Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2292

Do men help to oppress women?

This article is over 12 years, 3 months old
In the second part of our series, Jo Cardwell explains why working class men have no interest in maintaining oppression
Issue 2292

Last week I argued that locating women’s oppression within the family and the rise of class society helps us to understand why it exists.

Yet for some, this seems to leave the role of individual men untouched.

They argue that it is men who make sexist comments, buy porn or abuse and rape women—not the system. They conclude that men are the problem.

But it’s worth scratching the surface to see what lies underneath.

It’s too simplistic to say that violence is a male trait.

We know that, despite the disgraceful level of violence directed at women, most men don’t behave in this way.

Most women have male friends, brothers and fathers who detest violence against women.

Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher was responsible for a bloody war in the Falklands in the 1980s and was a keen backer of US imperialism.

And US politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright have backed imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Millions of men have fought each other in the many brutal wars that have marked capitalist societies.

But that isn’t because they are “naturally” violent. Governments need a lot of propaganda to persuade working class men to go to war. And it takes a lot of training to make them kill. Many men are traumatised as a result.

The fact that some men rape women or have sexist ideas reflects the fact that they live in a society that oppresses women.

It doesn’t reflect their biology. Violence isn’t rooted in the natural make-up of men any more than economic crisis is.

Some suggest that the current capitalist crisis could have been avoided if women were in charge.

But would things be better if more women like Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, ran the system?

Would capitalism be less vicious if it was run by more women like Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel—currently destroying the living standards of millions of women in Greece?

Of course women have the right to head companies and states. But they won’t make the system nicer.


It’s true that the recession and cuts are having a disproportionate impact on women’s employment.

But many men are being hit too—finding themselves thrown out of work altogether or fending off severe attacks on their pay, conditions and services.

The high suicide rates among young working class men show that they are also victims of capitalism.

And who benefits from unequal pay?

Working class men don’t automatically get pay rises just because the pay of women workers is held down.

For most single parent families, low pay drives mainly women into poverty. For families with two incomes, low pay reduces their collective spending power.

In these cases women, children and men all suffer the impact of unequal pay.

The only ones who benefit are the bosses.

The degradation of women’s bodies can also seem like the fault of individual men. But it is a logical conclusion of a system that reduces everything to a commodity to be bought and sold.

And the rise of men’s lifestyle magazines show that the media are keen to profit from men’s insecurities too.

The fundamental division is not gender but class. Women’s oppression isn’t felt equally across society.

Richer women are oppressed, but the oppression manifests itself in different ways.

When a record number of women Labour MPs were elected in 1997, they could vote to have a creche or a hairdresser in parliament. They chose the hairdresser.

Meanwhile the lack of decent childcare for working class families is a scandal.

If we think that individual men are the real oppressors then we will be weaker—we will be accepting ideas that divide our class.

It is important to locate these problems in an economic system based on class inequality.

The real beneficiary of women’s oppression and capitalism is the ruling class, whether men or women.

Working class women and men have a very real interest in uniting to get rid of that system.

What’s more, a united working class has the power to do it—and end oppression for good.

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