http://www.pambazuk a.org/en/ category/ features/ 51194
Sankara, revolution and women’s emancipation
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Woman's fate is bound up with that of the exploited male. This is a fact. However, this solidarity, arising from the exploitation that both men and women suffer and that binds them together historically, must not cause us to lose sight of the specific reality of the woman's situation. The conditions of her life are determined by more than economic factors, and they show that she is a victim of a specific oppression. The specific character of this oppression cannot be explained away by setting up an equal sign or by falling into easy and childish simplifications.
It is true that both she and the male worker are condemned to silence by their exploitation. But under the current economic system, the worker's wife is also condemned to silence by her worker-husband. In other words, in addition to the class exploitation common to both of them, women must confront a particular set of relations that exist between them and men, relations of conflict and violence that use as their pretext physical differences. It is clear that the difference between the sexes is a feature of human society. This difference characterises particular relations that immediately prevent us from viewing women, even in production, as simply female workers. The existence of relations of privilege, of relations that spell danger for the woman, all this means that women's reality constitutes an ongoing problem for us.
The male uses the complex nature of these relations as an excuse to sow confusion among women. He takes advantage of all the shrewdness that class exploitation has to offer in order to maintain his domination over women. This is the same method used by men to dominate other men in other lands. The idea was established that certain men, by virtue of their family origin and birth, or by divine right, were superior to others. This was the basis for the feudal system. Other men have managed to enslave whole peoples in this way. They used their origins, or arguments based on their skin colour, as a supposedly scientific justification for dominating those who were unfortunate enough to have skin of a different colour. This is what colonial domination and apartheid are based on.
We must pay the closest attention to women's situation because it pushes the most conscious of them into waging a sex war when what we need is a war of classes or parties, waged together, side by side. We have to say frankly that it is the attitude of men that makes such confusion possible. It is men's attitude that spawns the bold assertions made by feminism, certain of which have not been without value in the war which men and women are waging against oppression. This war is one we can and will win – if we understand that we need one another and are complementary, that we share the same fate, and in fact, that we are condemned to interdependence.
At this moment, we have little choice but to recognise that masculine behaviour comprises vanity, irresponsibility, arrogance, and violence of all kinds toward women. This kind of behaviour can hardly lead to coordinated action against women's oppression. And we must say frankly that such attitudes, which can sink to the level of sheer stupidity, are in reality nothing but a safety valve for the oppressed male, who, through brutalising his wife, hopes to regain some of the human dignity denied him by the system of exploitation. This masculine foolishness is called sexism or machismo. It includes all kinds of moral and intellectual feebleness – even thinly veiled physical weakness – which often gives politically conscious women no choice but to consider it their duty to wage a war on two fronts.
In order to fight and win, women must identify with the oppressed layers and classes of society, such as workers and peasants. The man, however, no matter how oppressed he is has another human being to oppress: his wife. To say this is, without any doubt, to affirm a terrible fact. When we talk about the vile system of apartheid, for example, our thoughts and emotions turn to the exploited and oppressed blacks. But we forget the black woman who has to endure her husband – this man who, armed with his passbook, allows himself all kinds of reprehensible detours before returning home to the woman who has waited for him so worthily, in such privation and destitution. We should keep in mind, too, the white woman of South Africa. Aristocratic, with every possible material comfort, she is, unfortunately, still a tool for the pleasure of the lecherous white man. The only thing these men can do to blot out the terrible crimes they commit against blacks is to engage in drunken brawls and perverse, bestial sexual behaviour.
And there is no lack of examples of men, otherwise progressive, who live cheerfully in adultery, but who are prepared to murder their wives on the merest suspicion of infidelity. How many men in Burkina seek so-called consolation in the arms of prostitutes and mistresses of all kinds! And this is not to mention the irresponsible husbands whose wages go to keep mistresses or fill the coffers of bar owners.
And what should we think of those little men, also progressive, who get together in sleazy places to talk about the women they have taken advantage of. They think this is the way they will be able to measure up to other men and even humiliate some of them, by having seduced their wives. In reality, such men are pitiful and insignificant. They would not even enter our discussion, if it were not for the fact that their criminal behaviour has been undermining the morale and virtue of many fine women whose contribution to our revolution could be of the utmost importance.
And then there are those more-or-less revolutionary militants – much less revolutionary than more – who do not accept that their wives should also be politically active, or who allow them to be active by day and by day only, or who beat their wives because they have gone out to meetings or to a demonstration at night.
Oh, these suspicious, jealous men! What narrow-mindedness! And what a limited, partial commitment! For is it only at night that a woman who is disenchanted and determined can deceive her husband? And what is this political commitment that expects her to stop political activity at nightfall and resume her rights and responsibilities only at daybreak. And, finally, what should we make of remarks about women made by all kinds of activists, the one more revolutionary than the next, remarks such as ‘women are despicably materialist,’ ‘manipulators,’ ‘clowns,’ ‘liars,’ ‘gossips,’ ‘schemers, ‘jealous,’ and so on. Maybe this is all true of women. But surely it is equally true of men.
Could our society be any less perverse than this when it systematically burdens women down, keeps them away from anything that is supposed to be serious and of consequence, excludes them from anything other than the most petty and minor activities!
When you are condemned, as women are, to wait for your lord and master at home in order to feed him and receive his permission to speak or just to be alive, what else do you have to keep you occupied and to give you at least the illusion of being useful, but meaningful glances, gossip, chatter, furtive envious: glances at others, and the bad-mouthing of their flirtations and private lives? The same attitudes are found among men put in the same situation.
Another thing we say about women, alas, is that they are always forgetful. We even call them birdbrains. But we must never forget that a woman's whole life is dominated – tormented – by a fickle, unfaithful, and irresponsible husband and by her children and their problems. Completely worn out by attending to the entire family, how could she not have haggard eyes that reflect distraction and absentmindedness? For her, forgetting becomes an antidote to the suffering a relief from the harshness of her existence, a vital self-defence mechanism.
But there are forgetful men, too – a lot of them. Some forget by indulging in drink or drugs, others through the various kinds of perversity they engage in throughout life. Does anyone ever say that these men are forgetful? What vanity! What banality! Banalities, though, that men revel in as a way of concealing the weaknesses of the masculine universe, because this masculine universe in an exploitative society needs female prostitutes. We say that both the female and the prostitute are scapegoats. We defile them and when we are done with them we sacrifice them on the altar of prosperity of a system of lies and plunder.
Prostitution is nothing but the microcosm of a society where exploitation is a general rule. It is a symbol of the contempt men have for women. And yet this woman is none other than the painful figure of the mother, sister, or wife of other men, thus of every one of us. In the final analysis, it is the unconscious contempt we have for ourselves. There can only be prostitutes as long as there are pimps and those who seek prostitutes.
But who frequents prostitutes? First, there are the husbands who commit their wives to chastity, while they relieve their depravity and debauchery upon the prostitute. This allows them to treat their wives with a seeming respect, while they reveal their true nature at the bosom of the lady of so-called pleasure. So on the moral plane prostitution becomes the counterpart to marriage. Tradition, customs, religion, and moral doctrines alike seem to have no difficulty adapting themselves to it. This is what our church fathers mean when they explain that ‘sewers are needed to assure the cleanliness of the palace.’
Then there are the unrepentant and intemperate pleasure seekers who are afraid to take on the responsibility of a home with its ups and downs, and who flee from the moral and material responsibility of fatherhood. So they discreetly seek out the address of a brothel, a goldmine of relations that entail no responsibility on their part.
There is also a whole bevy of men who, publicly at least and in ‘proper’ company, subject women to public humiliation because of some grudge they have not had the strength of character to surmount, thus losing confidence in all women, who become from then on ‘tools of the devil.’ Or else they do so out of hypocrisy, proclaiming their contempt for the female sex too often and categorically, a contempt that they strive to assume in the eyes of the public from which they have extorted admiration through false pretences. All these men end up night after night in brothels until occasionally their hypocrisy is discovered.
Then there is the weakness of the man who is looking for a polyandrous arrangement. Far be it for us to make a value judgment on polyandry, which was the dominant form of relations between men and women in certain societies. What we are denouncing here are the courts of idle, money-grabbing gigolos lavishly kept by rich ladies.
Within this same system; prostitution can, economically speaking, include both the prostitute and the ‘materialist- minded’ married woman. The only difference between the woman who sells her body by prostitution and she who sells herself in marriage is the price and duration of the contract. So, by tolerating the existence of prostitution, we relegate all our women to the same rank: that of a prostitute or wife. The only difference between the two is that the legal wife, though still oppressed, at least has the benefit of the stamp of respectability that marriage confers. As for the prostitute, all that remains for her is the exchange value of her body, a value that fluctuates according to the fancy of the male chauvinist's wallet.
Isn't she just an object, which takes on more or less value according to the degree to which her charms wilt? Isn't she governed by the law of supply and demand? Such a concentrated, tragic, and painful form of female slavery as a whole!
We should see in every prostitute an accusing finger pointing firmly at society as a whole. Every pimp, every partner in prostitution, turns the knife in this festering and gaping wound that disfigures the world of man and leads to his ruin. In fighting against prostitution, in holding out a saving hand to the prostitute, we are saving our mothers, our sisters, and our wives from this social leprosy. We are saving ourselves. We are saving the world.