When the Birds and the Bees…

Sex, sex, sex… Have we caught your attention?
In case people are wondering why they’re stumbling across this in a radical left-wing paper, or are hoping for a „juicy article;“ well, then we can reveal it: This text deals with how gender and the state get it on with each other, and it’s about feminism. Feminism? Wait a second, isn’t that old hat? Something to do with madly screaming naked women from the 1960s? Why do start with that again?

An old relationship…
Because: Whether it’s just silly slogans and pick-up lines or male-dominated, dudeish behaviour in school, at work, within your circle of friends or the activist group – sexism is still a part of our everyday life. From „old boys‘ networks“ in the university and economy which ensure that women don’t get better paid jobs, to physics teachers who still believe that women aren’t able to think as logically as men (a belief that in return causes quiet and insecure behavior on the part of girls), up to verbal and physical violence when two women kiss each other on the streets or maybe just do not fit into the mould of how a „real woman“ should look like.
The roles that even we reproduce every day by these very notions, ideas and comments aren’t new at all. Concepts of how girls and boys, men and women have to be have been in existence for centuries. Over the development of capitalism in the 19th century, a rather clear-cut distinction between housework on the one hand and wage labour in the factories and coal mines on the other hand emerged, based on already existing distinct gender roles. It seemed only natural that the woman takes care of home and children, cleans, cooks for the family members who also cry on her shoulder, and for whom she does a lot of emotional work in general. In short: that she is responsible for the reproduction of her husband, so that he is able to bust his ass working the next day.
Although family structures have changed since then, this is more or less still the case these days. 90% of single parents are women. And even on the job market it’s still mostly women who look after children, care for the sick and wash the old – all jobs which on average aren’t paid very well.

Cooking, Caring, Child rearing
Nonetheless: Nowadays, many things seem to look better in Western countries. Women have successfully struggled to improve their social situation: Women’s suffrage, the sexual revolution and taking up university studies are regarded as a matter of course by most girls and women. And we don’t want to deny that quite a lot has happened in the last few hundred years, especially since the 1960s women’s movement’s (yes, these „man-hating feminazis“ that so many people make fun of) assault on the hell of petit-bourgeoisie-desperate housewife existence. Over time these struggles finally found expression in law [Translator’s note: all of the following examples are from Germany, but the developments are similar in most Western countries]: Women have been allowed to vote in Germany since 1918 (it took until 1971 in Switzerland). Whereas our mothers and grandmothers had to seek permission from their husbands before they were allowed to sign a job contract, free choice of employment has been in effect since 1977. In 1979 the father lost authority over „educational matters“. Marital rape has been a criminal act since 1997 (but was prosecuted only at the request of the woman until 2004). And so on and so forth. Yes, one could almost think that the state is actually the greatest feminist of all. Because without financial incentives such as the parental allowance introduced in Germany in 2007, most fathers surely wouldn’t bother to learn how to change diapers. This state payment is given to parents under the condition that both take a leave of absence from work to do child care. Likewise, some countries have introduced laws which enable a woman to go to court to fight discrimination in the recruitment of female workers.
That’s all very well, but in this article we want to show that there are very particular reasons for governmental action in gender relations. And these reasons have nothing to do with the intention of fighting sexism, but are – directly or indirectly – connected to economic interests. Now, one could say: Never mind, as long as the right things happen. Well, there’s a catch: First of all it is clear that the individual laws are not about emancipation. Secondly: Whoever fights gender inequality will sooner or later in their struggle encounter structural limitations when turning to the state. And we definitely do not want sexist conditions to be slightly reformed, like old shit in new packaging.

When the stork comes…
States have one primary task: making sure capitalism can run smoothly within their territory. Because only then do they have the chance to be well placed on the world market in relation to other states. To that end it needs a population which is to some degree satisfied and isn’t going to rebel at any moment. It is on this basis that every emancipatory movement is examined by the state: claims and reform efforts which don’t threaten the state’s principal aim are frequently recognized, while others are suppressed. This was also the case regarding women’s emancipation. Modern industrial nations can’t afford not to utilize half their population as capable and willing laborers. This also means that rigid gender roles and stupid sexist images can at times be perceived as obstacles. Some of the above-mentioned improvements follow from this dynamic.
At the same time these improvements don’t change the state’s general interest in family and population policy, and with it the interest in the „female“ body: in birth control, child-rearing and controlling who sleeps with whom. After all, we are talking about prospective citizens, as well as prospective workers. As stated in article 6 of Germany’s Basic Constitutional Law: „Marriage and the family shall enjoy the special protection of the state.“ This proves that the family is still a very important unit in the eyes of the state. Many say it is the „seedbed of the state“ – yuk! But not all parents are to be this „seedbed“: in the case of the above-mentioned parental allowance it’s especially the high earners who profit the most – and this is how the state wants it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2006 at the German Employers‘ Federation Day, that „today we have the problem that 40% of academics have no children… This is a situation that a country which wants to call itself ‚highly developed‘ cannot afford.“ That’s how modern population politics works.

Blue or Pink?
he state maintains the binary gender order through law and erases everything in between. Everywhere we encounter patterns and norms that we have to fit in – „Come on, act like a real lady“, „Go prove that you’re a real man“… People who don’t feel like one or the other or that just do not (want to) fit into the mould of any of these (pre)dominant roles become outsiders in school, the sports club, at work. The state contributes by making it obligatory to tick either „male“ or „female“ on one’s ID. This social and legal pressure creates a situation where intersex people born with so-called „ambiguous sexual characteristics“ are forced to undergo surgery shortly after birth to settle any ambiguity that might upset the binary gender order.

Cuddle, Canoodle, Communism
What all of the above shows is that: in the course of history many things have changed, and certainly nobody wants to fall behind the advantages that women’s movements have fought for. Nevertheless we should not have any illusions: These reforms fought for by social movements still only represent expansions within the norms of capitalism. This means that somehow everything remains unchanged: Capitalism won’t be better just because homosexual marriages are allowed, because the birth control pill is available or because the child allowance is raised. Capitalism only adjusts itself to new circumstances so that the everyday horror may continue tomorrow as well.
But emancipation and gender equality mean more than simply having an equal right to be exploited. Emancipation based on state and nation can never be real emancipation. This means that apart from all the everyday struggles against sexism, we’re gonna have to fight for a society without capitalism and states as well – and the other way round.
And if anyone is still interested in what happens in the bedroom I will tell you as much: The revolution is my girlfriend!

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Nancy Fraser: Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History. (New Left Review 56, March-April 2009)