Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Happy International Working Women's Day

Above is a Soviet poster from 1961 for International Women's Day -- originally International Working Women's Day. Although the holiday was originally celebrated later in March, this year marks the centenary of the celebration. Not intended as a sentimental holiday a la mother's day, International Women's Day was a political holiday created by the world socialist movement not only to honor women and their struggle for equality and civil rights, but to advocate for the transformation of society along lines of political and economic justice. Disturbingly it was less than a hundred years ago in the United States that women were considered fully human enough to be able to vote in elections.

In honor of the holiday here is a passage by Alexandra Kollontai, the under-sung forward-thinking heroine of women's liberation in the Russian Revolution. This is from her essay "Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle," written way back in 1921. Her challenging essays break out of the mold of simple moral arguments: she advocates a revolution in human relationships inexorably linked to that economic and political transformation, away from the inequalities of class society.

"The “inequality” of the sexes – the inequality of their rights. the unequal value of their physical and emotional experience – is the other significant circumstance that distorts the psyche of contemporary man and is a reason for the deepening of the sexual crisis. The double morality inherent in both patrimonial and bourgeois society has, over the course of centuries. poisoned the psyche of men and women. These attitudes are so much a part of us that they are more difficult to get rid of than the ideas about possessing people that we have inherited only from bourgeois ideology. The idea that the sexes are unequal, even in the sphere of physical and emotional experience, means that the same action will be regarded differently according to whether it was the action of a man or a woman. Even the most “progressive” member of the bourgeoisie, who has long ago rejected the whole code of current morality, easily catches himself out at this point since he too in judging a man and a woman for the same behaviour will pass different sentences. One simple example is enough. Imagine that a member of the middle-class intelligentsia who is learned, involved in politics and social affairs – who is in short a “personality”, even a “public figure” – starts sleeping with his cook (a not uncommon thing to happen) and even becomes legally married to her. Does bourgeois society change its attitude to this man, does the event throw even the tiniest shadow of doubt as to his moral worth? Of course not.

Now imagine another situation. A respected woman of bourgeois society – a social figure, a research student, a doctor, or a writer, it’s all the same – becomes friendly with her footman, and to complete the scandal marries him. How does bourgeois society react to the behaviour of the hitherto “respected” woman? They cover her with “scorn”, of course! And remember, it’s so much the worse for her if her husband, the footman, is good-looking or possesses other “physical qualities”. “It’s obvious what she’s fallen for”, will be the sneer of the hypocritical bourgeoisie.

If a woman’s choice has anything of an “individual character” about it she won’t be forgiven by bourgeois society. This attitude is a kind of throwback to the traditions of tribal times. Society still wants a woman to take into account, when she is making her choice. rank and status and the instructions and interests of her family. Bourgeois society cannot see a woman as an independent person separate from her family unit and outside the isolated circle of domestic obligations and virtues. Contemporary society goes even further than the ancient tribal society in acting as woman’s trustee, instructing her not only to marry but to fall in love only with those people who are “worthy” of her.

We are continually meeting men of considerable spiritual and intellectual qualities who have chosen as their friend-for-life a worthless and empty woman, who in no way matches the spiritual worth of the husband. We accept this as something normal and we don’t think twice about it. At the most friends might pity Ivan Ivanovich for having landed himself with such an unbearable wife. But if it happens the other way round, we flap our hands and exclaim with concern. “How could such an outstanding woman as Maria Petrovna fall for such a nonentity? I begin to doubt the worth of Maria Petrovna.” Where do we get this double criterion from? What is the reason for it? The reason is undoubtedly that the idea of the sexes being of “different value'’ has become, over the centuries, a part of man’s psychological make-up. We are used to evaluating a woman not as a personality with individual qualities and failings irrespective of her physical and emotional experience, but only as an appendage of a man. This man, the husband or the lover, throws the light of his personality over the woman, and it is this reflection and not the woman herself that we consider to be the true definition of her emotional and moral make-up. In the eyes of society the personality of a man can be more easily separated from his actions in the sexual sphere. The personality of a woman is judged almost exclusively in terms of her sexual life. This type of attitude stems from the role that women have played in society over the centuries, and it is only now that a re-evaluation of these attitudes is slowly being achieved, at least in outline. Only a change in the economic role of woman, and her independent involvement in production, can and will bring about the weakening of these mistaken and hypocritical ideas.

The three basic circumstances distorting the modern psyche – extreme egoism, the idea that married partners possess each other, and the acceptance of the inequality of the sexes in terms of physical and emotional experience – must be faced if the sexual problem is to he settled. People will find the “magic key” with which they can break out of their situation only when their psyche has a sufficient store of “feelings of consideration” when their ability to love is greater, when the idea of freedom in personal relationships becomes fact and when the principle of “comradeship” triumphs over the traditional idea of inequality” and submission. The sexual problems cannot be solved without this radical re-education of our psyche."

Take THAT, trash TV.


  1. Great minds... Hey, odd that all those GREAT Republican women didn't recognize this day. My son's Facebook comment today was "Starbuck's 40th Birthday" - I was going to badger him about it and decided to give it a rest, after all he lives in OC. Even "my" Wings of Hope tweeted a mention of the day.

    Nice post Ish.

  2. Indeed, fellow great mind.

    You were expecting maybe a joint statement from two certain Republican women, only one of whom is actually gainfully employed? :)