hi freya, could you talk about some of the ways communist movements have advanced women's liberation?
First of all, women’s struggles and class struggles have proved historically to be intimately connected. In every case that i know of, women’s struggles have played such a crucial role in every revolutionary situation that communists—whether the leadership liked it or not—were simply forced to take up “women’s issues” if they had any hope of being successful. Many uprisings historically have started with women rebelling. If communists didn’t provide a means for women to achieve the ends they’re looking for, then they simply wouldn’t be able to garner the support necessary to take and hold power.
On the other hand, it’s really only through class struggle that women have made significant, concrete gains in society. And despite how inflated a role feminist lawyers and politicians like to give to themselves, it’s really proletarian women who have led the charge.
I don’t have time to go into exhaustive detail about precisely how communism has advanced women’s liberation, but i can give a few illustrations.
1) Consistently, communism has empowered women to directly participate in the revolutionary process. Women have been armed and joined the process of overthrowing capitalist states. Before and after the seizure of power, women have been incorporated into decision-making processes to large degrees. Although women never had equal representation with men in communist parties, this has never been true in bourgeois politics either, and representation of women in communist politics (at least in those parties actually participating in revolution) has consistently been much higher than in capitalist politics. For example, in 1975 women made up 25% of the highest decision-making body in China. In 1978, women were 33% of Albania’s highest political organ. In contrast it’s taken decades for capitalist states to get anywhere close to this and most capitalists states still haven’t matched where communists states were in the 1970′s.
2) Communism has dramatically lessened the power men have over women by hugely improving women’s status economically. For instance, in Albania before the revolution, almost no women (like, 4%) had jobs and virtually none attended secondary school, let alone higher education. In contrast, between 1957 and 1978, the number of women attending higher education increased by over 10,000%. Women were also encouraged to take up all kinds of jobs, and they had good representation in all parts of the workforce including in highly professional careers. In 1978, half the dentists in Albania were women and almost two thirds of economists were women.
3) Communism has empowered women to lessen the power of men in other ways. For example, women have been able to leverage their husbands’ enthusiasm for communism to get their husbands to treat them better. More systematically, the “criticisms and self criticism” reform program in China often directly targeted relations between men and women at home and at work. This was a broad-scale, systematic effort to change people’s patriarchal attitudes and actions in a way that’s never been seen in a capitalist country.
4) Infant mortality rates and rates of death during childbirth have both plummeted in communist states, which speaks a great deal to the improved conditions of women’s reproductive health.
5) Although directly addressing objectification and sexual violence has been a weak point for communism historically (which i have spent a great deal of time talking about myself), it still has a better track record than capitalist states and the feminists movements that work within capitalist states. During the Mao era for example, China banned the use of women’s bodies in advertising and also banned some forms of pornography. While not good enough obviously, it’s still better than what feminist lawyers and politicians have achieved in the west.
Feminist critics of communism like to point out that existing socialism wasn’t perfect and that women still didn’t achieve equality or full liberation in any sense. And while this is true, and there’s still a lot of work we have to do, this criticism also misses the fact that communism still has a better track record than the sorts of movements its critics have supported.
As Barbara Ehrenreich once said in What is Socialist Feminism?, “There is a difference between a society in which sexism is expressed in the form of female infanticide and a society in which sexism takes the form of unequal representation on the Central Committee. And the difference is worth dying for.”