Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4-2019, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

Women in Capitalism
Legally Equal, Morally Respected, Badly Treated

Even long after women have achieved equal rights with men, after they have become the majority of high school graduates and the ones with the better grades too, and make up the majority of students in many university study programs, after they have found their way into many professions previously known as male domains, there is still plenty of discrimination against women and sexual attacks on them. Gender equality activists wage the fight against this by accusing the male world of continuing to deny women a self-assured role and due respect for their self-determination. They accuse men of sticking to old thinking and yesterday‘s gender role models. By demanding respect they kick at open doors everywhere — in politics, public opinion, and especially academia. Apart from gangsta rap cult figures and the very conservative who will not let go of traditional family values, there is no one who would hesitate to tip the hat to women as fully-fledged, professionally and altogether independent members of society. There are equal opportunity commissioners, measures for advancing women, and academic chairs for women wherever you look. Gender-conscious language is widespread; people modify words and grammar to make sure that whenever human beings are mentioned in a sentence women are specifically thought of and honored. [1]

So why is it that the good will that everyone professes hardly alters the social disadvantages, insults, attacks and harassment that women experience? Why is there such a discrepancy between the official morality and that practiced in daily life? In other words, are the prejudices that women face and the social roles that tie them down really due to a lot of men’s deformed characters, or are there more substantial reasons?

I. Persisting disadvantages in careers and the world of work

It is commonly deplored that despite all the educational and vocational progress women have made, despite women generally working even at higher levels of the job hierarchy, they still earn on average 20% less than men, many are still confined to so-called female jobs, and even when they are highly qualified they have more trouble getting top positions in companies and the public sector than their equally qualified male colleagues. This is taken to be a violation of fair competition; equal work is supposed to get equal pay. And when women are often only offered unequal, lower-paid “female work,” then this is attributed to disgraceful prejudice. So what critics are denouncing is irrelevant arbitrariness where objective, measurable performance should be enabling an individual to attain his place in the job hierarchy. That is, they are arguing on the basis of a very affirmative ideal of competition. They completely miss the fact that the competition that employers subject employees to by comparing them is not a sporting contest along the lines of “May the best man win,” but the form taken by a relationship of domination and service.

The “gender pay gap” — and the social reason for it

Long before workers’ gender plays a part, the world of work has already been fully set up with its hierarchy of requirements and incomes. Businessmen pay people to work in order to make a profit for themselves, or company shareholders, from the work their employers perform. So they always pay as little as it takes to hire people for their functions, and demand as much performance on the job as they can get. This also means that the pay is bad for the mass of their workers, whom they can easily find and replace, and they are only willing to fork out more when special skills and knowledge are needed, or for superiors to watch over the work of others to make sure they comply with the interests of capital. That is the only connection there is between the required performance and its remuneration. So there is actually no criterion at all for whether work and wages match. [2]

Both women and men have to face this competition, which has nothing to do with their gender. But in this competition the majority of women are confined to the lower positions of the job hierarchy. And the only reason for this is that they are cheap, even easier to blackmail than men, and that companies exploit this fact as an opportunity to improve their business.

They create this favorable opportunity themselves, by using both men and women for the greater part of their waking hours and paying them for the quantity of work they do. It is of no concern to employers whether or how well workers can live on what they earn, or whether the free time they have left is enough for pursuing any interests of their own. This is the wage earners’ own problem. They are confronted with the contradiction of having to take care of all the necessities of everyday life — housing, food, clothing, child care — outside of their daylong work, and usually on a pretty tight budget; and sometime they are supposed to live a bit too. This contradiction is hard to bear alone. The way the vast majority of the population live testifies to how incompatible gainful employment and the required housework are in view of the money and time limits mentioned above. Two individuals join forces not only to have children and for love but to cope with everyday life, and they share the money and the housework. Partners can of course divide up the moneymaking and housework as they wish. But when they have children, if not before, the family can no longer be a shared household of independent earners. The additional need for money requires more commitment to one’s career while family work increases. A decision has to be made to focus on career or on family and that is why, despite all emancipation, the old-fashioned roles are reproduced. There is the breadwinner, or at least main earner, who is still usually the man, while the woman mainly takes care of the family, although today she also works. This is because an employee does not earn enough, even far up the job hierarchy, to afford two or more family members a normal standard of living. So the man often only earns the greater part of the family's income while the woman goes to work as soon as she can and earns extra money in addition to doing her domestic duties. The much lamented double burden that women bear is proof that earning money on a wage basis is no means for a good life for either sex, in view of how much time and energy it takes and how little money it yields.

So when companies pay their employees and open up different career paths according to gender, they are not actually paying any attention to biology, they are heeding the institution of the bourgeois family. As mentioned, this is an institution they themselves make necessary and determine the nature of by paying the wages and demanding the working hours they do. The resulting stereotypical division of labor in families is something they proceed to exploit. Women who need a job but at the same time have to take care of children, so must sometimes miss work or can only come during school or day-care hours, are made cheap offers, possibly employed part-time, and paid wages that have nothing to do with financing a living. Employers can rely on the competition among women, who need to bring additional money into the family budget and do not expect their additional earnings to pay a livelihood. This is best illustrated by single mothers, who reliably belong to the “working poor” and are recognized as a social problem. A woman's wage is additional income — and if not, it is a disaster.

However, employers do not leave it at making even mothers who are only available to a limited extent as profitable for their business as their other employees, at the mothers’ expense. They generalize the fact that women at a certain age can get pregnant and might have maternal duties to perform, and hold it against the entire sex irrespective of an applicant’s age or individual circumstances in terms of family and children. To them, this is a possible limitation on their performance for the company that must be compensated for with lower wage costs. And it makes no difference whether the employee’s gender actually incurs costs for the company that are not offset by any performance.

Because they pay women less than men as a general rule, businessmen shrewdly conclude that women’s work must be worth less. They justify the low wages they pay women for dull, repetitive tasks at industrial workplaces or cash registers in stores by the low qualifications these women have — as if it wasn’t them imposing such dull tasks on women and reducing them to such limited functions. Work and its pay have nothing to do with qualifications that applicants may have. After all, companies do not reward higher training at these workplaces when an applicant has it.

The very persistent, because useful, prejudice against women's performance comes from companies being interested in exploiting their special dependence on work as a source of additional income. And it comes from companies assuming mothers are less useful to capital (whether they are or not) and generalizing this to the whole sex.

“Female jobs” — typical, but of what?

When it comes to typically female jobs, women are again not the reason they exist. Social tasks involving schooling, elderly care, and nursing are characterized economically by the fact that, while being necessary, they do not contribute to the growth of capital. They are instead societal expenses that are financed out of nationalized wage components, social security funds, or the state budget, and are therefore always underfunded. When old-age homes and hospitals have been privatized and organized as capital business, the industry claims it is difficult to “achieve profitability” because there are only limited possibilities for saving wage costs by using technological means to make labor more effective. Employers put the burden of both capitalist deficits of this occupational field — its lack of funding and “innovation” — on their employees, paying even the few men working here significantly less than in industrial jobs in order to make a profit or reduce state expenses. Care occupations are the domain of women, not just because women are additional earners satisfied with lower earnings, but because personnel offices have traditionally themselves looked mainly for women for such positions. [3] In their efforts to fill their positions with precisely those workers whose sheer personalities will guarantee that the work is done, i.e., guarantee their service to the company purpose, employers are following the conviction that women are by nature better suited for being oriented to other people and serving them. They consider women to have the attributes of empathy and a willingness to adapt to the point of servility — and put this knowledge of human nature to practice in the other area of service, not social tasks but directly serving superiors. Secretaries, doctor’s assistants, etc., have the task of making work easier for the boss, clearing the work area, doing what he requires, and — this too — putting up with his moods. In these occupations, the rule of money, what the employer pays and the employee earns, includes a very direct relationship of subordination to a superior’s will and even whims — which is obviously a woman’s job.

The basis for employers ascribing to women a natural qualification to serve is the traditional role that women have in the family as housewife and mother. They simply assume that women embrace their work and role in the family as their identity in a way that even outside of it the only thing they want and are capable of is to serve others. The character traits that personnel managers assume female applicants have are what they proceed to demand of them. And the personality traits they demand of them are what they tie women down to in practice.

The reason they do not make a fool of themselves with their “knowledge of human nature” is not that they are right about it, but that they have the power to put their moral evaluation and expectations of their applicants’ personalities into effect. After all, they are deciding on career or failure, on employment or unemployment. They base their selection of personnel not only on formal qualifications, i.e., diplomas and certificates, but just as much on character traits. They assess how decent someone is based on the reports of previous employers concerning fulfillment of duties and willingness to work, on the basis of a well-groomed or unkempt appearance, state of health, and national origin. They are thereby signifying that working for capitalist companies, and for government agencies with similar calculations, is not a matter of simply performing objective work tasks but includes a willingness to subordinate oneself, to serve others’ interests in money and enrichment.

So women who need to earn money know which occupations are more readily available to them and which are not. They focus on what jobs they are being offered and apply for them. At the job interview — which no one can get through today without acting as if the job is exactly what matches one’s own personality and what one has always wanted — they already present the required character. However, they do not stop at portraying themselves in this calculating way, nor do they practice an aloof kind of obedience that is only imposed on them. Since people nowadays are not servants but free citizens who get to pursue their own interests, and since every kind of subordination and every imposition presents itself in this society as an opportunity to do something for oneself, i.e., earn money, it is seized. What one is forced to do for economic, material reasons actually becomes one’s own free choice. Women in social occupations profess to want to “serve people,” even if in reality they are not serving people at all (so that the sick and aged are often enough not served in hospitals and homes), but rather the profit interests of hospital capital or the cost calculations of the national social welfare administration. And they pride themselves on the character traits it takes to attend to other people as their qualifications and their commitment, as “their contribution to society.” In their view this entitles them to not just an — actually much higher — wage, but to recognition as valuable members of the community. Although always dissatisfied with how little material and nonmaterial recognition they get, they maintain an affirmative attitude, a certain pride in their role and in themselves, the individuals so well suited to this role. They reinterpret the capitalist exploitation they are subjected to as a communal effort they are contributing to, which gives them a right to participate in society, and that is why women (as well as men) make themselves into the personalities that employers demand. It is not because they are that way by nature, but because they are “right” that way.

Personnel managers apply their sexism, by the way, not only to denigrate women or only when it comes to service-oriented jobs. Some bosses who think women have more empathy and less striving for dominance may consider them unsuitable for top executive positions which require assertiveness, but particularly well-suited to positions just below. As “team players” they are supposed to balance out the male employees’ competitiveness. When very big companies fill positions on the board with women at all, they preferably put them in personnel management. In their view, representatives of the female sex with their fabulous empathy are by nature better qualified to assess applicants’ personalities and get dismissals across in the right tone. Women who aspire to such positions confirm what is attributed to them; they promote themselves as having these female qualifications.


This is how gender-specific social characters develop in capitalism. They are not outdated prejudices based on the way things used to be, but rather social personality traits that are required by employers’ domination of their workers and attributed to the whole sex by way of generalization. These traits are then adopted and lived out by those competing for jobs. Gender roles are the norm, which individuals must deal with. As a rule, children and young people already conform to them in order to succeed at school, among their peers and in general, long before they face personnel managers. They may also be critical of these roles, even refusing to go along with them, and then have to see how they “make their way in life” outside the norm.

Discrimination and bans on discrimination

Not so long ago, Germany issued a ban on discrimination applying especially to the labor market and how companies select personnel.[*] It prohibits employers from sorting their personnel according to gender, sexual orientation, religion, ideology, or national origin, these being considered irrelevant aspects. Jobs must be open to any applicant who has the necessary qualifications.

By issuing this ban the lawmakers are confirming what was said above about women’s wages and female jobs, i.e., that differentiating employees according to gender is a widespread practice. When the law distinguishes a proper way of sorting applicants according to objective qualifications and suitability for certain tasks, from an improper way that constitutes impermissible discrimination and goes against their civil rights, it is advocating and prescribing an ideal of fair competition in the face of the real competition that employers subject applicants to. As the guardian of competition, the state insists that those with economic power put their quite legitimate power over others only to proper use, and that all the measuring and comparing that employees have to put up with must still preserve their freedom and equality as citizens. It forbids companies to be high-handed and arbitrary in sorting applicants according to their own moral taste and excluding some in advance from competing for certain jobs. Everyone should be given a chance to perform, and to attain a position in the job hierarchy that corresponds to their performance. Well aware that its society actually functions quite differently, the state demands that the economic domination of the power of capital over the rest of the population organize itself as a tough but fair “meritocracy.”

At the same time it upholds the power and the right of capital to allocate careers according to its own assessment of applicants’ suitability with an eye to its profit interest in the services it is purchasing. So it can ultimately not prevent applicants being selected on the basis of character traits, gender, national origin, etc., which the employer does not not see as irrelevant at all. As a result, what the discrimination ban achieves in the private sector is essentially only that rejections must no longer be explained by gender, etc., if they are to stand up in court. So hiring companies now reject applicants without giving any reason at all — they do not have to — in order to avoid any legal hassles from the outset. When the state itself is acting as the employer, the ban does have some practical impact and can thus influence morals. It does not only go by qualifications, but sometimes corrects the negative way of discriminating against women by a positive one. It distorts competition to promote women, imposing quotas for women in political parties, giving preference to female applicants over males having the same qualifications at universities and government agencies, etc. However, this has become another matter of dispute between the political camps, which are all committed to fair competition.

The untrue ideal of a meritocratic competition based only on professional qualifications is most alive among educated women who are eager for advancement and disadvantaged by being exposed to the real competition for jobs. They want to believe in job qualifications and objectively measured performance as a reliable means that they can use and calculate with in serving the economy, but for their own benefit. When they find they have been passed over, they appeal to an equal opportunity authority, stressing how willing and able they are to perform for capital. Women advocate for themselves by arguing that they are at least as capable as men and just as suitable for all functions. They regard their worse position as violating the rationality of the wage-labor system, and are not the least bit interested in the relation between domination and service that their discrimination reveals.

II. The assault culture — and its basis in the family

What is even more important to feminist critics than career opportunities is the sexual relationship between men and women in the family, when socializing, at work, and in public. Women are confronted with men’s claim to dominance, lewd remarks, dirty jokes, aggressive come-ons, groping, and even sexual violence. The newspapers are full of such assaults — and of the message that such male behavior is inappropriate. If so many men, and not just a minority of avowed machos, nevertheless stick to their claims to dominate women and have them at their disposal without any employer or state encouraging or entitling them to do so, then there must be an interest in it that is no accident — a necessity, which shouldn’t be blamed on nature, hormones, or the long tradition of women being subordinated.

The family: Jointly coping with the need to function in the world of work …

Men’s claim to sexual entitlement and women’s willingness to adapt — that is, gender roles and the associated mores — have a present-day material basis in the modern family that has been mentioned above. Nobody forces women and men to marry, not the state and today not even common decency. They do it because marriage or a quasi-marital relationship is practically the only possible way of life for people who firstly work all day for money, secondly have to handle all kinds of everyday necessities outside their working hours, and thirdly also need some human companionship, “someone to talk to” at night. Together, married couples master life, organizing for themselves with their little money, time, and energy a private life, including child-rearing, that above all obeys one necessity: it must enable them to turn up for their gainful employment again the next day and for some time after that. Their life outside of work consists of reproducing their functionality for work. But who sees it that way?[4]

… and its higher purpose: To compensate for the hardships of working life

In capitalism, working people are not servants but free, private materialists who have a right to their personal benefit, and they see the relation between means and end the other way around. Once they have finished work and earned their money they are free to live their lives as they please — now they get to put themselves first! The work they do in the service of other people’s financial interests, which absorbs the greater part of their waking hours, which wears them out and gives leisure time the function of restoring their ability to work — this they take for granted as the realm of necessity, as the trouble they have to go to before they can enjoy life and freely choose their own pursuits, which have to fit into the smaller remainder of the day. Contrary to the objective facts, they insist on their own relation of means and end, that work is only a means while leisure is the end reward for their toil. And how could they not, as long as they are determined to see their jobs as a means for good living? And they are thereby giving their (no longer so) free time a function: it has to compensate for the living time sacrificed to earning a livelihood, it has to furnish proof that the sacrifice is, all in all, “worth it” as a means for living a good life. This saddles leisure time, especially the sphere of private togetherness, with the impossible task of making a wage-dependent life turn out to be a fine thing.

Attaining satisfaction with yourself and the world has actually become an independent, and as such absurd, purpose of leisure time. One cultivates an idea of what one can and must ask from life so as not to be among the unhappy ones or the losers. Success in this is what one demands of oneself and those near and dear. One presents the sorely needed proof of success to oneself and even more to the world at large — this paving the way to deception and self-deception. The right and the duty to be happy make the private sphere, in addition to work, another field for proving oneself.

Love with the goal of marriage — The compensatory counterworld to competition

The first test is to find a partner to win over permanently. When it comes to choosing a partner for a lifetime it is not enough to naïvely fall in love, be immediately drawn to another person, i.e., have that feeling that magazines and movies all glorify as true, albeit inconstant, happiness. Landing oneself the right person is a program to be seriously pursued, and involves viewing the love object in terms of expected performance.

Those intending to marry are well aware that they are entering into a bond that becomes independent of love: it is a moral obligation that they want. A bride and groom don’t even just promise this to each other, but to the entire religious or political community when being wed. They know that their intimate togetherness is in keeping with the morals prevailing in society, and that their individual lives are justified by conforming with the standard.

For their happiness in life, the two partners create a private counterworld to the competition where they have to prove themselves every day outside of their togetherness, and want to prove themselves in order to be able to afford their nest in a world of interests and antagonisms. They do without paying or buying from each other, they share their money and their work. Between them there should be no judging according to performance or success, each person should be recognized, i.e., loved, directly, “just the way I am.” It shouldn’t be necessary to win out over one’s partner, one expects to meet with understanding for one's own wishes and needs without having to ask for it. These needs are usually not particularly original, being given by the division of labor in the family. Although many couples today say the usual division of labor is discriminatory and actually outdated, it is nevertheless constantly reproduced under the pressure of circumstances and necessities. Thus, the man is still mostly responsible for procuring the necessary money; simply because men usually earn more. In return, he expects the woman to take care of the household and children and make sure his physical and emotional needs are met after work. She expects in turn recognition and affection and helping out at home, especially if she goes to work too. Married people accept the tasks they share, and want to do right by each other, to be there for each other. They identify with their partner, and identify the partner with their expectations of him.

These expectations are impositions and are usually disappointed, the reason being the standard that partners apply to their private lives and therefore to each other. The other person is supposed to do something that cannot possibly be done on a continuing basis by contributing to family life: that is, make the hardships of life outside the family irrelevant and ensure that one’s own individual needs are thoroughly satisfied. The partners do not see the success or failure of this compensation program in terms of what has to be compensated, but in terms of how the other person is behaving. When something unpleasant happens that is actually due to a lack of money, time, or energy, it is interpreted as the other person’s lack of commitment to the shared household and unwillingness to subordinate all other interests to it. Thus, while they initially intended to build a happy counterworld, they are soon constantly making demands to be served. And especially couples who put the success of their marriage above all else start trading selflessness, quite calculatingly. Serving their partner’s necessities and needs is a way to underline their claim to his services, which they feel they have more than earned.

Long before disappointment sets in, what one expects of one’s partner are entitlements that are one’s duty of love to fulfill. And when one’s partner fails to do his part to achieve joint contentment, then the one person in the world who is responsible for one’s happiness is destroying this lofty good. That partners claim a right to love, rather than just wanting to love and be loved, is the source of violence in relationships. Such violence ranges from old-fashioned beatings for the disobedient wife, from a woman’s revenge by sulking and psychological harassment, to extreme cases of marital war with rampages and spousal murder.

Right and duty to have sex

Today the duty of love extends even, and even primarily, to direct pleasure and physical lust in the other person. Thus, one area of pleasure in each other, once it is put in the service of compensation, becomes the area of happiness as such, of compensatory total satisfaction, having tremendous importance for both the man and the woman. Sex has to work out for things to be right at home. Marriage counselors make clear how serious this is by explaining to frustrated couples in magazines and at sessions how to have intercourse, what to do or possibly fake, in order to succeed. It is a special kind of perversion to reduce physical pleasure, which involves an appreciation of the other person and familiarity with him, to sex, which plays down both the element of spontaneity and the element of relating to another individual. Sexual pleasure is on the one hand reduced to the skillful execution of a physical act. On the other hand, it is glorified as something much more powerful than pleasure: a fetish of successful living and intact partnership.

That is why sexual satisfaction is not only a recognized right that each partner has toward the other, but also a task for each to fulfill, which they measure each other and also themselves by. The other’s duty of love is constantly being tested, as well as one’s own ability to arouse his sexual interest, i.e., one’s own attractiveness in this respect. Because partners owe it to themselves to furnish this key proof of their success in life and fitness for life, they have to grapple with self-doubt and fear of failure under the “pressure to perform in bed” (another counselors’ favorite), and also start being demanding toward the other. If one’s partner lacks interest or refuses intimacy this is not simply regrettable, it is an attack on oneself as an achiever, injuring one’s self-esteem by casting a bad light on one’s ability to seduce and one’s sexual prowess altogether. Women and men both suffer from such injured pride and fight to assert themselves in various ways. When a man becomes violent, he is way past just wanting love or even just sexual satisfaction. He is considering himself, defending his strained belief in himself as an individual capable of succeeding in life, as a stud, and seeking confirmation of this self-image against the woman’s will. The only pleasure that this achieves is the person’s pleasure in himself for knowing how to get what he is laying claim to. [5]

This endpoint and goal of the materialism of compensation — affirming and representing oneself as a person capable of succeeding — is what largely dominates gender relations. And since the family ultimately fails to deliver the satisfaction that partners demand, many men (and some women) take up the sport of picking up specimens of the opposite sex who they can get somewhere with.[6] And for those who are not successful enough at this, society still offers the legal (or illegal) institute of the brothel, where money makes women submissive.

When sexual satisfaction becomes a right, and achieving it the touchstone of male prowess, the morals that are recognized are joined by excesses that are not. Men take what they think they are entitled to and brutally disregard women’s will, mainly in the family and their own social circles, but in extreme cases also with random strangers. Rape is the most extreme form of self-affirmation for a man entitled and obligated to succeed at sex.

The assault culture is of course much more widespread than the actual assaults. Men demonstrate their awareness of themselves as being able to get what they think their gender entitles them to when they whistle at some women or other, make passes at them, or touch them. Family men, knowing very well that they are not allowed to talk like that at home, brag to other men about all the women they have had or could have had, and make lewd remarks to present themselves as pleasure-lovers — always from the point of view that women exist and are available for their pleasure.[7] The actual pleasure here is entirely in the mind, it is pleasure in the self-image that men confirm to each other when competing for it. By their transparent bragging, they affirm their right to sexual gratification and the paramount importance that these brief events have for reconciling the bourgeois individual with his capitalist world.

III. Morality — A social objectivity

Thus, women who rebel against their roles in the working world and the family, and against the sense of male entitlement that goes with them, have more to contend with than bad behavior on the part of men who are clinging to outdated role models and patriarchal privileges. First of all, they face a capitalist labor market and the way it sorts workers according to gender. Secondly, they have to deal with this society’s morality that both sexes live by, i.e., with efforts to organize life under the prevailing economy that are necessary, therefore taken for granted, and generally approved of. Of course, neither capital nor the state nowadays decrees how men and women are to live together and what they are allowed to demand of each other, apart from certain obligations involving money and care. But capital and the state place people under living conditions that they can consistently only cope constructively with if they have a marital or quasi-marital partnership. And that makes this partnership not only the normal way of living but also the normative one. Since such a partnership cannot undo the already given contradiction of lack of time and money, it turns into an obligatory partnership in doing without, with the partners having all kinds of unsatisfied legal claims against each other — which they sometimes take to the extreme the way those obsessed with their rights tend to do.[8]

What morality is — how individuals adopt and practice the prevailing morals — is made clearer by a comparison with the deviating customs of Islamic immigrants, who bring their morality with them from different social and economic conditions requiring different forms of family and a different division of labor between the sexes.[9] A Muslim woman wearing a sack dress and headscarf, who does not leave the house alone and whose honor is guarded by male family members, represents sheer oppression in the eyes of Western culture. No one will believe her claim that it suits her fine to wear a headscarf. When a Western woman, on the other hand, who moves in public, has a job, a husband and children, and wears herself out trying to fulfill the resulting duties, proudly professes that this is her life, this is just how she wants it, no one doubts her for a moment. One stands for oppression, the other for freedom, although they are merely different cases of the same thing. Morals in practice are how an individual comes to terms with social necessities and constraints; it is the general, customary way of leading a life under them. Morality is therefore not accidental in what it calls for; it involves a commitment for an individual but is not forced upon him from outside. The way of living one fits oneself into is the reconciliation of one’s subjectivity with the prevailing order, it is the unity of submission and freedom.

IV. The demand for respect

It misses the point to see women’s various economic and private roles, and the burden they impose, as a manifestation of “misogyny” or lack of respect for women. Firstly, that ignores all the differences and different reasons for the very varied demands made on women and outrageous things done to them, it makes everything the same. And, secondly, it attributes everything to a reason that is definitely not the reason for bad treatment. For it is a negative reason, which fails to say why women have to serve as cheap workers, housewives, and sex objects. Instead, it criticizes the lack of a check on bad treatment of women, whatever the reason for the bad treatment may be.

The respect that is being demanded is for women's right to self-determination and thus one of the highest values of this society. The (German) constitutional article guaranteeing citizens of each sex the right to their own personal development is popular as a protective right because of the limit the state sets at the same time on the conflicting will of others; their freedom ends where it violates one’s own rights. What is always missed is that this guarantee recognizes and legitimates the opposing will, considering it valid in its sphere and only setting an outer limit on it. By granting and restricting the autonomy of will, the bourgeois state is reacting to the clashes of interests in its society, which it thereby sets free and regulates at the same time. In this way, it obliges its citizens to live with these antagonisms, and thus quite fundamentally protects the world of capitalist competition including the working and living conditions that cause women to suffer.

When the feminist movement pleads for the right to self-determination or denounces its violation, it is making out the cause of women's suffering to be men’s freedom, which knows hardly any limits and should be restricted, be it by voluntary self-discipline or by the punitive force of the state. Leftist feminists may go on about capitalist relations and the roles and positions of power that are based on them, but when they start demanding respect, all they see is individuals determined by their gender, i.e., men, who they want to impose internal or external limits on. So they are taking it for granted that men have to be crude and mean — while this is the result of men claiming a right to sexual satisfaction — and see it as a precondition for gender relations that is not to be criticized as such; it is men’s normal interest, which can only be handled by limits and bans. Women who fiercely deny that the gender roles demanded of them at work and in the family match their female nature gladly accept the same idea for the other sex when they demand restrictions for men.

The movement has had some success with this accusation too. Not so much with the majority of men, but with a supporters’ scene who accept that men are primordially assaultive and who vow to be aware. Particularly those men who are dead against misogyny and sexual domination, and who would never get coarse with a woman, profess to having a guilty conscience and needing to be constantly alert to the rapist in all of us.

Translators’ Note

[*] In the US, similar legislation is contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, especially Title VII.

Authors’ Notes

[1] Right at the outset we must disappoint those who advocate emancipating women by means of personal pronouns, noun endings, and other grammatical interventions. We follow conventional linguistic usage in using masculine forms to include women when both sexes are meant.

[2] For a critique of the ideology of fair wages and differences in income, see “Who Earns How Much and Why? Against Moralism in the Income Debate” translated from GegenStandpunkt 3-17.

[3] Public employers in particular have now started looking specifically also for men to work in nursery schools, elementary schools, and as care assistants in old-age homes and hospitals. That firstly confirms the current very lopsided way these female jobs are occupied. Secondly, it testifies to the public interest in watering down stereotypical gender roles and confronting in particular children with male teachers.

[4] If no one else, the state does see the matter that way. Its family law regulates rights and obligations to receive and provide support when it comes to married, unmarried, and no longer married couples. And the state’s aim here is clearly to foist services — the services its citizens need to be able to function at work — on the “nucleus of society,” which it protects and also grants benefits for performing this function.

[5] When men cultivate their self-image on women this way, it does not just cause their victims to suffer directly but forces them to weigh some very bleak choices, because often enough women are not free to pick up and leave a husband who beats or rapes them. They are usually non- or low-earners who are economically dependent on their partners. So at this endpoint of their shared pursuit of happiness, it becomes clear in all its sharpness that the partnership was objectively about developing a dependency relationship for the purpose of reproducing their economic functioning. And if women can only choose between further suffering in the marriage and poverty without a marriage, then it is no wonder that many, in the face of the realism of their bleak situation that they cannot easily escape, embrace the idealism that the man they are suffering from and life with him cannot be that bad. Then — at least that's what the relevant reports say — they set off the “nice sides” against the “dark sides” of the shared happiness they have committed themselves to, even start blaming themselves for the failure of the relationship, feel ashamed of the violence done to them, and hide its traces from the outside world as best they can. Experts know that a much higher number of unreported cases must be added to the known violent acts against women.

[6] When it comes to getting somewhere with women, enormous differences appear between men. The whole hierarchy of this society of power and money reproduces itself in extramarital sex. Men with power — politicians, bosses, film producers, even professors — need no violence to win over women who others can only dream of; their professional success makes them attractive. In this game, women are victims but not only: some go along with it because of the glamour that falls on them at the important man’s side, others do so calculatingly for the sake of their careers.

[7] In the course of being emancipated, women are catching up enormously in this discipline too. They get to make dirty jokes and disparaging innuendos about the “stronger sex” not just in private get-togethers; public television actually gives them a regular broadcasting slot for it.

[8] Society’s general morals also apply to the higher ranks of property and profession, where plenty of money is available and, after work obligations have been taken care of, also more energy, though not necessarily more free time. In these circles, too, “life” takes place after work and in the form of marriage. Those who are educated and well off are freer in arranging the division of labor in the family, and for that very reason often do so very conservatively. The woman does not have to work, stays home, and is then only an ornament for the man; or she realizes her potential at some activity she freely chooses — and is even more of an ornament.

[9] Germans can study an example that is morally and culturally closer to home, in the East Germany that is no more. There, different comforts in terms of a secure livelihood and child care, and the different way the socialist economy coerced women into participating fully in society’s work, produced a different morality. East Germany had already brought forth different, more independent women than West Germany in the fifties.

© GegenStandpunkt 2023