THE NEWEST PROLETARIAT(S); females in all colors
June 23, 2013
The world seems upside down—the 1 percent turns most of our lives towards their benefit. Truth tellers go to jail; liars go free; secrecy trumps democracy; the World Health Organization declares that violence against women is an epidemic global health problem; girls and women hold up not half the sky, but the whole thing as they do the lion’s share of labor across the globe; Julian Assange demands transparency from governments while progressives simply forget that he is charged with rape; right-wing activists attack women’s rights to her body especially to abortion while denying real choices to children everywhere.
So much is changing about everything: the globe, the earth, weather, jobs, classes, races, genders and sexes. Because women’s lives are changing, and everywhere, then feminisms need to change too. And since lots also does not change and stagnates for women and girls, the remaindered structural aspects of misogyny still needs to be recognized.
Enter, the new proletariat(s)—where class structure matters and in new complex ways. So, maybe it is time to retrieve the term proletariat from the “left” and re-invent it for the rest of us progressives. I write “maybe” because I am not sure it matters what we name this massive diverse grouping of some 3 billion women in all their colors. But I am sure that it is time to recognize the struggle to control women’s bodies in all forms—from sexual abuse and rape to the war on abortion to the denial of equal pay–as deeply politically misogynist even if there is no easy way to mobilize and collectivize this effort.
This proletariat of women is named by and for the structural location that one inhabits in the system of labor exchange and enforced abuse and punishment. The “epidemic” that the World Health Organization names as a global health problem is also more deeply a structural problem of misogyny. http://www.who.int/gender/violence/who_multicountry_study/en/
I look at these times and see a new polyglot proletariat, or maybe many proletariats that are each uniquely similar, made up of more girls and women of all colors than ever before, alongside the men already there. I am hesitant to try and retrieve the term `proletariat’ because it exists with historical constraints. Yet, the idea of multiple, many, or plural proletariats undermines a static usage. I resuscitate `proletariat’, especially for women and girls, with the new and old forms of labor on the globe alongside the new transnational networks that derive from this.
Girls and women do labor of every sort—domestic, peasant, migrant, farming, reproductive, consumer, affective, slave, and waged. Birthing—that is actually called labor—is done exclusively by women. The new proletariat(s) embraces the labor of girls and women: from sex workers in all their variety, to migrant female laborers crisscrossing the globe, to women and girls hauling water and gathering wood, to the dagonmei in China’s mind-numbing I-pad factories. It is no small point that so many of the women and girls in the Congo and Rwanda who are brutally raped and murdered are/were out gathering firewood.
The other side of labor’s enormous fountain of profit making and/or sustenance is sexual harassment, prostitution, rape, and violence. In sum: the sex class containing women of all races and cultures in all their varieties in terms of both labor and sexual violence remains a silenced secret in the age of supposed transparency.
Gender keeps morphing. This means that what women do and are allowed to do and expected to do keeps changing. A tiny minority of women reaches unbelievable sites of power and wealth. But this should not confuse us. The vast majority of women and girls become and remain the laborers of the globe—the newest proletariat making new proletariats. We might be poor, or middle class, or upper middle class in income—but proletariat nevertheless—relegated to selling our labor for wages/salary.
Four in ten mothers in the U.S. are primary breadwinners and upwards of eighty percent of women contribute significantly to the economic well being of their households. Yet, women remain poor despite all their hard work, and one’s color plays a huge role still.
The disparate realities of women’s lives today are probably more present than ever. As economic inequality grows— so does the difference among white women and women of other colors. This intensifies as new progress is made for a few, while the majority remains in well-established ghettoes of sorts. It would be a mistake to ignore the change and the progress. And it is a mistake to not recognize what remains problematic and unchanged. And it would be wrong to assume that the change means that the structural limitations of a racialized misogyny do not remain.
Inchoate Politics as a Pacifier
There are the on-going investigations into sexual abuse and rape in all our military venues. The raping was/is continuous and serial and violates men and women. Males, more often, do not come forward. To the extent that many of these violations are same-sex they rattle the heterosexism of militarist misogyny. http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/06/24/majority_of_military_sexual_assault_victims_are_men_now_that_the_focus_isn.html But they also point to the fact that sex and gender are not one and the same. There are more women in the military today—14.5 percent of the armed services are female. Many of them are working class women of many colors and varied background and they have become fodder for sexual abuse.
The military ended the draft and became a voluntary army in 1973, the same year that Roe v. Wade was decided, making abortion a legal right for women. The affirmation that women had a constitutional right to choose abortion stands alongside the denial of women’s actual sexual rights to their bodies in the military.
A Diversely Unified Class
I was just in Hanoi and in the mountains outside Sapa and women are everywhere doing everything. They are relentless in making their families work. They also remain victims of domestic violence and rape.
The Arab Spring brought new promises for women in Tunisia, and Egypt and now men in the streets are punishing women. The women in Afghanistan demand their education and are brave and tireless and the Afghan military forces rape them wantonly. Islamic feminists of all varieties push to democratize Sharia law and challenge patriarchy while there is violent push back against them.
Brazil has a female president and police commander and staffs many of its political stations with women while promoting women’s rights. And, yet “public rapes” are increasing—especially of poor women. Similar truths exist in India. The brutal rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey mobilized massive anti-rape demonstrations and revisions of rape law throughout India and across the globe. One Billion Women Rising took this energy and activated anti-rape violence demonstrations in more than 270 countries.
There is activism in Guatemala against the hundreds of murders of women; and the creation of homeless shelters in Haiti, Philippines, and Mogadishu. Sexual violence connects women to their bodies and the body of the globe. And, women’s labor—of birthing, and rearing, and cooking, and maintaining life and doing their paid jobs also connects them. Women in the actual sites of power connect us less.
The people of Turkey are saying no to the conservatism and authoritarianism of President Erdogan. He recently prescribed that every Turkish woman should have 3 children and that abortion should be totally illegal. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/18/turkey-arrests-crackdown-protests-erdogan
There are more women in the labor force than ever before in the U.S. out-pacing men, but this says little about equality nor is it indicative of a re-arrangement of power. It says more about the recession of 2009 and the disproportionate loss of jobs that men, especially working class men held. These jobs are gone, for these men and women alike.
These changes are not about feminisms or about women’s rights, or about women’s empowerment, even if women use these changes to empower themselves as individuals. All this change of women laborers is about women becoming the largest part of the new working classes. Chinese women in the auto factories, in these recent weeks are demanding higher wages and the right to form a union. They appear to be the backbone of this new class of workers. There are also immigrant women—from the Philippines and the Caribbean—creating a union for women working as nannies in New York.
Modernized misogyny is still misogynist. The privileging of masculinity exists today but with much more economically diverse and diversified forms/expressions. Chattel slavery created all blacks homogeneously as poor, even if there were distinctions of privilege from the manor to the field. Being black today is more economically diversified than in the past. This is true of gender privilege as well. The once traditional white heterosexual married family now exists in much more various forms: single parent families, blended families, gay families, black and Hispanic and Asian families. Violence is still threaded through these forms.
Women in Eastern Europe before the revolutions of 1989 already carried these burdens of the labor force and their triple days of labor. Women in most African nations have carried more than their share of life’s burdens. Women in China were said to hold up half the sky during Mao’s regime. Women filled the munitions factories during WWII in the U.S. and England.
Yet, still, most women are not paid as equals. They are not promoted as equals either. But there is also something new here. What is new is that this labor is being put more in view, and some females are also doing newly paid labor. Misogyny has more egalitarian looking forms today without the equality. There is a more diverse range of jobs that females of all colors hold today. This level of differentiation and diversity defines the present global economy. This newest form of patriarchy exists for the benefit of corporate greed and its racialized masculinist privileging. It is not to the benefit of most women or men across the globe. Neither is the sexual violence.
Contrary conditions seem to multiply. Although 80 percent of the displaced and refugees in the conflict in Kyrgyzstan between the Kyrgyz’s and the Uzbeks are women and children, the new president, Roza Otunbayeva, is a female. The greatest penalties for the conflict are women and their children, while a woman oversees the process. Poor women in India, Thailand and Cambodia are a supply for surrogate motherhood—the outsourcing of pregnancy, while women of other classes exploit them. Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani is threatened with stoning to death for adultery in Iran while Hillary Clinton negotiated nuclear issues with Iran’s president. President Jacob Zuma boasts his sexual promiscuity while women in South Africa suffer rape and AIDS in devastating numbers.
New feminisms must stand together with the new proletariat(s ) against the transnational exploitation and violence towards women and girls. The health of the planet depends on it.