First Published:The Forge Vol 7, No 9, March 5, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Recently the Workers Communist Party devoted a few of its meetings to the question of family relationships. Women, because of their situation, are especially interested in these discussions.
Work, household tasks and taking care of the children take up a lot of women’s time and energy. Is it also possible for them to get involved in politics? How can activitists reconcoile their political and personal lives? Do politics have a role to play in family relationships? And lastly, isn’t the struggle against chauvinism – within the family – a precondition to women’s equal standing in society?
In this first article we would like to give our readers an idea of the discussions we had around traditional family relationships.
Women’s role: For centuries society has spread the idea that a child needs the constant presence of its mother, and that only the mother will do. Capitalist society has promoted this idea to avoid having to set up necessary services, like daycare, and to make sure that women are always available as a source of cheap labour.
For women active in the party, this ideology leads to tension and guilt feelings, since the need to be away from home means leaving the children with baby-sitters.
Many women saw these conflicts as personal problems and felt even more guilty since they felt they were both “bad mothers” and “bad militants.”
The debate within the party showed clearly that women have to question the traditional role that has been imposed on them, defying the old order of things and constantly fighting the manifestations of their oppression.
A good number of women pointed out that their political commitment and experience has enabled them to bring a lot to their children and to establish rich relationships with them.
Men’s role: One chauvinist idea spread by society is that the man is the head of the household and the woman is there to please and serve him.
While chauvinist ideas are not so blatant within the party, they are nevertheless still present, only in more subtle ways, since no one is immune to the dominant ideas in society.
We discussed how some men tend to limit the fight against chauvinism to the “sharing of household tasks,” and even then it is only in terms of time. These attitudes showed up in statements like, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
The discussion aimed to show that domestic and family chores encompass a multitude of concerns, and what women want is to share responsibility for them.
This responsibility, this concern, shouldn’t be limited to just “household tasks,” but should include the quality of relationships (between women and men, children and parents) and the quality of children’s education, their health and so on.
The transformation of the family – bringing the revolution into our family life – should he as much the man’s concern as it is the woman’s.
Responsibility for children: The idea that parents are solely responsible for, or the only determining factor in the development of their children, does not correspond to reality.
Society, its media, its value system and its educational system have a lot more influence on our children than the education parents can provide in the home.
Of course this doesn’t mean we should leave children to their own devices. On the contrary, we must make a real effort so that our children have the best experiences possible. We must help them develop their capacities to the maximum and transmit to them values we consider important, like generosity, co-operation, respect for others, and so on.
Still, as individuals our efforts are necessarily limited. Many party members pointed out the need to examine problems posed in education and to get more involved in %struggles being waged by unions and other organizations to improve the educational system. The battle for a daycare system controlled by the users, especially on pedagogical questions, is particulary important in this respect.
Many other questions were raised in the discussions, including sexuality, one-parent families, the particular problems of adolescents, and so on. The debate is continuing.
We all agree that the main cause of problems in family relationships is the capitalist social system in which we live.
After all, how are we to arrive at equal relationships when centuries of oppression have conditioned men to be domineering and women to be submissive? When women are economically dependent or considered inferior? Not to mention the added tensions caused by economic and social crises (unemployment, worries about tomorrow, a budget that won’t balance, children’s needs that can’t be satisfied, etc.).
These are all reasons for us to fight for socialism, which will allow us to destroy the obstacles to developing satisfying relationships.
Nonetheless, the fact that we still live under capitalism shouldn’t he used as a pretext for accepting things as they are and giving up the fight against chauvinism.
To remove the burden that now falls on women’s shoulders and encourage their equal participation in the party, the battle must be waged immediately against incorrect ideas that exist within the family and the couple.
Certainly our discussions didn’t resolve all the problems, but changes are already visible. Women are more prepared to raise their problems and many men appear to have a better attitude towards these questions.