Capitalism in History
Capitalism is historically progressive in the sense that it creates material conditions for communism. It creates the condition to build the beginning of real human history and gives incentive for people to be productive under pretense of equal opportunity. A capitalist economic system rewards creating new products for profit. It is true that the rise in living standards, technological innovations and expanded freedom have come about under our capitalist economy, but it is also true that we have to give credit to the people who worked for and fought for these things. Progress is usually made in spite of capitalism, not because of it. It’s a system that exists, and it has its functions, as well as its limitations.
Sexual and gender oppression, notably, is a hallmark of class society. While there is truth in some of the positive outcomes of this system, I strongly believe that it has made our lives worse when analyzing different areas of inequality under the development of capitalism. Women and oppressed groups have fought and won concessions from the state yet are still forced to deal with an overwhelming lack of equality in today’s society.
Capitalism is inherently oppressive to women and disproportionately excludes them. Economists narrow the struggle for women’s liberation to workplace organizing, reduce the scope of women’s oppression to class reductionism, and as a result, downplay the importance of women’s struggles as a whole. A capitalist system works with a patriarchal system to downgrade the ability and value of a woman and ultimately maintain gender inequality.
Barriers to women in power are both institutional and internal, and workplaces and organizations that are sexist are more apparent than not in our society. According to the article “The Happy Marriage of Capitalism and Feminism,” women lead only 17 of the 95 independent countries, and 21 of the Fortune 500 companies (Williams, 58). Gender inequality came forth through the stratification of society which began when we became sedentary and started accumulating wealth; material wealth which was solely an opportunity for men at the start of capitalism.
In Mike Davis’ “Planet of Slums,” he shares the fast rate of Earth’s urbanization and how it has affected groups, particularly those in third world countries. In many parts of Asia, women committed to working in assembly lines at factories. In places like Africa and Latin America, however, deindustrialization pushed women to create informal jobs. They ran shebeens, which are unlicensed establishments or houses that sell liquor and were typically regarded as disreputable.
They became piece workers, liquor sellers, street vendors, cleaners, washers, ragpickers, nannies and prostitutes (Davis, 21). These days, women are forced to take more pink collar jobs, such as assistants, teachers, secretaries or nurses. While there are many more women entering the workplace, it is still rather difficult to work in male-dominant fields, and those who do must face doubtful peers and overwhelming competition.
Capitalism may have created room for women to enter more areas of the workplace, but it undoubtedly needs more regulations to further improve the working conditions of women where they already have jobs. The system needs reform the American workplace so that it no longer caters to male workers with wives taking full responsibility of the household. Women of color, women in poverty and women who are immigrants tend to be in low paying and undervalued jobs.
Although there are many women in today’s workforce, it would be unfair to say that we have been liberated this way because there is still a degree of ignorance of women’s needs in the workplace. America is notorious for its lacking approach to maternity leave. The United States is one of the few countries where new mothers are not guaranteed paid leave, which is unethical to say the least. A closer examination of this illustrates just one of the ways that capitalism disproportionately excludes women.
Our modern day workplace does not pay women enough as men nor does it offer the same opportunities. It would be ideal to live within a system that is able to value the vital work of running a household, raising children, taking care of our families or potentially furthering our education, no matter what jobs we have. In order to bring real liberation, our system truly needs upgrade that allows women the same opportunities as men without having to struggle so much under the weight of household work. Capitalism continues to both subordinate and exploit women.
The exploitation has changed in the way that it has taken a more discreet and modern form but it still undeniably exists. During the early 1900s, slave owners took complete control of women and their bodies. Special abuses of women made them vulnerable to exploitation and all forms of sexual coercion. Slave owners referred to women as “breeders” and made sure they maintained women who could create children as often as possible. Women who were pregnant or nursing were not exempt from the relentless manual labor. In “The Legacy of Slavery: Standards for a New Womanhood,” Davis illuminates the horror inflicted on women. They were flogged, mutilated and raped.
Their performances on plantations were expected to maintain the same level of productivity, and they received no leniency in physical punishments if they did not reach their day’s quota. Because they were unable to nurse regularly, they often had to work just as hard in spite of their swollen breasts, and sometimes with their babies on their backs if they refused to leave them on the ground where they worked on. Slave owners appreciated the value of a newborn slave baby the same way they appreciated newborn calves (Davis, 244).
In modern day society, women are shown little leniency when needing to go on maternity leave, as they are not guaranteed paid leave. This forces women to take short leaves and not enough time for themselves and their newborn, exhausting their bodies and mental health needing to put survival first. Workplaces argue that it is simply too costly to offer this benefit, and if they were required to do so, they would have to either cut jobs, or simply not hire women who are of childbearing age. Capitalists have managed to avoid paying for the childcare that has produced their future employees.
Our rights have increased a considerable amount in modern day, but that is due to capitalism needing women to work and consume. Women have struggled collectively for centuries to obtain the right to vote, work, and unionize. They have fought tirelessly to freely exercise their motherhood, which can be an extreme financial burden to many. Only half of the U.S. workforce is eligible to go on unpaid leave, pushing women to get abortions or give their children up to the system because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave.
While abortion is legal, we should not live in a society where women who want to experience motherhood have to consider missing out on such life experiences due to the inability to provide, under a workplace that is completely unsupportive and inconsiderate of a woman’s needs. In 1977, over two thirds of the population thought that a woman’s “place” was to care for her home and family. On average, women do as much as twice the housework of men. It is important that workplaces need to be more flexible and accommodating of hours for working mothers.
Across the workforce, women are forced to deal with competition from men as well as deal with their anxieties. Men attempt to extend household inequality to the workplace and women are constantly fighting for equal rights and opportunities as men. This capitalist economy has put both men and in a position where they have unequal economic relationships. In the early centuries of capitalism, the slave system also demeaned men and discouraged male supremacy. Husbands and wives as well as fathers and daughters were subjected to slave masters’ complete and absolute authority.
Equality was only seen between the two sexes as a means of punishment. Men and women were all providers in the context of a slaveholding class. Outside of this, a man’s work wage in addition to a woman’s household duties left no mass of jobs available to women. Men’s lives navigated between workplace capitalism as well as household feudalism. This capitalist economy exploited both men and women, and men felt the authority to, in turn, exploit women.
In “The Myth of Barter,” women were exploited in dzamalag. Dzamalag was a form of ritualized ceremonial exchange and barter commonly used in the 1940s. This exchanged involved women of opposite moiety singing “give dzamalag” to the other and both hit and touch men, and go as far as dragging them into the bushes to copulate. Men took this initiative with the latter’s wives and women were told by their husbands to “not be shy” (Graeber, 31). This type of exchange is undoubtedly inappropriate, and its modern form is a take on prostitution or other forms of exploitation of women.
For a capitalist society to retain privately as much of the surplus society produces as possible, this economic class puts all of the financial responsibility ono the individual. They do this by using the vehicle of a nuclear family. Women’s unpaid care and nurturing labor in our communities is how capitalists maintain their system. In turn, this makes women’s labor cheap. We have obtained more rights because we have had to fight for them, and because pulling women into the waged work force for low wages to make profits is ideal. A pool or surplus labor is kept around due to these gender inequalities. Globally, women still earn, on average, between ten and thirty percent less money than men.
Sexual discrimination, lack of identity, and harassment all are part of the oppression of women under a capitalist society. Historically, women have been regarded as the personal property of men. The starting point of subordination of women to men was the division of labor. Women perform unpaid labor in the form of child-rearing, cooking, and cleaning. Some may argue that women who believe this should simply not have children, but it completely lacks rationality that women should simply not experience motherhood and appreciate their ability to bring life into this world because of an unfair society that does not choose to properly treat those in such a transition.
It is also important to analyze other societies and how women are represented in them when thinking of alternative solutions to issues brought forth by gender inequality in our capitalist society. Women of the Ojibwa, as discussed in Leacock’s “Women’s Status in Egalitarian Society,” maintained autonomy and went against all attributes of universal female subservience to men. Women there were described as self-sufficient, independent, and much more versatile than men (Leacock, 251). Instead of men doing all the hunting, women also did their share, too. Young girls often accompanied their mothers on hunting trips as a means of bonding. It was important to them to learn both men’s skills and women’s skills.
Women of Ojibwa were untroubled and also extremely resourceful. Men also would partake in activities that did not involve hunting and helped their wives with home front duties. Women’s autonomous and social roles emerged in this egalitarian society. This Western European and Anglo-American philosophical tradition concerns itself with equality. It relies on the notion that people should be treated as equals, should treat one another as equals, should relate as equals, or enjoy an equality of social status. With regard to capitalism, it seems unnatural that people would be treated the same, but in the land of supposed limitless opportunity, it is important that gender inequality be an issue of the past. Capitalism has blatantly not provided autonomy for women. An egalitarian lifestyle shares breadwinning and family care between both partners.
Egalitarianism is a school of thought that prioritizes all people and is seen as an alternative to capitalism. It is hard to pinpoint what dimensions of equality are equally and morally important, but this system believes in equal treatment of all and is quite different from capitalism. It would be ideal to be able to live under this type of philosophy, but we have a long ways to go. Many argue that socialism is an ideal economy to live in.
Socialism refers to an economic system based on the collective social ownership of the means of production. It focuses on trying to have a shared access of the means of production, but tries to still place the idea of ownership within the workers. Socialists believe that all individuals should have access to basic life needs and public goods to allow them to reach their full potential. Another alternative is communism.
They also believe that gender subordination is shown historically to be so integral to the functioning of the capitalist economy and the ability of big business to make profits. Communism focuses on the idea that everything including the means of production should be owned collectively. Supporters believe that all individuals are the same, so classes make no sense. Everyone should work for the government with the products being distributed equally. Of course, these all have their pros and cons and it is hard to determine which benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Capitalism essentially has three key principles. This includes means of production being concentrated in private hands, a majority of individuals working for a wage, or for others, and markets used to mediate between producers and consumers. It is safe to say that capitalism encourages greed, and is a system of minority privilege and class rule. While it praises freedom and individualism, it strips people of both of those rights.
Those working for a living are working for others like robots, profiting the big guys. Its materialism and need for mass production rely on workers and the drive for this may be what has sped up women’s rights, rather than it coming from a place of genuinity and thirst for equality. Private directors direct the means of production, and one of the main concerns is the unfair distribution, not only with gender, but with race, regions, and social class.
An overwhelming amount of gendered oppression is perpetuated by the state and by capitalism. A woman’s subordination inside households has produced many of the inequalities and discriminations of the sexes, and women who have fallen victim to this system are still fighting to this day. Patriarchy is one of the dominating forces behind capitalism. While we have apparently moved past a lot of forms of inequality in comparison to centuries ago, we blatantly have a long ways to go.
Women’s struggles within our economy date extremely far back and include violence, suppression of fundamental rights, under-representation or misrepresentation in politics, poverty and economic marginalization. Capitalism and patriarchy together reinforce the oppression of women and makes the work of women invisible compared to that of a man. The persistence of sexist attitudes in our society continues to persist because of capitalism and I truly believe that humanity has taken a turn for the worse because of this economy.