Hard is the fortune of all womankind
She’s always controlled
She’s always confined
Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife
A slave to her husband the rest of her life
–The Wagoner’s Lad (Joan Baez)
Why the Patriarchy Succeeded the Matriarchy
During Women’s History Month, it’s good to reflect on the oppression that we are dealing with and how to fight it.
For most of humankind’s existence, matriarchies were more common than patriarchies. Up to 5 or 6,000 years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers. They barely survived and had nothing that that they could keep. Whatever they obtained was consumed right away.
Humans lived in cooperative societies where everyone’s contribution was completely necessary for survival; consequently no one was undervalued. People traced their lineage through their mothers, the only parent of whom they could be certain.
Woman’s Downfall was Cows, Not Apples
At the dawn of civilization, people began to accumulate wealth. Their wealth may have been cattle or agricultural products, but, for the first time, human beings had something that they could keep and pass on to their heirs. That was the downfall of women’s equality.
The men wanted to be sure of their heirs, so they ended women’s rights. Marriage was invented and adultery, for women, became a capital offense. Polygamy thrived and polyandry was rare.
Women were the first oppressed class
–Frederich Engels (Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State)
It Wasn’t Just Women
The men with the wealth didn’t just oppress women. They oppressed everybody they could. They enslaved everyone they could conquer. Slavery became the dominant form of work for centuries. But people, including women, struggled for a better deal. As capitalism became the dominant form of economic production, starting only about 400 years ago, labor became more “free,” and really big gains began to come.
America Was “The Beautiful” for White Propertied Men
In 1776, when the United States began to form, white propertied men of a certain age were the only ones who could vote. Blacks were enslaved and Natives were murdered. Women couldn’t even own property. Millions would die before significant change came about, but change did come.
American democracy peaked toward the end of the 20th century, and has been generally headed the other way since then. Our electoral system is now awash in money. Previous restrictions on racist voter suppression are being put aside. The Equal Rights Amendment is a distant memory, except in Nevada, where it passed in 2017.
How to End Women’s Oppression
Women’s oppression has the same basis as oppression of others — it is the will of the holders of wealth. They have to be removed from power. Women, as one of the more oppressed groups, have a special role in this fight. It is heartening that the biggest demonstrations in American history, weekend of January 20-21, were led by women. It is significant that women called a general strike on International Women’s Day, even though there is no way to evaluate the participation.
I work on organizing people who support the right to retire. I especially prize our women activists because they tend to have the clerical abilities that organizers need, while men who have worked with their hands all their lives tend to have less ability to use modern technology.
I don’t believe that women, acting alone, will overcome the propertied oppressors. It will take virtually everyone. But I don’t think it could be done without women!
There was a union maid,
Who never was afraid