Saturday, August 18, 2012


I thought I would share 'Capitalist-Patriarchy', another section from Maria Mies' excellent book Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women and the International Division of Labour (I transcribed an earlier segment on exploitation/oppression here). 

In the book, she lays out the argument outlined below: that capitalism is the latest manifestation of patriarchy, and to see them as separate systems is problematic.

"The reader will have observed that I am using the concept capitalist-patriarchy to denote the system which maintains women's exploitation and oppression.

There have been discussions in the feminist movement whether it is correct to call the system of male dominance under which women suffer today in most societies a patriarchal system. 'Patriarchy' literally means the rule of fathers. But today's male dominance goes beyond 'the rule of fathers', it includes the rule of husbands, of male bosses, of ruling men in most societal institutions, in politics and economics, in short, what has been called 'the men's league' or 'men's house'.

In spite of these reservations, I continue to use the term patriarchy. My reasons are the following: the concept 'patriarchy' was re-discovered by the new feminist movement as a struggle concept, because the movement needed a term by which the totality of oppressive and exploitative relations which affect women, could be expressed as well as their systemic character. Moreover, the term 'patriarchy' denotes the historical and societal dimension of women's exploitation and oppression, and is thus less open to biologistic interpretations, in contrast, for example, to the concept of 'male dominance'. Historically, patriarchal systems were developed at a particular time, by particular peoples in particular geographical regions. They are not universal, timeless systems which have always existed. (Sometimes feminists refer to the patriarchal system as one which existed since time immemorial, but this interpretation is not corroborated by historical, archeological and anthropological research.) The fact that patriarchy today is an almost universal system which has affected and transformed most pre-patriarchal societies has to be explained by the main mechanisms which are used to expand this system, namely robbery, warfare and conquest (see chapter 2).

I also prefer the term patriarchy to others because it enables us to link our present struggles to a past, and thus can also give us hope that there will be a future. If patriarchy had a specific beginning in history, it can also have an end.

Whereas the concept patriarchy denotes the historical depth of women's exploitation and oppression, the concept capitalism is expressive of the contemporary manifestation, or the latest development of this system. Women's problems today cannot be explained by merely referring to the old forms of patriarchal dominance. Nor can they be explained if one accepts the position that patriarchy is a 'pre-capitalist' system of social relations which has been destroyed and superseded, together with 'feudalism', by capitalist relations, because women's exploitation and oppression cannot be explained by the functioning of capitalism alone, at least not capitalism as it is commonly understood. It is my thesis that capitalism cannot function without patriarchy, that the goal of this system, namely the never-ending process of capital accumulation, cannot be achieved unless patriarchal man-woman relations are maintained or newly created...

... Patriarchy thus constitutes the most invisible underground of the visible capitalist system. As capitalism is necessarily patriarchal it would be misleading to talk of two separate systems, as some feminists do. I agree with Chhaya Datar, who has criticized this dualistic approach, that to talk of two systems leaves the problem of how they are related to each other unsolved. Moreover, the way some feminist authors try to locate women's oppression and exploitation in these two systems is just a replica of the old capitalist social division of labour: women's oppression in the private sphere of the family or in 'reproduction' is assigned to 'patriarchy', patriarchy being seen as part of the superstructure, and their exploitation as workers in the office and factory is assigned to capitalism. Such a two-system theory is not capable, in my view, to transcend the paradigm developed in the course of capitalist development with its specific social and sexual divisions of labour. In the foregoing, we have seen, however, that this transcendence is the specifically new and revolutionary thrust of the feminist movement. If feminism follows this path and does not lose sight of its main political goals—namely, to abolish women's exploitation and oppression—it will have to transcend or overcome capitalist-patriarchy as one intrinsically interconnected system. In other words, feminism has to struggle against capitalist-patriarchal relations, beginning with the man-woman relation, to the relation of human beings to nature, to the relation between metropoles and colonies. It cannot hope to reach its goal by only concentrating on one of these relations, because they are interrelated."   

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