Selma James/Johnson-Forest Tendency, “On the Woman Question: An Orientation”
“On the Woman Question: An Orientation”
Selma James [Sept. 3, 1951]
Selma James delivered this report on behalf of the Johnson-Forest Tendency. Selma James was an important figure in the Johnson-Forest Tendency, a co-author of the pamphlet, A Woman’s Place, during the Correspondence period. In the 1955 split with Dunayevskaya, she sided with C.L.R. James and married him after he divorced Constance Webb. She eventually separated from James and became a leader in the radical women’s movement in Britain in the 1970s. She was also closely associated with the Italian feminist Mariarosa Dalla Costa in the wages for housework campaign. She is involved now with the Global Women’s Strike organization (www.globalwomenstrike.net).
A new stage has been reached. We are finished with endless discussions on male chauvinism. We have no more time for individual attacks against individual men who are backward or against individual women who do not want to be “emancipated.” These people will reorient themselves and will be drawn into their own struggles.
Now for the first time we know where we are going. We did not develop accidentally. The ideas explicit in this document are the concrete manifestations of the movement of capitalism and the reaction of the masses of women today. It is this reaction that we shall attempt to concretize in this document.
Bebel and the other historians on the woman question have analysed women in other ages, other struggles, other cultures. But it is we who must express women in 1951, what they feel about their lives, what they want and how they plan to get it.
We counterpose this to any external plan of the bourgeoisie, put forth by social workers, magazine writers, psychoanalysts, and any section of women who place themselves not within the struggle of women but above it, and therefore in opposition to it.
The Woman in the Home
We start from the position of women in the home for that is where the majority of women are, that is where the problem of women begins and that is the place to which all working women must return daily.
Capitalism has socialized production. It has brought thousands of people together in the factory and involved them in new social relationships. The home stands in contrast to all other capitalist institutions as the last stronghold of pre-capitalist isolation. Here, existing in the home outside the mainstream of society – the factory – the woman prepares her husband for a social labor process which is denied to her.
The repetitious, monotonous, lonely, unceasing and incomplete work of women in this society is opposed to women as human beings. Working for individuals whom she knows and loves does not compensate for the fragmented and meaningless labor she is forced to perform. Even her imaginative enterprises in the home are limited to certain spheres and are always individual. Contrast the glamorizing of women’s work by women’ s magazines and radio soap operas to what the wife of one worker said in generalizing the position of women under capitalism: “What I gotta do for the check!”
Women want the technological advances of modern society in their own surroundings. But a new Bendix washing machine or a GE garbage disposal will no more satisfy the most pressing social needs of women than a new Ford will substitute to the worker for new social relations in production. The modern machine divorces woman from her work but ties her to the monotony of it.
Even those middle class women for whom servants and machines do the physical labor in the home are involved in hollow relationships with their families and society, so little is demanded of all women; less is demanded of the woman who is divorced from physical labor.
The evolution of women from production and men from the home creates a barrier between them and neither is capable of understanding the life of the other.
“I’ve been working for about two months now and I really like it. I was getting sick and tired of staying home all the time. Housework gets so monotonous – the same thing day in, day out – no one to talk to but your neighbor, then pretty soon your neighbor begins to get on your nerves. No kidding, I think I would have been ready for a sanitarium if I stayed home another month. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t stand it. You do the same thing, you see the same people, everything is the same. Down here, there is something different to do every minute. Talking to people and getting acquainted. Now when I get home I really enjoy doing my housework. The funny thing about it is that I have much more to talk to my husband about, too. I didn’t used to have a thing to say at the supper table, but now when my husband talks about things that are happening at work, I tell him what I’ve been doing too. We seem to have a lot more fun together.”
The most obvious oppression that weighs heavily on most woman is their dependence an their husbands for food and shelter and for whatever money they are to spend as they wish. One housewife placed all her old clothing on a clothes line strung across the living room of her home and put a “used clothing” sign outside. She explained to her neighbor that she was giving away most of the clothing, but she added: “I just have to have same money of my own.”
The man makes all final decisions. Even in those homes where the woman plans and organizes the household affairs, he has the last word.
When a man goes out to work it is generally understood that he is earning a living for himself and his family. He brings home the pay check and among us (I mean the Mexicans) as a rule, this check is turned over to the wife who is supposed to see that this money is used to pay the bills, buy the groceries and so on. It’ s the money of the family. Even if he hands it to me, I never quite feel that it’s mine. I still have to ask him how it should be spent. And what I don’t see is, if my husband needs money, he just gets it, no explanations. He gets his hair cut, cigarettes or what have you. He needs more money? He gets some more. Me, on the other hand, I see a dress I like, I have to think twice before I get it. Usually, I end up by telling him about it. Even if he suggests I get the dress, half the fun of getting the dress is gone. I had to let him know I was getting it. I never had the feeling of the money belonging to me to do with as I please. Who is the boss in this house? He is, though this he will never admit. But nothing can be done without his consent. If, on occasion, as it has happened, I let the children go, he gets angry with me for not having them ask his permission. When he orders something to be done around the yard or house (and I said orders!) he expects it done, no excuses accepted. What am I supposed to be doing around here but to see that he is obeyed. About fifteen minutes before he gets home, we are rustling around trying to get things done so there won’t be any complaints.
When we were buying furniture, we needed a refrigerator, so we got it. We got everything we really needed, but I wanted an ironer. He didn’t think it was important enough to buy. So I went to work and bought it. Even if it wasn’ t a necessity, I wanted it. My reason for going to work is so that I can get what I want without asking him first or letting him know about it. If I have my money, I go get what I want. I don’t ask him.
The antagonisms between men and women express themselves in the most delicate phase of their life together – in their sexual relationship. (Very often sex becomes a weapon in the hands of the woman but this weapon is turned against her.) Without a solution to the social problems of society there can be no solution to the sexual problem.
The separation between the lives of men and women expresses itself in many different ways. Men and women enjoy their children neither together nor separately. Society has placed the woman in the isolation of the home and as a result has made her incapable of producing a social being. The woman tries to control her children for her whole life generally revolves around them. The child senses and resents this and says: “Mommy, I can’t love you, because you love me too much.” The woman is ruthless in crushing all signs of independence in the child, since independence means loss of control. Most women prefer babies because the baby cannot successfully rebel and is completely dependent upon the mother.
As the child develops, the mother stands as a policeman defending the home from the child. All the child’s activities are seen in terms of the work it will bring her. She in turn tries to pass off her work on the child who instinctively rebels. One pregnant woman was told by her neighbor: “If you have a, girl, she will help you with the dishes; if you have a boy, he will help your husband in the yard, so you better pray for a girl.”
The woman’s most creative work turns against her. She has devoted her life to her child but at each point of his development, he has been further alienated from her, and in the final analysis, the only social relationship that has been built up between them is based on pity and obligation. Today’s children develop in conflict with their parents.
The Woman in the Factory
Support of the modern family is no longer completely the man’s burden. Today a woman marries knowing that the man will need her financial help.
It used to be that when you got married, you had a home all ready and you stayed home and took care of it. But nowadays a girl gets married and goes right on working. A man just can’t manage all by himself.
The isolation in the home also drives many working class women to seek a socialized existence in the factory. She wants to be with other men and women.
“At home all I do is to sit end mend and watch the budget and wash the same old kitchen sink day in and day out. Almost anyone would rather work than do that all the time. There’s always something happening at work, sort of an excitement to it. When you get home, it makes housework seem like a pretty quiet routine business.”
Women show their desire to be independent of their husbands by going to work. The whole family relationship is changed when the woman faces the man as an equal partner.
“Since I’ve been working my husband says I am too damn independent and I suppose it’s true. Be says I never have time for him any more and that I always want my own way and I can see it. Working every day I get used to doing what I please; then I go home I keep on doing it.
Nowadays women are independent, so that they know if they can’t get along with a man, they can get along without him and that makes a big difference.”
For whatever reasons women work, the responsibility of the home is theirs even while they are working. “Full-time wage earner and part-time housewife” describes the dilemma of the working woman. The woman is compelled to organize her housework. The husband and children must participate in caring for the home.
“Nowadays, I have to plan my housework down to the last minute. I usually sit here at work and plan what I have to do for the next few days ahead. If I didn’t do it that way, I never would get anything done. When I was home I used to do things more or less as I went along, but now I have to stick to some sort of schedule.
Before I began working my husband hardly came into the kitchen. When he came home from work he sat down and read the paper. He didn’t give housework a thought. But before I began to work, my husband and I decided that he would have to help out, so now both he and the children work a lot more around the home. They help me with the dishes and the washing and the ironing. I guess if my husband didn’t help me out I wouldn’t be working too long.
Yes, I run my home differently. I learned to cut a lot of corners and now I just do the things that I have to do, like washing and ironing. Before I began to work, I liked to cook fancy dishes and do a lot of baking, but now my family says that they haven’t tasted a cake or pie of mine for months. And it’s true, I just don’t have time to bake or do things like that.”
Managing a home while working is difficult, but caring for the children is the major concern of most working women. Although they are willing and sometimes glad to cut corners on household work, it is with great feelings of resentment and guilt that the working mother leaves her children.
Working means that children must be cared for by others or left to their own devices and the latter alternative in the minds of many working women, particularly those belonging to minority groups, means juvenile delinquency.
“I think it’s hard for a woman to work and look after her children the way she would like to. I know with myself I leave the house at seven in the morning and I don’t get home until six o’clock and I have no way of knowing what they are doing; they are by themselves all day long. I tell them what to do. I tell them to be good but when I’m gone I can’t really see what they are doing and it’s easy for boys that age to get into trouble.”
Working mothers also wish that they weren’t so abrupt and irritable with their families after a day’s work, with cooking, cleaning and ironing yet to be done when they get home. As more and more women enter the factory, the home seems to become a place in which to eat and sleep while recreational activities occur outside the home. To many single women, the home no longer exists as the real center for family activity and marriage does not seem to offer to these women the personal fulfillment it once represented.
“My girl who is working is 26 years old but I don’t know if that girl is going to marry. She doesn’t want to very much. She says she has a good job and no worries why should she take a chance on marriage. Girls these days aren’t like they were – not nearly so anxious to get married. Nowadays they earn their own money and don’t need a man to support them.”
Although the woman is involved in new social relationships in the factory, she finds her work there hard and exhausting.
“It’s a long grind, working eight hours on this machine. People say, “All you’re doing is putting stock into the machine.” But it is hard, you know you’ve been working and then you go home to begin on the dishes and all the housework. It seems as if some folks never get a break. I could work from now until doomsday and never get anything done – and heaven knows a lot of women do .”
The Negro woman, oppressed as a woman, as a worker and as a Negro, bears the heaviest burden of all workers today. One Negro woman says:
‘Domestic’ has long been a term associated with Negro….Women in general, doing the same labor as a man, receive less in pay solely because they are a woman. The Negro woman receives even less because she is not only a woman, but a Negro woman. The problem magnifies because the Negro man is also underpaid and the combined wages of husband and wife is equal to about the same wage of one partner of another race.”
The Negro woman must build a relationship with a husband who does the dirtiest jobs capitalism can create. Her struggles in the home and in the factory are the sharpest of any group of women. The Negro woman struggles the most, and from her oppressed position in American society today, the Negro woman will lead the vanguard struggle for a human existence for women and all workers. She is the closest to the solution implicit in the problems of all working people.
Like the woman’s life in the home, woman’s work in the factory is opposed to her as a human being and as a woman. The insoluble dilemma of the woman under capitalism is expressed by this factory worker:
“I really wish that I knew how to do something. I mean, something I like. Nursing maybe. I don’ t want to work in a factory on a machine all my life. You know it’s funny I really couldn’t stand staying home, I know that. I would get tired of it. Just staying in the house all day isn’t any life for women. You have to have something that holds your interest. I guess I’d almost have to work or I would go nuts.”
Factory women recognize clearly the degrading kind of work they are forced to do in the factory. Yet this work, because it is part of a social existence and provides a social arena for struggle, is still preferable to woman’s life in the home. As always, capitalism is creating it’s own grave-digger. For, as the needs of capitalist society force the women into the factory, she finds herself united with the man against bourgeoise society. Woman’ s struggle against the individual man in the home is transcended by the class struggle against the domination of the machine, against capitalism. The advanced stage that the struggle enters today is a progression from the individual to the social struggle – from the individual to the social solution.
The child expresses the new society and is the concrete embodiment of the inevitability of socialism. In the creative energies which children display, in the free relationships which they attempt to establish between themselves and adults, in the manner in which they organize themselves at every opportunity, children help us to understand the potentialities of all workers.
Children’s play is work – work which constantly challenges the child as an individual and as a social being. It is the new mode of labor – cooperative, creative, planned by the children themselves, developing a natural and spontaneous leadership, and obliterating all division between manual and mental labor. Children express in play what the worker is denied in production. Free and spontaneous play makes it possible for the child to organize himself, to associate and work with other children in his own way. The activity of a child shows us not only what he wants but what we all want.
Yet children live on the fringe of society, developing deep feelings of hostility and aggression toward the adult world. Lacking integration into the heart of capitalist society – production – the child feels that he is an appendage to society, not a dynamic part of it. His mother and father and teacher embody for him the tyranny of an alien world, the tyranny of a bureaucratic plan; yet the adults are tyrannized in turn by the same oppressive forces which do not allow the child to develop naturally.
Children in a socialist society must not be made to feel necessary (as the bourgeoises, progressive educators attempt to do); they must be necessary. There will be a pleasure and a satisfaction in living and working with a developing human being in a socialist society which every adult will need in order for him to completely mature.
As the child develops into a youth, he seeks to further integrate himself into adult society. He wants to play a role in production. As a child he knew that he was not complete (all human beings knows this) and in his play he expressed his incompleteness and his development. For the youth, his play – his sports and hobbies – must be transformed into productive and creative work in society.
The bourgeoisie are acutely aware of the struggle of the children and the youth against capitalist society. They try to satisfy these groups by attempting to force them to live in the future, to contain their energies and their desires until the day when they become adults – when they go to work for capitalism, either in the home or in the factory.
The progressive educators among the bourgeoisie try to soften the blow. The teacher is asked to arrange a cooperative attitude among the children, just as the industrial relations manager tries to manipulate the workers in the factory. Progressive education creates an artificial world for the child. It’s insoluble dilemma is it’s attempt to make the child adjust to society and to himself. This he cannot do and continue to live with himself.
Progressive education is the plan of the bureaucracy to plan away the child’s oppression by isolating the child in a world of children, where he has little opportunity to challenge himself and the adults, who matter a great deal to him, for it is only through a constant and changing relationship, not only with other children but with adults, that the child develops. It is only in a socialist society that the child will have the opportunity to establish what is needed – a new relationship with adults, a relationship into which both will enter as freely associated individuals not competing with each other, not hostile to each other, but complementing each other.
We have shown that woman’s place in the home is merely an extension of man’s place in the factory. It is clear that woman’s life in the home is totally opposed to her as a human being and as a woman.
Today women know they can no longer stay in the home as it is now constituted; nor can they allow men to leave the home as freely as they have in the past. Women do not want to leave the home entirely but have men enter it for the first time. Women do not want to he free of their children but for the first time free with them.
Women are striving to unite what has been so long divided – the home and the factory. They want not to be as oppressed as men, but free with them. The unity of home and factory is in reality the unification of men and women, the plan of freely associated men and women as opposed to the more systematic exploitation of woman and the exclusion of men from the home.
The lack of socialization in the home has prevented women from forming the concrete organizations found among the workers and other exploited sections. Nevertheless, the solution will come from woman for the universality of the individual experience in the home has at this stage forced the problems of women and the solution implicit in these problems into the consciousness of the working class.
Panel Discussion on the Woman Question
The schedule for the woman’s panel is as follows – From 11:15 to 11:45 the main speaker, Simpson, will hold the floor. Then there will be discussion from 11:45 to 12:30. We will have a break for lunch and discussion will resume at 1:30, to 2:00. I’d last like to say one word about the Los Angeles women: Simpson, Jane and Nanette have written a document on the woman question which is available. They started developing this orientation and this line in L.A. when we were still in the old organization. One of the reasons I think it started there was because of the actions of one of the leaders of that organization who was very verbose on the woman question, but in a very limited way. She thought that it was a struggle between men and women and it stopped there. Our people got very sick and tired of all the talking and began discussing with women, proletarian women around them and began developing a line. They held a panel in L.A, which was very successful. It was presented six times. What you will hear today is more or less a result of all of this discussing with women outside of the organization and a development of an orientation. There is no resolution, “We’re just beginning the discussion of the woman question here. Now I give you Simpson:
We have just left the radical movement in order to became revolutionists in the real sense of the word. Now the radical movement has had a program on everything. It has never had a total conception because it has never had a conception of total crisis and a total conception to meet that social crisis. We’re the first group of revolutionists to go to all sections of society. Every grouping in society is for us a sounding board for our ideas and the place where we can learn the ideas of others.
Now the radical movement, contrary to popular belief, has always had a position on the woman question. It was a wrong position, but they had a position. Their position consisted of two main categories. They were very interested in the history of women. They were interested in their history under feudalism and under primitive communism. They were interested in the biological development of women, what constituted women, not as people, but as human animals. They were interested in another sense, too. They were interested in the woman question as a moral question, as a question of whether or not women have sexual emancipation. They had a basic solution to all this that runs like a thread, not only in their conception of the woman question, but through every other conception that they have ever put forth, and that is that kindness solves all evil. We’ll go into that a little later.
It’s extremely interesting that we find today far more discussions on the woman question than at any other time. They are going on everywhere. Over the radio, in soap operas, among psycho-analysts, in popular magazines; everyone is discussing the woman question. They discuss it well, they discuss it badly, but they discuss it. And that is extremely important for us. Now the psycho-analysts are going to solve the woman question by psycho-analyzing – that is pretty obvious. The social worker is going to arrange a cooperative attitude between the husband and wife. And between the children and parents, too, of course. Just as the industrial relations manager in the factory is going to arrange a cooperative attitude between the employer and the employee.
But there is one section of the opposition to the program for women that has become obvious to us only in the last period and. particularly as a result of our experiences with the radical movement. That is a group of women, in particular, who place themselves above the struggle of women, who conceive of their position in society as an individual question and who have a particular attitude toward men and toward women, as a result of a total conception of society in general.
These women are mainly petty-bourgeois women. They have careers. They do everything. They generally refuse to be confined to any of the things that women are naturally confined to in this society. Raising a family, for instance. Having to stay at hone. Being dependent upon the man financially, (which in many cases is necessary). They completely and absolutely disassociate themselves from whatever women are doing or saying. They have an attitude toward men. They don’t like them, and they imitate them to the “t”. We’ve seen that in the organization of the past; we’ve seen that in the outside world as well.
Now it is extremely interesting that in the radical movement it is precisely these women who most clearly express the incorrect position on the woman question. But in a certain sense it is pretty obvious why. There is no section of society today that can harness women except a section of women themselves. Women have no respect for anyone else.
Now in our conception we start with women in the home. We do so because that is precisely where women are and if they are not there – if they are in a factory, they still have to return home daily. That is where the basis of the woman question begins.
We start from the position that the struggle of the woman in the home is not a conflict which has nothing to do with the class struggle; that her position in the home is an extension of what the position of the man is in the factory; that her entire life and existence is dependent upon what happens to him there; that the home is not the center of society, although the bourgeoisie tries to say it is, but that the factory is and that she is excluded from this center of society.
She is excluded from production and as a result is excluded from the socialization which has been one of the greatest accomplishments of modern capitalism. She is placed in the home and in a sense exposed to as feudal an existence as anyone can reach under this society. She is isolated in the sense that she doesn’t work with people and any social relationships that she establishes must be outside of her work area. They must be established outside with other women in the neighborhood perhaps, but not in her work.
She is tied to a monotonous and repetitious job which for her is never ended and which (this is less important, of course,) is never appreciated. She finds that in the home the slave-driver is her husband who has just come home from being slave-driven. She finds that she must fight with him in order to gain some sense of her own personality, her own individuality, and in order for the first time to raise off her knees and to get some self-respect.
Now, it is true that the isolation I have mentioned before is not very conducive to bringing about these mass organizations that we find among workers, among Negroes and even among the youth. But the women are organized, nevertheless. They are organized in two senses. First, today the experience in the home of women and the reaction of women to the home is no longer an individual reaction. It is too universal for that. Divorce today is not one woman rebelling against society; it is all women breaking up the home as it is now constituted.
Secondly, they are organized in another manner – in the same manner as youth and in the same manner that workers are organized. They are organized in coffee klatsches in the morning and in beer parties in the afternoon. And the one thing that women discuss is the woman question. It is extremely difficult to get them to discuss anything else, as a matter of fact. That is what they are concerned with, that’s what they talk about and that’s where they find their solution. That’s where they judge other women’s behavior, either accept them or condemn then, and in these cases, incidentally, it is not a question of condemning men. If, for instance, one woman has a bad relationship with her husband and, doesn’t separate, they do not attack the man. They attack the woman and say it’s her fault, it’s her job to do something about it. He’s not to blame, he’s a fool, it’s not our business. It’s her job to solve the problem and they judge women back and forth that way in this type of organization.
Now the relationship of the woman with her children is extremely indicative of her relationship to society as a whole. She looks at the child in the same way she looks at the kitchen sink. It is work which has a meaning for her because her life revolves about the child, but still leaves her incapable of forming any real social ties with the child which mean anything to her and mean anything to the child. She puts a great deal into that child, not in the sense that the bourgeois propagandists talk about, but in the sense that her whole life and existence generally revolve around the child, and more important than anything else to her is establishing with him a good relationship which the whole surroundings of the home and her whole relationship with society prohibits.
We find that the woman’s most creative work in the home, in opposition to any work that she must perform on dishes or washing the floor is dealing with human beings. Yet this creative work turns against her and generally after years and years of imposed sacrifice, the child has nothing but pity and a sense of obligation left for his mother.
Now we find that the youth have a reaction, particularly to the home as it is now constituted – in two senses. They disassociate themselves from the discipline which the mother and the father are forced to impose upon them, and secondly, they go out of the home because they find no relationship there for them, and they oppose the relationship that generally exists between their parents. They don’t want that, and they don’t want to be involved in that. They are free new people and reject it all.
Now it’s pretty obvious from this why women would want to go out to work. There are a lot of women in factories. You can talk a lot, you can discuss a lot, most of all, you can work with other people and really lead a social existence. You can really find out what other people are thinking on a larger scale, work with them, and cooperate with them.
As soon as the woman does go out to work, at complete change takes place in her relationship with society, with her husband, and with her child. With her husband, he’s been left out of the vote, he comes home and takes his slippers and pipe, eats dinner, and goes to sleep. When she works that isn’t true. He has got to participate in either washing the dishes or he must have a chore in the home – he must enter the home and participate in the work of the home.
With the child it isn’t as good a relationship that is established there, because the one thing that the woman fully regrets in going to work is leaving the child. She doesn’t care very much about leaving the house, but it’s leaving the child and the stability of the relationship which she wants to give him that she feels very guilty about. And she is very worried that as a result he will get into bad bands and into juvenile delinquency. Incidentally, that’s one of the greatest discussions among women in the plant who have children. What they discuss is: how do you manage with your child, do they have good friends, and who takes care of him, and how do you make arrangements with him, etc. Women have devised the most wonderful plans of caring for the children while the child is at home and they at the factory – systems of calling up the children, of the children visiting certain people at certain times, of having the children sleep in the afternoon so that the mother can visit with them in the evening, and all sorts of devices so that they can break the separation down, and develop a relationship with their children, even though they are alienated from their children, separated from them a good part of the day.
Now it is extremely significant in our document that the one thing that we really lack is a discussion on the Negro woman. We haven’t, not until the last couple of weeks, anyway, been able to really approach Negro women to get in contact with them and to get their ideas most clearly, but from what we already have, I would just like to say this: The Negro woman, when she goes out to work, is a woman, a Negro, and a worker. She doesn’t separate these things, she unites them. She doesn’t say – I am a Negro, therefore I most go to the N.A.A.C.P.; or a woman, therefore I must join the women’ s organizations, the women’s auxiliaries of the trade unions; and I am a worker, therefore I must join the trade union. She does none of these things. In each point in her struggle she unites all of the questions, and fights for them at each time. In the church, in the trade union, in the home. She is not a Negro, a woman, or a worker, she is a Negro woman worker.
In the document that we have just written we have discussed children. It isn’t accidental that children should enter into the discussion on the woman question. This question involves the social relationships of all the family, so children must of necessity be part of it. It is also interesting that we bring up the children question for another reason. The woman is mainly responsible for what happens outside of the factory, and if is her task to attempt a solution to the social relationships outside of the factory.
Despite the conflicts that exist between children and their parents in this society, and the inhibiting influence of these conflicts, and the bad relationships that of necessity must be established, children show, in their relations to each other (not necessarily in their relations to adults), a new mode of labor, the same mode of labor that we speak of for all society. Children’s play is cooperative; they get together and play “You do this, and when you come over to me you say this, and you should say that.” It’s creative; they do as they please, and they come out with the most creative things that adults have ever seen. As a matter of fact, most adults have not seen most things that children come out with. It’s planned, and very well planned, by themselves, in a free manner, in a manner that adults are not accustomed to. When adults come in they immediately interfere and interrupt. The leadership of children in their play is children, and it could be no other leadership, and they pick and choose their leadership, not by election, but by a natural system of leadership, by choosing. Now it’s precisely because of the free activity that children manifest, that as soon as they come in conflict with adults (and the relationship between children and adults now becoming their class struggle), the play and the whole creative apparatus is immediately overthrown. At each point when the adult comes in, and starts to plan, and says: “Now we should have this sort of activity, and this sort of thing should go on”, immediately it disrupts the whole activity and creativity of the child.
Now the social workers, knowing this very well, have a plan. They are going to plan the relationships between children and adults. Cooperation, they must cooperate. They must cooperate like the worker cooperates with the boss, (bosses should, that is), and like the woman must cooperate with her husband. The child must cooperate with the parents, the youth must cooperate with the parents, and so on down the line. Just as the industrial relations manager in the factory does it to the worker, the social worker does it to the woman, so the progressive educator does it to the children. The progressive educator has another contribution to make, since only the child’s activity is really free, outside of the work of adults. The progressive educator tries to keep it exactly that way, outside of the world of adults. He sees absolutely no possibility of establishing, not possibility but inevitability, of establishing a relationship which is a cooperative relationship, a human relationship and not a conflict and a struggle. We must not isolate children, but for the first time integrate them into society and find in their play and in their relationship with adults, a new development, for themselves and for adults as well.
As the child grows older, it’s quite obvious that he must be integrated in a new sense, not in the sense of his creative play being recognized and expanded, but that he must also be integrated into production. And education can no longer be separated and isolated from the real world. He can’t live in an ivory tower of public school or high school while his mother and father are working in a factory, they have nothing in common between the two of them, and his education as was said before must of necessity be integrated with production, become part of society.
Now it’s interesting to note that it is clear to all, except radical groups, what women are doing today. Everybody knows about it, except people like our old organizations. Either the people who know about it are horrified, or glad about it, but they know about it. The radical movement doesn’t know. They are still in the peculiar stage of thinking that women don’t know that they are oppressed. We finished with that two years ago and we are able to go on as a result.
Now it is interesting to note what women are doing today, aside from what they say: their actions are very explicit. They take no nonsense. They don’t give unless they get. By that I mean, that unless the man is willing to establish a relationship with them which is different, they will not go out to help him when there is a financial crisis in the family. They say: “If you don’t help me with my job, I won’t help you with yours.” They get divorced very easily, and discuss divorce in a manner in which it has never been discussed before, as an everyday occurrence, and as a development for themselves. Every once in a while the women in my neighborhood would say, “If I get divorced”, and sometimes they would slip and say, “When I get divorced.”
It’ s something that people do nowadays. It’s sort of a fad. And they look upon divorce also as a solution to the question of the morals that they plan to have without being married. I heard many women say today that they don’t plan to get married ever again after they get divorced, because people are going to think that they are doing things anyway, and they may as well have a good time. What they think amounts to a complete abolition of bourgeoisie morals, ideas and relations with men. I feel, although there’s no real proof that we have of this, that the relationship that is established between men and women after they are divorced. is on a much higher and freer level than it was in the first marriage. Of course that will have to be studied, and we will have to talk to a lot of women before we can say that is definite.
Now, in contrast to what women are doing, going into the factory in large numbers, breaking up the home, there is an opposition to them, a counter revolution to their activity. It is precisely three main groups that are putting out different programs for women in opposition to their own activity. There is the exceptional woman that we have mentioned before. Her program is planning for the masses of women and her being integrated into the male world and accepting all the morals and attitudes of men, isolating herself from women, and in planning the housework, isolating both men and women from the home, allowing the women to be free of the home in order to be more systematically exploited in the factory.
There is the American bourgeosie. They have a program. They say that women should stay home unless the government needs them. “Stay home. You are the backbone of society.” They tell women that day in, day out, from Helen Trent to Life with Father, from True Confessions to True Story; in every appeal they ever make, they say: “Please, please be happy. Look what you have: you have a washing machine, a garbage disposal, your husband has a new Ford, you have children who are well dressed, they are the best educated children in the world, you have great, tremendous stores in which to shop, with beautiful new factories made of steel. You have everything that a woman can want. Why aren’t you happy? You’ve got to get into your heads that if you go out of the home, you are going, to go exactly where the Russian women are going, to exploitation in the factory. Therefore you have no alternative but to stay home.” Women listen to this, and very often, when they decide to go out to work, they go with great feelings of guilt. But they go nevertheless. They find new social relationships wherever they go.
Now the Russian bourgeoisie has already “solved” it’s problem. There is no home in the real sense of the word in Russia. The woman works and the man works. I don’t know what the situation is with the youth in Russia, I assume that there is a lot of planning in nursery schools and I am sure that they go through about twelve hours a day, and the mother is allowed to see them for about one hour a day. All the laws that have been passed in Russia, opposing divorce, etc., are mainly aimed, as far as I can see, at separating women from men, just where there is the greatest chance for their unification, in the factory, where they both are. There has to be a division made between them: woman has to be, so to speak, put in her place, and every once in a while be burdened down with nine or ten children so she knows that this is her place and she must come back to it.
It is very clear that as soon as women leave the home and go into industry they are breaking down every bourgeoisie conception that women have been told for at least the last hundred years. They are for the first time facing a unity between the home and the factory, a unity which has been made as a result of separation over many long years. The unity between the home and the factory represents to them the unification for the first time of men and women.
Women know better than anyone else that they are completely capable of establishing any relationship they wish if they are let alone to do it and if they are able to establish a milieu in which to do it; that is, a milieu which for the first time will not have man at one extreme in society and woman at the other, meeting for two hours at night to discuss the happenings of the day.
Now women know something else as well. They are very dissatisfied with the relationship with their children. They know that their children are going to turn against them when they grow older and they don’t want it. They see clearly that something else has to be established. They talk about it all the time. “What should I do with him? He does this to me. He doesn’t respect me.” That’s generally the way it’s put. “He doesn’t respect me.” In other words: “I have absolutely no relationship with him and what shall I do?” And they know also that it is they who must establish a new relationship between the father, the mother and the child. That is between parents in general and children in general and men and women in general. That is their responsibility and they feel completely capable of carrying it out.
This is the opening of the discussion. We wrote a document as has been mentioned and we’re going to take that and circulate it around to the women that we know and, believe me in Los Angeles, we know a lot of women who are working with us on the women question. I think that with this as a basis we can begin to go to women and understand that they are not backward and the fact that they have rejected the radical movement is not a backwardness, but a sign of a revolutionary personality that the old radical movements could not reach, but that we shall reach with our new stage and development.
Chairman: The floor is now open for discussion, but Jane and Nanette, two other women from Los Angeles, wrote that document with Simpson, and I just wonder whether or not they would like to speak first. Would you like it arranged that way? Jane, you’d like to speak now? All right, Don’t forget. Announce your name before you speak and where you’re from.
I’m Jane from Los Angeles. I’d just like to elaborate on a few of the points Simpson has made in her talk. First of all, on the question of convincing women that they’re oppressed, a conception that the old organization and many other sections of society have long held. One woman in the housing project, in which I live said to me: “You don’ t have to convert women to their own cause.” I think that takes care of the women and I think it’s a feeling that we have concerning workers too. You don’t have to convert women; you don’t have to convert Negroes; you don’ t have to convert workers to their own cause.
On the subject of children, I’d like to elaborate just a little bit on the remarks of Simpson. I think we should emphasize that children’s activities and play, which is work, and, which is serious business, is not away from society, is not conducted away from the adult world, but is in opposition to the adult world. It’s not divorced from reality; it’s in opposition to reality. There has been a great deal of talk on the subject of children in which educators discuss the imaginary play of children versus reality, the child’s world versus the real world and the child’s activities away from the real world. That is the theory which has long been held by most progressive educators concerning the imaginary play of children. But it’s not imaginary play it’s very real; it’s concrete work; it’s serious business. It’s not divorced from reality; it’s in opposition to reality, which is a completely different thing. In the play of children, in their ideas, is to be seen not only what children want but what we all want from them. From them we can also learn, if we watch them, and allow them to express themselves without constantly interfering and opposing our ideas to those of our children.
Now, in the children and in the children question – I sort of hate that term, but for want of a better one right now, we’ll call it the question of children – is the real synthesis of the woman and the men. It is the one work in bourgeois society which they have created together. In children one really sees the unity of the woman question and the man question clearly. And yet there are tremendous antagonisms between them and the subject of their children and their relationship to their children.
I’d like to make a few remarks about the petty-bourgeois woman which has been overlooked in the document we have written so far. There is also a lot of talk about the fact that the petty-bourgeois woman is not as degraded or not as oppressed as the working woman. This isn’t so. The petty-bourgeois woman is more degraded than the working class woman because nothing is demanded of her: She lives on the fringe of society. She may have machines in her home working for her, but actually, nothing is demanded of her. The working class woman at least has something demanded of her. She works in the home. She works outside the home – in the factory. The petty-bourgeois woman leads a completely meaningless existence, usually within the home where she has very little to do. I’m speaking now, by the way, of the middle or upper middle class woman, not of the petty-bourgeois woman who is very close to the working class woman and will unite with her in many struggles. I’m speaking of the woman who has a little more money and a little more material comfort. If she’s not in the home, she’s outside playing canasta – she has no real socialized existence, no opportunity at all to integrate herself into society. Furthermore, she takes out in consumption what she’s denied in production. She shops and shops and shops for hats, shoes and dresses and thus in consumption she takes out what she’s denied in production.
I think that for the time being this is as much as I want to say. There are some other questions which I think are perhaps better said at the youth panel – having to do with role that progressive education has played with children and with the youth. Because one thing is clear: the concepts of progressive education truly break down most completely and most sharply when the educators deal with the question of the youth. The progressive educator can manipulate the younger child somewhat and to some degree establish for him an artificial world, a world that is different from the adult world. But when progressive education faces the problems of the youth in the junior and senior high schools, the conceptions of progressive education break down completely.
Bryant of Los Angeles speaking: Friends, I would like to say that the work that has been done on the woman question, the memorandum that has been prepared, was for me a tremendous education. For the first time, our people were able to go to the women and find out what they were saying, what they were thinking, what they were feeling, and what they wanted. This was a direct manifestation of our basic ideas in saying we are going into the working class section of the population to find out what people want.
I think, however, there is one section in this memorandum that does not flow easily with the ideas as they were presented. I do not think that our people have done for the children that we have done for the women, in the sense that we have not been able to state what children want, what is the manifestation of their rebellion. It is stated in the children section of the document that children are the concrete embodiment of the inevitability of socialism. I do not understand that. I do not know what it means. I don’t see how we can get any ideas from that of what children want and how that is manifested. How can adults learn from the play activity of children? Tell me how. What do the children want to teach the adult? I have prepared a memorandum also, which I would like to read to you, which I think may help to explain what I mean.
Children do not feel that they are a necessary part of society. They do not feel at all needed. Everything they do points to the fact that what they want is to be necessary and important in what the educators call the “adult world”.
Every toy, no matter how simple or complex, (from a stick and a can of mud, to a bicycle or anything else they are allowed to play with) immediately becomes transformed in their imaginations into some socially necessary object. A bicycle becomes an automobile, or a truck, a boat or a tractor, etc. If it’s turned over and the wheel allowed to run freely, it becomes a cement mixer. A bucket of mud becomes tar to fix a street, the stick is the spreader. The children in my group have a plastic swimming pool. I watch them and wonder why they don’t just relax in the water and enjoy the elements like any adult would. They don’ t do this. They are no sooner in the water than they’re out of it. This pool becomes a huge ocean with boats which the children navigate.
During all this hard work the children assume an air of great importance. They choose names for themselves which are synonymous with America’s workingman. We have half a dozen “Joes” roaming around with as many “Chucks” and “Jims”. The girls also assume those aliases. They are important people during this play period. To whom are they important? To society. They are doing important tasks, such as fixing, building, creating new tools, transporting, and a million other things which are necessary to the modern world.
The most “progressive” nurseries today are bringing into their play areas not expensive toys, but cast-off automobiles and broken radios and the like. I am told by several people whose parents could not afford to buy them beautiful toys that these things are exactly what their folks gave them to play with. These were the toys they enjoyed most.
This cast-off junk that the children like so well aid the imaginary play. But they are only aids. They do not compensate for what the child really wants. He is not really needed to fix, or build, or create. He can only pretend that he is. When the play period is over he is again faced with the domination of the adult world. He is once again thrown into the blunt realities of his position.
One little boy filled a can with water only to find that the can had a hole in the bottom of it. As the water dribbled out and splattered on the ground it suddenly occurred to him that he had a wonderful sprinkling can. He was not satisfied, however, because the water was coming through so slowly. He then put the can to his mouth and began to blow into it, forcing the water out. As he did so a two-year-old, in imitation, raised a similar can of water and began to drink it. The “mechanic” in question quickly pulled the can away from the tot, and in great agitation, explained that it was dirty water, and not to drink. “Mine is a sprinkler ’cause it has a hole in the bottom, but yours isn’t.”
He knows that what he is playing with is an old battered can. It is what it appears to be. But when he plays with it he transforms it into something that he wants it to be. When the game is over and the children must put their equipment away, all the magic falls away from these objects and they are faced with the drudgery of what the army calls “fatigue”.
The child realizes only too well the difference between fantasy and reality. He can not lose himself completely in his imaginary world. I heard one little boy say to another during a “free” play period, “This is what real people do.” He speaks to his mother of “real people” all the time. She does not know what he means. He means that he is not a real person. He will not be a real person until he grows up, and does in the community what he is now playing at.
Are they satisfied to simply wait peacefully until they become “real people” at some God knows what future date? No! They fight the adult constantly; they are in constant rebellion.
One mother said: “I give him everything he could want. He’s got more toys than he knows what to do with. But look at the way he acts!”
It is not an abundance of toys that he wants. He wants to be needed.
How can he help rebelling when he feels the strain that not only exists between himself and the adult but among the adults themselves. Father and mother are constantly at each other’s throats or at his. No one in the family is pulling together to achieve a common goal. Each suffers in his own way. Each fails to understand the other’s problems. He does not belong to a family unit that works closely together. He simply lives with some people under one roof whom he abstractly loves and who abstractly love him.
It seems silly to think that toys or an abundance of anything the child might like can compensate for this lack of belongingness. Yet some parents try to bribe their children as if they themselves could be bribed. “If you’re a good girl I’ll give you a new doll.” The parents don’t understand his problems just as they don’t understand each other’s. Not only does the child suffer form the same problems that beset the rest of the family, he suffers the added humiliation of not being able to express himself. What he can’t express in words, he cries about. Exasperated parents “fall” on him and demand: “What the hell are you crying for now?”
This is the family structure in the modern world. Very little can be done about it on an individual basis. It remains for the structure of society to change before the relation of people to society and to each other can change.
The child is constantly striving to reach the goal of adulthood. He is not accepted now. He feels that then he will be. They hunger for age. They will fight at the mere suggestion that they are younger than another child. A birthday is a great celebration, not only because it means ice cream and cake, (with the young children a cookie and juice will suffice), but because to them it means, very concretely, a whole year has been added. The only date they fully comprehend is their birthday. All other great days fade away in light of this day which marks for each child his own advancement toward the adult world. He must wait until some great day, when he is pronounced “grown up,” before he can share with adults their society.
As new children enter the nursery, I am introduced to them by my director as their “new friend”. The children know very well that this is not so. I asked one of the children if I were her friend. She looked at me in astonishment and said “NO! The children is my friends. You’re my teacher! Teacher is teacher, not friend.” Another child has not talked to me in the entire eight months that I have worked with him. He plays and talks freely to the other children but he comes to me only with complaints. I understand from the teacher that preceded me that this was the case with her also.
The teacher is trained never to laugh at the child and his imaginary games. “Always laugh with.” The child appreciates this serious attitude towards his play because it gives the situation a touch of reality. Sometimes she joins him in his play and he welcomes her with open arms. Does this make them friends? No! She is allowed to enter his world, but he is not allowed to enter hers.
Very soon she must stop the play and take all the children to the bathroom. She must also insist that they pick up all their toys and put them away. The old tyranny is back again.
The question is raised, “Well, won’t it always be like that? Won’ t children always resent the domination of adults over them?” No, because there need not be any domination. Guidance, yes. But no domination.
It is impossible now to visualize exactly what form of work the child will do for the community, but work he must. There is no reason why the child can not be given some task to do which will in reality be necessary to the functioning of the community. He has shown that he is capable of comprehending a tremendous amount of information. He soaks it up like a sponge soaks up water. The adults around him with whom he comes in daily contact are the ones to show him and guide him. He doesn’t have to go to some school which is separated from his daily living experiences. He can learn more in one minute about the three R’s from someone busily incorporating these things in some productive labor and anxious to teach him, than he can in twelve years from a paid teacher with chalk in hand, scribbling on a blackboard.
Someone might say, “Well, I give my child things to do and he doesn’t want to do them.” One mother told me that her child is supposed to clean his room. “You should see it,” she says, “it’s like a pig sty.”
Here is quite a difference between drudgery and real work. So what if the room is finally cleaned. It only gets dirty again. He might feel good or satisfied after he’s done the job, but does it make him feel important? Does a woman feel important after she’s washed the floor? He may have helped somebody who didn’t want to do it but there is really very little satisfaction in knowing that.
Work is quite different. Work is creative. When one can say, “This is what I’ve done,”, or “I have a part in this,” that’s work.
That is what the child wants as much as anyone else.
Having something in common is what binds people together. It will bind children and adults together, too. There is no need for domination in such a relationship. There is only need for help and guidance.
To me the child is a human being who has the same emotions as any adult. He is not, as was explained to me, an incomplete person. He is an inexperienced person. I think that’s all I have to say.
I’m Sue from Philadelphia. I’ve done a lot of work on this particular question which started when I was in a former organization. I was absolutely amazed at the extraordinary work, that I found was being done independently within our own organization. I think that from the work I’ve done, the one thing I want to bring out is what are the key notes of the woman question and what is signified by the absence of a certain type of argument.
The first time I presented the woman question in that organization, I was very much complimented by the entire group, but the argument bogged down into “What are women’s limitations because of biological Imitations” and “Could women ever really leave the home and the whole nursery problem?” For my own part, the type of presentation I gave in that organization was one where I tried to bring out that more and more women were being taken into the factory and being made a part of the industrial process and that to understand the women question fully, you were forced to take up what stage of capitalist production we’re at today. I was constantly challenged as to “why” the woman question, and it finally forced me into studying the whole capitalist structure of society, and that is the emphasis I gave it. The “why” finally forced me to say: “This question is not just the woman question, but the woman and man and today’s social relationship and what lines it must take due to the capitalist productive method. I took up Engels on the various societies, primitive societies and all that and until the last minute, I had to memorize the stages. But I did give that. When I went into the organization of the past, it was within a half a year after I had given the talk in a previous organization. I had to reconstruct my talk – one part I could not recall. What happened was that instinctively when I got up, I tried to repeat the history of women in the various types of society and I completely bogged down in it. I finally learned that the only essential point in studying the history of women is to see that relationships between men end women are constantly changing, as a reflection of the particular type of productive society existing. Then I just threw out the entire history and went right into the woman question today.
Now it’s interesting that in our past organization the majority bogged down on the question of sexual morality and what this freedom would mean, and the fact that in the back room husbands were going around and saying to each other: “Well, I help my wife with the dishes.”
Now our own friends acted a certain way too, and it showed me that we had gone through a stage. Our own leading friend got up and gave me the most challenging blow of all. On that note the meeting had to end and I went home and vowed I would prove the point.
The question was: We agree women should have their rights. But the problem of women, unlike the Negro who has the CIO, the AFL, etc., is that women don’ t organize. They have no organizational form so how can you deal with that? Ever since then I have avidly clipped every little thing showing a woman picketing being beaten up by the police or where a group got together and took up a petition. I tried to seek out the organizational forms that the struggle of women takes because when I was challenged with that, I felt that our own people had given me a most devastating blow.
Now here we’ve already leaped over that. Just at the very same time we were arguing the trade union question within our own group. There was a question of: “Do we go to the shop steward or to the rank and file?” Well, the woman question here has obviously fallen right into line with our whole way of thinking and our whole political argument of going to deeper and deeper layers of the masses. Our own people as I said, were very anxious to protest the rights of women, but none of the group had taken the woman question seriously and tried to show what it represented.
Bryant’s talk has made me just want to rush on through this women question and take up some of the things that she has revealed on the children question. Her work on that is really some of the most original work I have ever heard.
Now what I think is important in what is being done is that we all acknowledge that the woman question can only be understood by studying it from a certain stage in capitalism today. That falls exactly in line with what we say about the Negro question. The Negro question in the South cannot be solved under capitalism. The woman question cannot be solved under capitalism. For the capitalists to do that would automatically mean the entire breakdown of their entire system. They themselves are caught in the crisis of the woman question. Just as they want to solve the Negro question and everyone is concerned with that, the same thing holds true with all the literature coming out now about the woman question. They want to retain the old social standards – “woman in the home” – but crises of war, of needing greater and greater reserve power in production forces them to want women orientated into the factories and into the shops. Their conflict is shown in that they understand what juvenile delinquency is – it’s a breakdown of the family – but they cannot formulate a clear program of whether women should stay home and raise their children to see if she can solve juvenile delinquency that way, or have nurseries so that they can free the women. (In general, I think it’s acknowledged that the nursery is no solution today.)
Under the highest form of state capitalism, in Russia (as was pointed out), that is solved. The woman’s freedom is that she is permitted to work just as hard or harder than the man. That is solved; they know where they stand in Russia – but not in America. That the problem is still in existence shows what stage we are at.
One of the finest contributions of all is this new tie-up of the factory with the home and of home relationships with the factory relationships.
One of the things that I still think is lacking, although I think it is a correct orientation to start out from the home, is the acknowledgment that a greater and greater number of women are being forced into the factory. That means that when you are discussing productive relationships, you have to incorporate the woman question as part of it constantly.
I’m not positive of the figures but my impression is that about one-half or one-fourth of the married women work and these women have one or more children to take care of when they go home. Incidentally, a point to watch is this large number of married women who are forced to work. The necessity of their working is absolutely enormous.
Another point on this is that some of us, I think, are still bogged down by the idea that if it’s a woman panel on the woman question, only the women would want to be the delegates. If we take this question seriously, there will be more and more men involved in this question. We are serious about the Negro question. When we discuss the problem, everyone, not only Negroes, wants to speak. In the same way, everyone should want to discuss on the woman question, even though we acknowledge that the woman is the one we can learn from because she represents the actual experience. Just as we say: “We must listen to the Negroes, but, it is equally important that white people feel free to speak their minds,”
Bryant’s speech really just woke up my whole experience as a person who took up two years of practice teaching, then just walked out of the whole thing without even collecting my certificate.
Now these are some of the things that I saw in the schools as a teacher and what happened to me. I had a marvelous group of children and at first I went in with the idea that I was going to be their friend. I was a socialist at the time.
We had some wonderful discussions. One day I got a film – it was during the war – on Japanese customs. We showed it and everybody was excited. (When we studied grammar and things like that, I just couldn’t pull a word out of anyone’s mouth.) After this film, everybody’s hand was up; everyone wanted to discuss it. It was just like American children; if was just like the American customs. They also discussed what the differences were and then we went into the fact that customs are different all over but the basic thing is that we are just the same.
Right in the midst of this my supervisor walked in. And I as a teacher, regardless of being a socialist, cut this discussion so short that, after the students left and he was discussing my progress, he made the criticism that I seemed to jump around too much in the discussion, that these children seemed to be very, very interested In the discussion. but that I took the initiative and seemed to be cutting them off. Well, I was in a dilemma and I said: “To be perfectly frank with you, we’re in a war situation and I didn t know how you felt. I knew how the children felt.” I got a mediocre mark.
It was constantly pointed out that once you’re teaching, you either must go with the children or you must go with the administration.
I had a study period. The way it worked out, I was given a class of just two fellows and they were to come and study in the three-quarters of an hour. One day I walked out of the room for a moment and when I came back, there was no one there. I knew it was impossible for them to have left the room, so I sat down at my desk and I just pretended I was reading. I figured I’d sit it out and I kept thinking: I have a choice: I can rant, rave, call the principal or do anything of that type. But if I do, I’ll never be respected by these children. The word will spread. I’ll never be able to control this class. They’ll prevent me. But if I really respect them, I’ll go along with the game. They are someplace in this room. Well, I sat there praying that the superintendent wouldn’t come in. Eventually, I heard a lot of giggling and the two fellows just tumbled out of the flue that was in the wall.
After that they were wonderful friends of mine, but the point is that no teacher who is seriously carrying on with a job where she is getting paid can possibly be completely allied with the children. What would have happened if I had that job and had taken it seriously would have been that I would have been forced to report it to some authority to let them know that I was in complete control of that situation, that I was master over those children and that those children knew, too, that I was the authoritarian – the person with authority. That brings us to the biggest oppression that children have.
Just as we say in a sense that the man is the oppressor of the woman in the home, and represents the bourgeois standards, the adult represents the bourgeois standards to the children. It seems to be commonly agreed, all psychologists and such say, that the one way you can confuse children, is by a breakdown of discipline where the parents cannot come to an agreement. Now the other side of this is that all the adults should ally together in keeping this child down when he gets out of hand.
Recently, I was at my sister’s home and her husband wanted to discipline the child. They have a marvelous relationship but he gave the child a little slap, nothing outstanding, and the child slapped him back as hard as he could. The child is three years old, but he came out with a word that they never heard before. After the father hit him, the child said, “You’re a damn rot!” My sister couldn’t figure out where he had gotten it. His father said, “Why did you hit me?” His father was on the defensive, and the little boy said, “You were slapping me.” My sister, the wife, said, “Yes, why did you hit the child?” And I suddenly realized this is what the psychologists were talking about. If my sister wouldn’t support her husband, her child would freely do what he wants. My sister realized this too, and she quickly quieted down as her husband mumbled, “Well, he shouldn’t slap so freely.” They joined together and they quietly let the child know that they were the authorities.
Chairman: We have twenty minutes before lunch and one of the co-authors would like to take twenty minutes to present her views. After that, we have lunch from 12:30 to 1:30, and there is one-half hour following left for discussion. I think what we have to do is to limit the time of the speakers. We won’t be able to get everyone in unless we do that, so is there a motion that we do so? Yes? O.K., let’s have a list of speakers. (The chair takes a speakers’ list. Ed. note.) This need not close the list. We’re just going to try to get a rough idea of how much time each speaker can have. Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten… that’s eleven people. That’s thirty minutes, eleven people. Someone who’s good a math, figure it out for me quick. Three minutes per person…that’s what it will have to be.
From the floor: Some of the people may decide not to speak if they hear someone else take up their point, so it would be preferable for the speakers to have at least five minutes.
Chairman: Chairman: All right.
From the floor: After the break for lunch, you might ask if anybody wants to take the floor.
Nanette: I’m staying here in Detroit in a family of five children and I’ve been shown a pamphlet put out by General Motors for women, “Ladies, this is for you.” I’d like to read you just a little of it:
“At the turn of the century, you got a new stake in the success of American business. Along came, for one thing, the canning industry. Your cleaning and preparing of many vegetables, your making of soup in a kettle, a dozen other labors went out the kitchen window when cans came in the kitchen door….Now let’s get out of the kitchen. Let’s go downstairs. The laundry industry, the washing machine, electric iron people and other American enterprises saw you standing by the wash boiler, hot, tired, tied down…All but a fraction of the other women in the world still spend a solid ten hour day every week bending over washtubs, washboards or stones…..The home sewing machine took more than a stitch in saving you time. The development of dress pattern concerns, the low price, the beautiful cloth and rayon by other companies added to your stake in the process of additional enterprises. Now, of course, the reduction of all this tiresome and restricting housework is the very essence of the American way of life. The result could not possibly be more personal to you. So let’ s go on. Other enterprises gave you electric refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and a dozen other magic time-saving, work-saving devices. No wonder the European women that I know who visit here say that the average American home they see is a fairyland.”
What I would like to say from my experiences as a housewife is that in spite of this fairyland that we live in, American housewives and mothers are not happy. They are torn apart by internal conflict. They find the isolation of their home a sharp contrast to the socialization they know their men experience daily. The modern appliances which they have divorce them from their work but tie them to the monotony of it. They have more time to think about what unsatisfactory lives they lead. These wonderful machines cannot substitute for new social relations.
In traveling across the country, we had to stop in order to wash some diapers, and we had a little trouble finding laundry shops. The first one we came to was just wash tubs. There weren’t very many women there. Just wash tubs! Scrub boards! I guess it was very cheap; the women who had absolutely nothing at all at home would use then. I rejected it immediately; it wasn’t efficient enough; it would take me too long; it would tire me out too much. We walked a little farther.
Then we found one that had the wash tub but it also had the machine and the wringer. It had the washing machine, not the automatic. Here there were a great many women; the place was really crowded; there were women standing in line. They all carried big bags of laundry. They were talking; they seemed very happy and very busy. They were talking to one another, discussing their problems, sharing experiences. I thought immediately that if I had had time to stay there, that would have been the place I would have gotten the most out of. I would have chosen, had I lived in that city, to go to that place for the socialization despite the fact that it was a little more work.
Finally, we found an automatic laundry. There were not quite as many women in there as there were in the other one. It was more expensive, but of course, the work was all done very quickly and efficiently. No-one was talking. The few women there sat around reading.
The woman in the home is concerned mainly with cooking meals, making clothes, seeing that they’re clean and in a wearable condition, caring properly for her children, and planning her life an a budget. This work is very lonely. It is monotonous; it goes on day after day, endless, without ever any sense of completion. It really demands very little of her compared to what she is capable of. It demands only routine. The women who do try to express themselves creatively, in their sewing, or in their home decorating, find that it turns against them; they only have more work to do.
But the women we see, become efficient even though they organize their own work, they’re efficient and they assume a great load of responsibility. There’s a round of work with children that’s endless. We’re isolated in our homes but we’re expected to produce social beings. All our children’s activities are seen in terms of the work they will bring us. Our children, we find, develop in conflict with us. We can’t seem to get next to them. They pull away. I myself feel a desire to control my child. It’s the only thing there is to control, but it means dominate. We know that this is going to develop eventually to the point when the child will have nothing left but pity and obligation to us when he’s an adult.
In some homes the father is the authority, but more often the woman takes the responsibility for disciplining the child. Her day is devoted to seeing that he behaves and to getting along with him. But it turns out that she is yelling at him most of the time because he’s on her nerves or else because he doesn’t behave the way she wants him to. She has to protect her home against her child.
Women resent the father coming home and relaxing with the child that they have spent all day working on – not just working on in the sense of the laundry, the housecleaning, the tub baths, but also the discipline. She has put a lot of effort into this product of hers and the father comes home and plays with the child, relaxes and really enjoys him. She doesn’t have a chance to do that. It isn’t always true that the father does it. But to the extent that he does have a limited happy experience with his child, the mother cannot help but resent it, because she hasn’t time for this. Babies are easy to take care of; women love babies. They’re no strain. They’re no conflict with the mother. Often when women want girls, the reason is because they know the girls will help them with their work and not only that, but they know they’ll have someone who will understand their particular problems.
One of the most disturbing things about being a housewife is the isolation. Women move in many directions to solve it. Far example, take the church, where you find them doing the same old work, planning and saving food, but the socialization attracts them. Here they can do it with other women. The whole thing has a new meaning.
Often I feel that the bourgeoisie understand women and their problems better than the radical movement. They understand very well how lonely women are, what their work is. Over the radio they try and give them some adventure. Even if a woman can’t afford it, she will often allow a house to house salesman come in and talk to her because of the company he brings. These men talk to the women in a way they hear no other place. The salesmen tell them about themselves; they spend time with their personalities. They talk about makeup; they get the women to think of herself and to talk about themselves, something she doesn’t have a chance to do with her husband.
Today a car, more and more, means a greet deal to a woman. A woman who once has a car finds she can no longer live without it. It means freedom; otherwise she feels her home is a prison.
Aside from this daily repetition of monotonous work, there is an accumulation of feeling imprisoned by the home. I’d like to read a quote to you from one woman:
“My husband feels a relief after eight hours of steady labor and knows that for the next period he does the things he wants to. He daily experiences a great feeling of relief and escape. He comes home to have attention showered upon him, a meal that he loves and looks forward to, and complete relaxation with the knowledge that someone is there to take care of all the countless errands that add to his comfort. I get up from the table at least three times a meal to bring in anything extra he desires. If he bathes or dresses the children, it’s a job purely of pleasure for him; there’s no pressure felt. With me, this daily oppression of routine tasks lasts for weeks before I have an experience of relief by leaving the children with their father for several hours and when I do feel this freedom, I haven’t any of the happy satisfaction in the knowledge that someone is going to wait on me for a while to make up for the indignities I have suffered. There’s no one to cook me a delicious hot meal that I won’ t even have to think about or plan, or to see that my home surroundings are not only orderly and clean but cheerful and restful. I have to return after a few hours of freedom to cook the dinner and pick up the mess that has accumulated.”
I found an article in the newspaper a year ago on July 16, something that happened in Norway, showing how much the pressure of the women feeling as they do has done in this particular country.
“One thousand five hundred Norwegian housewives will be given a two weeks holiday at a mountain and seaside resort this year free of expense by the Norway Trade Unions Health and Welfare Association. The housewives will be chosen from women with three or more children living in big towns. In order to make it a more restful holiday for them, their children will be sent to children’s camps where they will be taken care of during their mothers’ vacation. Children under two years will accompany their mothers to the holiday resorts, where kindergarten facilities and trained nurses will be provided. This year the Trade Union has leased 20 resorts for the tired housewives; they are located in beautiful, healthy surroundings remote from tourist centers. Everything will be done to create a friendly, intimate atmosphere and to help the housewives relax. Welfare sisters will arrange sightseeing trips and organize games and entertainment. The dominating idea is to take the minds of the housewives off their everyday worries and to help them enjoy the good food, fresh air, and beautiful scenery.”
Nearly every day housewives have revolutionary conversations. I can’ t go out in my backyard where my neighbor is constantly hanging her laundry (She has four little boys.), without exchanging problems and troubles. She tells me how they come in tracking mud, how she has to do her housework at night because they are there all day. She cleans the house up at night and it’s clean in the morning, but by noon it’s filthy again.
She discusses her husband’s attitude. He comes in and makes a mess but says: “It isn’t a mess; it’s only my clothes.” Women feel very close to other women in the same position. They’re rebelling as a whole group in their individual homes.
Maggie: I want to deal with one phase of the woman question and that is that a section of the women that felt it necessary to organize themselves within a certain organization, namely, the ladies auxiliary movement, and to point out and explain and describe an experience that I went through within the ladies’ auxiliary when we were in Philadelphia. Now it would be interesting for us to study the ladies auxiliary because I think that at that time, when the C.I.O. and what led the degeneration of that movement and to the complete collapse was being formed, we saw a certain fusion of the social groupings which led to the birth of the C.I.O. was being formed, we saw a certain fusion of the social groupings which led to the birth of the C.I.O. I think that the same thing took place within the women’s groups who were home and who felt a certain impulse and a certain movement to go out to organize with the men and to help the men in the formation of the C.I.O.
Now a few years ago, as a result of the strike at Westinghouse, a number of women felt that they wanted a ladies’ auxiliary. These women were all the wives of the shop stewards, the executive board members. I want to point out that it was a certain stratum of women who wanted the organization. They hounded the president of the local until finally he wrote a letter and sent it out to all the men, addressed to their wives, and said: “Let’s form a ladies’ auxiliary.”
I and another person went down since we were wives of workers in the shop. When we got there, we were quite surprised at the response that the letter had gotten. It was a horrible letter; it was addressed to Mrs. John Jones; it was on official union stationary, and many of the women didn’t realize that it was addressed to them. They assumed it was a letter from the union. They gave it to their husbands; the husbands probably tore it up, just like they tore up everything else that they got from the union.
But we were very surprised. There were several Negro women who came down to the auxiliary and there were a great many rank and file women who came down in the initial period. Well when they came down, as was natural, they didn’t find what they were looking for, and within about six or seven months, it had collapsed into a group of maybe seven or eight women, and we got together and we had a wonderful time! The point is that there were no outside people; there was the wife of the president, the wife of the recording secretary and we had some members of the newspaper committee, their wives, and we had some shop stewards’ wives, all very active – their men were very active within the union.
So we set about a project of how to get the women to join the auxiliary. I might add that at this point, my heart was not in this organization. I thought that there was nothing for a ladies’ auxiliary to do at this time. The only time that a ladies’ auxiliary can do anything is in time of struggle. When the men were out on a picket line, that was when the women had a certain function to perform. There was nothing for them to do, so we set about the organization of a Christmas party for the kids. Now these women went about, and here you can see organization. When these gals get together, they know that to do. They forgot all about their housewives work. Their husbands complained bitterly that they never saw their wives. But the women said: “We’re going to get some ice cream for the kids; where can we get toys?”
I learned much from the way they organized the work. I was amazed at what they were able to do. They gathered the toys; they wrote letters, and then they came up against a problem: they needed money. What do you do in order to finance the buying of whatever was needed? They all agreed: it’s very simple; you go out and hit the gate. We planned among ourselves the hours that we would hit the gate. Those gals got up early in the morning to hit the men at eight o’clock. Those of us who worked went out there at twelve o’clock and you know what December is in Philadelphia. It was damn cold, but we went out there and we got the dough. These guys were amazed that there were a group of women who were serious about a damn Christmas party. We planned to have about 500 toys for the kids. We didn’t know exactly who was coming. We asked the women and we asked the men: Please notify your shop steward as to who is coming, so as to make a reservation.” We got absolutely no response. But when we opened the hall, I never saw so many kids in all my life. We had an absolutely marvelous time. In Westinghouse, they still talk about this Christmas party. But when this activity ended for us, it was a letdown for the women. We had nothing to do. Then the whole question of the IUE and the UE came up. We just met once and severed our relationships, because the lines were sharply drawn among us and our husbands, and never the twain shall meet again. But we saw here, I mean, for me, here were some women who were among a certain stratum, wives of the union activists, who came and stuck to the organization because they saw their husbands doing a certain thing and certainly they were expressing their husbands. But we never could get the rank and file women, who stayed away because their husbands stayed away from the union and they in turn stayed away from the ladies auxiliary. When we look for how the women are going to organize themselves, we have to look for a new form that they re going to take on and this will show us how they will organize themselves in their future struggles.
Chairman: That was Maggie from Philadelphia.
I’m Chester from New York: You know, there’s a little precedent for a man talking on a women’s panel. In 1851, when Wendell Phillips addressed a meeting on women’ a rights, one of the resolutions passed by that meeting stated: “Resolved: we are not discussing here whether women are or are not capable of equal rights.” Now it’s a funny thing that it’s a hundred years ago since that resolution was passed by Wendell Phillips and the others, and now another meeting dealing with the question of women doesn’t have to pass that resolution again, but acts on the basis that what is involved here is not the relative merits of the sexes. Quite apart from anything else, I listened here with my mouth open, that isn’ t quite true, but with a big gin on my face, because we were really moving some place. We were moving. Any other place in the radical movement that I have seen (I haven’ t seen many, but I’ve seen them since ’34.), the woman question has become a question of men vs. women. Men, the brutes, were abusing women and had the attitude that if you kept them barefoot and pregnant, you’d keep them out of trouble. And women, in turn, were rebelling against men, but what could the poor man do and what could the poor woman do to cut across this whole confusion? The answer to this has never appeared before, never before, not since I have known the radical movement, and I’m pretty sure not in the one hundred years of the revolutionary movement in the United States. What we have said today, and this is the thing that is so very important for what we’re going to develop, is not that men and women are in antagonistic relationship to each other, but that women, and here is the thing that we are beginning to learn, because of the fine work that our Los Angeles women friends have begun to do, that women are doing things for themselves, positive things, not fooling around with the other business. Because, actually, women abuse men in the home, men abuse women in the home, and together they abuse the kids and it’s a great mess. Unless, and we have this in our “Balance Sheet Completed,” we pose this clearly, we’ll go off again. In the “Balance Sheet Completed,” there’s that little section on women. We say that in the old. organization the woman question appeared as a struggle between the sexes. Why? Because each person had a certain impulse for revolt, a certain desire to break through the shackles, but unable to find a revolutionary line, they had to grind against each other and it all went to hell. It happened for the youth and for the Negroes in the same way in the old organization. We’re leaving that behind. That is the question that we had started to pose abstractly in the Balance Sheet Completed before the women actually began to work it out and this is a leap.
Just a word on the children, and then I’ll be finished, It isn’t an accident that such close attention should be paid to children, in the discussion of the Woman Question, not at all, because they have actually the task of raising the children all day long. But it isn’t an exclusive question for women. Let me trade on my prerogative as a father and comment on this subject. Fathers get concerned about kids, plenty concerned, but it takes a different form. The authoritarian attitude of adults toward kids is what is involved here. We see it one way from the women. As we go further, we’ll see that it’s the transformation, the revolutionary changes in the method of production, that’s involved here. The thing moves into its proper perspective when we see that the proletariat emancipates itself and all of humanity. Just a last word, in the kids. I have an eight and a half year old son. He got mad at me one day and I suspect it was with good reason. He looked up at me and said, “You know, the trouble with the adults is that they all want to be big shots.” It’s true, out of the mouths of babes, it’s true. They all want to be big shots.
Bill from Los Angeles: Now we’ve learned today that the struggle of women will be carried out by women themselves. And I’m painfully aware, of that, being a slightly chastised bourgeois on the whole. I know quite clearly some of the problems. Well, anyway, I had quite an interesting experience, something that I thought was extremely important, dealing with the relationship of the man to the home. I came home from work one day and I came into our house and suddenly, the neighbor woman and her child ran out of our house. I felt kind of peculiar and I said, “My God, what kind of fellow am I that I chase these women out? Well, believe me, it took me many months before I was able to break that down.”
It seems that as soon as the husband comes home, the neighboring women just run out of the house they are visiting because the master is coming home and they cannot get in his way. Everything has to be done to make him comfortable. It took me many, many months before I could break down some of this, and I felt very elated when we finally set down and had some beer with some of the neighboring women and they even cussed in front of me. Oh boy, that was really a new advancement, because they felt more natural with me!
Roberts of New York: Friends, as we were listening to Simpson speak on the woman question this morning, some of the friends looked at each other and said, “This reminds us of the 1948 convention and the report on the Negro question. It was one of most comprehensive analyses that I have ever heard in the movement, the conception of total crisis, the conception of concrete social relations, the conception of revolt, of the whole world scene, and of the Russian question. It went from the Russian question, where we were in 1941, to the woman question, where we are in 1951. Stated clearly was our opposition to all other political groupings, the differentiation from them, and this road on which we have started so surely.
I remembered also 1947, when we wrote in the “American Worker” about the women, and said it was not a question of the antagonism between men and women, but the alienation of the emancipated woman. It was quite abstract at the time, and I hope that our abstractions will always move so surely, and in reality, so quickly to the concrete.
Now I can remember at the 1950 convention last year when the old organization took the position on Pablo. We did two things. On the one hand, Minelli got up and warned them: “We’re not debating with you any longer,” We put aside that old type of debating in the abstract, one political group recruiting from the other. And, on the other hand, Simpson came in from Los Angeles and started telling us what she was doing on the woman question.
It was a fresh start for us; the two things took place at the same time. We put them aside and we started on this new road. So many philosophical problems are resolved here. You are a vulgar materialist in reality, and we have been for so many years ridding ourselves of all conceptions of vulgar materialism and thinking only of the way in which the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy thinks of human beings as things. You get rid of vulgar materialism only when you are able to deal with these most intimate social relations in social terms, in terms of a world conception. That is what has happened here.
I forget which of the friends said that “machines cannot substitute for new social relations.” That’s the summation of our attitude on vulgar materialism, a whole century of our attitude on dialectical materialism is contained therein. Trotsky said that we should come to grips with American Imperialism and American pragmatism. I listened to the friend speak about education and plan, and progressive education and the way in which ideas are imposed on children, in reality, we’ve made our analysis of Dewey. We really have no problem with Deweyism which has dominated American thought, with the ideas that you have to enlighten the masses and enlighten the children starting in the schools and in the home. We have no problem with them any longer; we’ve settled our debt with them, with that type of American thought.
Now, having said that, I want to say one word about the children. I am, as you know, in favor of going to lower and lower layers, but I would suggest that we do not start the discussion on children, even though the woman question certainly involves the question of the woman’s relationship to her children and the man’s relationship to his children. It certainly involves that, but I would suggest that we don’t start the woman question with a lot of various aspects or a disproportionate emphasis on the question of children.
First of all, I believe that some children would like to speak for themselves and they don’t happen to be here. Apart from that, the idea that we speak for children, which I am sure no one wants to do, is not correct. Then there is the fact that we are just beginning on the woman question. It took us five years before we wrote a resolution on the Negro question. We have been battling with certain questions with regard to the informal social groupings in the plant for many, many months and I can assure you, friends, that in New York we went around and around the question. We talked with friends in Detroit; we didn’t even want to put forward views of that sort until we had a chance to see what the friends thought about it!
There are different ways of handling some of these questions. You don’t start a question with a lot of differences, sharpened differences, and so forth. I can assure you, friends, from some years of experience, that when you do it that way, you don’ t develop your line concretely; instead, you begin freezing positions; you begin freezing your ideas into abstractions. The firm manner in which we have gone on the woman question, from our abstractions in 1947 to the magnificently concrete analysis of Simpson this morning, was accomplished by keeping our eyes upon the concrete, the development of the concrete, and, the way in which our organization has always developed these questions, by seeing where we are going and developing them among ourselves.
Orlando from Pittsburgh: I’d just like to share with the convention a few of the many millions of things that I learned about women in the factory from the women in the factory that I worked in for two years, two very short years. The women in the shop in which I worked were mature women. Most of them were married. Of those who were single when they came in, at least 95% of them were married when I left a year ago. Most of them had children and they had the double duty of working for ten hours, six days a week on the line and then going home and taking care of their families and trying to sandwich in taking care of the children.
In addition to this, it was the policy of the company in the shop in which I worked to try to keep a greater hold on the workers, to try to prevent a little bit of militancy on their part, by hiring the wives of the men who worked in the shop. This meant that if the shop went out on strike, the whole family went out on strike. It was a means which the company used to try to hinder a little bit of the militancy of the workers in the shop.
The women in the shop in which I worked weren’t kidding themselves at all: they were working because they had to work. There wasn’t any desire to go into the factory. It’s true that once they got into the shop the thing that kept them there and enabled them to endure the hard physical labor which they were subjected to were the social relations and the social contacts and the intimate relationships that they established with the group of women in the shop. But that was something they found after they went into the shop and it wasn’t the reason that any of them went into the shop. None of them were kidding themselves about liking the work or about liking to get up every morning. Nevertheless, what kept them in the shop was that the girls themselves were so wonderful.
The shop was organized about a month before I was hired in. The conditions were pretty horrible in the beginning. The girls used to gather in the rest room before work started and share liniment with each other, and bathe each other’s hands in the basin. A common remark that could be heard up and down the line all through the day was: “Gee, the only thing that gets me through the day is how swell the girls are.” It meant a lot to know that no matter how miserable you were everyone of the other girls there was just as miserable, if not more miserable. It did make you feel wonderful if somebody else had sorer muscles than you did. You could give somebody else a tip, instead of getting a tip yourself.
The reaction of the girls to a choice between what they found in the factory and what they would find at home was a fifty-fifty proposition. The way they expressed it was “Well, if the alternative was to work in the home, stay home and drudge in the home alone and isolated, or to come into the factory and drudge for eight and ten hours a day under conditions like these with a lot of other people, well, it was a hell of an alternative to have to make.” They didn’t really went either choice. Their problems were not solved by the social relations that they found in the shop. But that was the good thing that they found in the shop. But that wasn’t the real solution. It wasn’t what they wanted fundamentally any more than the conditions of freedom they had in the home were what they wanted.
While they were in the shop working on the line, the girls used to talk about the things that they could do if they were home, a new cake recipe that they wanted to try or the fact that they were away from their children, the suit or garment that they wanted to make, the kind of a home they wanted to make for their husbands and themselves and their children. These are the things they missed and. they used to talk about it in terms of, “Well, it’s a hell of a life when you must stay home and stay isolated.” Only they didn’t use the word isolated. Nevertheless, they felt that in the home you can move about when you want to, something you couldn’t do in the shop. You can go to the can when you want to. If you feel like baking a cake, you can bake a cake. You don’t have to do the same operation all day long for eight or ten hours.
It is clear that what they wanted was the social relationships. They wanted to be social beings and they wanted to be absorbed in the social process, but at the same time, they wanted this under conditions of free associations and the alternative that was left to them in bourgeois society of the home such as it is or the shop such as it is, was not a solution for them.
When children came, there was great bitterness on the part of most of the girls and there were about a dozen girls who took maternity leave while I was there. Everybody knew that when the girls took maternity leave they would be back within a year. Most of the girls did come back as soon as the period allotted to have a child was up.
I only have one minute and I want to make one point on the intimacy that developed among the women workers. It’s been pointed out by the men that there is an intimacy that develops among women workers that is part of a relationship that men workers do not have with each other on a group basis, although they may have it with some particular buddy or another. The girls tore their husbands apart and compared husbands. They were unanimous in their unexpressed (that is, formally unexpressed) contempt for exceptional women. They were greatly resentful at having to do equal work with men, and frequently harder work than men, without getting equal pay. They resented having men as supervisors, overseers and in every conceivable post of authority. Everyone who wore a white shirt and had any position of authority over them, including the committeemen, were men.
This resentment manifested itself in the form of bitterness toward men in general, but, except for very rare instances, the women workers that I knew never reacted to the situation in the way that has been pointed out as being characteristic of the exceptional woman, by trying to imitate men or by trying to be as good as men or do the work better or say that they could do exactly the same as men. As a matter of fact, it was just the opposite, and the girls in our shop used their status as women to better their status. I think this must be common among all women workers. Everybody knew that you could use your status as a woman during your menstrual period to get your relief period lengthened, that you could use a particular state law, such as the law which provides seats for women. Of course, we had to fight a year and a half to have the law put into effect in our shop, but when we did get the seats, the men used to come over and try to swipe them in a very comradely fashion of course. The women would always go and bring their seats back to their own little section, or harem, and pat the guys on the shoulder, saying, “It’s tough, but after all that’s your problem. You get seats; we got ours.”
Ryan, Los Angeles: There are three groupings in the woman question, the woman in the home, the woman who works and the Negro woman. I would like to take up just for a few minutes the Negro woman, which will also take up the working woman. The Negro women in this society have to face three problems: one, being a Negro, two, being a worker, three, being a woman. The woman in this society today has a better chance than the women of the olden days. In my opinion, one of the greatest women of the olden days was Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth was a woman who not only dealt with the Negro slavery problem, but she also dealt with the woman question. She traveled by foot across the country, from one end to another. She would speak on street corners, in churches, or anywhere people would gather to listen to her. She defied anyone who tried to stop her, man or law, and in doing so, she won the respect of men and women all over the country, not only proving that she was a great Negro, but that also she was a great woman.
The woman today has a better chance of starting. She has social clubs, church groups and other organizations, but the most important one of these is the trade union. The Negro woman has, in the past few years, had the most difficult time finding a job. She has had to pound the pavement seven or eight months out of the year. If she was lucky, she got a job in a factory. If she didn’t, she had to take what she could get.
But once inside the factory, she did not hesitate to start to work on the problem as a whole and on her special problem. She talked with the workers next to her on the line and she would get their experiences and give them hers. These talks sometimes would result in groups being formed and then these groups would take on forms of organizations. Sometimes they were only groups of Negroes or sometimes they were mixed groups. In these groups, they would try to decide what to do and the best way to do it. Some of their expressions in these groups would be breaking down discrimination.
I remember back during the war there was one such group in New York. This group of women were discussing the events of the day, which at the time were events of the war. They were discussing the discrimination that was being carried on by the Army and the navy and the experiences of the boys overseas. The women would go out in these groups together and sometimes if they were barred from theaters, a skating rink or someplace else, they would fight the case and take it to court, and these were some of their ways of expressing themselves through this organization.
Now the women of today are discussing the coming war in their plants and shops. I happen to be working in a hospital where there is a mixed group, although the woman are mostly Negroes. We eat together at the same table. The discussion they have is what’s going to happen when the next world war comes, or will there be a next world war? One girl thought there would be no world war. She was a Negro and she had no affiliations with any political group. She’d worked in shops before, but she was very new to a situation of this kind and she said that before there would he a next world war, the people in this country would have a war right here. Not understanding what she meant, all the rest of the girls joined in the conversation immediately and said that what she said was true. They said that we would fight here. They said that they would go out and get guns and help the men fight too, if it came to a question of our fighting, if Truman or the rest of them would bring on another war.
I happen to be the vice-president of my local union. I didn’t want to, but I had to. Very little discrimination is shown in the hospital, except from the workers. But this is going to be found in any shop until these people are educated to the point of understanding the Negroes or any minority and their problems.
I was told to announce my name, but I have none, so I’ll leave it anonymous. I’d like to relate a little incident that happened over at my local this week. I was serving on the election committee so I had to be down at the local. I come in and one of the secretaries say to me: “How come you’re inside? I thought you wouldn’t cross the picket line.” I asked her, “What picket line?” I said, “I didn’t see any.” So she tells me that there is some woman picketing the local. So I said to her, “Where will I find out more information about this?” She says, “Oh, some of the guys probably are around. You can ask them.”
Well, I went outside and sure enough, there were some of the local bureaucrats and they were standing around talking and griping about the women that had been picketing them. I went over and I asked a few questions and they told me that there were a few woman that had been picketing the local. These women had very little seniority. They wanted their jobs back and they came to picket the local for the local to get their jobs back. Well, naturally, the bureaucrats saw it only one way, that Reuther had put these women up to doing that. He may or may not have; that isn’t too important to us.
I remember about a month ago, or about two months ago, there was a small article in the Detroit Times, which quoted some woman who had worked in the Press Steel Building, who was leading this group. She was the representative of the group. She said that she had gone down to the local time and again and had spoken to the vice president of her unit, which was the Press Steel Unit where they had had some big layoffs about five, six months ago on account of the runaway shop.
It seems that in Ford, there’s a long tradition, especially since the end of the war, of the company giving the women a raw deal. I imagine that exists in most other places. As a matter of fact, I remember after I was at Ford about six months, they had a big change-over and they laid off the people without seniority and then they laid all the women off regardless of their seniority. Then they went to the others according to their seniority. But that’s aside from this little incident anyway. Well, the bureaucrats were standing around and naturally, they were cussing out the women. They were saying: “They got ten months seniority and they want their jobs back.” They started complaining about the fact that the women won’t go on any job the company puts them on. It’s an old trick of the company to put the women on the roughest jobs in order to force them out of the shop. The rule is that if you bump somebody from another job and you have more seniority than the other person, you can stay in the shop. But if you refuse to go on the job the company puts you on, you are out. Obviously, the company had done that to these women.
Well, these bureaucrats were in their own way justifying the company. They were blaming the women for refusing to do some of these heavy jobs. They had done nothing about it. These guys were just cussing them out. I have a policy of not arguing with them or discussing with them but just asking questions, and I found this out: this group of women who got this raw deal came down to the local and obviously didn’t get satisfaction there. They tried to reach their own unit chairman. He gave them the run-around. They probably went to the international and the international, playing union politics, sent them out to picket the local. This may be true or it may not be true, I’m not sure.
The point is, these women got together themselves, there were no politicos involved in it. If there were Stalinists involved in it I’m sure they wouldn’t have picketed the Local, because right now the Stalinists have a honeymoon with Stelletto, president of the Local.
So these women followed the regular procedure and in a way you can say they mobilized themselves. That’s what I liked about the whole thing, and that’s why I thought I would relate the incident here. I didn’t organize this material because it just dawned on me while I was sitting back there that this is the woman question being discussed and that maybe this is the agenda for it. So there’s your little story.
I’m Tressa from Philadelphia. There were several points that struck me as I heard the talk, especially on self-creativity of children. I remarked to somebody, “Everybody knows that children are self-creative,” and somebody said, “No, they don’t know that,” and that made me think about Bryant’s talk.
I thought it was excellent in many respects but I wondered if there wasn’ t a plan in her talk about the child in the future society. Now we have no blueprint for the future society. We don’t know whether a child, (as in the primitive society), has to help his mother or father do some sort of work. We don’t know what the future will have but we do know that the bourgeoisie have been imposing all sorts of plans on people, making them feel that they must do something with themselves, and I think we should keep that very clear.
I also felt that the child should feel that he is needed and I think this ties in very concretely with our society. A woman feels that she needs something and a child feels that he needs something and I think this is definitely tied up with what we’re seeking, Socialism.
Now how to go about it? That’s the thing I’ll be waiting to hear, some program to attack this problem at this point. There was another point made about the plan, was it Norway where women get vacations? Well, I think that’s a rather dangerous thing to play around with because Russia gives women vacations. I think that we should strive for something that has something more to it than just getting vacations. I think all these things will be solved.
Coming back to self-creativity, I happened to be in a camp that is mainly working class children, in fact you couldn’t go there unless you couldn’ t afford a pay camp. I want to tell you that I saw self-creativity in children that you never see in the bourgeoisie. These children, in three days, created plays and costumes and things that no child that I have bean in contact with, who have had music and dancing, could have done under those circumstances. I want to say that this self-creativity is certainly in the masses and we know it’s there. Well, I wanted to clear that point in Bryant’s speech.
Greg of Los Angeles: I think one thing that escapes a lot of tie is the tremendous breadth of the woman question. First of all, it’s not just something that is characteristic of this period, but it spans three historical periods.
Today you find feudal manifestations right along side of the manifestations of the future of socialism and in this sense the three periods of feudalism, capitalism and socialism are incorporated in the woman question, and I think we should realize the breadth of that.
In the home you have this feudal aspect, this feudal structure, this hang-over, which is completely hollow in terms of any meaning for this age. The structure of the home is a form without essence, that is, the woman is restricted to a completely meaningless, artificial straight-jacket of social customs and mores against which she rebels. She sort of lives in a haunted house, so to speak, and I think a lot of women feel the same. They are living meaningless lives and an empty social pattern.
On the other hand you have the revolutionary aspects of the woman question; you have the woman in the factory, where you have this socialization which is characteristic of the coming society counterposed against this medieval phase. The woman in the factory, it seems to me, is a very revolutionary element from the standpoint of her not having any managerial unionist bureaucratic element in her, since in the working class she is relatively new. She’s uncontaminated by bureaucratism and pretty much spontaneous in her reactions to the oppressors of the union bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the bosses on the other. I think the recent document on the woman in the factory is a concrete statement of this.
Chairman: We are an hour behind schedule which isn’t good because we’ve got a lot to take up and we still have to take up the most important part of the convention and that is program and perspectives. There is a question by the presiding committee that the discussion be cut short right now and that the main speaker make her summary and that all conclude the woman’s panel. Is there any objection to this procedure?
You see this is just the beginning of the discussion, we’ve got lots of time. I mean people will have to write and develop these ideas in the coming months so I don’t think that there’s any question of not enough discussion.
From the floor: I just want to know how many more want the floor!
Chairman: There are four more speakers and five minutes apiece makes it twenty minutes and that’s too long. We’ve got to get on with the proceedings.
Simpson: I would like to renounce five minutes to give Jane the time she needs.
Chairman: All right then, five minutes for Jane and five minutes for Simpson.
Jane from Los Angeles: I thoroughly agree with Roberts that the discussion on children should not be the starting off place or the central theme of the discussion on the woman question. It’s a later stage. For that reason I spoke for just a few minutes this morning on children.
But in view of the line that the discussion has taken, particularly in view of Bryant’s remarks, we felt impelled, those of us who are responsible for the writing of the document, to reply to some of the remarks made.
After ten years as a practitioner of progressive education in the public and private grade schools throughout the country, in Harlem during the 1943 race riots, among Mexican children in Denver who couldn’t speak English, among bourgeois children throughout the country, I have made my break with progressive education. This document and the section in it on children represents that break with progressive education, with which I was intimately associated for ten years.
We are primarily concerned today with the relationship between the child and his parent, and his relationship to bourgeois society. Now the differences between our point of view and Bryant’s have been expressed quite well, quite clearly by the friend from Philadelphia who spoke a few minutes ago. She sums it up very well in her references to the plan contained in Bryant’s document. We are not discussing Bryant’s concrete experiences with children, many of which are valid. What we are concerned with is her solution which contains in it the essence of progressive education.
The “guidance and direction” and her own plan, which is contained in these words, “work they must,” and then some other words following it which go something to this effect: “Tasks must be found for children in the future society.” This is exactly what we are breaking with. We don’t want to do things to children and for children. We are not imposing any plan on children. We’re not trying to make them feel necessary by finding tasks for them to do, this is what progressive education has done for children. They will be necessary to society, they’re not going to be made to feel necessary, they will be necessary to society. They’ll be necessary as ‘developing’ social beings and every stage of their development will be enjoyed by adults. We will learn from them, we will work with them, we will cooperate with them and so forth and so on.
The bourgeoisie today are very much aware of the struggle of the youth and the children against capitalist society and their solution is to contain the energy of the adults and the children until the day that they can go to work for capitalism, either in the home or in the factory. They force the children and the youth, or they try to force them, to live in the future. The progressive educators among the bourgeoisie try to soften this blow by finding tasks, by making them feel necessary, by somehow trying to subordinate their energy to the capitalist society.
In conclusion I just want to make the point again that we have no plan for children in the future society – that we’re not imposing anything on them. We feel that we will enjoy them as developing social beings and out of that enjoyment will come certain practices, certain developments, of adults and children in this society. This will be the future.
Simpson: I just want to say first of all that all of us very happy that the woman question is finally on the book, so to speak, and we’re very, very glad about that. I’d just like to say a few words about what one of the friends said about her development in other organizations and what she has come to today.
I would like to say that our development was almost an exact parallel to that and that it isn’t accidental that we develop in the same way and we finally come to the same conclusion, that is, the conclusions that have been expressed today. It’s wonderful to hear in the discussion, all of the things that we have left out and are conscious of having left out. All of the other woman and a lot of the men too, have filled these things in for us. And in the discussion we’ve gotten a far more rounded picture than what we came with. We know a little more about the effect of the factory on a woman.
There is really a summary that has been made of all of the discussion on the workers’ question that has not been made an the youth question or on the woman question, and that is the conception of forced labor.
I think that that conception sums up all of our ideas on the woman question and particularly on what one of the others said about not liking home work and not liking factory work and rejecting society wherever women are. It is precisely because of the nature of the work being forced and pushed upon them, that they absolutely refuse to accept it.
Now another problem immediately arises with the middle class woman, whom we really haven’t discussed too much. I feel that that point should be a little more elaborated in relation to the point that we’re making about other women, that is, working class women. The women of the petty bourgeoisie, unlike any other section of the petty bourgeoisie, have absolutely no ties with this society. The man of the petty bourgeoisie has perhaps a business that he would like to keep and to hold on to, or a practice of same sort. The woman has absolutely no ties and we have found that the petty bourgeois woman is extremely receptive to our ideas, does not mind being referred to as the petty bourgeois woman, and as a matter of fact appreciates it because everybody has not shown her problem up, as in the case of the working class woman in the radical movement.
O.K., the proletarian woman is exploited here, here and here. What about the petty bourgeois woman; she’s over there. She’s not really part of us and cannot be included with us. That isn’t true; she’s really one of the petty bourgeoisie that can be easily included with us and can easily accept our ideas on every question precisely because she can accept our ideas on the woman question.
I want to clear up a point that the friends make on vacations, just in passing. It isn’t that we find that vacations are a solution, but that it is extremely indicative today that the labor bureaucracy, as well as other sections of society, are trying to mend the women question with tape, or whatever they have, (it is vacations in this case). They’ll give out anything these days. They give out twenty five thousand dollar prizes for slogans; they’ll do anything to keep her quiet and to keep her confused, if they can, that is.
Now I’d like to say that as a result of this discussion, which has been, for me, one of the most wonderful discussions I’ve ever attended, and as a result of the wonderful responses from all of the people involved, we feel, and all of us felt, during lunch, that we can go out and really give them hell.
Chairman: That concludes the woman panel.