• 19Mar

    Maria Mies         Patriarchy and the Accumulation on a World Scale

    This book provides a most important analysis of the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Maria Mies’ thesis is that patriarchy is at the core of capitalism, and in fact, capitalism would not have had its success in its accumulation of capital without patriarchal ideals and practices.

    She builds on Federici’s analysis of the witch hunts, which were instrumental in the early developments of capitalism and argues, convincingly and in-depth, that the exploitation and oppression of women allowed for its successful domination of the world.

    “The witch hunt which raged through Europe from the twelfth to the seventeenth century was one of the mechanisms to control and subordinate women, the peasant and the artisan, women who in their economic and sexual independence constituted a threat for the emerging bourgeois world order.” (p.81)

    I would like to focus here on the third chapter of her book, ‘Colonization and Housewifization’. Here we see how patriarchal capitalism’s power and domination flourished by colonialism. Capitalism’s mantra is continuous profit and expansion which is essential in the ongoing accumulation of capital. But this also requires new areas to exploit – thus the expansion into other countries – and the colonization of other lands, resources and people.

    According to Wikipedia:

    “Colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.”

    Thus western capitalism became a world imperial power, colonizing what we now call “third world countries”.

    “One could say that the first phase of the Primitive Accumulation was that of merchant and commercial capital ruthlessly plundering and exploiting the colonies’ human and natural wealth.” (p.89)

    The success of this domination was to dehumanize the people of these colonized nations – to paint them as the “other” – as savages, uncivilized and lesser beings – to justify their oppression.  ‘Black’ people were deemed inferior, wild and in need to be controlled and therefore open to exploitation.

    The colonies were: “…lying outside ‘civilized society’” (p.75).

    Mies also described how the colonization process was gendered – and based on patriarchal ideals.

    What is central to Mies’ thesis are the connections between the patriarchal capitalist exploitations of nature, of land and property, of women and of those deemed to be “foreigners” or “heathens”.

    Mies makes connections between issues which have previously been seen as separate entities –

    “…I shall rather trace the ‘underground connections by which nature was exploited and put under man’s domination to the processes by which women in Europe were subordinated, and examine the processes by which these two were linked to the conquest and colonization of other lands and people.” (p. 77)

    In Europe the results of the witch hunts and what is described by Mies as the “housewifization” of women was in the process of becoming entrenched within western capitalism. Women had been separated from the public sphere; their work deemed unproductive and of no value to the production system. Women had become dis-empowered and subjugated into the privacy of the home. By the 19th century we have the “ideal woman” depicted as the weak Victorian woman with no power or autonomy.

    In the colonies it was necessary for capitalists to create a sexual division of labour, both as a means to control reproduction and thus labour and also to position women in the non-labour sphere and thus develop a class of cheap labour. Where there was evidence of any form of equality between the sexes or women’s independence and autonomy, this was held to be primitive and backward by the colonizers. Thus a sexual division of labour was actively instituted.

    There were good economic reasons for this ideology and practice to be embodied in the colonization process. Mies cites Annie Stoler’s work which tells us that in the plantations in Sumatra:

    “At different economic and political junctures in plantation history, the planters contend that (1) permanent female workers were too costly to maintain because of time they took off for child-birth and menstruation, (2) women should and could not do ‘hard’ labour, and (3) women were better suited to casual work.” Stoler 1982. (p.96).

    Mies argues that:

    “…the introduction of the ‘weak woman’ was a clear ideological move which served the economic purpose of lowering women’s wages and creating a casual female labour force…” (p.96)

    Like the European witch-hunts, women’s reproductive capacity was controlled under colonial power. In the Caribbean, slave women were not allowed to marry nor have children as it was cheaper to import slaves from Africa than pay for the reproduction of slave labour. However, once this source of slave labour was depleted, slave women were encouraged to reproduce.

    In Burma, for example, as in Europe during the development of capitalism, local home industries, usually run by women, were destroyed by the importing of commodities. Thus reducing the capacity for women to have economic independence.

    Mies also explores the impact of German colonialism in Africa. Because it was German white males who were the colonizers, sexual relations between these men and African women were encouraged and condoned. However, it soon became apparent that this may in fact raise the status of African women allowing them to become German citizens if they were to marry and have mixed-race children. This was obviously a problem under a racist regime. In 1905, inter-racial marriages became legally prohibited. However, as Mies points out, this did not preclude inter-racial sexual relations and men were encouraged to use African women as concubines or prostitutes.

    “Here the double-standard is very clear: marriage and family were goods to be protected for the whites, the ‘Master Men’ (Dominant Men). African families could be disrupted, men and women could be forced into labour gangs, women could be made prostitutes.” (p.98)

    This was also true for the British colonizers. Racism rears its ugly head when…

    “…the African woman is degraded and made a prostitute for the English colonizers, then the theories of racial superiority of the white male and the beastliness of the African woman are propagated” (p.95).

    It is important to remember that this racism and misogyny was not just based on immoral ideology, but had a sound economic base. In order for European capitalist growth there was a need for the resources, land and labour power of colonial nations. As Mies points out:

    “Wealth for some, means poverty for others.”

    Mies talks of the dual processes in the perception of European women and “other women” – the civilized and domesticated as opposed to the savage and uncivilized colonial black woman. But she argues this served a purpose for the accumulation of capital.

    The exploitation of resources and labour in the colonies meant that luxury goods became more available to the bourgeois classes in Europe. Part of that process meant that capitalists needed to create the demand for such goods and the role of the housewife as consumer was essential to this process.

    And so, Mies explores  the development of the nuclear family in late 18th and 19th century – the social and sexual division of labour, and the establishment of private (family) and public (economic and political activity) spheres – and the creation of housework and the  housewife as an “agent of consumption” (p.106)

    Thus colonialism and imperialism has created an international and sexual division of labour, whereby land and resources are pillaged for the profit of western capitalism; where labour is created by slavery and exploitation based on a sexual division of labour which leaves women dependent and vulnerable to further oppression; and the oppressed position of women in Western countries as housewives and consumers.

    Mies ends her chapter on Colonization and Housewifization with this:

    “It is my thesis that these two processes of colonization and housewifization are closely and causally interlinked. Without the ongoing exploitation of external colonies – formerly as direct colonies, today within the new international division of labour – the establishment of the ‘internal colony’, that is, a nuclear family and a woman maintained by a male ‘breadwinner’, would not have been possible.” (p.110).

    Mies makes very clear the convergence of these two structures of domination – patriarchy and capitalism and is central to seeing patriarchy as systemic and structural. As Federici summarizes in her Foreword these connections have been truly verified:

     “(there is)… a direct causal connection between the global extension of capitalist relations and the escalation of violence against women, as the punishment against their resistance to the appropriation of their bodies and their labour.” (xi)

     

     

     

  • 07Mar

    There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera  were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.

    And each of them dealt with male violence against women.

    In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.

    We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity.  The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.

    “The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.”  Rowan Miller

    And when another young detective raises the possibility of the allegation being false, Ellie Miller deals her a severe verbal blow:

    “When you’ve finished your sexual offences training Kate you’ll understand we start from a position of believing the victim…” 

    Certainly a welcoming approach by this television police force, but how realistic is it? How often are women met with disbelief and ridicule when approaching the police in regard to sexual assault? How seriously are their allegations taken? And are they treated with such sensitivity and understanding? And well we know how difficult it is for the justice system to adequately address male violence against women with an abominable low percentage of rape convictions.

    In Call the Midwife, we see violence against women enacted in the prostitution industry. We meet a young woman who has left the industry and is now married and delivers a baby during the programme. But due to her past – having been abandoned, raised in an orphanage and been in the prostitution industry, she feels inadequate and unworthy of a ‘normal’ life.

    “I ain’t fit to raise that child” are her words.

    She leaves her home and returns to a friend who continues to be involved in prostitution. Her friend tells us what it is really like to be trapped in prostitution:

    “I do what I do to feed my kids. Do you think I would do this if I had a choice?”

    “I’d die before she goes on those streets. I take those men, those filthy sods and I save every shilling because my girl’s gonna have a better life”.

    A realistic picture of the degradation and humiliation of having men buy women’s bodies for sex and confirms those who would argue that prostitution should not be decriminalized.

    Vera (played by Brenda Blethyn)  one of my all-time favourite shows investigates the murder of a woman – strangled and left on the moors.  We eventually learn that the murderer is her son-in-law and the woman was helping her daughter escape her abusive husband, to a refuge. When Vera learns of the history of his violence to his wife and approaches the wife, she sensitively talks to her:

    “It’s normal to feel ashamed, to feel it’s all your fault”.

    Again an understanding of the shame and humiliation of victims of male violence.

    And when she is able to finally confront the abuser, she angrily challenges him:

    “You just have to know where she is, what she’s doing because you’re a controlling nut job who beats his wife.”

    Now there are a number of ways one can respond to these programmes. We can be pleased that the issue of male violence against women is getting such publicity. We can be gratified that such sensitivity is being shown to the women who are victimised – that they are being believed, and treated with respect and compassion.

    But we also need to ask the question – isn’t this what should be the norm? And we ask that question because we know it is not.

    t

    Green Left Weekly

    For at least 50 years, women having been raising their concerns about male violence against women- about sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and violence inherent in the prostitution industry. And still our justice systems’ responses are at the least inadequate, at the worst, compound and further traumatise women seeking help.

    I want to go off here on what might seem like a side-track. On March 8th  at 3.20pm child care workers in Australia are going on strike. So it is only for a few hours at the most. They are going on strike because of the deplorable wages that they receive.

    The United Voice union says some are being paid as little as $20 an hour, half the average national average.

    In January of this year the Australian FEDERAL Senator David Leyonhjelm summarised the role of childcare workers as merely “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other”.

    He made these comments in arguing that increased funding for child care workers was not necessary, and neither was there a need for their qualifications.

    I raise this issue in the context of the discussion about male violence against women because they are intrinsically linked.

    And of course they are linked because it is about patriarchal capitalism.

    Maria Mies makes a very good thesis in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale.

    In this excellent book she argues that patriarchy is at the very core of capitalism. That capitalism would not have been able to progress and “accumulate capital” if it were not for the exploitation and oppression of women.

    She follows on from Silvia Federici’s work – Caliban and the Witch

    “It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”

    Mies describes how the dividing if the economy into visible and non-visible sectors are the main structural characteristic of capitalist accumulation. That women’s unpaid work in ‘private’ sphere is essential for capitalist accumulation. Thus patriarchal capitalism benefits from creating the sexual division of labour and also the control of women’s reproduction.

    “The nuclear family, organised and protected by the state, is the social factory where the commodity ‘labour power’ is produced. Hence the housewife and her labour are not outside the process of surplus value production, but constitute the very foundation upon which this process can get started. The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation.” (p.31).

    Capitalism created the ideology and practice– what Mies labels as ‘housewifisation’  -where women’s roles are restricted to that of housewives and mothers – and sometimes as a supplementary income stream  in unqualified, low paid and insecure jobs. Hence our current politicians minimizing women’s child care work and the continued lower wages for women.

    Thus the positioning of women as outside the capital means of production has allowed for the accumulation of capital and thus success in this accumulation.

    Mies extends this thesis to other forms of invisible/non-waged work – slavery, colonialism, subsistence peasants, marginalised people. So that not only is there a sexual division of labour but also an international division of labour.

    “The subordination and exploitation of women, nature and colonies are the pre-condition for the continuation of this model.”

    When we examine the current levels of male violence against women, it is important to remember the witch hunts and acknowledge that today’s male violence is part of an historical continuum of violence against women.

    “Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170) Federici

    Our attempts to raise awareness, to educate, to advocate for changes to all of our systems’ responses to male violence against women are important. It is a vital survival mechanism. We have some successes.

    But like Mies I doubt that these strategies will eliminate male violence against women and children. The idea that social role stereotyping and socialisation are at the core of women’s oppression fails to identify the “structural roots” of the problem.

    It is vital that the women’s liberation movement develops a “historical sense of our common past.”(Federici); that we develop a radical, robust theoretical feminist analysis in order to challenge patriarchal capitalism and create a sustainable alternative.

    “What is needed is a new historical and theoretical analysis of the interrelation between women’s exploitation and oppression, and that of other categories of people and of nature.” (Mies p.13).

     

     

     

  • 03Aug

    denise thompson

    I have just had the pleasure of reading Denise Thompson’s book. It is my part of my personal on-going exploration of feminist theory and thought.

    Although I have worked for many years as a feminist activist, particularly in the field of male violence against women and children, and have thus read and discussed feminism, I hold some trepidation in writing this blog.

    I claim no expertise in feminist theory – but am in the process of learning and developing my knowledge and want to share my journey with you. I can only hope that I can do justice to Denise Thompson’s book which I highly recommend.

    This blog is not going to cover all the range of issues that are discussed in the book. Rather I will attempt to focus on her understanding of radical feminism.

    What is feminism?

    One of the initial statements that Denise Thompson makes is that the question is not ‘Who is a feminist?’ but ‘What is feminism?’ She goes on to define feminism as the logic of feminist theory and practice. It is a theory which at its core is the recognition and acknowledgement of male domination, where the male represents the ‘human’ norm at the expense of a human status for women.

    “It is the opposition to male domination which makes feminism relevant to women wherever they are situated, however differently they are excluded from recognition as human…and for deciding the extent of our limitations and constraint” (p.69)

    Feminism is therefore not an identity; not a lifestyle choice. Neither is it a pronouncement or dictatorial or a dogma teaching us how to live one’s life. However, we are responsible for how we behave within our oppressive conditions. Therefore feminism does not “…lay down rules, regulations, prohibitions and prescriptions for individuals to follow.” (p.50)

    “To define feminism as an identity as a ‘feminist’ is to remain caught up in the ideology of individualism” (p.71)

    The Personal is Political

    Denise Thompson accepts the concept that the ‘personal is political’ in that it acknowledges and challenges the dichotomy of the ideological construction of public/private distinction. But she also argues that personal experience must be informed by an understanding and acknowledgement of the social order of male domination and its impact on this experience.

    “There is no sphere of personal life which escapes relations of domination” (p.25).

    We must acknowledge the social conditions within which experience is already embedded.

    Feminist Theory and Practice

    Feminist theory and practice is consistently evolving as research, discussion and debate continue.

    “Theory is vital if feminism is to clarify where it has come from, its meanings, its values and aims if it is not to become bogged down in dogma, infighting, irrelevance and eventual silence”. (p.33)

    We do not want equality

    Thompson also argues that it is not equality that we want. We do not want to enter that male world, where hierarchies of power exist. That does not free us from male domination.

    “None of the feminist standpoint theorists, unequivocally identifies agreement with male supremacy as the link which ‘transforms ‘women’s experience’ into feminist politics.” (p.17)

    We have a long history

    Thompson also critiques the idea of waves of feminism. She argues that this is due to the loss of women’s history. Women’s struggles against male domination have rarely been documented.

    “Feminism, in the sense of women defending their own interests in the face of male supremacy, is of much longer duration than the last three decades, and hence to call this latest manifestation ‘second wave’ does an injustice to the long history of women’s struggles on their own behalf.” (p.2)

    Race and Class

    She also discusses, in depth, issues of race and class, and how feminism is central to “politics and race and class”. If it is not central, women will be excluded.

    “As long as feminism is conceived as commitment to human decency and dignity for all, it is already a commitment to opposing race and class oppression.” (p.93)

    Thompson continually returns to the concept that male domination is central to feminist politics. She also acknowledges that “…women experience male domination differently depending on where they are situated in relation to race, class or any other social location.” (p.93)

    ‘Radical Feminism Today’ was first published in 2001, but many of the issues that Thompson addresses are still very relevant today. I have covered only a brief snapshot of the range of issues that are discussed in ‘Radical Feminism Today’. They are the ones that have caught my immediate attention and I believe are still worthy of feminist attention. I strongly recommend it.