The purpose of this essay is to summarize a key text on the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism, written by a socialist feminist organization Advance the Struggle is politically close to, Pan y Rosas. In their book, Pan y Rosas: Gender and Class Antagonism under Capitalism, the author Andrea D’Atri wages political war against the various strains of liberal and postmodernist feminism, boldly upholding the mantle of revolutionary feminism from the beginnings of the capitalist era in Europe to the modern struggle against the brutal conditions women face in Latin America and worldwide.
Pan y Rosas, a women’s socialist organization under a larger Marxist-Trotskyist formation in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and other Latin American nations, takes its namesake from the 1912 Bread and Roses strike by women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They synthesized the strike for higher wages and for better living conditions, thus the title “bread and roses”, signifying their desire for a higher standard of living that would afford them the ability to enjoy the knowledge, culture, and freedom every human beings deserves but is largely denied, particularly for most women, who are forced to work for a paid wage and perform unpaid domestic and caring labor.
Sex against sex or class against class?
All women are oppressed by patriarchy, but the majority are also under the tutelage of waged work and dispossession. For example: are Ivanna Trump (billionaire clown Donald Trump’s wife) and Hillary Clinton closer to the majority of working and poor women, or to the bourgeois class they belong to? Although patriarchy precedes capitalism by thousands of years, the former takes a specific form under the latter. Under this system, the reproductive labor, such as cooking, cleaning, washing, having babies, raising children, etc., necessary to maintain our species and reproduce new generations is primarily performed by working-class women. Patriarchal ideology socially constructs women’s domestic labor as a natural function extending from their biology. Even though this labor is crucial in reproducing workers’ needs to eat, sleep, procreate, etc., in order to work day in and day out for the boss, this ideology allows for capitalists to maintain it as unpaid and therefore keep wages down and profits high. Working women’s role as waged and domestic workers has been dubbed the “double-shift,” since the end of the 9-5 simply means the end of the first shift for women, after which they return home to perform their other, albeit unpaid, shift. Because under capitalism women are primarily viewed as baby-making machines, struggles around bodily autonomy and reproduction rights can challenge capital’s narrow framing of sexuality in a heteronormative manner. Part of the reason the typical nuclear family is upheld as the ideal under bourgeois society is because it assures a constant replenishing of the labor force with young workers who can work faster, longer, and will feel less entitled to the benefits older workers demand. Homosexuality is therefore seen as a break in this relationship because it removes procreation as the main goal or desire of romantic/sexual relationships.
The 20th century was the century of the miniskirt, jeans, the right to vote, contraceptives, legal abortion, etc., all achievements through a century of struggle, but what does it mean to talk about progress when so many women around the world die from hunger, preventive disease, abortions, pregnancy, unemployment, etc? Capitalism’s growth has been contradictory; for while it lays the basis for ending thousands of years of patriarchy by reducing the grip of the family and the male patriarch through forcing women into the public workforce, it has also deepened the misery poor and working-class women encounter through the ideological and violent enforcement of women’s gender role in society. According to our comrades in Pan y Rosas, and the defining element of our feminist framework, the central subject of women’s liberation is the class relation, the axis that can unite proletarian, poor, and all oppressed women in the war against capitalist-patriarchy.