“The degree of civilization of a social order is to be measured by the status accorded to women”- Karl Marx.
This article is written on the premise that the condition for the emancipation of humankind is the complete emancipation of women from the thousand chains of bondage that bind them. There is an entire pile of historical mythology surrounding womanhood designed to keep women eternally suppressed as the property of man, objects of sexual pleasure and as domestic slaves. This pile of mythology denies women of their fundamental democratic right to self-determination as equal and integral partners in social progress and human liberation. Fundamentalist institutional religion has been the vanguard in the propagation and perpetuation of this mythology. The oppression of women has taken on hideous dimensions in the modern age under the system of world imperialism. Both men and women need to break free from these mythologies that have bound them in ignorance and illusion, in order to forge their solidarity in advancing humankind towards an era of universal emancipation.
Women at the dawn of civilization.
World renowned anthropologists such as Lewis Morgan, and most eminently Friedrich Engels, collaborator and life companion of Karl Marx) and several other modern-day progressives such as Evelyn Reed, undertook the prodigious task of establishing the study of the origins and evolution of human society on scientific principles and methods. In this quest, they have uncovered the role of women in pre-historic times as the providers, protectors and nurtures of the human family. This was before the advent of private property, patriarchy and the division of society into antagonistic classes. They record the historic mission of womankind in the dawn of human evolution in making path-breaking discoveries in the fields of agriculture, animal husbandry, industry, manufacture, health, nutrition, and generally, in the development of science, technology and culture. In this stage of primitive communist society, women enjoyed the highest respect and status, since they functioned as providers, guardians, nurturers and leaders, along with men. This form of matriarchal society was based on a natural division of labor and the equality and solidarity of all members. Property was used in common. Decisions were taken collectively through democratic consensus. Women enjoyed the freedom to love and to choose their partners without any regard for security or status. This form of society was based on the social relations of voluntary union and cooperation. There was no economic basis for any form of domination, exploitation or oppression. There was no institution of the state; no constitution, courts, police and prisons. There was no parasitic bureaucracy nor religious orders that lorded over people. The practice of rape, prostitution and the universal degradation and violation of women which characterize modern society were unknown. Although at a primitive stage of social development, women enjoyed complete freedom and had supreme control over their hearts, minds and bodies. Beyond that, they led humankind through the passage of primitive tribal existence to the era of civilization.
The rise of private property, class society, patriarchy and the historical fall of women:
Along with the progressive mastery of the forces of Nature and the development of an economic surplus, there began the process of the internal dissolution of this form of primitive communist society.
The increasing mastery of the forces of Nature resulted in the progressive stratification of society according to mental and manual labor. This stratification, in turn, led to the development of class distinctions in terms of ownership of private property. Society became split into antagonistic classes based on those who owned/ controlled the means of life in the form of private property, and those who had to sacrifice their labor to this propertied class in order to survive. Slavery became the earliest form of class society, and along with these evolutionary advances, Man came to own and control property, including slaves. The ruling classes came to be composed of men. They were at the head of the State, which was a special apparatus for suppressing the slaves. Along with these developments arose the institution of Patriarchy. Patriarchy is the institutional expression of male supremacy embedded and reproduced in all social relations. The family became a microcosm of the State and the Social Order. The Man became the head of the household, the main provider, guardian, protector and leader of the tribe, the clan and the family. The preeminent role, status and power of women were overthrown with violent force to pave the way for the reign of the almighty patriarch. In order to establish the right of inheritance to his male children so that his wealth, status and power would be transmitted throughout time, woman was denied her natural promiscuity, while man held on to his right to hunt and prey on women- as his natural, god-given pastime. Woman was bonded as a slave to the man through the institution of legalized marriage. The wife is to be the legal property of man. She is to offer her property to the man as dowry, in return for the ‘favor’ of being protected by the husband. She is to define her identity, role and behavior, sacrifice her dreams and desires, and be trained to be obedient, responsive and forever faithful to her husband, regardless of how he may treat her- or abuse her. Her worth is to be measured in terms of her willing submissiveness to the absolute, despotic power and authority of the almighty patriarch in the form of her husband. Women resisted this violent and degrading suppression. This resistance raged on for thousands of years, until primitive communist society based on matriarchy was decisively overthrown, and class society, based on private property and patriarchy was firmly consolidated.
Mythologies of womanhood:
This suppression required a monumental ideological distortion of historic proportions, based on the manufacturing of myths that decisively and routinely subordinated women as corresponding to the natural order of the universe. And so these myths were abundantly produced, with fertile infantile fantasies. Institutional religious literature have manufactured such lies and myths in order to subordinate Woman to the political dictatorship of Man. The ideology of patriarchy is so protean and penetrative that it reproduces and multiplies on its own.
Even women have come to accept and live according to these perverse distortions of truth. Historical myths are manufactured by male dominators to degrade women. One such myth recorded in a historical chronicle in Sri Lankais about Kuveni, who is described as a princess from the ancient Yaksha tribe. She is said to have been enraptured by prince Vijaya upon sight. Vijaya, a brigand prince of North India who had been exiled for his perfidious behavior by his father, had come from North India to conquer the land of Lanka and enslave the tribal people. It is recorded that Kuveni was so enraptured that she betrayed her people to consort with Vijaya. It is written that she stoops to the level of assisting Vijaya to slay members of her own family so Vijaya may claim supreme sovereignty over the land and the people. Once secure in power, Vijaya exiles Kuveni. Finally, Kuveni is slayed by her own people for her act of treachery. This myth has come down from history and is regarded by people as a testament to the honor and valor of Vijaya. The fact is that this is a perverse myth that is intended to glorify the occupying conqueror, Vijaya at the expense of defiling the honor of princess Kuveni, along with the dignity and integrity of the tribal people.
There are many such dominant myths that are generated about women designed to defile and degrade them. The institution of male supremacy and domination was crafted into a theory of creation which sanctified Man in the form of an almighty patriarchal god. According to this theory of divine creation, god first created Man – Adam- while Woman- Eve- was created subsequently to satisfy his needs. Eve is said to have been created by God from the ribs of his son Adam. It turns out that Eve defies the will of God to eat the forbidden apple and to feed it to the innocent Adam. Eve is thus portrayed as the source of sin and eternal damnation. So it is with the myth of the Virgin Mary. Mary, the wife of a carpenter and mother of Jesus Christ was part of a great people’s resistance movement that sought liberation from the Roman state. That is why she had to give birth to her son in secrecy in a cattle shed in Bethlehem. This was a time when the Jews were ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman state. This real-life identity of Mary as part of a people’s resistance movement was too threatening to the Roman state. Specially since the movement under the leadership of Jesus Christ grew in breadth and scope to pose a mortal threat to the authority of the Roman empire. Subsequently, Mary was stripped of her militant womanhood and made into an abstracted spiritual icon by the Roman state. Mary was made into a mute virgin who had been miraculously conceived by the Holy Sprit. This was done also in order to mystify, distort and emasculate Jesus Christ, along with the image of his heroic mother who served him and the cause of the revolution. We cannot underestimate the power of these mythologies to rule our minds. We have to exert our critical consciousness to excavate the truth by overthrowing these life-denying myths.
Women’s resistance and the path of human liberation:
But, the truth is that Truth asserts itself over Falsehood; Science asserts itself over Myth; Freedom asserts itself over Slavery!
Oppression breeds Resistance! Women all over the world have come to question this god-given order of the world. They have come to demand their right to decide over their hearts, minds and bodies. They refuse to be caged in, purely as wives and mothers, as robot-machines of pleasure and procreation. They seek and claim the fruits of the new age. They aspire to broaden the scope of their ideological horizons, and struggle for a world free of all forms of domination, exploitation, oppression and war- hand in hand with men! They seek to discover a scientific philosophy, that enlightens the path of universal human liberation, here on earth.
This historic rebellion of women against the modern system of private property, class division and patriarchy, developed and advanced through a path of scientific revolutionary struggle aimed at achieving universal human liberation. Great advances have been made along this path. The Paris Commune of 1871, which established the world’s first workers state, took giant steps in abolishing the oppression of women. But, it was crushed and overthrown with brute violence by the powers that be. The Great Russian Revolution built on this experience and led humankind to the era of Socialism. The Soviet Union, while it remained Socialist, advanced the cause of women’s emancipation as never before. But this workers state was encircled by the global system of property and finally overthrown from within. The Chinese Revolution built even further on these historic achievements to lead mankind into the era of Communism. Chiang Ching, the wife of Mao-Tse Dung, took a leading role in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This revolution was aimed at defending the Socialist state from internal capitalist forces, with the goal of achieving a new Communist world order, free of all forms of domination. This Socialist state was also encircled by the global system of profit and property and overthrown by Capitalist forces within. All these earth-shaking, path-breaking, epoch-making revolutionary transformations placed the emancipation of women as a foremost priority and a pre-condition for the universal emancipation of humankind.
A long way to travel:
However, we still have a long way to go before we can achieve a world revolutionary movement where women lead and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men. We need to be aware of the deadly traps placed before us which are designed to spread illusions of an egoistical, narcissistic, individualistic definition of liberation, as promoted by the open market economy and the prevailing global Capitalist-Imperialist political order. We are all intrinsically ‘Fair and Lovely” in our own distinctive way, so why do we need cosmetics to paint our personality and enhance our dignity. We need to cultivate our philosophical consciousness, as opposed to displaying our figures. We need to think critically and independently of all pre-given, male-dominated definitions and values. Look at the way that the prevailing order assigns values and defines our role and status. Pornography has become one of the most lucrative industries. Prostitution is a means of livelihood for millions of desperate women. Puberty is publicly ritualized and announced as a marriage advertisement. Menstruation is considered as an impure function, which we are trained to be ashamed of. Virginity is held up as a certificate of purity and a license to be married, and woman is branded with eternal shame for the crime of pre-marital or extra-marital promiscuity. Clitoral incision is still practiced in some societies. Abortion of unwanted fetuses is considered to be a vile and unpardonable sin. Day by day, the incidence of rape, including gang rape, wife-beating, and all forms of sexual repression and abuse multiply across the globe. Violation of women is inherent and structured into the system of private property, patriarchy and class society. This structure of domination and violation of women is at the root of all the forms of domination, violence and war. Any society that routinely violates its women will be in a perpetual state of war with itself and with the world. Equally, any society that truly respects and dignifies women shall find peace, solidarity and prosperity.
Women in Sri Lanka are bound by several forms of slavery and oppression. The life-denying exploitation and degradation suffered by our women in the plantations, in garment factories and as domestic slaves in foreign countries constitute three of the main life-lines of our economy. We are imprisoned by grotesque myths and practices coming down from a tribal-feudal-colonial legacy. We are prisoners of the past and victims of the present. We need to overthrow and overcome this whole system of male-dominated definitions and values. We need to discover and live and die for our own vision and definition of human freedom and dignity. We need to stand up, take responsibility, and educate ourselves and together take up the path of scientific revolution and universal human liberation. We need to break free, break through, and leap into the future, so we may together design our vision, liberate ourselves, and begin to create our own world of freedom.