and societies. Thus, with Mariarosa Della Costa I speak of exploitation of women in the triple sense: they are exploited (not only economically, but as human beings) by men and they are exploited as housewives by capital. If they are wage-workers they are also exploited as wage-workers. But even this exploitation is determined and aggrevated by the other two forms of exploitation."

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