I attended the march supporting women’s rights on January 21. Frankly I was one of many who were surprised by the size of the demonstration. In fact, this demonstration, when we look at the international total number of people who participated, may have been the largest in the history of the world.
In Philadelphia, the central organizer of the demonstration was Emily Cooper Morse, who is a logistics coordinator for a chemical company and a mother of three children. She gave the following reason for why she was motivated to organize the march.
“As a survivor of sexual assault,” she said, she found herself unable to dismiss his (President Trump’s) remarks about women as simply “locker-room talk.”
When she learned that there would be a woman’s march in Washington she posted the idea of a Philadelphia march on Facebook. The Philadelphia Inquirer estimated that about 50,000 people participated in the women’s march in Philadelphia.
Clearly many of the demonstrators had signs in opposition to President Trump. However, when we think of the words of Emily Cooper Moss, the mass appeal of this demonstration went beyond opposition to the President.
Women, in this country and around the world face discrimination, violence, poverty, indifference, as well as outright hostility to their interests. Women are also our mothers, and the workers who provide essential services.
After work, women oftentimes need to do the household chores as well as raise their children. Some women work two or three jobs, and then need to use public transportation to buy groceries. My opinion is that the massive numbers of people at this demonstration reflected a sense that women and men are willing to struggle to prevent our standard of living from continuing to decline.
So, the question is: How do we fight to make this a world where women feel that they are truly liberated? Is this indeed possible?
In order to answer these questions, I believe we need to look at a bit of history that hasn’t been included in the educational system in this country.
200,000 years of human history
Most high school history courses begin with the revolution that created this country around the year 1776. The facts are that the human race is about 200,000 years old. The history of feudal societies where royal families ruled is about 6,000 years old. The modern capitalist history that we are somewhat familiar with started in the 1800s.
So, for most of human history the people of the world lived in what we would call communal societies. This was absolutely necessary because the contributions of every individual was required for humanity to survive.
The book Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family by Evelyn Reed gives a comprehensive analysis of how and why the status of women changed in history.
For most human history our ancestors simply did not know that sexual relations led to the birth of a child. Sex was seen as natural and the birth of children was seen as gifts from the Gods.
Under these circumstances, the only relatives people had came from the mother. People routinely lived with their matriarchal clan. The mother’s brother was the man who raised her children. Initially, biological fathers were not a part of the mother’s clan and were seen as unfit to raise their children.
Father’s eventually asked for permission from the mother-in-law to live in the home of her clan. In order to do this, fathers needed to prove themselves to the mother-in-law. Then, fathers needed to prove themselves in order to have permission to participate in the raising of their children. In those days, raising children was the traditional job of the uncle, the mother, as well as the matriarchal clan.
During this long history, men usually were the hunters and women performed most of the other tasks. This meant that women went into the forests and collected wood for fuel and construction. They also collected plants used for food and medical care. They carried water along with their children. Women were also the ones who tilled the soil and became the first farmers. In order to perform these tasks women needed to be physically strong.
When we understand this division of labor, we can see how women were the first construction workers, the first ship builders, the first doctors, the first scientists, and the first historians. Because these societies were so dependent of the labor of women, their work was greatly appreciated.
We might contrast this environment to the world we live in today. Most women are workers and receive paychecks for their labor. Employers hire workers because they feel they can profit from human labor. So, workers only receive a small part of the wealth we produce every day. This environment is the source of the alienating atmosphere that we see in every capitalist society.
In the communal world of our past, the scientific advancements we see today did not exist. However, at that time everyone knew that all the work done in that environment would benefit the entire community. Clearly there were immense problems at that time, but alienation towards work was not one of those problems.
Women had real power in these so-called primitive societies. Lewis Henry Morgan lived with the native people of what is now New York State. He wrote his book League of the Ha-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois about his experiences during that time.
Morgan observed that the women were organized in groups of the clan mothers. Leaders of the Iroquois could only get their position with the approval of these clan mothers. If these women felt a leader was unfit for his position, they had the power to remove him from leadership.
Frederick Engels, who was an author of the Communist Manifesto, read Morgan’s books and wrote a pamphlet titled: The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Engels argued that the family, as we know it, only came into existence with the beginnings of capitalism. In fact the word family comes from the Latin language developed in the Roman Empire. The Latin word for family literally meant family of slaves. There was another Latin word associated with the families of people who were not slaves.
So, when we look at the many problems that face women today, we can say that the discrimination against women was a relatively recent phenomenon. Initially the herding of cattle by men changed the relations of men and women. However, Cleopatra was the ruler of ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian rulers traditionally ruled with their brothers or sisters while parenting children with others. In the Greek and Roman Empires women never were the rulers.
Capitalism and the origin of the family
During the feudal epoch problems developed that could not be resolved within that system. An emerging class emerged consisting of small business people, doctors, lawyers, money-lenders, and journalists. This class began to understand that it’s interests were completely different from the interests of the royal families.
The Declaration of Independence is a list of grievances the settlers of the thirteen colonies had against the British royalty. The revolution of the thirteen colonies signaled an advance from the past, but also a horror story for the future.
Because of the revolution, people for the first time felt that they had rights that needed to be respected by the government. Before the revolution, the gentry class was the ruling power and that class received it’s power based on their birth. Anyone not a part of the gentry class was a second-class citizen, even when these citizens had significant amounts of wealth.
The revolution had its benefits for women and several women, like Mercy Warren gravitated to it. However, after the revolution women could not vote or even own property. Education, for the most part, was restricted to men.
Several states abolished slavery after the revolution. However, the crops tilled by slaves became the most lucrative source of wealth after the revolution. The conditions experienced by slave women were unimaginably horrendous.
Initially women struggled to merely receive an education in this country. Myrtilla Miner undertook the especially difficult task of attempting to educate Black children in Mississippi. This was not possible before the Civil War because teaching slaves to read was against the law.
So, Miner went to Washington D.C. where she received significant funding to open a school for Black children. We might consider that at this time freed Black people were being kidnapped in Washington to be sent to slave labor camps. A common sight at that time in Washington was seeing slaves chained to each other in coffles. The women and men chained to each other in these coffles were forced to march long distances to the slave labor camps.
Under these conditions, those who opposed education for Back people burned down Miner’s school in 1859. A few years later millions of soldiers were mobilized in the union army. That army burned down many of the buildings in the slave states, and might have burned down every building in South Carolina. The reason for this enormous destruction was to teach the army that supported slavery that they had no chance of victory. These were the events that caused the government to adopt the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery.
After the Civil War, the government passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment allowed all males in this country, including freed slaves to vote. After the defeat of radical reconstruction around the year 1877, the right to vote for Black people was compromised.
Then, a movement erupted demanding that women have the right to vote. This movement was depicted in the film Iron Jawed Angels. The film portrayed the life of Alice Paul, who was played by Hillary Swank. Alice Paul led a march in front of the White House demanding the right to vote for women during the First World War. The protesters held up signs ridiculing President Woodrow Wilson’s argument that this was a war for democracy. How could Wilson fight a war for democracy when women didn’t have the right to vote?
The police arrested these demonstrators and they were held in prison. These women protested their incarceration by going on a hunger strike. The authorities responded by inserting a tube into the throat of Alice Paul in order to force-feed her three times per day. Then, in 1920 the government passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote.
Black and Native American women didn’t regain the right to vote until the government passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This law was a direct concession to the civil rights movement that made an uncompromising struggle to eliminate Jim Crow segregation from this country.
How can women achieve genuine liberation?
Understanding this history, I might repeat the question: How can women achieve genuine liberation? I might also add another question: What would a genuine liberation mean?
First, my opinion is that women will not achieve liberation within the capitalist system. Since capitalism is about maximizing profits, the system works to consistently drive down the standard of living. The movement against the right to abortion is also about denying women the right to decide if and when they are to become mothers.
Therefore, in my opinion, politicians, managers, professionals, as well as corporate officers who support the capitalist system are incapable of becoming genuine leaders. Working people have an interest in seeing our living standard improve. Capitalists are obsessed with maximizing profits. People become leaders because their example inspires trust and confidence. How can someone inspire trust when they are obsessed with driving down our standard of living?
I will cite four women who became genuine leaders of working people. These women became leaders in spite of the sexist attitudes of men during the times when they lived.
Mother Jones was born in Cork, Ireland and became a leader of the Mine Workers Union. She traveled across the country organizing miners in life or death struggles against the mine bosses. In 1903 Mother Jones also organized a 125 mile march of child laborers from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home in Long Island. This march protested the routine child labor of those times.
Ida Wells dedicated her life to doing away with the horrendous acts of lynching in this country. Her writings were clear and convincing arguments that lynchings were always acts of coldblooded murder and never had any justification. She was also an activist who gave consistent support to both Black rights and women’s suffrage.
Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland and became a leader of the German Spartacus League. She was a Marxist and understood that the only way for workers to become liberated was to establish their own government. Unlike others who claimed to be Marxists, Luxemburg opposed German participation in the First World War. She was murdered after her arrest, while in German custody. Had she survived, the history of Germany might have been completely different.
Celia Sanchez was a leader of the Cuban Revolution. Initially she was a medical assistant to her father who cared for indigent families in Cuba’s eastern countryside. She then gave her all in support of the Revolution. After the victory of the revolution, Sanchez worked tirelessly to improve the living standards of the least affluent Cubans. She also helped to organize Cuba’s defense during the United States invasion at what is known as the Bay of Pigs.
These women demonstrated how women can become genuine leaders. But we can now come back to the question of: What would genuine liberation for women mean?
To answer this we can look at a few facts that are never mentioned in the press. First, we can start with the goods and services we all need and want. These include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, as well as exposure to culture (music, art, dancing, sports, recreation, literature, theater, as well as films).
We can also state that the enterprises of banking, insurance, advertising, and the military never directly participate in providing the goods and services we need and want. However, when we look at most cities around the world, we see skyscrapers that house these enterprises.
When we fully understand this reality, we can also see how a workers government would be able to greatly reduce the hours people work, while vastly improving our standard of living. In fact this government would be able to make all those goods and services we want and need to be lifetime rights for everyone. A workers government would also aid nations throughout the world where workers routinely receive salaries of two dollars per day and rarely have access to education or health care.
Just imagine a world where women would have the right, not only to health care, but also child care. Just imagine a world where women would have free time to pursue their interests, or to simply relax and chill.
In order to achieve this, my opinion is that we all need to see ourselves as workers of the world, where an injury to one is an injury to all. Working women have more in common with immigrants or workers in other countries than they will ever have in common with the one percent who own large sections of the world.
Humanity doesn’t have a chance at real liberation without the participation and leadership of women. Pursuing this course will not be easy, but we have literally everything to gain. Looking at our history gives us a sense that a profoundly better world is indeed possible.