Sexism as Social Relation
By sexism we mean an ideology that claims fundamental differences between people on the basis of their sex. Sexism combines descriptive elements (“men are rational, women are emotional”) with moral demands (“women must concentrate on family and children”). This results in sex roles that both restrict the personal freedom of individuals and systematically lead to discrimination against those identified as “women” or “homosexuals” (see below). However, analogous to racism, sexism does not only exist when there is tangible discrimination; the postulation of sex roles is in itself already a sexist act.
We recognize, of course, that from the point of view of medicine and biology it makes sense in certain cases to distinguish male and female members of the species Homo sapiens from one another1; however, from this typology there is no valid deduction to be made on social sex roles.
The essential element of sexism is the introduction of sex roles. Sexists assume that there are “typically male” or “typically female” behaviours and ways of thinking, and derive from these stereotypes rules about how people have to live. Violating these rules can result in serious sanctions up to death. At present, women in particular are negatively affected by the sexist distribution of roles, but men, too, are forced to conform by social and sometimes (especially with regard to trans persons) legal pressure, thus depriving them of the opportunity to freely develop their personality – for example by devaluing “female” qualities in men.
The thesis that there are such things as male and female character traits is based on the fetishisation2 or naturalisation of social power relations. The vast majority of the supposed differences between men and women turns out to be non-existent after conscientious scientific examination. In one experiment, members of both biological sexes had to solve a series of mathematical problems. If they were told beforehand that women would generally perform worse in this test, then the prediction was fulfilled and the men performed better. But if before the test it was announced that men and women were performing equally well on average, the difference between the sexes was omitted.3 Another study found that the differences between boys and girls in terms of mathematical ability were related to the extent of sex differences in society; in Sweden, where there are effective government equality programmes, boys and girls were equally good.4 All of this testifies to the extraordinary influence of societal expectations and, at the same time, to the fact that misogynistic myths are unrelated to objective reality.
Even such differences which can be empirically verified throughout all experiments must not be carelessly naturalised. All participants have been socialised within a society that exposes them from their birth onward to sexist propaganda emanating not only from parents, teachers and the media, but ultimately from everyone.5 Moreover, since sex roles structure our everyday life in sexist societies, individuals must understand the existing sex roles in order to navigate them. For the single individual, the sex relation (“Geschlechterverhältnis”) is a socio-material reality. This constant preoccupation with sexual difference leads to the internalisation of sex roles. As we can see, there is already a well-tested explanation for factually existing differences. Postulating that there are fundamental biological differences in behaviour between the sexes in addition to this existing explanation violates the method of science. What could be explained, i.e. existing sex difference, has already been explained – by the influence of life and propaganda. The introduction of another obsolete explanation (“women/men are by nature so and so”) violates Occam’s razor6 and thus the principles of science. With regard to so-called “evolutionary explanations”, it is sufficient to note that they can be used at will to justify any behaviour if only a suitable “primordial state ” is postulated. Thus they have no scientific value.
Another powerful argument against sexist thinking is the reference to the massive differences that exist or existed in different cultures at different times with regard to human behaviour and the distribution of sex roles. Although this gigantic variety of role models, of ideals of masculinity and femininity can be proven, the sexist claims that one of these models is the “natural” one. However, the variance of gender concepts only proves the flexibility and formability of human character traits, abilities and behaviour patterns.
Regardless of the fact that the empirically descriptive elements of sexism are unjustified, irrational and false, the leap to the normative-moral level(“women should behave so and so”) is a priori unethical. An enlightened morality oriented to human needs weights the interests of all people equally. To define different duties for different groups of people on the basis of arbitrary criteria violates the universalistic-rationalistic principle of a modern and philosophically elaborated ethics. Sexist role expectations are moral concepts that are no better than the feudal privilege of nobility: without any reason the rights and duties of a human being are traced back to the accidental circumstances of birth. This is a naturalistic fallacy.
People who are identified as male can actually expect preferential treatment anywhere in the world. This is not a defining feature of sexism, but its real expression in historical and contemporary reality. Men today are not only better paid7 and taken more seriously in social interactions, they also occupy the majority of socially relevant positions. Really existing sexism is patriarchy. This means that women are forced into the position of the oppressed, while men benefit from this oppression in many ways and therefore, despite their own submission to sex roles, have some objective interest in maintaining patriarchy. The distribution of roles in all forms of patriarchal sexism has a simple function: to keep women away from positions of social power (politics, military, economic governance and science) and thus permanently renew the conditions of their subjugation. To this end, female human beings are taught those traits of character that prevent them from even attempting to enter influential spheres. Every sexist system turns men and women into deficient beings,8 but patriarchy is necessarily characterized by the fact that the male role must be regarded as the “better” one (for the bearer, not for his counterpart…).9
Patriarchy and bourgeois society
On the basis of theoretical elements formulated in different but fundamentally similar forms by Roswitha Scholz and Silvia Federici, we consider the dominant variant of sexism in Western industrial nations as its specifically capitalist-bourgeois form. In contrast to pre-modern modes of production, the commodity-producing system is based on a clear separation of productive activity into wage labor and other “private” activities. Only the former, in the sense of capitalism, can be attributed to the sphere of economy at all.
While in the European Middle Ages, for example, women fulfilled important economic functions despite their generally oppressed position (women, not men, were responsible for administering family wealth), their role in the bourgeois model10 is limited to the sphere of the domestic sphere defined as non-economic11: While the man is supposed to secure the monetary income of the “family” through wage labour, the woman’s task is to carry out reproductive work, i.e. washing laundry, cooking food, keeping the house or apartment clean, raising the children and ensuring the man’s emotional and sexual well-being. The “classical role model” is not “classical” but bourgeois and, from a historical perspective, not particularly old. From a material point of view, “female” reproductive work is just as indispensable as “male” gainful employment for the maintenance of social production as a whole and thus for the generation of social wealth. The separation of spheres that is constitutive for bourgeois sexism (Scholz speaks of the ” value separation” (Wertabspaltung)) ensures, however, that the domestic work done by women is made invisible. Thus the woman is not only degraded to an unpaid worker, a kind of slave, she is also prevented by ideological mystification (“housework is an expression of love for the husband and an inner need of women”) from soberly viewing patriarchally organised housework as what it is: an ideologically masked transaction that in most cases does not even satisfy the conditions of capitalist equivalent exchange.
In the 19th and early 20th century, the intensification of housework and the resulting excessive demands and physical and psychological expenditure were deliberately brought about by the state and capital. Through the rationalisation of reproductive work,12 the exploitation of male workers and thus the production of surplus value could be increased. Women also fulfil the function of “emotional lightning arresters” for the male half of the proletariat.
Although in many states the achievements of the feminist movement have made it possible to achieve greater financial independence for women, the separation of reproductive and gainful employment remains an important social and economic factor even in the digital age. In many cases, women are subject to a double burden, which consists of taking care of both the household and earning money.
Homophobia as a form of sexism
The linguistic usage of everyday life does not use the word sexism to describe sex relations as such, but only one of its effects, the oppression of women (patriarchy). This misconception ensures that homophobia, i.e. hatred of people with homosexual preferences,13 is perceived as a phenomenon separate from sexism.
Only the one who has no theory of sexism can believe that. Homophobic thought must be understood as a result and a segment of sexism. Without the presupposition of normative sex roles, homophobia can not be formulated. The assertion that sex with a man is okay for women, but forbidden for men, inevitably implies different rights and duties based on sex and is therefore automatically sexist. When a gay man or lesbian woman is persecuted or even murdered, it is a matter of “punishing” those who have dared to rebel against the anti-humanist principle of sex norms. In the face of homophobic forms of sexism,14 any homosexual act as such is an antisexist act.
Unlike patriarchal oppression, homophobia can regularly take the form of a murderous desire for annihilation. In contrast to heterosexual women, homosexual people are not indispensable for the reproduction of the human species, male labour and sexism. The ideology of eliminatory homophobia is particularly virulent when fascism gains momentum.
Sexism and everyday life
People who are identified as women are exposed to patriarchal oppression on a daily basis. The experience of permanent marginalization and discrimination associated with the status as an oppressed group can have a massive impact on the psyche, triggering either intense suffering and/or the internalization of sexist norms. Those who are identified as women often have to listen to doubts about their own assertiveness, intelligence, and ability. In states where the feminist movement has had less success and/or the ideological coordinate system of the majority population is particularly patriarchally structured, these factors are even more pronounced. An extreme example of this is Saudi- Arabia, a country in which women are almost completely excluded from participation in social life and endure massive legal inequality.
A core element of the everyday female experience is the fact of constant sexualization and objectification. Since patriarchy ascribes full subject status only to men, the socially widespread image of women is a mirror of projections of male sexuality, reproduced with mass effect by capitalist media, above all the advertising and porn industries. However, the fact that sexual objectification views women from the perspective of male pleasure does not mean that it is de facto practiced only or mainly by men. Rather, under the conditions of patriarchy, the sexualization of the female body is generated and perpetuated by society as a whole, that is, by men and women. Nevertheless, it is almost exclusively men who verbally harass women and practice sexualized violence. Rape and sexual harassment are very common even in industrialized nations and are hardly prosecuted legally – only very few rape complaints result in a conviction, and we must assume that a large proportion of victims of sexualized violence never report the perpetrators. This is the case because chances of success are so low and the stigmatization of victims is still widespread. In a significant number of non-Western nations, especially those dominated by Islamists or other fundamentalists, but also in some industrialized nations dominated by right-wing conservatives, the acceptance of sexual violence is even higher. In many countries around the world, marital rape (banned in Germany only in 1997) is perfectly legal.
The enforcement of sexism is largely unconscious; thus, a person does not even have to act with discriminatory intent to reproduce and reinforce sexist role models and patriarchal marginalization. Gender relations are implicit in all everyday actions; they massively shape how everyday situations and other people are dealt with. Women are interrupted more often, they are subjected to subtle expectations, and they are made responsible for domestic and emotional work as a matter of course – even in left-wing circles that consider themselves anti-sexist and feminist.
Politically, sexism acts as an obstacle to building transformative cadre organization and class power that should not be underestimated. The division of the proletariat into men and women and the resulting conflicts weaken our structures and impede the purposeful mobilization and organization of labor.
Association for the Design of History calls not only for an end to all discrimination against women, homosexuals and other victims of sexism, but also for the abolition of sex roles themselves. We are committed to a future in which the idea of stereotyping people on the basis of biological sex would only lead to incomprehension and indignation. The communist state must be a society in which free persons (not “men” or “women”) are equipped with the same rights and duties, and in which physical sexual characteristics are only an external characteristic, analogous to body size or hair colour. The abolition of sexism will make patriarchal oppression and homophobic discrimination impossible and will finally allow humanity to develop its true potential. The human type of the future will be ethically oriented, emotionally mature, self-confident, caring and strong at the same time. Rational regulation and organization of human generic life (Gattungsleben) and its cybernetic superstructure are inconceivable without the abolition of the ideology and practice of sex segregation.15
At the same time, we need to be attentive: It is not enough just to promise the vision of an antisexist society to be realised. The ideal can only be realised by people who are actively involved in everyday life and politics to combat patriarchy. Just as we cannot expect the working class to want to abolish capitalism before practical successes have been achieved with immediate consequences, we must not indulge in the dangerous fiction that a feminist movement can be built solely by referring to the utopia of a “post-gender society”. Only the practical and theoretical support of feminist struggles and the implementation of tangible improvements for a significant number of women and homosexuals can give antisexist ideas credibility and contribute to overcoming the division of the working class. Transformative accelerationist politics is based on the mediation of utopia and present.
Within transformative or left-wing structures, the illusion that antisexism is merely a question of confession must be resolutely repressed. All persons who have grown up within sexist conditions reproduce these through their intuitive behaviour, regardless of how they position themselves theoretically or ethically on the subject of sexism. Because sexist behaviour is to a large extent unconscious, an antisexist communication practice must be learned extensively in the presence of a) female, and b) theoretically educated persons. Such a practice does not simply consist of learning a “politically correct” language, but requires the abandonment of various discriminatory and exclusionary habits. These include sexist or homophobic jokes, frequent interruptions of persons identified as female, as well as their underestimation and sexual objectification.
To suppress everyday sexism, massive campaigns of education and media are necessary at the societal level. The transformative movement as a whole must increasingly use intellectual and material resources to educate men and women about the nature and fatal effects of sexism. We must anticipate violent counter-reactions: Some men, instead of subordinating themselves to the real reason [Realvernunft] embodied in the transformative process, will jealously defend their privileges, deny the existence of sexism and/or apply strategies of victim blaming. But even some women will devote energy to maintaining sex norms and side with their objective oppressors. We must consider individuals and organizations that propagate and disseminate sexist ideas as political opponents.
1. Formally, we could even distinguish between A-humans and B-humans, whereby A-humans are defined as those whose height in cm is an even number …
2. In Marxism, ‘fetishism’ describes the ideological mystification of social relations as natural characteristics of objects or persons. The exchange value appears as a property of the commodity itself, although it is determined by the production process of society as a whole. The work of an engineer is considered more valuable in itself than that of a cashier, although (or because!) wages are nothing other than the result of the situation on the labour market. Likewise, the socially determined characteristics of women (gender) present themselves as natural characteristics of female persons (sex).
5. Even radical leftists and feminists treat men and women differently, at least on an unconscious level, and reproduce thinking within sex categories through their everyday actions.
6. An epistemological rule according to which the most sparing sensible explanation for an observed context must at first (!) be recognized as the best.
8. Bourgeois sexism evokes subservience and a lack of ambition in “female” persons, while it transforms “male” subjects into infantile emotional cripples.
9. See also: de Beauvoir, Simone: The Second Sex.
10. The model is bourgeois because it is the result of the bourgeois economic and social order (capitalism), and because it was also propagated and lived by the bourgeoisie; in the 19th century, a large proportion of proletarian women did not only housework but were also in (less well paid) gainful employment.
11. Ironically, economics literally means “housekeeping”, from ancient Greek oikos, house, and nomos, law …
12. On the basis of Taylorism, courses were offered for women to teach them how to act as a “good housewife”. The standards of cleanliness for workers’ flats were massively increased in the course of this development.
13. This includes bisexuality.
14. This also applies to the bourgeois sexism of Western industrial nations. It should also be noted, however, that conceptually any form of homophobia is sexism, but not any sexism necessarily has to be homophobic.
15. “Male sexuality” does not mean the “innate” sexuality of people with a Y chromosome, but the mode of male sexuality preformed by patriarchy.
17. In the long term, this social mechanism must incorporate possibilities for the fully artificial reproduction of humanity in order to further decompose the foundations of sexism (and racism) and ensure the integrity of the human species. But this is (still) a dream of the future.