In the preceding chapters I have tried to show how the oppression of women forms a part of capitalism's economic basis and power apparatus. How do we get from here to there - to a society where the oppression of women no longer reigns? There are at least two main stages in that struggle. The first stage is the struggle in the capitalist period, to better women's conditions and build up the forces which in the end will overthrow the bourgeoisie as a class. The second stage is the battle against the oppression of women in a socialistic transition society, in order to reach the classless, communist society where the oppression of women does not exist. This chapter will deal with the first of these two stages.
When the modern working class was created, there were not only changes in the way people worked and lived. Changes also occurred in people's thoughts, in people's understanding of themselves. The workers became conscious that they were one sort of people, who stood in opposition to another sort, namely those who owned and ran the factories and society. They became conscious that people of the same sort had to stick together. The new consciousness, class consciousness, became a powerful force for better conditions and for another society.
Today the gender composition of the working class is different than it was earlier. Half of those holding down jobs in the working class in Norway are now women. In the Third World a large female proletariat has also grown forth.
Women have not been accustomed to seeing themselves as a social force with common interests in the same way working class men have. And those who rule tell them that they aren't really workers. "You are supported housewives", the Supreme Court justice told the four women who were fired at Hillesland. "You are girls who are waiting to marry", say the bosses at factories in the Third World free-trade zones to their workers. The growing portion of the Third World's poor farmers, who are women, experience the same, "You are not farmers, you are mothers and housewives", the development experts say to them.
But the four Hillesland-women easily notice that they are workers. The young girls in the factories in the Third World's free-trade zones notice it too. And the female farmers notice that they are farmers. The female portion of the working class, and the female portion of the Third World's peasant class, will find their place in the rebellion of the oppressed classes.
But they also notice that there are differences between themselves and the other workers and farmers. The difference lies in the fact that they belong to the oppressed sex. The consciousness of to which sex they belong, ties them to oppressed women throughout the world.
Workers and farmers, but also women. This duality creates common experiences, something in common in conditions and life situation that gives rise to common thoughts, to a common consciousness. This consciousness - women's consciousness, is - and will remain - a powerful force in the fight for better conditions and for a new society.
The dual consciousness gives women a special position in the struggle. Women have two wars to fight. Both strategy and organization must take this into consideration. This is concretely experienced by women active in political and union work all over the world. Heliette Ehiers, Woman's Secretary in the Land Workers Union ATC in Nicaragua put it this way when I talked to her in 1986: "We women have a dual task: we must both be militant in the union on the same level as men, and we must fight for the specific women's demands."
Here in Norway, Sin Jensen, in particular, (1986) has pointed out the importance of a women's consciousness. The fact that women have led the way in a number of fields in the working class struggle of recent years, is undoubtedly caused by their situation as women. They stand in "the squeeze between job and family". This has a number of consequences:
Therefore, women's situation is the foundation which makes women the group which has the most to gain by winning the fight for working hours, for the 6-hour workday, for pay raises, and minimum wage guarantees, and the battle for the public sector, according to Siri Jensen. We see, also, that women lead the way in actual fact in these areas. She concludes that the working class now has two vanguards. Previously the working class had one vanguard: the traditional core of the proletariat. They played, and still play, a leading role by virtue of the value they produce, by virtue of being concentrated in large workplaces, by virtue of being well-organized and having strong fighting traditions. Now something new has happened: the working class has acquired another vanguard. This vanguard is the female workers, who play a leading role by virtue of the fact that they, as an oppressed sex, are forced to start a number of battles which have fundamental importance for the entire working class. Therefore, we see women leading the way in the battle for working hours, in the battle for the public sector and in the battle for wages.
The female portion of the working class is a developing class. It does not have, like the traditional core of the proletariat, a long union tradition and a secure identity as an important force in the class struggle. Indeed, there are women in the core of the proletariat. But the female industrial workers, too, have stood, and stand, in a special position. Most of them work in the low paid women's industries, and they have not belonged to the "trendsetting" layers of the proletarian core. Marion Palmer's description of how female union representatives risk being received by male union comrades provides a good picture of "the class differences" between men and women (1986, p. 76):
"Oh yes, we ladies participated in union courses, too. There, we learned how to be good negotiators, and how to go about getting issues brought up in the Committee for Company- and Working-Conditions. The only problem was that the map didn't quite match the terrain, when we got home."
"You have to slap the Principle Agreement (Hovedavtalen) down on the table in front of them - it says there that you have the right to have the time necessary for doing union representative work!" How many female representatives haven't heard these words from well-meaning male union colleagues?
And we get frustrated because we think we don't get our demands through because we aren't competent enough as representatives.
I was at a course once where a lady totally broke down after having heard a long lecture about corporate health services, social representatives, AKAN representatives and rehabilitation boards. "I just can't grasp that the two of us live on the same planet," she burst out to the speaker. He was talking about how all this functioned at a workplace with 2.000-3.000 employees. She came from a small fish factory in an outlying district in Norway. She was exhausted - but there were no jobs to which she could be rehabilitated at her workplace. Disability benefits were the only future prospect. She had argued with management for a long time in order to get free working gloves. They got them in the end. But that wasn't much to brag about at Sørmarka!" (Norwegian trade union conference center - translator's comment.)
Most women are, however, found in what one is used to seeing as the "periphery" of the working class: in trade and office work, in service and in the public sector. This is the level which traditionally has had a weaker "worker identity" than the core of the proletariat. And women's identity has often been tied primarily to their position in the family. Part-time work and breaks in their working life because of family responsibilities, hasn't exactly contributed to strengthening their laborer identity.
Despite this we still note that women are playing an increasingly important role in the working class' struggle. But they do so as much on the basis of their identity as women as on the basis of their identity as workers. It is their experience and fellowship as an oppressed sex that lends much of the driving power in the female worker's struggle.
The weakness that is most significant in the female portion of the working class is that it is not conscious of its own position and role. This is, among other reasons, because it is not organized, according to Siri Jensen. The female portion of the working class is not organized in terms of that which is the foundation of the role that they play in the class struggle: their dual position as an oppressed class and oppressed sex. In order to release the immense potential that is found among them, the female workers must organize, not just as a class, but also as a sex. Marion Palmer continues with her description of female union representative's depressing experiences at Sørmarka by saying (p. 77):
"What if we demanded courses just for women in the labor union? Courses where we could bring up the problems we struggle with on our own terms, Women are often silent at courses, while the men race to talk about who got the best agreements. What if we got a course which cut across the divisions between the locals - where we could all meet: washing women, girls from the Laundromats, women who work cash registers, who filet fish, who work on the assembly line, clerical assistants, maids and everybody else. I think that it would be a wholly different kind of course. It would be dealing with our planet."
What Marion Palmer is pointing out here, is the necessity of having different forms of women's organization within the labor movement. But this is not enough. Because the role of the female portion of the working class springs out of their situation as women, the key link in strengthening their power in the class struggle is increased organization and consciousness. They cannot be "constituted as a class" solely through the labor movement, and they can only become conscious of their role if they also are organized as women - in terms of women's all-around situation. This means that the organizing of women is just as important as labor organizing.
It is interesting to see that Elson & Pearson, on the basis of their studies of women in companies in the Third World's free trade zones, reach nearly identical conclusions. They, too, point out that labor organization is not enough. A specific organization' of women is also necessary (1984, p. 38):
"The forms that workers' organisations have traditionally taken have been inadequate from women's point of view because they have failed to recognise and build into their structure the specificity of gender. Trade unions, for instance, have been organised to represent "the worker", political parties to represent "the working class". The failure to take account of gender means that in practice they have tended to represent male workers. Working women have tended to be represented only through their dependency on male workers. In addition, the specific problems that concern women as a subordinated gender are often problems which it is not easy for conventional forms of trade union or working class political activity to tackle. New forms of organisation are required that will specifically take up these problems, offering both practical, immediate action on them, and also revealing the social roots of what at first sight appear to be a series of individual, personal problems whose only common denominator lies in the supposed 'natural' propensities and capacities of women as a sex."
But women's organization is not merely a necessary tool for women in today's battle. Elson and Pearson also bring up other perspectives (p. 39):
"Accordingly, women's struggle as a gender should not be judged in purely instrumental terms, as achieving this or that improvement in the position of women; but should be judged in terms of the way that the struggle itself develops capacities for self-determination. The development of conscious co-operation and solidarity between women on the basis of recognition of their common experience of gender subordination is even more important a goal than any particular improvement in the provision of jobs or welfare services to women, than any particular reform of legal status, than any particular weakening of "machismo" or "patriarchal attitudes" Improvements which come about through capital accumulations or state policy or changing male attitudes can be reversed. Lasting gains depend upon the relationships built up between women themselves."
The organized expression of women's consciousness can take on many forms. These may be organizations with a more or less limited area of work, such as: "Kvinner i kamp" (women in battle), Krisesenter-bevegelsen (the crisis center movement), Kvinner i mannsyrker (women in male occupations), women's conferences and women's committees in the labor movement and other organizations, and it might be campaigns limited in time like the "women's tariff campaign" in the spring of 1986. And it might be International Women's Day demonstrations. All of these forms are important, because they draw attention towards women's common lot as an oppressed sex, and how this affects their lives. But there are also political women's organizations with a more integral program, like Kvinnefronten (the Women's Front) in Norway. Such organizations play a particularly important role, because they serve as an anchor for female consciousness. They place the various struggles in a context, and they are an organizational expression of the total experience of being a woman. Strong organizations of this kind will contribute to exporting women's consciousness to other organizations and contexts, for example, the labor movement. They are already doing this. In many cases labor issues of particular importance for women are brought up in the women's movement first and in the labor movement afterwards. The 6-hour workday is an example. Other examples are support to the women at Våler Skurlag and the women at Hillesland, where the Women's Front was the first to start organizing support. The demand for gender quotas also came to the labor movement through the women's movement. We often see that women's political issues are not forced into the labor movement until after the women's movement has made them a political issue.
The fight against pornography is perhaps the single issue in the entire spectrum of women's issues that has had the broadest support in recent years. I think that one important reason for this is that women do not experience it as a "single issue". It is plainly and simply a question of the value of women as human beings. Unni Rustad describes pornography's message in this way (1986, p. 82):
"Here is the girl all men dream about, all men would like the same girl. And who do they want? Oh, the one who says, "I don't mean anything, I am nothing. It is YOU who decides what I do. You can use me as you want. I am there for you. I want what you want. You have the power.""
Pornography is concentrated propaganda for the power relationship between the sexes. The man can only experience desire through power and the woman can only experience it through submission. The content of the message is exactly the same as the message sent by the more reactionary Christian groups: the woman should be the man's inferior, and if she isn't, love between them is impossible. Pornography, though, has a form which reaches a broader public in our secular times.
Pornography is concentrated propaganda which purports that women are not equal to other human beings. In this way social distance is created between woman and man. This again makes continued oppression and abuse easier. Here is one of Unni Rustad's examples of how women are made into something different from other human beings. (p. 89):
"The Crime Magazine (Kriminalmagasinet) is the title of a magazine. Many see it as a decent magazine they can have at home on the coffee table, read on the bus or the train. The magazine is sold along with gas at the gas station, and along with food at the grocery. It is seen as so-called "soft pornography".
The reporters have been on a news-trip to Yugoslavia and met Yugoslavian women. What are Yugoslavian women? Well, they are "state owned breasts and thighs". "Here they do full strip" with good possibilities for testing "real Yugoslavian beaver delight". Does a "beaver delight" have anything in common with a human being?"
The fight against pornography has taught women a lot about society's way of looking at us. It has grabbed hold of us emotionally so that we feel it deep in the pit of our stomachs. It has created a rage, not just over single issues, but over the very degrading identity that we are offered. It has led to similar issues like the abuse of women, rape, and prostitution, becoming political questions in the women's movement. It is a question of women's value as human beings.
These battles, and the consciousness that they have created, have provided impulses to other aspects of women's struggles. It has made it easier to see women's wages, the lack of day care, demands for the 6-hour workday, in a common context. It makes it easier to see women's place in society as it is expressed in a thousand and one ways. The fight against pornography has therefore had major importance, for example, for the women who fight in the labor movement, though the battle against pornography primarily takes place in other arenas. This is yet another reason why a limited "union" organization of women is not sufficient, not even for strengthening women's battles on labor issues.
Strong women's organizations with an integral program are necessary in order to tie together the different battles so that they can provide nourishment for each other and build up an integral women's consciousness. This has importance for the possibility of making progress today. But, as Elson & Pearson point out: perhaps it is just as important that women become aware of their own situation as an oppressed sex, and that they form a fellowship, and learn to know their own strength. In this way they contribute to building up the strength that is necessary for eliminating capitalism. And they ensure that the working class which is to build a new, socialist society, is not "gender blind", A strong women's organization with battle experience and a solid women's consciousness is also a tool which will come in handy when the struggle over how to build the socialist society takes place.
The female workers (and their closest allies, the women in the lowest part of the petty bourgeoisie) have clearly shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the class struggle. Despite this they are, as Siri Jensen pointed out, a developing class. Many women work at large workplaces; where they are concentrated and relatively easy to organize. The large hospitals are a good example. But many women also work in small companies and shops under unregulated working conditions, at irregular hours and without wages in accordance with a tariff agreement. Where Nyland Verft, a shipyard steeped in tradition as a workplace for the core proletariat in Oslo, once lay, one now finds "Aker Brygge" and its jumble of shops and cafés. A large group of proletarians still work here. But the character of the proletariat has changed: from men with helmets who made up the weight in the powerful "Chapter 1", the Oslo branch of the Iron and Metal Worker's Union, to shop assistants and waitresses, often young girls, without any form of organizational ties.
If the tendency to divide the working class in two groups: "the central labor power" and the "peripheral labor power" develops, we will see more "Aker Brygge" type problems. There will be even more people who work in small companies with sub-entrepreneurs and sub-contractors, in small private firms which provide services (like cleaning) to large workplaces. Privatization within the public sector shows the same tendencies. This will lead to unregulated working conditions, working hours and part-time work with limited protection against being fired.
Who will organize the girls at Aker Brygge? Who sees it as their job to "constitute" them as a class? The traditional labor movement has shown little interest. When the Trade and Office workers Union became aware that closing regulations were being broken everywhere at Aker Brygge, they didn't do much more than shake their heads. The four women at the tiny Hillesland company weren't organized in a union either when they were fired. Because of that, LO said that it wasn't "their business". What happened, was nonetheless educational. In spite of the fact that they were not even organized, the four women had strength and consciousness enough to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Their anger sprang first and foremost from the fact that they were fired because they were women. And while the labor movement rejected them, the women's movement organized support for them. Through support organized by the women's movement they eventually received a good deal of support from the labor movement, particularly from chapters and locals.
Perhaps one has to think in a quite different way if one is to organize the girls at Aker Brygge. Perhaps the starting point has to be that they are girls? Perhaps the questions which will catch their interest in the beginning, will be quite different from the traditional "union issues"? It may be that the traditional labor movement is so stiffened in its point of view and way of working that it is incapable of meeting the challenge from Aker Brygge and similar phenomena. To all those who want to strengthen the working class' ability to fight, it must nonetheless be important to also include this part of the female working class in the battle.
Both in the struggle against capital's attack on the working class today and in the battle for a new society, it is necessary to have an alliance between the two vanguards in the working class. It is also necessary to have an alliance between the working class and the working people, with, among others, the lowest petty bourgeoisie (for example teachers) where we find very many women.
This kind of alliance is difficult, for many reasons. One of them is the social democratic hegemony in the labor movement. The social democratic leadership in the labor movement has a policy of splitting as much as possible: between LO-unions and "yellow" unions, between the private sector and the public sector, between those who want a 6-hour workday, and those who want a lower retirement age. And male chauvinism is an inseparable part of their politics, as I have previously described.
An alliance between the core of the proletariat and the new "vanguard" - the female portion of the working class, must therefore be fought into being, despite the leadership in the labor movement, particularly the leaders of the male-dominated unions.
But male chauvinism is obviously also found on the grassroot level. Those who want to fight for an alliance between the two vanguards are, therefore, faced with the task of winning over the grass roots first.
Many feel that it is artificial and difficult to bring up typical women's issues or give issues "a women's perspective" (by, for example, arguing that the 6-hour workday is particularly important for women) at male workplaces and in male unions. It isn't catchy, it doesn't win support. When one brings up something that relates directly to the male worker's own lives and problems, it is easier.
No doubt this is true. But it is also an expression of a narrow and shortsighted view of work in the labor movement. Bringing up women's issues in male-dominated unions is a step in the effort to build an alliance between the "two vanguards". It contributes to deepening the awareness of male workers to the fact that the working class is divided into two sexes, that the female workers have specific struggles and problems, that they are class comrades who need and deserve support, and that solidarity serves both parties.
Who will lead the way within the traditional core of the proletariat? Here, of course, the women in the core of the proletariat have a large role. They stand with one foot in each camp and can be a link. It means a lot that women in the core of the proletariat have a women-conscious labor policy. This also applies to women who work in male occupations in the core proletariat. These women are exposed to an enormous pressure to become one of the "boys", adopt viewpoints, attitudes, styles of communication and jokes. Often it is the only way to survive. Therefore, organizing women who work in male-dominated professions is necessary. It supports the fight for women's issues and perspectives.
However, in order to build an alliance one also needs "women conscious" men in the traditional core of the proletariat, who systematically fight for support for the women's struggle and against male chauvinism among their comrades at work. Support to the women's struggle must be an equally inevitable part of the policy of class struggle in the labor movement as male chauvinism is an inevitable part of LO-leadership's class cooperation policy. "Women conscious" men are also important as models for their comrades at work.
One thing that hinders this type of alliance is a lack of knowledge about female workers' situation. Low pay and poor working conditions are seen as a result of women's own weaknesses. Marion Palmer's description of how female union representatives were received at Sørmarka with the underlying message that they are "poor negotiators", and therefore don't win through, is an example. But women's position in working life has objective causes that are connected to the special economic role that they are made to play.
Building an alliance between "the two vanguards" demands systematic work from "women conscious" members of the proletarian core, both women and men, in order to break down the barrier that male chauvinism represents. This also requires knowledge about women's situation and its causes. But there are also other things that are important. One of them is mutual support to each other's struggles, such as: protests from Iron and Metal clubs when the government used forced tribunal arbitration against the low paid women in the public sector; support from female labor unions to the battle that was fought for Håkon Høst and the union at the Vinmonopolet (State monopoly of wine and spirits, translator's note). Another important issue can be joint actions on the grassroot level across the boundaries of the locals. An action like "Ja til arbeid" (Yes to work) in 1982 emerged from the Iron and Metal clubs at the shipyards in Western Norway. But it reached much further. In a demonstration in Bergen participants included the women from the closure-threatened "Nordic Feather". Despite this, the action had no conscious policy of building alliances across the gender dividers. A similar action today should both bring up the fight against the Hillesland-verdict and the fight against budget cuts which threaten female workplaces in the public sector. Another interdisciplinary campaign which began in 1985, is "For a free and independent labor movement". The goal of this action is to dissolve the marriage between LO and The Norwegian Labor Party. Among those who took the initiative to the action there were only a few women. Little conscious work has been done to develop the alliance between the traditional core of the proletariat and the female workers within this campaign. The wage negotiations in 1986 (with the "Female Government's" forced arbitration against the Norwegian Communities' Public Service Union, teachers, and nurses) provided in itself enough good arguments as to why the fight for a free and independent union is also a women's issue.
Whether we end up with an alliance or a split, depends also upon which policies are forwarded in the daily union work. When, for example the Iron and Metal Union accept lower increases in the wage negotiations, on the basis of the shortsighted argument that they will "make it up in the local negotiations", this contributes to a split in their relation to the female workers. This is because a low general increase sets the standard for the women's unions as well, and they do not have the possibility of achieving very much through local pay adjustments. Another example is how the reduced workday, which was agreed in the tariff agreement in 1986, is taken out as shorter daily work time or added up, for example, to make shorter working hours on Fridays. Only shorter daily hours can function as a step towards the 6-hour workday, which is so important for women. In order to build up an alliance one must use the entire working class' interests as a starting point when forming a standpoint on these kinds of issues.
The most important prerequisite for an alliance is nonetheless that the new "vanguard", the female workers, show their strength and fight their way out of invisibility. They are now in the process of doing so, and that is the very reason why the whole question of "alliance" has been put on the agenda. Through the battle they fight, the female workers are challenging the old images and forcing new ways of seeing problems within the entire working class. Here lies much of the importance of women in typical women's jobs.
One of the first things that must be done is to formulate "the building of an alliance between the two vanguards of the working class" as a conscious goal for labor union work in the most battle-ready portion of organized labor. Summing up and exchanging experience, holding discussions and trying things out in practice, are also necessary in order to reach a lasting. well worked out policy.
The development of the women's struggle has largely consisted of politicizing more and more aspects of women's lives, issues which at the onset were viewed as "individual" and "personal" problems, and making them social issues: part-time work - an "individual" solution in an individual woman's life - is in reality a part of a social pattern. And so are women's education and career "choices"; abused women's private unhappiness. too, social problems.
The latest addition in this process are the so-called "getting tough courses" (bøllekurs). Since AKP(m-l) started "getting tough courses for women", there has been an enormous demand for them far outside of the party. The "getting tough" courses take as their starting point the perspective that women's "personal characteristics" such as lack of self-confidence, perfectionist demands of herself, fear of making a shame of those she is representing, are created by society and can be fought against through collective effort. They are a part of the oppression of women. These "personal characteristics" hinder women from moving forward, taking on jobs, and standing up for what they think. They do not only constitute a personal torment for the women who suffer from, for example, low self-esteem. They make up a collective barrier in the battle against the oppression of women. People who think that they are inferior do not rebel. In order to fight the collective struggle one often has to change - also personally.
The "getting tough" courses are not a therapeutic service or help towards personal advancement. They are a means of strengthening the struggle to change society, by making women more "fit for fight". The "getting tough" courses consist of practical training in dealing with challenges, mutual support and help, learning the "rule of thumb" for reducing anxiety and other barriers which block achievement. (See Liv Finstad 1986 for a thorough description of "getting tough" courses.)
The "getting tough" courses are a practical initiative. But they illustrate a more general point: that women can change and become stronger in order to fight more efficiently. This change can consciously be worked towards in fellowship with other women. To "toughen up" is therefore not an insignificant part of an overall women's political policy. It breaks down the concept that some are, in some magical way, "strong", can "fight" and "lead", while others are not "made that way". And it strengthens women's responsibility for each other: taking responsibility for a task, is a collective concern. Whether one masters it, is also a collective concern, because it demands support and help from other women. The seed to a new, more collective view of leadership abilities and leadership lies in "getting tough".
To carry on an effective class struggle, and to eliminate capitalism, it is not enough to have unions and women's organizations. A revolutionary communist party is necessary. However, oppression of women turns up within the party too. In one way this is a more serious matter within the party than elsewhere. Not because the oppression is worse, but because it does greater damage:
Women have been, and remain invisible. Knowledge and theories about society: history, economy, sociology, psychology are primarily recapitulations of men's lives and situations. Political theory (and thereby political practice) is, of course, also marked by this. For the ruler's science and the ruler's politics this is no problem. When women are made invisible, the oppression of women is legitimized, which is necessary for this society to endure. But for revolutionaries and communists, women's invisibility is a problem, because it means that the ruler's worldview sneaks into our theory and practice. Marxism is meant to be a critical and liberating theory, which directs itself to all those who are oppressed and which has an explosive revolutionary power. But if it does not see women, then it can serve to legitimize important aspects of women's oppression. This weakens it as a critical theory, and it cannot be the tool that half the humanity (and in the end all of humanity) needs to liberate themselves.
Women must fight to get a women's perspective into political theory and political practice. This is not an abstract, ideological struggle. It is also a struggle where the power balance between the sexes, and the accustomed ways of interacting between men and women that emerge from it, make up a dizzying obstacle course through which women's policy must maneuver. But as with all areas of the women's struggle, it is possible to sum up experience and formulate a conscious strategy for this area as well. What I will present here is based primarily on experiences in AKP(m-l). But it will undoubtedly also be of assistance to other organizations and in contexts where women and men are fighting a joint battle, and where men dominate.
In AKP(m-l), one finds all degrees of male chauvinism and female oppression. We have, for example, members who have been excluded from the party because they beat their wives. But for the most part it is not the aggressive, open male chauvinism against which we must fight. Most men in AKP(m-l) are good, decent comrades, who feel that women's freedom is an important goal for which to fight, and who try (and in varying degrees succeed) to apply this in practice. Nonetheless it has been a heavy, tenacious battle to push women into the limelight. Because, in opposition to the conscious standpoint that "women's liberation is important" - an unending set of unconscious mechanisms is at work, women are pushed into the background and ingrown techniques of domination abound.
Women must have a program. The first precondition is having a political platform on which to stand, and a program one wants to carry out. In AKP(m-l) an important part of this program has dealt with making women in the working class visible, and getting the party to stand up for a worker policy with a woman's perspective, both in theory and in practice. There have been other issues as well: the role of the women's struggle in the socialist period as one of the strongest motors for making society develop towards communism (more about this in a later chapter); and the fight with the notion that one should only fight against the oppression that is exercised by "society" and not that carried out by "men".
This program is the result of many women's efforts. Because there always have been many AKP-women who have been active in the Women's Front, the party has also been supplied with women's consciousness from the outside. And through the work of the women's committee, through women's seminars and women's conferences (in AKP), the political platform has eventually developed. The woman-conscious women in AKP(m-l) have had issues and standpoints they felt strongly about, and which they felt it was crucial that the party, as a revolutionary worker's party, should adopt.
Men are "political animals". At least the men in AKP(m-l) are. If you have relevant, political arguments, convincing documentation, then you have a chance. The main method that the women in AKP(m-l) have used is political conviction. They have put forward their standpoints in writing and speech, supported them with examples and figures, again and again. The men have been treated as rational, political beings. After a while this reaped results. A number of skeptics have been provoked by the women's arguments and have conducted their own analysis and studies. They have discovered that the women were right, and have been convinced.
But men are not only rational, political beings. They cannot at the flip of a coin surmount the gender system in which they themselves are deeply woven. Therefore, there are many mechanisms which contribute to weakening the effect of rational, political arguments. One verbalizes agreement but nonetheless everything continues pretty much as before.
The unending rows of systematic coincidences. Every time an important women's issue just fizzles away in the party's work, there is a plausible reason for it. The paper couldn't write about it just then, because one of the journalists was sick, and four other important things were going on at the same time. The trade union sub-committee is constantly understaffed, and now there is a strike underway. The agenda at the district board meeting is packed, unfortunately there is no time to discuss the women's struggle. Unfortunate, but unavoidable. Attempts to squeeze in women's issues easily become a tiring hassle and are met with a barrier of practical difficulties. These kinds of barriers are often more difficult to break through than open, political resistance. One sees one's male comrade's drawn, overworked faces, and wonders if one isn't being unreasonable.
Yet it is an unending row of systematic coincidences. The result of innumerable single events becomes a policy - a policy which pushes women's issues out and away.
The blind spot. There is probably no political field the men in AKP(m-l) know less about, than women's politics (though there are honorable exceptions). This is despite the fact that it is in this very area where so many new and exciting things have happened in recent years. Political developments in the area of women's politics have moreover not only had import for the women's struggle as a limited field of battle. It also has consequences for the party's general politics and strategy.
But most men have a blind spot here. Invisibility befalls the women's struggle as a political area. The things women write, especially about women's politics, are not much read, and leave little impression. One symptom is the party's large conference on women's politics in the fall of 1986. No more than 10% of the participants were men, despite the fact that it was stressed prior to the conference how important it was that men attend.
In some odd way women's politics become something other than "real politics". It is as though it isn't really necessary to know women's politics in order to be well oriented and up to date. Men measure themselves in relation to each other, and in this area most are equally dumb.
The blind spot is undoubtedly a mechanism which contributes to hindering women's issues and viewpoints from having any importance in practice. Since it is not a question of open, political resistance, the struggle easily assumes the character of nagging. If one brings the women's perspective into debates and plans, it is often necessary to go against the premises that have been laid down. Then one is vulnerable to arguments that one isn't "sticking to the issue at hand", or is bringing up "totally different issues" (the underlying message being that they should wait until some other time).
Interaction. Since we are two different social genders with a set power relation between us, our daily interaction is marked by this. Susan Brownmiller writes about conversations where both men and women are present (1984, p. 120):
"In mixed company there's no question which sex has cornered the market on longwinded chatter. Men readily interrupt the speech of women, and women allow the interruption. In one systematic analysis of taped conversations between men and women, the men did 98 percent of the interrupting. Sociologist Pamela Fishman concluded that men are the talkers and women provide the support work that keeps a conversation going. In Fishman's study of male-female conversations, when women tried to initiate new topics, it was mostly without success. They generously followed male-suggested topics, they asked nearly three times as many questions as the men to draw them out, and they interjected frequent little boosts like "Oh, really?" to keep things perking. (Women also employ more body language than men to indicate conversational interest. Head bobbing, a flurry of little nods to show support and agreement, provides a visual accompaniment to the feminine task of animated, empathic listening.)"
Philip M. Smith (1985) has condensed many studies about interaction between men and women, particularly in discussion groups. Research suggests that men and women work towards different goals in an interaction situation. Men are occupied with domination and power dimensions, women with being together and the dimension of closeness, to put it a bit roughly. Part of the frustrating lack of communication and understanding between the sexes probably lies here: men and women are not playing the same game, they are not even on the same field. But this is only in one sense. In another sense they "cooperate" towards maintaining the power balance between the sexes. Women do not challenge men's search for dominance and power, because it is not important to them. Instead they contribute to a giving, personal togetherness, which releases men from the responsibility of tidying up the conflicts dominance and power-behavior creates. The studies of discussion groups with participants from both sexes to which Smith refers, provide the same, picture as Brownmiller paints: men talk most and longest; women smile and laugh most; men interrupt women far more than the other way around; women try to avoid confrontation in debates while men deal with conflict situations by talking more and interrupting even more often. Men have a tendency to make cocksure claims, women express insecurity and often use a questioning tone. Men's lingual style is often perceived as a sign of strength and intelligence, while women's talk is perceived as "friendly, correct, but unimportant". Attempts at changing the power balance by supplying some of the conversation partners with expertise in the area of discussion, has different results for women and men. Male experts become even more "masculine" than otherwise: they talk more; express less agreement and give less support to others. Also female "experts" talk more than female "non-experts", but are nonetheless experienced as less dominating, and as having less control over the situation than male non-experts. Another study, which also dealt with the interaction between gender and expertise, found that female "non-experts" were those who had the most difficulty in discussion groups: they were subjected to far more domination, hostility and clearly unreasonable treatment than any of the others, including the male "non-experts" and the female "experts".
The prevailing interaction between women and men in our society is both a reflection of the power relation between the sexes and a means of maintaining it. Men are acknowledged as wise, important, active and strong; women as the opposite. Men are allowed to speak out, while women are brought to silence. These mechanisms are also found in the communist party. The whole interaction is constructed so that men get their issues through, while women ensure that they do not become enemies along the way, and that conflicts are solved or smoothed over. But the parties are not conscious of this interaction, and how it functions. Men's style of behavior (and for that matter women's) is experienced by individual men as "personal" and thereby something beyond politics.
Women who function as leaders, are often caught in this net in an extremely tiresome way. A woman in a leading position meets men who are accustomed to interrupting her, and she is accustomed to being interrupted. Both she and the men are used to it being the men who set the terms. Both she and the men are used to behaving as if they are important, not she. All this is interpreted as if she lacked self-confidence, hadn't the drive etc., things that are serious faults if one is to lead. Both she and the men are used to her giving way in conflict situations. The men are used to being able to flare up and make a big issue out of things without great danger, she is not. (Most women know that most men are capable of roaring louder than they, pounding the table more, becoming more offended, feeling that their dignity is more damaged, when conflicts arise. Therefore, most often men win.) Men are used to not giving in, she is used to taking considerations at every turn. She is experienced as indecisive, evasive, weak; important deficiencies if she is to lead. She is evaluated in terms of her leadership ability, but is treated, and acts, in terms of her womanhood. This is sub-conscious, both for her and for the men around her, and ends with the situation becoming impossible, and she withdraws, she "couldn't manage". A personal defeat.
The usual interaction between women and men which is meant to confirm and maintain the power relations, is not only a tiresome obstacle course which women's politics must maneuver in order to be put on the agenda. It also constitutes an independent source of resistance. When women try to push women's politics into those areas of work which men are used to considering as "their own", it is an attempt by women to determine the premises for men's work. This awakens it's own resistance, because it is a threat to the usual order of things, no matter the content of what women want them to do. The result is often that men create an open conflict, which, at times, can be indistinguishable from a scene. Unfortunately, this usually brings out the "the best" in the women, who become factual, constructive and conflict solving, so that the man achieves most of what he wanted.
The battle surrounding which placing women's politics should have, is therefore not only a battle about issues and arguments. It is also a battle about rules for interaction, and about identity. This must be included in the political analysis and strategy if one is to have a chance of winning through.
The women's struggle - antlers and hunting grounds. An entirely different phenomenon can sometimes be witnessed when women's politics begins to be a field with a certain amount of prestige: women's politics becomes an area of rivalization between men. We are obviously pleased when men become interested in women's politics and contribute in discussions and practical work. We also think it is a good thing when men criticize other male comrades who haven't yet grasped the importance of this area. But it happens that the struggle between two men takes on a form which gives one the nagging suspicion that what is going on only seems to have something to do with women's politics. Women's politics happen to provide material for a battle over hunting grounds, an opportunity to wave around their glorious antlers. The women, with whom the whole thing is really concerned, are pushed out on the sidelines as frustrated and fascinated observers. When it is all over, neither the women's position nor the position of women's politics, has shifted a single centimeter forward.
It is not, then, enough for women to have good, correct arguments in order to get support for their program. Let us say that it is a necessary, though insufficient condition. Leading a political struggle, with political arguments, for a political program, is the main strategy. It is the foundation, and can never be skipped. But, in addition, something else is needed to maneuver the obstacle course:
Women must enter in droves! Many have summarized that single women on a board, council or committee easily become hostages. It helps if there are two of them, but not much. Women must enter in droves, only if they are present in droves do they have any chance whatsoever of influencing the premises and work methods. They can support each other, and they can confirm each other's experience of the things that happen at meetings. They can follow each other's leads, in agreement or disagreement, but at any rate in such a way that silence does not kill what women say. In AKP(m-l) we have adopted a resolution which calls for quotas: at least 50% women in all leading bodies (the central committee and the district boards). This assures that women will enter in flocks. In many cases the women also have their own meetings, where they bring up issues of common interest which are associated with functioning in a leading body. "The culture" at these meetings is often very different from "the culture" when both sexes participate. This can also provide impulses for changing the formal and informal rules regarding how a "proper" meeting should proceed, what are permissible themes and non-permissible themes, and what is factual and non-factual.
The fact that women get together for their own meetings and discuss things that are problematical and things they would like to bring up, is in itself a good (and often necessary) tool. Women have a tradition of using fellowship amongst themselves as a kind of "emotional recess", where they can relax, be themselves and get away from men's control. But in a political context one must be conscious of how one wants to use this women's fellowship. Should it be a "fellowship of comfort" or a "fighting fellowship"? It can easily turn into everyone complaining about how poorly they are being treated, and getting comfort and support from the others because they allowed themselves to be walked all over. If this becomes the main focus, one is just treading water. The purpose of the women's fellowship must be to find out how to solve these problems and move on. In order to move on there may be a need for comfort, but the primary need is for discussion of women's politics.
The problem with this type of separate meetings for women is that they can easily come into conflict with the ban on fractions in a communist party. One cannot rule out the possibility that these women's meetings can be used as a cover for totally different political purposes. I have no standard answer to this problem. But I think that one would have to have as much openness as possible around these meetings, and that the issues discussed must be put forward in other organs where women and men sit together. In this way the women have to bring the struggle and the conflicts surrounding women's politics and the oppression of women up openly, instead of complaining and comforting each other without achieving anything other than an ever-increasing list of examples of how difficult it all is.
Show strength! The best arguments are always the practical ones: occurrences in the real world. When women fight and strike in large numbers for a wage on which they can live, as they did during the tariff negotiations in 1986, then this is an argument that is much more hard-hitting than all the theoretical interpretations of women's role in the class struggle. This holds true for the party as well. AKP(m-l)'s large women's conference in the fall of 1986, which gathered about 800 enthusiastic participants in the course of three days, was a very good argument for the importance of the women's struggle. It moved our position forward more than a hundred discussions could have.
Formal position and power must not be confused! It is fine that women acquire formal positions. But this is not necessarily the same as acquiring power. If one has a political platform that one is struggling to put through, it is much easier to avoid confusing formal position with power. With an unclear program you think that formal position in itself represents victory. When you have a program, you measure your power by seeing what you have managed to accomplish.
Women who have reached formal positions, should formulate this conflict clearly to themselves. In AKP(m-l), as previously mentioned, half of the party leadership is women, positions like leader and political vice-leader are also held by women. We have formulated it this way: we are still an opposition movement, but we have an extremely advantageous starting point for our opposition.
Power and influence provide material results, among others, the access to resources. When the women in AKP(m-l) had held the most important formal positions in the party for two years, the committee on women still, despite being (on paper) one of the most important committees in the party, it had the least resources in terms of money and labor power! A useful reminder, if one should have exaggerated ideas about how far we have come.
Leading on men's terms? There has been much discussion among women about the danger of "leading on men's terms". Implied - a woman who takes on a leading position risks becoming like a man: power- and domination-seeking; self-assertive at other's expense; not very understanding, willing to listen or caring. I think that this problem is posed incorrectly. "Leading on men's terms" is precisely what happens when one continues to behave like a woman, in other words perpetuates the accustomed interaction which results in men always winning and women always losing, without either party having to acknowledge what is going on. When some of the other women experience this as though the female leader had "become a man", this is probably due to the result that emerged - a result that served men more than women. Because the leader behaves like a woman, the men get their issues through. The women who think that the female leader has "become a man", confuse formal position with power. They do not understand that the results that emerge are not an expression of her power, on the contrary, they express her powerlessness. Of course, it could also easily happen that women in these kinds of positions adopt men's perspectives and points of view. It is not easy to hold on to a woman's perspective if this perspective is perpetually rejected or viewed as irrelevant by her co-workers.
If one is to avoid leading "on men's terms", one must break with the terms which are set for how women should interact with men. In some areas this means behaving more "like a man". One must give "the dominance and power dimension" more attention in interaction situations, simply because one wants to accomplish something, not just ensure a cozy atmosphere. One has to fight against one's own impulse to tidy up after every conflict and reinstate harmony. One must force one's own terms on others. Becoming more "like a man" in this way is necessary in order to fight women's oppression. Most women feel that this is very, very difficult. There are so many barriers, both external and internal.
Becoming "more like a man" must, however, not become a step towards changing roles (if this were possible). We must break with the prevailing terms for interaction between the sexes in order to reach new, non-oppressive rules. In order to reach these rules, it is important that women also retain their abilities to listen, to solve conflicts and to show caring.
Making interaction between the sexes a political theme! As I have tried to show, the accepted interaction between the sexes is a part of the oppression of women. In the party this has direct political import. Therefore, it is necessary to make it a political theme, openly and explicitly. The unspoken rules must be formulated, so it can be clearly seen which goals they promote. Women who have been in the game a while often have a good, intuitive understanding of what is going on. At meetings this often finds expression in women giving each other knowing looks, making secret signals or giggling connivingly about their male comrades. A subculture of comfort and fun for frustrated women.
Since attempts at keeping the secret signs secret steadily become fewer, one can also succeed in making the men in the gathering insecure and confused. This can provide short-term pleasure. But in the long term it doesn't help much because it isn't an open provocation of the existing rules. And it gives neither men nor women the opportunity to learn something new or to try out new ways of interacting.
Therefore, these things must be systemized and politicized, and discussed openly, preferably with concrete episodes as illustrative examples. It is my experience that this is entirely possible and very productive. One appeals to men as "political animals".
One of the starting points for the male role debate in AKP(m-l) was this: we have seen in practice, in the party's political work, that men's mode of behavior has political import; it is important that men become conscious of how they use domineering techniques on women (and thereby countermand the party's political goals); new rules for interaction between the sexes must also mean a new male role.
On the other hand, we have "getting tough courses", which assist women in working with their role.
The goal is unity - on the right terms. When we fight for a better position for women's politics within AKP(m-l), it is because we are convinced that AKP(m-l) cannot be a satisfactory revolutionary party without women's politics taking its correct place. And we are convinced that it helps to fight to bring the male comrades over on our side. We are fighting so that they will unite with us, on the right terms.
We women in AKP(m-l) probably disagree a bit about what kind of attitude we should have to the male comrades. I think that we should treat them as just that, comrades. We must be tough when it counts and not waver on the issues we want put through. We ourselves must be aware of the massive dimension and depth of Women's oppression, and be on our guard for new veils and techniques of domination which replace the old, out-of-date methods. But I think that men, like everyone else, learn just as much by receiving recognition for the right things that they do, as from getting yelled at for the bad things that they do. I think that most men in AKP(m-l) honestly and sincerely want to side with the women's struggle. Therefore we should also give them recognition when they take a step forward, not just criticism because there is yet so far to go. Women do not necessarily know everything that is worth knowing about how society's gender system should be fought. We do not, for example, know the male role from the inside. Men's knowledge and experience are also needed. Therefore, an atmosphere that makes it possible for these experiences to emerge, must prevail.
This was a long section about the women's struggle in a small party. I think that it deserves the space, for two reasons: first, because the fight surrounding the communist party, and who it should represent, is decisive in a revolutionary strategy for the abolition of women's oppression; second, because the experiences we have had in AKP(m-l) are probably valid outside of our own party. Much of what I have said could surely, with smaller or larger changes, be transferred to other contexts and organizations where women struggle to bring their issues into view and into concrete action.