Sexual politics ensure that women remain a sexual underclass–or rather a sex caste. Caste is somewhat different to class because it is a closed system, a complete dead-end, a “form of social stratification in which membership is determined by birth and remains fixed for life“.
Although wealth and social-standing are able to cushion the female person from the worst excesses of patriarchy she will always remain a member of her caste. Similarly, the poorest and most disenfranchised of men, the male dregs of society, are regarded as fully human and are entitled to bodily autonomy. Rape of any man is a serious human rights violation. Anal rape–the act itself– is often defined as “male rape” even though women are far more frequently targeted for this crime. This is because when the act is perpetrated against a man, it has been perpetrated against an autonomous human being– i.e a person who was not born to be penetrated. But when any type of rape happens to a woman there is a tacit understanding that this is what she was born for, making the crime not quite as serious, which is why until recently it was regarded as being little more than a property crime— committed against her father or husband…
Historically and by law the police and judiciary would scrutinize how a raped woman had behaved prior to the incident. If an unmarried woman had been raped, it was exceedingly important to determine whether or not she was a virgin. If she was, then it would be agreed that a crime had indeed been committed. Against her father that is; whose property she was.
If it was proven that she was not a virgin, then no crime had been committed because no man’s property had been violated. In the case of a wife being raped by her husband it was always easily resolved: no one had trespassed on another man’s property, ergo no crime.
The system is still fairly preoccupied with a woman’s behaviour prior to the rape (“What was she wearing?”) although some strides have been made and radical feminists have managed to convince people (men) that the rape of a woman is a crime against a human being… in other words that it is inherently traumatic and dangerous to the victim. But this is all new stuff and it is only during the past couple of decades that this has become accepted as truth. However, the system ( the media, politicians and especially the judiciary) has since then moved the goalposts, and gets around it these days by declaring that female rape or abuse victims are liars.
All of this backstory shows how entrenched the caste system is, and how thoroughly women’s lives are controlled by the arbitrary dictates of the men who make the rules. Radical feminists accept, therefore, that just because a particular woman has lived a relatively uneventful and privileged life, does not mean that she has risen above her caste.
Caste is most commonly associated with India, but many countries employ a caste system. Japan’s caste system worked in much the same way, whereby members of the untouchable caste were relegated to working in jobs involving blood and death, because doing that type of work (making leather, cleaning dead bodies etc) put you at great risk of catching a disease. The existence of a caste of people who were born for dirty work meant that members of other castes could then “legitimately” avoid this fate. The political motivations behind creating a caste, whose continued subordination is ensured through the creation of certain laws and social customs, are simple: those in the ruling caste do not wish to do the work relegated to the subordinate (untouchable) caste, and in the same vein, the work of the underclass ensures that the dominant caste are freed up to pursue their own interests/work/research.
Women’s caste status is ensured by the fact that men make laws exonerating themselves for crimes committed against women, and women are prevented from being allowed to take justice into their own hands and to deal with rapists as they see fit. Patriarchy effectively shelters and harbours rapists, shielding men from the comeuppance they would inevitably face if mothers were free to kill the men who rape their daughters, as this woman did in Spain.
So what to do? First of all laws can, and have been changed. Catherine McKinnon, the woman who invented the concept of sexual harassment (i.e the notion that women had the right to keep their jobs despite refusing the sexual advances of their employer or colleagues) made great strides in the field of law.
Western women have fought for– and won–the right to divorce. Unbelievably– and yet not surprisingly– for centuries women were not allowed by law to leave their husbands. Despite the fact that all routes to economic independence (the professions) were closed to women, men knew that it was still possible that women would try and make a break for it, even at the prospect of living in dire poverty. In order to prevent women from taking their chances with poverty, and from acquiring any freedom at all, it became necessary to create laws tethering them to their husbands. Just in case.
Men knew that if they allowed women the right to divorce they would drop their husbands like hot potatoes. And they were right. Women have in fact taken full advantage of the opportunity to no longer live with men. Over 70% of divorces are initiated by women, and among college-educated couples the percentage of divorces initiated by women is approximately 90%) Unfortunately many women around the world are still held ransom by draconic laws forcing them to remain with their husbands. This summer Bangladeshi women made headlines in their fight for the right to divorce. Britan fares no better; battered women looking for financial support from the government to help them leave an abusive spouse are accused of lying by the men who have the power to grant them their freedom.
Under patriarchy children do not, and have never belonged to mothers. In the UK if a man died he was entitled to leave his children in the care of whomever he chose. His wife, the mother of his children, had no say in the matter despite the fact that women (and many men), feel instinctively that if children belong to anybody at all, it is to the person who carried and risked their life to birth them i.e the mother… but patriarchy has turned children into property, goods to be fought over and used so that men can better control women by keeping them bound to them. Some strides have been made in this respect. Women can now divorce and in western countries at least (if they fight hard enough) they can keep their children.
Unfortunately, although laws can be changed, they are easily retracted. The UK Conservative- Lib Dem Coalition has undone a lot of hard-won policies and attempted to reverse laws that were put in place to help rape victims. It targeted women–who are already poorer–for financial cuts, simultaneously supportting men–who are already wealthier, rendering women evermore financially dependant on men. Laws, and the men who make them, are fickle. (Having researched the ConDem government’s targeting of women, which I detail in an article here, it would not surprise me at all to learn that the government have made solid plans to take away women’s right to vote).
If we accept that women are members of a caste, then individualism (or liberalism), as an ideology, is futile. It is the cousin of capitalism, and indeed patriarchy itself, because when society is structured so that women are the primary carers for children, the elderly and the disabled then individualistic policies and politics can only serve men. So when women take on board such ideas as their own, for example, by falling into the trap of believing that career success for them as an individual will make a dint on male power, then they are being duped.
But what about women-driven, women-centred decisions, taken by a particular individual, as part of a coherent plan centred around radical feminist theory?
If the personal is political then to what extent can an individual woman’s decision affect the patriarchal structures? Can it create any dint in it at all?
I think, that if the decision is made in an organized way, with a radical ideology as its backdrop, then yes, it can.
I was not alive during the seventies, but by all accounts it seems that some drastic social changes took place, not only via laws, but also by women organizing and making decisions about how to live their lives. Deciding to divorce your husband is indeed political. The ever-present controversy revolving around abortion is another instance of sexual politics. Celibacy–deciding no longer to have intercourse–in order to avoid abortion and disease, among other reasons, is political. Even the simple step of identifying yourself as a radical feminst is a deeply political act.
Separatism, for example, can manifest as an individual woman making the personal decision not to live with men, to only visit care-providers who are women, to make a concerted effort to support female-run companies. And if a heterosexual woman decides to renounce men altogether and reject her socially designated nurturing role by setting up home with a friend, or more than one friend, what then? By herself nothing would happen. But if enough women made the same decision, then perhaps we would reach critical mass and society would bend and stretch, some cracks would appear in the underlying structures and perhaps eventually it would cave in. It has happened once before.
The fear, of course, is the backlash. When men’s power is threatened, reaction is swift. What has always concerned me is that men would up the antse. Women can regain some of our sovereignty and the power that has been taken from us…but what then? There will be a tipping point and something will happen…
This was what drove the witch-craze. It happened in an era when women owned land, and were in control of medicine (or healing as it was known then). They brought babies into the world with midwives, and men were categorically excluded from health. If you were sick it would not cross your mind to go to a man; you would go to a woman. The desire to be tended to by a woman when you’re sick makes instinctive sense to anybody. But men.. well, understanding that women had power and knowledge that they did not, and seeing that women were thriving without them…their egos could not stand it…
In order to be taken seriously in the field of medicine they first had to murder millions of women. Even then they were not trusted, and their incompetence caused the deaths of many women labouring in childbirth because they didn’t have even have basic knowledge about hygiene. Male “doctors” would “help” women deliver their babies after doing an autopsy on a dead body without even washing their hands in between. Women of the upper classes learned that it was safer giving birth alone than calling the doctor.
So the problem is perhaps not liberating women, it is keeping women liberated. Men have much to lose with the fall of patriarchy. In a previous post I argued that without the economic benefits the system provides them, which enables them to coerce, manipulate and distort women’s behaviour, many men would never become fathers. Many would never experience sex with a woman. This, in itself, is enough for them to fight to the death. Life without women is meaningless after all, because women bring color to all our lives, so they would rather kill all the women in the world than forfeit acess to our bodies and minds. They would rather see women, planet earth, and themselves destroyed before they would willingly witness us escape our sex- imposed caste. I’ve read the history books, seen what men have done to us before, and it worries me.