Women’s Liberation vs Black Slavery

February 4th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

It is quite common to compare feminism, or women’s liberation, to other major liberation movements. Sometime the comparisons focus on how women have a lot in common with people in the GLBT movement (GLBT = gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual), and at other times women are bundled together with immigrants. The argument that is usually put forward is that women have been oppressed, just like GLBT people and immigrants have been and are oppressed.

Perhaps the most common comparison is that of drawing parallels between feminism and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Just like black people have had to endure oppression, racism and slavery at the hands of white people – women are said to have been oppressed by men, and to therefore have a lot in common with African Americans. According to this view, black people in the US and women around the world, are simply two oppressed groups who have been and still are fighting for their freedom and rights.

I believe this kind of comparison to be deeply flawed, and it doesn’t hold up to a closer scrutiny. African Americans have certainly had to face slavery, oppression and all kinds of horrible acts that they could not defend themselves against. Even to this day, there remains a lot of prejudice, racism and discrimination that needs to be dealt with, in the US and around the world.

However, women’s history has not been shaped by men who actively oppressed women. Women’s (and men’s) history has been co-created by men and women, and has largely been determined by survival needs which made certain gender roles or behaviors more or less unavoidable. Patriarchy was not created by men, it was simply a functional fit to the historical circumstances – so that human beings could survive and start building more civilized societies.

To investigate this further, and check whether my assumption is correct, let’s travel back in time. Here is a list of some the major difficulties and oppressive structures that black slaves had to face, when slavery was still around:

1. Slaves do the heavy labor
2. Slaves do the dangerous labor
3. The lives of slaves are worth less than the lives of their owners
4. Slaves are only worth something to society if they perform
5. Slaves do not have a voice in the public sphere
6. Slaves cannot vote
7. Slaves are confined to the home
8. Slaves cannot earn a salary

As you can see, slave owners – being in complete control of their slaves and being free to oppress them as they saw fit – left all the unwanted responsibilities to the slaves while giving them none of the coveted benefits. If women are indeed oppressed by men within a patriarchy, then we would expect men to make similar choices: giving all the benefits to themselves while letting women take care of all the undesirable chores and responsibilities.

When we look at the above points (1-8) through a gender lens, who was given what task within a patriarchy? If men really did oppress and control women, then we would expect women to have a situation corresponding to that of the slaves in all or most cases.

1. Slaves do the heavy labor. In a patriarchy, it is the responsibility of men to do the heavy work. Some of you may object to the inclusion of this point, and say that of course men did the heavy labor; men are simply a whole lot stronger! However, that objection actually rhymes well with what I claimed above: that history has been co-created by men and women, and gender roles have been determined by survival needs and who could do certain tasks most efficiently.

2. Slaves do the dangerous labor. In a patriarchy men have to perform the dangerous work. In fact, women are discouraged to ever take part in any dangerous activities and the safety of women (and children) is often emphasized. The reason for this is that historically every society needed lots of children to prosper, and only women have wombs.

3. The lives of slaves are worth less than the lives of their owners. Similarly, men’s lives are worth less than women’s lives in a patriarchy. Men are expected to die for their country, die protecting their wife, or die performing a dangerous job.

4. Slaves are only worth something to society if they perform. Again, it is men who have a situation similar to the slaves. Unemployed men or men who hold down very low status jobs don’t get much respect from society, or from women for that matter.

5. Slaves do not have a voice in the public sphere. Clearly, this corresponds to women’s situation in a patriarchy. Women cannot work and are expected to stay home most of the time in a traditional patriarchal society.

6. Slaves cannot vote. Men were given this right before women, so women are the ones who most closely match the slaves in this case.

7. Slaves are confined to the home. As stated above, women tend to be confined to the home in a traditional patriarchal society.

8. Slaves cannot earn a salary. Women are the ones who don’t have access to the labor market in an old-fashioned patriarchy, so women’s situation is the one that resembles that of the slaves in this example.

The result of this simple thought experiment is very interesting. If men oppressed women the same way that white slave owners could oppress their black slaves, then we would expect women and blacks to end up in the same disadvantageous situations – at least most of the time. However, the analysis above indicates that the unwanted tasks and the withheld rights are distributed pretty equally between men and women, even in a traditional patriarchal society that supposedly benefits men.

A common feminist definition of patriarchy is: “Patriarchal refers to power relations in which women’s interests are subordinated to the interests of men” (this definition is taken from the book Introducing Feminism by Cathia Jenainati and Judy Groves). At one point in my life I believed this definition to be correct, but at this point I take it for what it is: misinformed ideology. Women have suffered terribly throughout history (as have men), but if women’s interests were truly subordinated to the interests of men within a patriarchy, then this thought experiment would have turned out very differently.

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26 Responses to “Women’s Liberation vs Black Slavery”

  1. You Have the Power » Blog Archive » Women’S Liberation Vs Black Slavery › Pelle Billing . Com Says:

    [...] In a patriarchy, it is the responsibility of men to do the heavy work . Some of you may object to the inclusion of this point, and say that of course men did the heavy labor; men are simply a whole lot stronger! …Continue Reading [...]

  2. Eivind F S Says:

    I love how balanced you are in your posts, Pelle, and how obvious it is that your goal is ACTUAL gender liberation. That is such a beautiful thing.

    But I felt, as I read, that since some feminists are chronically angry with men, they will probably stop reading when they see that the first bullet point goes “in favour” of the men. So many people are helpless as they read things that go against their own belief system and are violently thrown all over the place by the momentum of their own predeterminations. Maybe take even these subtlest of movements of the reader’s consciousness into consideration.

    Thanks for this blog.

    Eivind

  3. Pelle Billing Says:

    Thank you for your comment, Eivind.

    I hadn’t thought about what you write, so thanks for pointing it out. It’s my goal to make the posts as readable and accessible as possible, for supporters and critics alike, so I will think about what you wrote. I guess that what I was trying to do was to surprise people by immediately showing that men have been shortchanged too, not only women. However, your point is well taken, and I’ll incorporate your perspective in future posts.

    Pelle

  4. Henric C. Jensen Says:

    “…since some feminists are chronically angry with men, they will probably stop reading when they see that the first bullet point goes “in favour” of the men.”

    This is true. The question is – is it important what the feminists are thinking? They aren’t likely to change their minds. Let’s not forget that the current exchange of ideas between “the powers that be” and feminist ideologues is one that goes back a long way and that this exchange is not interested in any real change.

    I think the effect of showing ordinary people that both men and women have been royally screwed by both feminism and patriarchy is a good thing. I wouldn’t worry too much about what the feminists think, and instead focus on empowering those who need the empowering, e.g. ordinary men and women.

  5. hampus Says:

    Thank U P Billing! You’re words are healing my soul!

  6. Voice of Reason Says:

    Your articles exhibit a clear abuse of logic and intentional manipulation.

    From: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/infocusprint.php?num=31&subject=Women%20Under%20Theocracy

    “Such treatment is generally sustained and protected by a combination of religion and culture; that combination makes reform very difficult. It is worth examining the way religion and culture function to shield the oppression of women from criticism not only locally but also globally, so that it is not only councils in Punjab and priests in Nigeria who keep the shackles on, but also multiculturalists and diversity-celebrators in the rich world who, muttering apologetically about cultural imperialism, look the other way.

    “There are also large pockets of conservative inegalitarian treatment of women in the industrialized world, for instance among fundamentalist Christians in the US, Muslims in the UK and Europe, ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel, and Catholics in Ireland. This In Focus will collect material on the subject.”

    For someone advocating gender liberation, you spend a lot of time minimizing, denying and criticizing instead of enlightening and empowering. Co-creating means both parties consented. I doubt you’ll find many 12-year-old rape victims being stoned to death co-created anything to do with their excruciating deaths. To compare being stoned to death with men in mines being crushed is illogical.

    Your blog offers great material for new age narcissism studies.

  7. Pelle Billing Says:

    Henric,

    Thanks for chiming in. You are giving the opposite perspective of Eivind, and I think it’s important to integrate both perspectives.

    What I try to do is to state my message as clearly as possible (as you allude to), but without unnecessarily alienating anyone (as Eivind said). I won’t compromise my message for fear of upsetting someone, but if I can retain the clarity of my message while reaching more people then I will do so.

    Interesting discussion guys, you’ve helped gain more clarity on this issue.

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    Hampus,

    Thank you for your glowing feedback :) Please stop by again.

  9. Pelle Billing Says:

    “Voice of Reason”,

    I don’t deny that a lot still needs to be done to liberate women and men around the world. You’ve completely misunderstood my writings if you believe that.

    I also find it difficult to respond to your post, since you accuse me of several things without referring to what I’ve actually written.

    Be well,
    Pelle

  10. hampus Says:

    ‘Please stop by again.’

    You bet! :D

    hampus

  11. Henric C. Jensen Says:

    “To compare being stoned to death with men in mines being crushed is illogical.”

    Not illogical at all, if one is willing to see that the ideology and practice of locking people into set roles based on their gender is the same behind both. Both the stoning victim and the crushing victim are victimized because of their gender.

    H

  12. Henric C. Jensen Says:

    Pelle,

    Point taken.

  13. Bj0rnborg Says:

    I would be very cautious of using the word Patriarchy. Its connotatively loaded with male-guilt and also bears ideas of deliberate male domination and exploitation of women. This is not what you seem to mean. Id rather use genderroll-society, wich means neither more or less than the included words themselves.

  14. Pelle Billing Says:

    Yes, using the word patriarchy or not is a difficult decision. I’ve decided to use it in a couple of blog posts, to give what I believe is a more correct definition of the word. But I get what you’re saying about the connotations of the word, after it’s been highjacked by feminism.

    Feminism didn’t invent the word though (as you already know), it’s been around for a long time – which also influenced me in choosing to use the word.

    However, I haven’t decided yet how much I will use the word in future blog posts.
    Thanks for bringing my attention to this issue.

  15. Bj0rnborg Says:

    Yes, let me rephrase that.

    If you choose use the word patriarchy (for instance you might have an agenda to reclaim it), you will always have to define it in connection with the text where you use it. If you use the word Patriarchy or any other established terminology without reservation it can and will probably be intepreted in another way entirely than you intend. Some times its sheer malice, but most of the time it just is. Its the way things works.
    In the equality discourse feminism is hegemoneous, in feminism radical feminism is hegemoneus,. That means that they have interpretative prerogative. Everybody else have to define themselves and their thoughts in relation to radical feminism.
    (it also means that neither women or feminism is as powerless as they make out to be, in fact they can define what equality is, or is not, ad hoc, for whatever purpose they may need it for.)

    And I also believe this is the main reason men and women seem to be so bad at communicating their feelings about equality-issues. Its not that we dont speak the same language, we do, we only mean diffrent things. :)

  16. Pelle Billing Says:

    Bj0rnborg,

    I agree. In fact, I only use the word patriarchy when I’m outlining what I believe to be an accurate description of patriarchy (which is a world apart from the feminist description of patriarchy).

    I also agree that feminism dominates the gender debate almost completely. It was because of this that I chose to call this blog Gender Liberation Beyond Feminism. Since feminism is so dominant, and since feminist rhetoric only leads to everyone walking in circles, we need to break free and move beyond (above) feminism. From that position we can both criticize feminism, and just as importantly: start fleshing out new, more constructive ideas.

    I’m enjoying your perceptive comments!

    Pelle

  17. Schala Says:

    An alternative term I’ve seen thrown around feminist blogs, that doesn’t connotate maleness with oppression is kyriarchy.

  18. Pelle Billing Says:

    Hi Schala,

    Thanks for letting me know about kyriarchy. It’s an interesting word, and yes, I do think it’s better than patriarchy, since it acknowledges that oppression is more complex than the standard view of oppression.

    In a way, I guess that my work is about demonstrating that men don’t oppress women; the role of men is not above the role of women in a kyriarchy. You can oppress a minority, but you cannot oppress half the human population.

    Pelle

  19. Bj0rnborg Says:

    Yes, a better word than patriarchy. Still a neologism originating from a feminist thinker though, I feel I need to see it used in context before I decide if it is useful for me.
    For instance, The post-structural feministic term Intersectionality, though at first prominsing, soon got corrupted by radical feministic thinking. It seems that post structural feminists just isnt as strong as established feminism, and they have to compromise alot. Too much. Just to mention an exampel of how useful words gets biased and impossible to use.
    I wonder if kyriarchy will fare the same.

  20. hampus Says:

    Eivind:

    ‘Maybe take even these subtlest of movements of the reader’s consciousness into consideration.’

    Why? A certain degreee of selfcritisicm is well expected. Nothing else, above all not when regarding feminist arguments.

    hampus, not at all agreeing

  21. Christopher K Collins Says:

    I am a African American male, age 27.

    My mother puts her life first. She is not oppressed. The only generalize assumption is that I lie, steal, or think I am smarter than I really could be.

    I meet white women, who have every right that this world can offer. They constantly place themselves in the victim position and profit from it in a social setting. I call it pulling the vajayjay card.

    I love the pursuit of knowledge and enjoy debating with others, but the fact is my people are being eradicated, not oppressed, I just want to make that clear. I truly do understand the struggle of the american woman, but cops don’t shoot american women in broad daylight while the whole of the country sees this as an improvement, or at least you are supposed to if you are truly american.

    There have been queens of great nations for generations, their word is final. In this country yes, insecure biggoted (forgive spelling) males have passed laws and practice social supremacist methods proliferated by media, circles of friends, and educational preconceptions forced on to males while pursuing degrees and positions of power, and lastly just plain fear. To make matters worse black males have extreme self esteem issues with being unable to control and oppress women in the same fashion they have seen women seek this out in white males. I understand from theory what your getting at, but on so many levels, daddy’s (america) little girl wants more and no uppity nigger is gonna stand in her way. (palin vs obama)

    While I attend community colleges this attitude has been stressed by so many white girls that I have come across, have verbally disrespected or attempt to discredit anything statement out of my mouth warranted only by my ability to speak with an aspiring air of articulation. Forgive me but people refuse to respect any enthusiasm or statements I make cause i’m not out on their daddy’s plantation tossing watermelons around, if I can make it to the end of the field, I can be free for a day, while my master, he and his neighbors place bets on which nigger is the fastest or wants master’s admiration more than the others. (N F L) Note Rush Limbaugh recently attempted to buy a team. While stars of sports make 1% of what the people paying them do.

    Steve Urkel and Carlton is what you are when you can outsmart anyone who came from a two parent household.

    Changing the subject and spin artist define this culture currently, I would advise all to abandon that future as progress hangs in the balance.

    If you are not angry, you are not paying attention. If you are educated you are conditioned to ignore the truth. This only applies to america.

  22. Stephen Says:

    The comparison between women and slaves is not based on the idea that women performed similar tasks to slaves, nor is the implication that women has suffered as much as slaves. The comparison is not meant to say that the two positions are the same, but they operate on the same principle: the assumption of inherent superiority of one group over the other. To compare the actual tasks of women and slaves is completely irrelevant; your logic is very one-dimensional. As Fuller said in her paper, “The Great Lawsuit:” “such divisions are only important when they are never to be transcended.” It is certainly a more benevolent form of bondage, but bondage all the same. Also from the same paper: “But our doubt is whether the heart consents with the head, or only acquiesces in its decree; and it is to ascertain the truth on this point, that we propose liberating measures.”

  23. Pelle Billing Says:

    Stephen,

    You say that my logic is one-dimensional, but you yourself offer no logic as to why women are worse off than men.

    I’m still waiting for a feminist to explain to me why women are worse off than men.

  24. Chris Marshall Says:

    Stephen:

    the assumption of inherent superiority of one group over the other

    If men are generally regarded as superior to women and worth more, then why does society put such a premium on the safety of women and such a discount on the safety of men (men constitute over 90% of all workplace fatalities, 4 out of 5 suicide victims are men, 3 out of 4 murder victims are men, …)?

    I think you are the one being one dimensional here.

  25. Jim Says:

    “the assumption of inherent superiority of one group over the other. ”

    Chivalry assumed the moral superiority of women and the superior value of women’s lives and safety. With specific reference to the South, and if we are discussing black slavery that should be obvious, white women were and have always been considered superior to white men and all blacks in every way. It’s called the cult of southern womanhood. It’s a form of pedestal privilege.

    Women’s role in a system of chivalry was a form of pity whoring. The modern form of this is the odious formulation “women and people of color” as if white women have any right at all to piggyback on the oppression non-whites have suffered. you’ll notice that feminists hardly ever balk at this form of chivalry.

  26. Thomas Says:

    Thank you for your post! I actually found it veyr enlightening. I have been reserachuing this topic for years now and you simplify what is a very convoluted subject. I try to read all sides of an issue so I’ve researched the very different approaches to feminism (Paglia vs. Steinham) as well as the responses of male rights advocates (Warren Farrell, etc.). As a man I think it is important to acknowledge that as men we are the threat to power. Whether the Pharoah’s edict to kill first – born males to the purging of cultures in Darfur and Bosnia; this essentially means the men are killed. This is a historic truth. Popular media is not going to participate in clarifying this as this benefits their bottom line. A ptagmatic activity would be for men to look at prison sentences for man and women convicted of the same crimes, then assess how you feel about your 14th amendment rights. Or better still, accuse a woman of abusing you and see if the police show up. They will if a woman accuses you!


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