Sexual violence and capitalism

Increases in reported sexual assault do not necessarily reflect a rise in violence. It may, as Grabosky pointed out, reflect

Sexual violence and capitalism


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pends on the ideology of the family as a justification for the lack of socialised facilities and for the burden women workers bear in reproducing the workforce. So the male and female stereotypes are produced socially, via education, the media and so on and backed up by very material discrimination against women.

The book is riddled with logical contradictions and muddle. She says that violence in the family occurs irrespective of class, income or social situation. Two pages later, she lists dissatisfaction at work, combined with other factors such as low selfesteem which «could account for the higher rates of wife battering amongst the working classes.»

The confusions and lack of clarity of these more theoretical works are reflected in more popular articles. For instance, in a pamphlet put out at Monash, two authors argue that it is in the «male ruling classs» interest. This implies it is not in the interest of the females of the ruling class for women to be passive sex objects. But for womens oppression to be seriously challenged, the class society which gives rise to it must be threatened. Whenever this has happened, ruling class women have not sided with the oppressed, but have supported their male counterparts attempts to put down such a challenge. Once again there is the attempt to separate womens oppression from class society. Repeating a common theme, the editorial states that violence against women «cuts across race, class and religion». This is true up to a point, but as a statement on its own, it tells us very little. As we have seen, it repeatedly has to be modified to account for differing levels of violence in different social layers.

So far I have argued that violence against women is the consequence of the way capitalism structures women and mens lives into different gender and class roles. But where does pornography fit in is it a cause of violence? Some feminists such as Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon claim it is. A popular saying is «porn is the theory, rape is the practice». Scutt was asked by Rebellious, the womens student paper at La Trobe University, «does pornography cause more violence?» She replied «we are never going to get an answer that is conclusive.» Then she went on to equate pornography with violence.

There is an assumption that pornography is distinguished by its depiction of violence. McGregor found this was not so: 90 per cent of pornography is routine sex. The levels of violence in Playboy have decreased since 1977 to below that of kids comics. Some researchers report that porn is overwhelmingly boring. Experiments found that films about sex had no impact on men. Films about violent rape were found to produce increased levels of aggression in men if the woman being raped was shown to enjoy it or if the male viewer had already been made to feel angry with a woman. These studies were used to argue pornography causes violence and so should be banned.

Pornography is a reflection of the stunted sexual relationships under capitalism, not their cause. The growing market for it is a consequence of the changes already talked about. Young people grow up in a world full of sexual imagery, but actually learn very little about sexuality. Many of them turn to porn out of curiosity or even a substitute for real human relationships. To equate pornography with violence is dangerous. Scutt explained this point to mean that the industry exploits the women it employs, which it surely does. But if a womans employment per se is violence, how then do we distinguish it from battering and rape? Were there no distinction made between prostitution and rape, a prostitute would have no rights against a rapist. It is interesting to note that in the most recent books, the question of pornography is not taken up. This is a welcome shift in the arguments, especially if it indicates a recognition that pornography has not been shown to cause more violence.

Marx argued that the way production is organised is fundamental to all aspects of social relations in any society. Under capitalism, the mass of producers is divested of any control over the means of production. Instead, workers ability to work is itself turned into a commodity. This very activity, which should be creative and life-affirming, becomes nothing but a chore, producing wealth for those who dominate our lives, and in fact increasing their power over us.

This means that the products of workers labour stand as alien objects, as a power beyond and opposed to them. This alienation means that for the worker, life appears to be dominated by the products of labour over which she/he has no control. Instead of labour being the source of the needs of life, it becomes drudgery and the means by which capital dominates society. Labour is not voluntary, but forced, no longer satisfying in itself, but merely the means for satisfying needs. In other words, rather than the workers creating their own needs, they produce whatever capital needs to make a profit.

This alienation from labour, the conscious, creative aspect of humans which marks us off from the animal world, results in the estrangement of one human being from another. This is the real problem with pornography: sex is something alienated from real human relationships. The sex act is portrayed in an alienated, objectified form for a passive, anonymous viewer as if it is a mirror reflecting the distorted lives of women and men under capitalism.

For Marx, «the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all relations of servitude are nothing but modifications and consequences of this relation.» Put simply, all the oppression and horrors we see around us arise from the basic fact of exploitation of the working class by capital and the particular way that is carried out. Because of this alienation, everything is turned into a commodity: the ability to work, everything we need to survive, even leisure and sex (i.e. in the form of pornography, advertising which uses sexual exploitation of women, and prostitution). The feelings of powerlessness workers experience are based on the reality of exploitation and their actual lack of power. This leads them to accept the domination of capital and along with that the dominant ideas of capitalism. This then explains why both men and women by and large accept sexist ideas not some malignant desire by men to dominate women.

Alienation permeates all of life and all classes, though in different ways depending on their degree of social power. To understand its manifestations this philosophical theory must be concretised.

And to understand society, or any aspect of it we have to understand the totality of all the social relations which make it up. The parts of society cannot be understood abstracted out of that totality, but only as parts of the whole. So to understand womens oppression and the resulting unequal relationships of women and men in the family, we have to find how they are part of the class society we live in. That is why I began with the way capitalism moulded the family, and how changes in the way production is organised brought changes and contradictions in womens lives. To say that class is fundamental to an understanding of family violence is not to simplistically «reduce» womens oppression to class, but to situate that oppression in capitalism, to show how gender oppression intersects with class oppression. They do not just «intersect» as separate aspects of society. Class exploitation gives rise to oppression and so they are fundamentally linked.

Ale question is frequently posed: why is it that men are the perpetrators of violence rather than women? Marxists and feminists agree the primary reason is because of the unequal relations between the sexes. However, it is worth remembering that most violence is actually carried out by men against other men. Under capitalism, peoples lack of control over their lives makes them frustrated, at times angry, at others passive and apathetic. Anger among workers can lead to trade union organisation and class actions such as strikes. But at an individual level, it can lead to lashing out at fellow workers. The divisions caused by sexism and racism create easy targets for this lashing out. This may mean at times attacking migrant or black workers who can be mistakenly blamed for unemployment or simply seen as inferior and easy victims. To call the relationship of the attacking worker one of «power» over the migrant or black is to miss the point of the real source of the violence: alienation, or lack of power.

It is easier to see the difference between the actions of the worker and those who possess real power if we look at racism and the ruling class. Ideologues such as Geoffrey Blainey actively campaign to have racist ideas accepted. He actually does have influence: access to journals, the media etc. At the time of writing, there is a conscious campaign by employers to convince workers that immigrants are the cause of unemployment, not the system of exploitation. Unlike workers, employers and governments have the means to propagate and establish these ideas as the accepted wisdom. The ruling class also gains from their acceptance: workers turn their anger against other workers instead of the government or the bosses. Workers lose from racist attacks, because it is more difficult to unite against their exploiters.

In the family, women are on the receiving end of alienated behaviour. Here, there is a whole ideology which lays the basis for it: women as sex objects, as bound to satisfy their husbands every demand, doing the housework and child care as w

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