Rebellion Is Justified!: Breaking Gender’s Chains

Tuesday, June 13

Breaking Gender’s Chains

The question of gender is dealt with as sharply as that of class in the 1954 film “Salt of the Earth,” a movie about the struggle of Latino miners against their racist exploiters. The lead characters, Ramon and Esperanza Quintero, live on mining company land and must buy their necessities from the mining company stores. They eke out a subsistence living, and furthermore, as a result of national oppression, have worse conditions than the white miners.

It is understandable why the McCarthyite reactionaries despised this film and persecuted its producers. “Salt of the Earth” is a damning indictment of class, national, and gender oppression. In the film, after a mining strike breaks out, and the courts bar the workers from picketing the mine, the miner’s wives step forward, against their husbands wishes, to man the picket and continue the struggle. The women must convince their husbands to put aside their patriarchal notions so that man and woman can jointly wage the struggle against the class enemy.

The women do not hesitate to physically resist an assault by the police, and forcefully assert their demands. The women change themselves in the course of their struggle, and set aside the chains of tradition that bound them as women. As Esperanza Quintero deepens her political work, she becomes much more at ease, and positively beams with happiness because she knows her cause is just.

In Salt of the Earth, for the sake of the class struggle, Ramon Quintero sets aside male right, and his wife Esperanza sets aside traditional female submissiveness.

This example in “Salt of the Earth” brings on the general question of gender as a social construct, and how communists who uphold science must also reject bio-determinism, or the ideology that biology means destiny. The dominant concepts of gender are not principally determined by biological characteristics of male and female sex, but rather they are rooted in the existing social system presided over by a ruling class. Engels outlined how the female sex suffered a “historical defeat” when male right was established and women’s productive roles were subordinated to those of men. It is true that biological sex characteristics played a role in this initial emergence of patriarchy; in particular, women’s role in menstruation, childbearing, and nursing of children may have imposed certain disadvantages vis-à-vis men. But by no means do such characteristics justify patriarchy, nor do they at all mean that it is somehow “natural” for women’s roles to be determined by their reproductive system. In short, communists say, “women are not incubators.”

Communists recognize that human beings are differentiated from animals by virtue of their consciousness and their ability to remake the world - and themselves - to serve the interests of humanity. What is “natural” is that which serves human freedom. That which inhibits the participation of men or women in social life and their development is not to be enshrined for all time as sacred, but it should instead be transcended. This transcendence, this struggle to push the borders of freedom ever-forward against alienation and necessity, represents the basic nature of men and women as conscious beings. And there is no gender identity in that.

Men must struggle to renounce male right, to recognize women as their equals in every realm, and to reject the anti-social, oppressive notions of manhood. Women must join with men and assume the social stage as the co-equals of men, putting aside all inhibitions based on reactionary, submissive notions of womanhood. Socially-understood concepts of gender - as opposed to biological sex - will in some form exist throughout the course of class society, including under socialism. It is not possible to know whether or not gender will exist in a classless society, but I do not believe it will exist in a form at all similar to those yet seen. Men and woman will work side by side - in non-alienated labor - to brighten the horizons for humankind. Whole new vistas of human relations will open up, and the chains of gender will fall away.


Post a Comment

<< Home