I am currently reading Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That, which is an interesting critique on the U.S political system, especially the subject of health care.
The UK can no longer be smug. Its current government is hell bent on doing away with the NHS, the universal free healthcare which its citizens and visitors to the Isle have enjoyed and taken for granted over the last 60 years. The motives are ideological: the Conservatives don’t believe that the Have-nots (i,e vulnerable people, usually women) should be provided for by the Haves (successful, wealth people, usually men). ‘Big Society’ they have named it, which means we still pay the same amount of taxes except we get less in return. What a Bargain. For them, not for us.
So this subject is of great interest to me.
In 1948, after the strife of World War 2, the NHS was born.
The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. When health secretary Aneurin Bevan opens Park Hospital in Manchester it is the climax of a hugely ambitious plan to bring good healthcare to all. For the first time hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists are brought together under one umbrella organisation that is free for all at the point of delivery. The central principles are clear: the health service will be available to all and financed entirely from taxation, which means that people pay into it according to their means.
I never had to think about healthcare growing up. As it stands currently, the UK has no system of payment. Not even for foreigners or illegal immigrants. You don’t have to provide any documents at all when you enter the hospital.
They might not be the most high-tech hospitals in the world; you might have to queue for six hours; they might give you nothing but paracetamol in order to save money; and you might be on a long waiting list for a hip replacement… but it’s free, and doctors are honest about the treatment you require. Nobody is making money out of you being in the hospital. Quite the opposite. So you generally feel confident that your health providers are not in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies.
And the reason I mention all of this, is because the NHS is good for women. People are taxed 22.5% or so of their wages, so the more you earn, the more you pay into the pot. It means that the Big Men at the top of the chain can’t squirrel away too much of the wealth they rake in on the backs of women’s cheap labour further down the chain. It means that families are not impoverished if they have a sickly child as it is society’s duty to provide for the vulnerable.
In other words, the closer to socialism a political system is, the better it is for women. The more a system protects the individual, the more it will benefit men-as-a-group. In a socialist-oriented system, men are obliged to “pay back” to women what they have taken from them.
Back to Lionel Shriver. Personally I think the woman is easily one of the greatest writers of the past twenty years: We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, despite her brilliancy she does harbour a misogynistic streak, (which might be how she managed to get published and promoted in the first place.)
Or does she? It’s hard to tell whether she is just channelling reality as she sees it (and she is always spot on in her observations of life) or whether she has internalised the misogyny that is sometimes glimpsed through her words.
One paragraph stood out to me as a radical feminist, for its hidden implications. It is a work of art, which I will call “Mugs and Mooches”:
“For government was now, in Jackson’s view, a for-profit corporation, although a sort of which the average industrial magnate could only dream: a natural monopoly that could charge whatever it wanted, yet with no obligation to hand over a product of any description in return. A business whose millions of customers had no choice but to buy this mythical product, lest they be locked in a small room with bad food. Since all politicians were by definition “on the tit,” none of them had any motivation to constrain the size of this marvelous corporation that didn’t actually have to make anything. Occasional conservative lip service notwithstanding, sure enough, over the decades USA Inc. has done nothing but expand. Jackson predicted that at some point in the near future the last remaining Mugs would get wise and sign on. Once the entire American populace was either working for of living off the government, the country would shudder to a halt. It was happening in Europe, he said, already. With a ratio of all-Mooch to no-Mug, there’d be no one left to squeeze dry, and presumably they’d all sit around waiting do die, or kill each other.”
It got me thinking of FCM’S post on Dworkin’s Right Wing Women, where she outlines that all women- no matter how wealthy, privileged or hard working- remain inside the tiered cage designated for women in our society, a society in which all women are just one mistake away from being forced to sell their body to live. She gives an example in a further post “Welcome to the WOrld baby Girl“, elaborating on how women are forced to endure sexual harassment in the workplace in order to keep their jobs.
Ballbuster has an excellent series posts on self sufficient living, where she emphasizes that women should think about independancy and offers ways to approach it. Also see Joy’s posts on how she opted out of the system (not completely by choice, but she gives an interesting analysis of how living outside the system is a possible path to survival under patriarchy.)
Ultimately, what would really help women, what would have helped women from the beginning, would be to refuse to live with men.
By doing so, men will be forced to haul their own water, wash their own clothes, gather their own food, fish for their own fish (oh, yes it was women that fished)
In fact, it wouldn’t matter that women had to do physical work in order to live, if they didn’t live with men, because they wouldn’t have the male parasites living off their unpaid and cheap labour.
My feminist sisters already know this of course; I’m a little late to the party…
The root of patriarchy-capitalism is its dependancy on women’s free labour, or labour for a pittance. Women’s life-creating, life-sustaining powers are exploited by patriarchal nation-states, while men at the top reward themselves with the spoils of this exploitation. Men go through their whole lives paper-shuffling and expect women to support them economically. Women are supposed to pay for the bonuses of incompetent bankers out of their taxes. Prostitutes are taxed nowadays, meaning the patriarchal nation-state has become a pimp, making money off the backs of women’s sexual exploitation.
Modern food supply systems depend on the slave and cheap labour of women. TESCO notoriously sacked Gertruida Baartman, a south african woman, for daring to complain that she was being paid 38 p an hour to pick apples. Ms Baartman (having been chucked off her sustainable land bought up by the conglomerates, no doubt) was a widow, supporting her elderly parents and three children. Tesco would only give her contract work for 6 months a year, and the rest of the year she had to beg.
The reason? Because the apples she picked were only in season for those six months and TESCO only grows crops that the consumers in the west want i.e they do not grow crops indigenous to south africa because there is no market for them. Baartman would be better off as a member of a co-op with other women, not dependant on The Man and his Technology.
[Did you know that during the Ethiopian famine during the 80s, Ethiopia was exporting green beans to Europe? So much for the idea that technology exists to serve people]
At this stage, opting out is the best option, as far as I can see.
I like to imagine that there is a silent awakening worldwide, an increased awareness of this in the souls of women. The Macrobiotic lifestyle is a women-led movement which is taking off in Japan. It is based on ZEN philosophy.You eat only seasonal food. No meat, fish or dairy, and only sourced local products. A number of female-headed restaurants are opening, and the food is surprisingly delicious. One elderly woman lives completely sustainably somewhere in the forest in the North of Japan (I am trying to find online info about her). Young mothers often go and stay with her for a week in order to learn skills of sustainable living, especially food preparation, such as how to ferment beans into tofu.
I find myself returning to Mary Daly. The “Science and Progress” that men so love, and the incessant striving for Incredible Wealth and Technology, is useless to women. It causes their babies to be created deformed (look at the results of any nuclear disaster; look at what happens to foetuses when coroporations leak mercuary into the water supply; look at the effect of pesticides on breast-milk; look at the effect of environmental carcinogens on women’s bodies)
Finally, Shriver’s critique of the environmental factors that cause cancer and the men that make money out of it is insightful. Those whom Daly called “the doctors of death” .
“A shadow crossed the oncologist’s face, a sadness, a pitying, into which Shep could read that such a small damage to his patient’s vanity was bound to be the least of Glynis’s problems. “Patients react differently to treatments, “he said gently. “There is no way to predict.”
“Besides, it grows back, doesn’t it?” said Shep. This was the role. He was supposed to be upbeat.
A second shadow, and this time one that Shep could not decode.
“Yes, once treatments are completed, it certainly does, ” said Dr Knox, seeming to rouse himself. “Some patients find it grows back in even more thickly than before.”
Shep had the sudden impression that this visit, if not the whole song and dance from the X rays and the CAT scan to all the scalpels and “abdominal ports” and vile medications to come was a farce, a macabre charade. As helpful and soothing as this doctor was trying to be, Shep felt distinctly humoured. In turn, he also felt co-opted into a collusion with the doctor, whereby together they were humouring his wife. The joke was on Glynis. It was a wicked joke, a despicable one, for which she would pay with every fibre of her being. He did not want to be part of it. He would be part of it.”
We should not be grateful to the patriarchs for their ability to cut out our cancers, and their readiness to administer vile medication, when it was the mindless Science and Progress of men which originally polluted our bodies and created those cancers in the first place. Anger is a more appropriate response.