Women and Private Property
Last February, Lucha held an educational on sexism with guest speaker Monica Somocurcio. The discussion-based event addressed attendees’ opinions on gender inequality and women’s oppression and emphasized the historical basis for the sexism rampant in society today.
The educational sought to dispel oversimplified understandings of the subjugation of women. Music videos that portray women as sexual objects, the common use of demeaning language to refer to females, and other cultural practices are usually given as the root of the inequality between the genders. If only the rappers would change their diction, if only video games would do away with scantily clad females, pundits claim, the road to equality would be free of obstacles. However, these manifestations are not the cause of sexism, but the effects of a much more complicated relationship between society and the family.
Somocurcio explored this relationship through her discussion of the rise of the father’s rights over the mother’s rights. When hunter-gatherer societies become more “civilized,” producing surpluses and allowing for a greater division of labor, the role of women shifts drastically from a productive decision-making partner to an inferior, a piece of reproductive property owned by the patriarch. After asking students why they believed this was, Somocurcio argued that with the advent of private property, women are relegated to the household to make sure that they produce offspring that can continue the wealth and line of the family. If women are allowed to stray from home, bloodline becomes more dubious, and the system inheritance untenable.
The ramifications of private property on the family and treatment of females is further examined by Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Engels uses Morgan’s stages of savagery, barbarity, and civilization, which correlate to group marriage, paired marriage, and monogamy, to signify the changes in partnerships between men and women. Of course, the evolution of human interactions can hardly be explained so easily, but Engels uses these distinctions to show how gender inequality is not an inherent problem of mankind, but in fact lies within the creation of the family as the “economic unit of society.” In the “savage” stage, “group marriage” is actually “a loose form of monogamous marriage, here and there polygamy, and occasional infidelities.” Women and men are allowed to explore sexually, with little or no repercussions. The “pairing marriage” stage in “barbarity” comes with more restrictions to the couple, but the biggest difference is the communal responsibilities. Women play a role in hunting, mediating, innovation and almost all aspects of life. In fact, it is only with the rise of monogamy that women become dependent on men for their livelihood.
Women are treated unequally not because of biological differences, nor due to men’s supposed aggressive need to dominate, nor because of the setbacks that pregnancy can cause. Instead, Engels proposes that in a private property society where men do most of the work that is socially recognized as productive, the increased importance of wealth makes “the man’s position in the family more important than the woman’s...and create[s] an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favor of his children, the traditional order of inheritance.”
It is important, however, to note that whenever a theory offers the complete answer to complicated issues, there is usually missing information somewhere. Engels three stage model is mechanistic and simplistic in its own way. However, by emphasizing the importance of history and the interconnections among property systems, gender roles, and family structure, Engels helps us ask important questions about the origins of women’s oppression and the possibilities of a feminist liberation. Lucha holds educationals to inform the attendees of current states of affairs and radical perspectives on social problems, and encourages self-reflection and critical debate on these complicated issues. In this case, the educational left all questioning the state of women’s “world historical defeat.”