Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 3: Women Fight for Liberation

Women & the home

Women are rising up all over the country. Women’s caucuses are forming in labor unions, demanding equal wages and equal job opportunities. Student women are getting together to form women’s liberation groups. Housewives are meeting to organize and demand child care centers for their children. Strikers’ wives are marching on their husbands’ picket lines. Black, brown, and white women are marching with our brothers to resist the attacks on male and female revolutionaries like the hundreds of Black Panther Party members who have been murdered or jailed.

Women are saying that our “place” is no longer limited to “the home.” The original division of labor between men and women–the biological fact that women bear the children–will continue, but we now have the technological antisocial means to deal with that division as equally as possible.

Women in this country and in capitalist societies everywhere are oppressed by male supremacy–the systematic discrimination against women on the job, in school, in public life, etc.–and male chauvinism–the attitudes which stem from this discrimination. But all women are not oppressed equally or in the same way. The situation of a white ruling class woman, for instance, is much different from that of a working class woman.

Jackie Kennedy-Onassis today orders the butler around just as much as the maid. ’Nelson Rockefeller and his wife Happy own half of Venezuela and enjoy the profits from it while Venezuelans starve. And Happy isn’t weeping for the females who starve there any more than she weeps for the males.

This oppression takes many forms. Marilyn Monroe, who came from a working class background and made it big in Hollywood, killed herself because she couldn’t live up to what she was supposed to be. She was sold as a sex symbol, but no one can be an ageless, wrinkle-free, dumb blond for very long without going crazy.


Now the popular magazines–Life, Look, Time–and the daily newspapers have begun to pick up on “women’s liberation” just as they have picked up on “revolution” and are packaging it for mass production–i.e., private profits. Now women can buy the clothes worn by the “liberated women” in the fashion ads; actually the fashion model is one of the most repressed of all women–chained to the fashion image.

The masters of profit who are also masters of deceit can turn anything into private profit–UNLESS IT REALLY HELPS FREE THE WORKING PEOPLE FROM THE CONTROL OF THESE BOSSES.

Charlotte Ford Niarchos, Henry Ford’s jet-set daughter, can throw away her bras, buy the latest in ”liberated” fashions, and go to the most “liberated” cocktail parties (“I dreamed I went to a cocktail in my see-through blouse”), using the money made off the backs of every worker in the Ford plants. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 1970, two rallies were held in the Bay Area. The following day the San Francisco Chronicle reported to its readers how a folk-singer at the Berkeley rally “launched into a ditty with the oft-repeated refrain, ’We don’t need the men... except now and then.’” The Chronicle did not report to its readers that across the bay in the Mission District of San Francisco Black Panther women, Los Siete women, United Asian Women, high school women, working class white women, hospital working women were saying that we’re all in it together and that women’s liberation is part of the struggle to liberate all working people.

If the newspapers and magazine stories and advertisements can make the women’s movement seem silly and opposed to the interests of the masses of working men and women, these men and women won’t want to find out what women’s liberation really can mean.

To many people the term “women’s liberation” means a movement of women against men. Many women, when they hear “women’s liberation, ” bring up examples of women they know who mistreat their husbands and they say they don’t think women should treat men badly, either. Some people fear that if women are ”liberated” women and men will be just alike. Other women seem to like the mistaken idea of women’s liberation right away because it gives these women more ammunition to use in their constant battle with their husbands.

If we cannot prove through practice that women’s liberation is vital to the interests of working people, then men and women will continue to be oppressed by the effects of male chauvinism and male supremacy: men and women fighting each other, women workers scabbing on men workers, men scabbing on women, husbands and wives cheating on each other. The battle of the sexes will continue to hold back the battle of the working people against the bosses.


While the Ford heiresses are jet-setting, where does the wife of a Ford autoworker, for instance, fit into the picture? Her work, as well as her husband’s, directly benefits Ford and all the other corporation owners. It is the housewife’s job–whether or not she also works outside the home–to bear and raise the future generations of Ford workers and help maintain the present work force through cooking, laundering, and housecleaning. Without her doing these things, the capitalists would have a difficult time keeping a stable work force and could not be assured of having workers in the years to come.

If she doesn’t have to work to meet expenses, the housewife probably stays at home most of the day looking after 3 or 4 small children and cleaning a small apartment, a small rented house, or perhaps a small house that they’re renting from the bank. (The deed says they own the house; for 20 years or more the bank really owns it, until it’s all paid off. If they don’t keep up those monthly payments, who gets the house–bank or family?) For the rich or well-off, marriage offers financial security to the wife. She is assured of property. For the woman married to an average worker in this country, marriage offers no such financial security because her husband hasn’t got any.

The worker is supposedly paid enough to support a family, but increasingly his wage fails to make it. Many men work 50 and 60 hours a week just to break even. And if their wives work, the family may be putting in 80-100 hours of work each week for a bare existence.

The working man is likely to have work shifts that are “inconvenient” to say the least. The wife has to plan her life around these. When her husband is trying to sleep in the daytime and the children are playing, she’s tense–getting hell from him, giving hell to them. When he’s not sleeping, he’s likely to be uptight because he’s up against the wall of heavy responsibility and lousy work –lousy not because it’s dull and tiring (though it’s that, too), but because making products in America is not satisfying. He knows damn well that the product he’s making–a car, for instance–is engineered to fall apart in a short time.


The woman’s work within the home is centered entirely on the family. Unless she has an outside job she is almost totally isolated from other adults, doing the same tasks over and over. If her husband works long hours she hardly even sees him. Her labor in the home gives her no sense of connection to anyone outside her family. So when her husband is tired and cross and when the children are tired and crying, her whole world seems to fall apart. She has nothing outside her family to fall back on; it appears she has no reason for living outside of them. If she is unhappy it must be because she isn’t living up to that ideal wife and mother she is “supposed” to be: patient with the children, sexy and loving for the husband, calm and charming for visitors.

Until the children go to school, she is tied down by their needs every hour of the day and night. Only mothers know what being a mother means. Humans are the only animals with children who need such care–who can roll off a bed and break that tender skull, who can’t walk or even crawl for months, who have to be watched to make sure they don’t choke. Her children’s need for her gives her something to do with her life, but it also puts her nerves on end so she ends up screaming at them a lot. Sometimes she ends up beating them, even though she really does love them and doesn’t mean to hurt them. Recent statistics show that child beating and child abuse cause thousands of children to die each year in this country.

If the wife and her husband are lucky, they got married because they liked to be with each other, and after they got married they had some time to prepare for children–maybe even time to save a little money. If they got married because she was pregnant, that adds to the frustration of both. “I was pregnant when we got married and he runs around” is a common story of many marriages. They both love their children, no matter what the circumstances, and even though their life together may be less than happy, he will work hard to keep them all fed, housed and clothed, and she will go through the same old routine day after day.

If she is white she may have a high school education; if she’s black or brown she probably left high school after the ninth or tenth grade. She reads magazines but probably doesn’t like to read much else because schools teach working class children that we’re only smart enough to get by and get a low-paying job and/or be a housewife.


Most of us are convinced, in other words, that we shouldn’t expect too much because we’re not going to “get very far.” Yet both men and women dream aloud or silently of a big payoff–of making “the American dream” come true. We are taught that success–making lots of money–makes the man, so he tries for that success.

We are taught that clothes and good looks make the woman, so she buys all kinds of make-up and as many clothes as she can afford and colors out every gray hair that appears on her head. In addition, the housewife is urged to buy the latest floor wax, soap powder and furniture polish so her apartment or house will shine like the ads say it must.

Above all, she tries to make her home a decent place. She knows the pressures of supporting the family are heavy on her husband. He is constantly reminded–by insurance men, for example–of his “obligations” to his wife and children. They both know that any big medical problem would be a financial disaster.

Since they’re always living on the edge of their income, is it any wonder that strikes are a threat? Her job is to take care of the day-to-day needs of her family; anything that will make it harder to do that is a real threat to the family’s security. If her husband doesn’t take time to explain what is going on at the shop and in the union, she is likely to resist change rather than take a chance. So she goes on looking after her husband and her children, perhaps wishing for a change and hoping things don’t get worse.

But things are getting worse for most working people in this country: higher costs of living, higher taxes, speed-up, lay-offs, more working people sent to fight more wars (it used to be just Vietnam, now it’s Vietnam and Laos and soon will be Thailand and Cambodia). At the same time there is increasing unemployment, which hits women even harder than it hits men and hits black and brown women hardest of all, leaving more women and men desperately poor. More people are having to go on welfare while at the same time welfare programs are being reduced by the government.

Modern industry has made it possible for masses of women to enter the work force and to do work which benefits society as a whole; but under the present system of private profit, workers are still forced to work for the benefit of the corporation owners and the bankers who run things. Instead of placing this nation’s great technological advances at the service of the people, the technology is used for gadgets to keep people buying things that fall apart and to keep paying taxes for new “defense” weapons that are designed to keep the big corporations in business.

To free ourselves and the technology we have developed from this criminal system we will have to build the unity of everyone who is beaten down by it, beginning with the working people who make this society run and must change it to make it run for our benefit. But we cannot build this unity, without building solidarity between women and men now.

Women must be encouraged to do things outside the home, to fight side by side with other women and with men. If men at first feel threatened by the idea of their wives being able to join the struggle on an equal basis, we must make sure that the men understand what we mean by women’s liberation. In our work we will make mistakes, but if we learn from our mistakes, then even failures can be a step toward doing things right. Women’s liberation is one of the most difficult things to deal with on a concrete level, but it is one of the most important and essential in every area of struggle.

Sometimes men have welcomed women on their picket lines–so long as the women are other men’s wives or students. They discourage or prevent their own wives from going down to the line. They know that their relationships with their wives will change if the wives start becoming interested in doing something about the way things are. Change in the marriage relationship is threatening because we never know exactly how it will be after the change. But it is clear that no relationship ever stays exactly the same–it either goes forward or backward. And an equal relationship is firm ground for going forward rather than backward.

We have found that showing the film “Salt of the Earth,” which deals with women’s role in supporting their husbands’ strike, helped break down many men’s resistance to their wives’ joining the struggle. Despite friendly arguments about what the liberation of women means, working class men can be won and are being won as fighters for the equality of women. One worker who liked to rib RU people on the subject himself went to a strike line and lectured the men there because all the women were in the cafeteria waiting on the men. We should not make the mistake of thinking that working men want their wives to be super-dependent. We have heard many men say they want their wives to get out of the house and get involved. And it seems clear that many of the working class marriages that are shaky would be strengthened, not shattered, if the woman can be free to develop in struggle.

The main point here is that those of us who feel we have a good understanding of what women’s liberation means can’t jump with both feet into a situation which we haven’t investigated. Women’s liberation may at first seem like a threat to both women and men until they’ve dealt with it. But at least one marriage we know of was saved by the husband’s new understanding of his own male chauvinism.

Marriages in this society are generally shaky. Monogamy–one man, one woman –is under fire from some people as “exclusive” and some so-called revolutionaries go so far as to say, ”don’t get married and don’t have children.” But it is clear that right now the objective situation is that millions of working men and women are married and have children, and that the marriages and the children are inseparable from our daily lives. Many people have developed a way of living together that seems the best of all possible ways given the present uncertainties of relationships in a capitalist, competitive society. We do not know what form the family will take in future societies. Perhaps someday people in a better society will be so free and easy with one another–so unfearful of being hurt by each other–that it will be possible to develop deep relationships on other bases than monogamy. But we are dealing with right now. And we’ve got a lot of monogamous relationships that mean a lot to a lot of people. It’s one thing to have sexual “freedom” when you’re childless and well-off, quite another when you have children and little money.

We must be careful to respect other people’s personal relationships. For example, women who come from the student movement and are “independent” and not “tied down” by a husband and family must be careful not to threaten other women’s personal relationships. This means not flirting with other women’s husbands, and it means talking with women at parties, on strike lines, etc. as much as with men. Women’s liberation has a reputation of meaning sexual looseness. We must combat this idea through our actions as well as our words. Communist men have a special responsibility to discourage other men from viewing women as sex objects and making comments that put women down.

The rulers of this country need the working class family to play a conservative role, to help keep the work force subdued and “grateful” for the crumbs the bosses hand out. If the working class family is united, if women and men are working together, the family can be a major weapon in the defeat of the imperialist system. Comrades are already developing ways of working with each other’s children to make the children feel at home with the parents’ friends. Younger comrades are working with the older children in families. This way the politics of the parents become reality to our children and lead to increasingly comradely relationships between parent and child.

Women meeting by themselves–as women helps break down the competitiveness we have been taught to have for each other. In order to do anything concrete to help the women involved, these meetings have to be more than gripe sessions and must lead to actually doing something together. For example, women from one such group decided to spend the day together, then cleaned up the apartments one by one before the husbands came home from work. This was a living example of the advantages of socialized housework that will be fully developed in socialist society.

We must help women develop confidence in themselves and a belief that they are capable of doing more than raising children and doing housework. For this it is not enough to get together and talk. Women must actively plan and work together on projects, and through this develop our skills and leadership capabilities. In planning activities, we must pay attention to issues which affect women in particular as well as those which affect all working class people.

Bringing husbands and wives together on issues which affect them both gets people working together and develops the liberation of women in concrete ways. One woman remarked that most married couples have no activities in common and it would help the relationship if both were working on the same thing. In one area, working people and people on welfare are organizing a tenants’ union. The women are very enthusiastic and are among the best organizers. But they have small children, so to free these women a child care center will have to be set up. Many people are organizing breakfast-for-children programs in which men and women share equally in the kitchen work. Free food and clothing programs and free medical clinics are being set up in low-income areas.

The problem of health care is one that affects every poor and working person, especially women. In socialist society when workers are in control, hospitals and health care will be at the service of the people. Right now we must move the hospitals in that direction because there are people sick and dying who have a basic right to live a healthy life. We need good care for all mothers, before and after giving birth, and for their babies. As it is now, only the wealthy can afford good maternity care. Usually only someone with enough money can get either a legal or illegal abortion now. Hospitals and clinics should give out free birth control information, and abortions should be legal, free and easily available. At the same time, forced sterilization of poor women must be stopped and free medical care must be be given to all women who want to have children. We must expose the use of the phony “population bomb” theory to force women to use birth control. The real reason why people starve–the unequal distribution of food and resources, the hoarding by the big corporations–must be explained.

This “population bomb” idea that starvation is caused by too many people in the world is just another of the capitalists’ tricks. We all know that people are starving, but the reason is that a few rich people control food supplies and use them to make their profits. In China before the revolution, millions of people starved each year, more than starve now every year in India; food sat in railway cars and rotted; people were shot, as they are now in India, for trying to get to that food because they were starving. Now China is feeding all its people and even exporting some food.

The population scare is just another way to turn us on each other, to make us think of each other as the enemy, to justify genocide in Vietnam and finally here at home. We need to concentrate instead on how to look after each other. A healthy and well-educated people controlling the wealth and technology of society will be able to figure out how many children we should have.

Another thing we must begin to do now is to get good child care centers for our children. Mothers cannot do things outside the home unless they have a good place to leave their children. Child care centers should be places where children can be with a variety of people doing a variety of things from an early age.

Unfortunately, the money to do this is now in the hands of bureaucrats–agents of the big capitalists–who spend most of our tax money on war and on the increasing police protection which they need here at home. But we must get together and demand that they pay for child care centers with the parents themselves in control. We need to raise our children as strong fighters for the rights of the people. Children are not to be feared because they will crowd us out; they are to be cherished because they are the future of us all.

Many of us were first brought to action by the knowledge that our own system of government, our own tax money, was burning mothers and their babies in Vietnam for the seizure of private property. We became revolutionaries when we realized that their struggle is ours–that the women of Vietnam took up the gun with the men to defeat the same enemy that we must also fight. With that in mind, the difficulties we meet will not discourage us, and we will continue our fight until the day when all women and men are liberated.