Written by Marie Frederiksen Tuesday, 08 March 2011

With thanks: International Marxist Website

“I really believe the revolution has changed us. People are acting differently towards each other.” These are the words of Ms Kamel, 50, one of the many women who were out on Tahrir Square, actively participating in the revolution.

Cairo, February 4. Photo: 3arabawy

Arab women have once again shown that women play a decisive role in revolutionary events. In Egypt women have been participating actively in the revolution, in the same way that they played an active role in the strike movement in the few last years, in several cases pressurizing the men to join the strikes.

In earlier protests in Egypt, women only accounted for about 10 per cent of the protesters, but on Tahrir Sqaure they accounted for about 40 to 50 per cent in the days leading up to the fall of Mubarak. Women, with and without veils, participated in the defence of the square, set up barricades, led debates, shouted slogans and, together with the men, risked their lives.

Another view on women

Probably the most important motive force so far has been ordinary people’s striving for respect and dignity (something that was also clear in the Russian revolution and in France in May 1968). The dictatorial regimes, the police and the bosses don’t treat people as human beings, but as animals. That goes for all workers and poor, but especially for women.

Women’s perception of themselves has been changed through the struggle. “We have suffered the taste of teargas, but we are not afraid. The women who are afraid to leave the house, even they see us and gain courage,” explained English teacher Riham Muntaz, 25, to the newspaper The National on February 14. (Women make their power felt in Egypt’s revolution 14.02.11)

The idea that men and women should be different was removed during the revolution. Mozn Hassan, the director of the Nasra Feminist Studies Centre in Cairo said, “No one sees you as a woman here; no one sees you as a man. We are all united in our desire for democracy and freedom.” She explains that it was the freedom women experienced at Tahrir Sqaure that made them return again and again bringing along their friends, sisters and mothers.

The revolution also changed the relation between the sexes. “(…) In the square, you had people from different classes, both men and women, mixing, talking and debating. They [men] were seeing that women are strong, that they can look after themselves. They were seeing women work hard for the revolution, leading protests, and their response [not groping] is their way of saying, ‘I respect you’,” explained Ms. Hassan. Sexual harassment has been a large problem in Egypt. More than four out of five women have been sexually assaulted at some time, and the police has used this also to intimidate women, but it has been completely absent in the struggle against the Mubarak regime.

Women’s liberation through class struggle

Arab women are now showing the way forward. The right-wing bourgeois parties have used the oppression of women in many societies where Islam is the main religion to campaign against the so-called “Muslim world” and legitimize the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately in this they have had help from intellectuals and so-called left-wingers that have been complaining about the “Muslim view on women”. Other left-wingers has swung to the opposite side and even made concessions to religious forces in the Arab world. The Arab revolution shows that as Marxists we were absolutely correct when we insisted that the struggle for women’s rights is part of the class struggle and that these two are inseparable.

The Arab masses have shown that the class divide is the only decisive division. In the united struggle of the masses neither religion, gender or race play any role, and prejudices are overcome in practice. Marx explained, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. When the material conditions are no longer tolerable for the great majority and the masses are forced to fight for better conditions, through this struggle their consciousness and ideas are changed dramatically.

Freedom to what?

The Egyptian women who have come out massively onto the streets did not do so in the name of some abstract women’s liberation. They took the streets in order to create a better life for themselves and their families.

English teacher Ms. Muntaz explains how she struggles to make ends meet. “I get paid 400 [Egyptian] pounds a month… I have no health insurance, if I need an operation I have to pay for it myself. I have no contract, no job security. We want a better life for us and for our children. We deserve a better life.”

The struggle of the Arab masses has just started. The Arab women have shown enormous courage and have shown that the struggle for women’s liberation only can be carried out as part of the struggle for a general liberation of the whole of the working people. They will realize that genuine women’s liberation does not flow from formal freedom and formal democracy, but that it requires a real social revolution.

Context of the Article: Portrayal of Women in Pakistani Media: Another Jab at Pakistani Liberal Thought by Freethinker

Shaheryar Ali

“The sex Industry sells clothes and the fashion Industry sells prostitution and pornography”

Beauty and Misogyny, Sheila Jeffreys

After reading a wonderful post by a friend and fellow blogger I am forced to write on the issues of Objectification of women, the developed of a hegemonizing and selectively politicized discourse on “emancipation of women” and its highly inaccurate linkage with commercial fashion Industry which has nothing to do with “women lib”. The only relationship it had with political and social movements of women liberation had been extremely hostile one. One often encounter’s mediocrity in disguise of advance intellect but the way “intellectually challenged” have been hegemonizing Pakistani intellectual scene is a real tragedy. This painful awareness disturbed me a lot after reading a lot of responses to Freethinker’s excellent post which objected to objectification of women by Fashion Industry and Corporate media in Pakistan and their ideological mimickers masquerading as anti-commercial “alternative media”. While freethinker was objecting to the “representational discourse and imagery”, trying to demonstrate the fakeness of hypereality [Jean Baudrillard] , one which has nothing to do with “reality” but rather is nothing but an image created, circulated , authenticated, idolized and incorporated into perceptual consciousness of humans by capitalist mass media , fashion industry and other such hegemonizing entities , the intellectually challenged media monkeys perceived it as an attack on personal choices , on liberalism and cultural pluralism etc etc. ”]Thesis[war of Pakistani Identity]The general ignorance which plagues English speaking Pakistani elite and its allied intellectual class is ironic in this sense, that their dogmatism is similar to those who it usually attack ie primitive Taliban. They are ignorant about the advance theoretical positions and philosophies which have emerged as “emancipatory critiques” of established knowledge ie Western Rationalism, Marxism/Stalinism, Logic and Analysis. Freethinker’s critique was not on the dress choice of a famous Pakistani model but rather on it being the “representative” of women. This was an attack on “Simulation”. The ground breaking critique on Mass Media and Visual Arts by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard revolves around three key concepts

1) Simulation

2) Simulacrum

3) Hyperreality.

In his philosophical cosmos a simulation is a process in which representation of things replace the “things being represented”. This is a very problematic notion because it causes “de-humanization”; the main concern of intellectuals like freethinkers. With the tremendous power that Visual media holds in late capitalism, this process of the representation becomes more important than the “real-thing”. Signs are thought of as representing reality, Signs than mask the reality, Signs than mask the “absence of reality”. With this we enter a simulacrum, a state where Signs have no relation with Reality what so ever. With Global mass media invasion, copies of copies are created and bombarded on Human Retina. No longer has the simulation reflected an original but simulation is reflecting a simulation. With the mass media and fashion Industry’s portrayals of women as beauty and sex objects, freethinker was calling for appearance of “real woman”. One which works in a cotton field goes to college, dances on a shrine, a typical lahori house wife wandering in bazaar, slightly over weight not much self conscious. The real woman which we never see on mass media or Fashion Empire which portrays a certain image of women based on male chauvinism.

”]Anti-thesis [War on women bodies]The second aspect of Freethinker’s critique was “problematization” of practice of “politicizing women’s bodies”. The ignorance about more advanced techniques of critical pedagogical dialogues led to further “misrepresentation” of Freethinker’s critique as favoring one side of the war being played on women bodies. To contextulize it let me give you an example. When General Musharaff sided with United States in War on Terror, state adopted a policy of “Enlightened Moderation”. Women’s bodies became the arena of war on terror. General Musharraff’s state sponsored the fashion industry of Pakistan and also the mass media which mushroomed in Pakistan. The commercial interests of media empires, fashion and cosmetic industries led to “objectification of women” on mass and visual media. The Ramp-show models were being represented in London and Paris as “other face” of Pakistan. [Just as the offending post against which Freethinker protested]. These simulations were being politicized as representative of a “secular progressive Jinnah’s Pakistan”. The result of this politicization of women bodies resulted in a barbaric attack on Women’s bodies from the Right Wing. “Burqa” emerged as a “resisting symbol” of Musharraff’s enlightened moderation. Whilst Mush’s were simulations existing only on media, Taliban threaded the “real women” on streets, with Acid. The ultimate anti-thesis of this politicization of simulations was Burqa clad suicidal militants of Red Mosque.

The war which was hyperreal [where reality is replaced by simulacrum] resulted in worse crimes against real women who never were being represented. Why hyperreality is dangerous, the whole violent debate in Musharraff era revolved around “obscenity of fashion shows”, “western cultural invasion” in name of “emancipation of women”. All NGO’s and modernists kept debating this useless notion , war against “co-marathon” in Lahore . All this was in name of “women rights”. Despite the marathons, and establishment of a vibrant fashion industry the “plight of real woman” is same. No serious debate took place on domestic and sexual slavery of women in Pakistan, All anti women laws remain, no debate on reproductive and abortion right, this despite the war in name of “women rights”. This is hyperreality. 8 years nation was polarized on women emancipation, liberalism, secularism and nothing has changed on ground. Because every thing was fictitious a simulacrum of mass media. The real women is paying the price now her safety is under threat.

Iqbal Hussein's paiting

Iqbal Hussein's paiting

The politicization of women bodies is one of the most important causes of mass crimes against women. Dr Robina Saigol has done an excellent study on how Pakistani Nation State politicizes women’s bodies and its consequences. Its is called Militarization, Nation and Gender : Women’s bodies as Arenas of Violent conflicts. Just as a critique on media portrayals of women was considered an attack on Pakistan Patriotism, a patriotism which revolves around either converting women into a “Barbie doll” of a “burqa clad sub human”. The inherent insecurity of Pakistani nationalists lead them to slogan mongering like Long Live Barbie Doll without realizing the amount of exploitation which goes on in such Industries.

Why we are so concerned about how women are portrayed on media for commercial interests, because overwhelming evidence exists on the harmful effects it causes on “real women”.

“Extensive research has demonstrated the negative results of female beautifulobjectification in the media. Depression, appearance anxiety, body shame, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders are only a few among the growing list of repercussions (Fredrickson & Noll, 1997). In addition to the objectification of women, the media commits another assault on the dignity of women. This assault is the dismemberment of women, and it has not received the attention it deserves (Kilbourne, 2002). Kilbourne (2002) pointed out that advertising is a 100 billion dollar a year industry. Each day we are exposed to more than 2000 ads. Advertising can be one of the most powerful sources of education in our society. Many women feel pressured to conform to the beauty standards of our culture and are willing to go to great lengths to manipulate and change their faces and bodies. Kilbourne suggests that women are conditioned to view their faces as masks and their bodies as objects. Through the mass media, women discover that their bodies and faces are in need of alteration, augmentation, and disguise. In addition, women are taught to internalize an observer’s perspective of their own bodies. This phenomenon is called objectification (Fredrickson & Noll, 1997). Advertisements are loaded with objectified women, and only recently have the effects of objectification been explored. However, the effects of the dismemberment of women in advertising have been neglected. Dismemberment advertisements highlight one part of a woman’s body while ignoring all the other parts of her body. Dismemberment ads portray women with missing appendages or substitute appendages. Of course the ads are only symbolic of dismemberment, but the symbolic imagery creates nearly the same effect.” The Objectification and Dismemberment of Women in Media , Kacey D Greening.

47503ca290403_1130b1use1What was truly condemnable that the images which were posted in retaliation of Freethinker’s criticism included what have been called “dismemberment of women”. The images highlight one part of women’s body neglect others, like in this case face and breasts. One should note that one never comes across image of male model showing just his crotch! With these images bombarding the mass media, it alters the reality and consciousness. This results in viewing women just as pleasure objects and toys; this is the first step in converting women into prostitute. Pleasure and sex which can be bought apart from woman’s soul: conditioning men into thinking of women as objects and pressurizing women to “conform” to sex-beauty protocols this de-humanizing continues. It is not about what dress some one is wearing, its hyperreality and politicization of women’s bodies which we are objecting. I am concluding this article by giving position of a radical feminist to add another perspective to the issue

“Yet fashion is still misogynist. It commodifies women, encourages them to believe that they must endure pain in order to be sexually appealing. Designers advertise clothes by picturing them on clear-skinned, breastless cadavers, in so-called “women’s magazines”; these magazines run articles that discuss how fashion can help you — an averagely fat, slightly be-zitted woman — come close to this standard of beauty. Fashion invites every woman to make the old trade of sex for money and happiness.”

Anti-Fashion: Patriarchy necessitates prostitution necessitates fashion, Chase Olivarius McAllister

“There can be no socialism without the emancipation of women, and there can no emancipation of women while the economic slavery of capitalism persists.”


For more Pakistani context of Women day and the struggle please read my old article on Fehmida Riaz and discourse of exclusion

With thanks: International Marxist Website

[SA]

On International Working Women’s Day – Fight Back Against Women’s Oppression.

By Julian Benson

We are living in a period that can be defined as one of the most turbulent in history. The economic crisis, through its sheer scale and reach, is bringing about a wholesale change in the consciousness of working people the world over. The contradictions and weaknesses of this system are becoming plainly evident as capitalism buckles under its own weight. As always, it is the poor, the oppressed, and the workers who must shoulder this weight in order to hold up the privileges of the rich. There is no portion of the working class that has so greatly and extensively borne this affliction than working women.

The International Working Womenäs Day is the day we pay homage to the tremendous contributions that female workers have made in the fight for a just society. Here women demonstrating against immigration laws in France. Photo by looking4poetry on Flickr.
The International Working Women’s Day is the day we pay homage to the tremendous contributions that female workers have made in the fight for a just society. Here women demonstrating against immigration laws in France. Photo by looking4poetry on Flickr.

March 8, International Working Women’s Day, is arguably one of the most important dates of the calendar for the global labour movement. It is the day we pay homage to the tremendous contributions that female workers have made in the fight for a just society. It is the day we reaffirm women’s place of honour at the head of our movement. More than anything else, it is the day that all workers, whatever their sex, colour, or creed, remind those who seek to divide us that we know that our struggle, our enemy, and our goal, is one and the same.

The conditions faced by working-class women today clearly illustrate the systemic nature of their exploitation. Despite the mouthpieces of the bosses taking up the cry of women’s rights in the last several decades, the facts show that their words are not reflected by their actions. According to the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), the layoff rate for female workers has increased by 2.3% since the start of 2008, almost double that of male workers. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 90% of workers in sweatshops are women and young girls.

The corporate media, when it is forced to acknowledge these facts, continually tries to confuse workers by presenting them as a gender versus gender issue. Reuters, in an article on the effects of the slump on women, spends one paragraph talking about the plight of women workers and commits the remainder of its three-page article discussing how many women are CEOs or board members of the largest corporations. The argument made by liberal Feminists is that the progress of women can be measured by how many women hold positions of power in the large corporations and in governments. When Stephen Harper announced a cabinet reshuffle after the last federal election in Canada, bourgeois feminists were delighted when he appointed a record 11 women, or 29% of cabinet, to his Tory government. The Feminist NGO, Catalyst, boasts that the percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies went from 8.7% in 1995 to 16.4% in 2005. However, do facts like this really mean that the welfare of all women is improving? According to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), in the same ten-year period, women workers went from making 72% of a male worker’s pay for work of equal value, to just 70.5%. Having more women cabinet ministers and CEOs has not only failed to improve the lot of working women, pay equity has actually decreased in the last decade and the exploitation of women is as evident as ever.

Stephen Harper (right) is heading a government with record number of female ministers but this has not improved the situation for women. The same can be said for Germany's first female Prime Minister, who has presided over huge cuts in the welfare state. Photo by franz88 on Flickr.
Stephen Harper (right) is heading a government with record number of female ministers but this has not improved the situation for women. The same can be said for Germany’s first female Prime Minister (left), who has presided over huge cuts in the welfare state. Photo by franz88 on Flickr.

Capitalism depends on the subjugation of women for its very survival. Sexism, along with racism and every other divisive tool the bourgeois possess, are vital wedges needed to drive apart male workers from their female comrades in order to prevent the rise of the one thing that can undo this system: worker’s unity. Bourgeois women, the CEOs and cabinet ministers, have nothing to gain by ending the disproportionate exploitation of women workers. In fact, they have a vested interest in ensuring that this oppression continues. Keeping female workers at a lower wage than their male counterparts has the effect of putting pressure on male workers to accept lower wages in order to compete for the same jobs, thus repugnantly fostering sexism and pitting worker against worker. Additionally, women are made to form a reserve army of cheap, mobile labour, which is very profitable for the capitalists. There is a reason why women overwhelmingly fill low paid service sector jobs and sweatshops. Capitalism also doesn’t count the creation and nurturing of life as real productive work in society and expects it to be done for free, largely by working class women. A woman’s biological role as the child bearer creates a situation where, under capitalism, it is women who are also the ones who have to take up the burden of child rearing. This leaves women with the double burden of being responsible for the care of her children and home, while additionally working to help support them. Shouldering this extra weight leaves the woman worker with little free time to become politically active, organize unions, or, in many cases, even work a full-time job. This leads to women being forced into the most exploitative working conditions, often on poverty wages, thus making their situation ever worse, helping to re-enforce their economic dependence on men.

Capitalism forces upon women the double burden of child rearing and wage labour. Photo by UNICEF Iran, Mojgan Parssa-Magham.
Capitalism forces upon women the double burden of child rearing and wage labour. Photo by UNICEF Iran, Mojgan Parssa-Magham.

It is this economic dependence that has forced women to endure the most humiliating abuse across the centuries. Even in so-called enlightened Western countries, every day working class women face the choice between poverty, homelessness and losing their children on the one side, or putting up with a violent and abusive partner on the other. Programmes to protect women from these situations, meagre though they are, are also being cut back by governments looking to save money in the financial crisis. However, despite (or perhaps because of) the social and economic hardships that working class women face on a daily basis, when these women rise up to defend their rights, they do so with an unequalled militancy.

Ironically, it is bourgeois women who act as some of the worst exploitative employers of working class women. All one has to do is to take a bus in the early morning through any wealthy neighbourhood to see the army of nannies, cooks, and cleaning staff, largely pulled from immigrant women, who perform the domestic chores of these upper class households. The bourgeois women, of course, are indeed “liberated”. They are free from both the daily grind of wage labour and from the tiresome burden of domestic slavery and can readily pursue the same ends that bourgeois men do, such as politics, business, and academia. This “liberation,” in which the liberal Feminists wish to paint a victory for women, is realistically just the dumping of all these burdens directly on the already overworked mass of working class women.

It is the duty of all socialists to fight against sexism within the labour movement, not only because of its disgusting chauvinism, but more crucially because it is a tool used by the bosses to divide and conquer. The common theme shared by both liberal Feminists and reactionary chauvinists is that men and women have competing interests. Socialists believe this to be untrue. The bourgeois have an interest in maintaining gender divisions, while workers simultaneously have an interest in breaking them down. We fight along class lines for socialism not because, as some academics have stated, “Marxism doesn’t understand the women’s struggle,” but for precisely the opposite reason. Marxism is infused with over 150 years of hard won experience in the struggle against the exploitation and oppression of women. It is through continually studying this living history of our movement that we have understood that there is no solution to the women’s struggle under capitalism.

Only in socialism can a solution be found. Through universal child care, education, housing and healthcare, through the socialization of domestic chores by creating public laundries, kitchens, etc. and through the guarantee of equal pay in a system of full and fair employment, can the burdens placed on working-women’s social development finally be lifted.

On February 20, two Iranian female workers were sentenced to 100 lashes in public. Their offence wasn’t the flaunting of the Iranian regime’s reactionary “virtue laws”. What they did was far more dangerous to the Iranian state   they were arrested and whipped for attending a May Day rally.

We Marxists know, just as well as the ruling class, that the revolutionary potential of female workers is the sword of Damocles hanging over them and their system. In 1917, it was the women of Petrograd that marched from factory to factory, rousing their sons, brothers, and fathers out into the streets in what was the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Just like then, it will be the women who will embody our revolution. It will be the working women who will usher in the end of capitalism, and with it, the end of the exploitation of women now and forever. We say, “There can be no socialism without the emancipation of women, and there can no emancipation of women while the economic slavery of capitalism persists.”

It will be the working women who will usher in the end of capitalism, and with it, the end of the exploitation of women now and forever. Photo by Carlo Nicora on Flickr.
There can be no socialism without the emancipation of women and it will be working women who will usher in the end of capitalism, and with it, the end of the exploitation of women now and forever. Photo by Carlo Nicora on Flickr.