Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

The Social Position of Women Under Capitalism

How Can Women Attain
a Full Creative Life?

(18 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 46, 18 November 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

These days the woman’s question revolves around certain economic problems. There is the demand for equal pay for equal work. There is the fight against discrimination in the places women work. There is the need for special facilities in factories and in the community, such as rest rooms and nurseries, to enable women to follow their twofold course as women and as workers.

These, of course, are problems of working women. Their existence as pressing problems for some eighteen million working women is the answer to the moldy query: “Is Woman’s Place in the Home?” The need to earn a living for herself, or for herself and a family, has forced the woman to leave the home for many a decade now. Technological advancement has removed the barriers between women and almost any kind of job, and has created new jobs, for which women are especially adept. So today we find women doing double duty, inside and outside the home.

“Job” or “Career”?

In the May 1946 issue of the magazine Politics, Ethel Goldwater contributed an article – The Independent Woman: A New Course – the thesis of which is “that a woman needs both career and babies, both a life in the home and one outside the home.” Mrs. Goldwater believes that women must have a place both inside and outside the home, for their own good and their self-fulfilment.

It is interesting, however, to note that Mrs. Goldwater does not speak of a “job” with babies, but “career” and babies. It can hardly be claimed that sitting at a telephone switchboard, or punching out squares of metal at a machine, or even taking notes and typing them for eight hours a day, are necessary stimulants for the release of women’s potentialities, for their self-fulfilment and happiness. These are merely jobs.

What Mrs. Goldwater has in mind is something else. A CAREER has a different connotation altogether. It is work involving some individual initiative, some creativeness, some self-expression and self-realization. Within capitalist society few women, or men, can find such work.

However, in her article Mrs. Goldwater has no word to offer on how the great mass of women, who do indeed need the satisfactions of meaningful work as well as motherhood, can get this kind of work. In fact, this problem does not exist for her at all. At least, her article shows no evidence of it. Thereby she shows her limitations. Actually she is taking up the cudgels only for a small group of lower middle class intellectuals.

For the bulk of womankind, complete fulfilment through motherhood and creative work is unthinkable without a basic change in society. For satisfying work outside the home, there are definite minimal requirements. First, the pressure of economic necessity must be removed. Second, human happiness must replace the profit motive. Then only Will hours of labor be planned on the basis of technological possibilities and human consumption needs. With distasteful though necessary social labor reduced to the minimum, and the hunger removed from society, everyone will be in a position to exercise a choice about work, to train and qualify for that which may bring each individual most satisfaction.

Perhaps Mrs. Goldwater, and certainly the editor of Politics, will say that’s a “Marxist blueprint” – at which certain intellectuals turn up their noses. So let’s look at Mrs. Goldwater’s own blueprint. She offers one in three parts.

First, Mrs. Goldwater wants to erase the demarcation between “woman’s work” and “man’s work.” Both boys and girls should receive instruction in housework, and since they both become parents, instruction in childcare. A girl should be taught that motherhood is not the entire woman, that she may in fact renounce motherhood if she wishes.

Assuming that this will help the situation, how is it to be accomplished? By the educational system under capitalism? But Mrs. Goldwater herself complains of the “double standard” that permeates all capitalist society. She shows too – and this seems to be one of her chief grievances – how “left-wing intellectual circles” are still suffering from the same poison. This is indeed bad, but it above all shows how hard it is for even very good ideas to take root in the capitalist milieu. And even if such instruction were given in schools, how basically would it alter the situation? Would it relieve the man of his need to work all day in a shop?

The second plank of Mrs. Goldwater’s program covers several points. Housework and child-care should be simplified by full use of the machine-age tools – which, alas, are beyond the “reach of too many families.” Special services (diaper, sitter, cooked food shops) are to Mrs. Goldwater’s liking. We stop here, and ask once more how these things are to reach the “too many families” who don’t have them?

We of the Workers Party who have a “Marxist blueprint” also have a demand for a minimum family income of $5,000 for right here and now. This, we claim, would go a long way toward buying machine-age household tools and special services. Similarly we “visionaries” call for a $250,000,000,000 public building program to provide, among other things, housing, nursery schools and cooperative arrangements for child-care, while Mrs. Goldwater would like to have these things without the bother of politics and political parties. For indeed she makes no connection between her blueprint and the realm of politics where such things are accomplished.

Under her second plank she also wants an end to the “impossible ideal of order and cleanliness” which consume time “out of all proportion to the value of the transitory effect.” Woman’s “fanaticism is advanced by the women’s magazines, which see the woman’s life as spent on an endless treadmill of redecoration of the home and of the person.” And how, pray, is this influence of commercialism on our lives to be ended?

Man’s Place

In her third plank Mrs. Goldwater talks about how women should use the “regular leisure” they will have if the other two parts of her program are carried out. But, as shown above, “these ways” that Mrs. Goldwater advocates are terribly limited, inadequate, without connection to political action – and therefore of little value. Certainly the regular leisure women need, will not be campaigning for it in Politics.

We Marxists, who do have a guiding blueprint for raising humanity to a higher collective and individual existence, are wary about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. The complexities of human relationships, of family life, of character development stagger minute prophesy. We fight for many things in the right here and now, such as higher wages.

However, we know that the mess that capitalism and other exploitive societies have made of these aspects of life cannot be tackled for all of us without first establishing a more favorable social, economic and political milieu. So we say we do not know whether under Socialism man’s place will be in the home, except that Socialism will relieve man (and woman!) of the tediousness of long hours in the shop and the slavery of a shabby income. Thus, we say that the place NOW for serious men and women is in the revolutionary socialist movement.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 18 July 2020