Capitalism And Patriarchy Are Inseparable. As Long As One Exists, Other Will Have A Reason To Survive
Zuhaib Ahmed Pirzada explains how patriarchy is also a product of capitalism and why women are forced to become ‘Princess at home’ in a society dominated by capitalist men.
In the post-women-march debate, one thing which is missing and less addressed is why patriarchy exists. It is time to understand the origins of patriarchy and how capitalism sustains it. Social relations are determined by material means. Nothing in the world is free from the other. Same is the case with patriarchy.
Before the agriculture mode of production, man and woman were equal; they both could hunt and gather and utilize collectively what they had. And, importantly, there was no private property. Patriarchy is directly linked with private property.
When agricultural era began, it required massive production and those who controlled agricultural lands needed to transfer their properties to their sons and in order to do that women’s sexual freedom was limited.
Secondly, labour force was needed which could work in fields for land-owners and that could only happen if women would stay at home and give birth to children and make them ready for labour. When women started staying home, not contributing to the production, patriarchy was the logical outcome.
Different societal structures in order to sustain their parasitic tendencies have created separate spheres for man and woman. Unless this separation of spheres, i.e. home for woman and rest of society and life for man, is not challenged by introducing counter practices, humanity will remain devoid of its true emancipation.
The patriarchy can be better understood through Social Reproduction Theory. Capitalism needs reserve army of labour and that is done through social reproduction. Susan Ferguson explains it in these words: “our understanding of capitalism is incomplete if we treat it as simply an economic system involving workers and owners, and fail to examine the ways in which wider social reproduction of the system — that is the daily and generational reproductive labor that occurs in households, schools, hospitals, prisons, and so on—sustains the drive for accumulation.”
For example, there is a family in Thatta district of Sindh. Husband works in a factory that is production of surplus value for capital, and wife at the home gives birth to the children, cares for them, schools them, and makes them ready to be sold in the market. Wife’s work is social reproduction which is unpaid.
When industrialization took place in Europe, men, women, children, all become workers. Industrialists were sucking their blood. And thus, reproduction of labour power was at stake. Newer generations of labour were not being produced as many children wouldn’t survive. Men and women were struggling to survive.
To counter this, capitalists economically, socially, politically, legally, instrumentally and discursively constructed a male dominant society so that women could stay home and make for them a new labour force.
For waged labour, unwaged reproductive labour was/is necessary. That could only be served through a family system. And that is why heterosexuality was normalized. Production and reproduction are a unitary process. They are not separate.
Capitalism reproduces itself in and through patriarchy and other forms of oppression. Capitalists accumulate wealth; they try to earn maximum profit and do not want to invest in social facilities. Without working and spending for social reproduction capacities like, caring, schooling, housing, and so on, capitalists most of time get that through family system which provides them with free social reproduction. If men and women become equal, who will freely work for social reproduction? In order to sustain capitalism, patriarchy is needed.
Behind every oppression, whether it is nationalist, racist, classist or gender-based there is political economy working behind it, and to sustain that oppression ‘inferiority and superiority’ are constructed.
For example, to get cheap labour, there is racial discrimination against Blacks. Blacks are considered inferior and whites superior. Same is the case of women’s oppression to get unpaid labour for social reproduction.
In this regard, women are termed “Princess at home” and that can only be sustained through patriarchy. So, patriarchy is not independent of capitalism, and as long as capitalism exists, patriarchal oppression will also continue.
Let’s analyze women subjugation in western countries. Women were paid 21% less than men in Germany last year. According to a World Bank Report, women make up slightly less than half the labor force in Europe, and they earn on average 30% less than men.
Last year, hundreds of thousands of women went out in Spain on international women’s day to highlight sexual discrimination, domestic violence, and the wage gap. In the Global North there is gender discrimination, as it is structurally embedded.
Welfare in western countries is on the cost of the third world countries. Through the debt trap, exploitation of resources, cheap labour, Global North gives social facilities to their people for social reproduction.
In the paper, “Crisis of Care? On the Social-Reproductive Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism,” Nancy Fraser says, “crisis of care” or a crisis of “the capacities available for birthing and raising children, caring for friends and family members, maintaining households and broader communities, and sustaining connections more generally.”
Instead Fraser offers a much darker thesis that this is a generalized crisis of the system’s ability to reproduce itself, brought on by the depletion and decimation of social reproductive functions. The crises evidenced in care work, then, are “not accidental but having deep systemic roots in the structure of our social order.”
Social reproduction activities are privatized; those who are privileged can afford to hire household labour and those who cannot are chanting, “Feminism for 99%” as economy grows for only 1%.
In countries like Pakistan, which are tribal, feudal, religious and post-colonial, conditions of women are worse. Every year around one thousand women are killed for honour. According to Global Gender Gap Index Report 2018 released by World Economic Forum (WEF), Pakistan has been placed 148th out of 149 countries.
In 2018, the Thompson Reuters Foundation conducted a survey that ranked Pakistan as the sixth most unsafe country for women. Sexual violence, non-sexual violence, human trafficking and discrimination remained some of the top sources of violence inflicted upon women. In this sorry state of affairs Aurat March should be welcomed with critical engagement.
When the workers protest in a factory, they protest against the owner and express their anger and resentment. In a similar manner, in Aurat March, that resentment was mostly against men. But, it should not be seen as if patriarchy and capitalism are different things. Capitalism reproduces patriarchy and patriarchy reproduces capitalism. In this whole, man and woman both are dehumanized.
Women in rural areas work in fields and homes without paid labour. There are wives in rural areas whose husbands are laboring in Gulf-countries and there are girls of minorities who get abducted. Here, extremist mindsets are lecturing about “Shame” and “Culture” and trying to get consent through “Princess at home” narrative. This is how woman is used as a machine which begets labour for capitalists’ production. Other benefits of patriarchy are cheap labour of woman as compared to man.
There are more Aurat Marches to come, and leftists should change their definition of working class. Not only the wage worker is working class but also the unwaged woman in domestic labour. And, women need to understand that without struggling against capitalism there cannot be woman’s emancipation.
In theory, “My body, my will” is good. All women should have right to their bodies but that is not possible in the capitalist system, in which man and woman are dispossessed of the rights on their bodies.
Alan Sears in his paper “Body Politics: The Social Reproduction of Sexualities” says, “Members of the working class are free in that they own their own bodies, yet are subjected to systemic compulsion because they must sell their capacity to work in order to gain access to the basic requirement for subsistence”. As long as capitalism survives, working class will have no right to their bodies.
The author is M.Phil in International Relations form Karachi University.