Women in Capitalism Ruthless Criticism

[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 4-19]

Legally equal, morally respected, badly treated:

Women in capitalism

Even long after having achieved legal equality with men, even after the majority of college students in many courses of study are today made up of women who get better grades, after they have conquered some occupational fields previously known as male domains, there is still plenty of discrimination and sexual oppression of the female sex. Women struggle against this by accusing the man’s world of still refusing respect for women’s self-determination and an empowered role for women, of sticking to outdated ways of thinking and yesterday’s gender stereotypes. With the demand for respect, the protagonists of gender justice run through open doors everywhere – in politics, in the public sphere, and even in academia. If one disregards quite conservative circles that don’t want to let go of the traditional family image and the cult figures of gangsta rap, there is nobody who wouldn’t take off his hat to women as full-fledged, professionally and generally emancipated members of society. There are equal opportunities officers, chairs for the advancement of women, and women’s studies everywhere; in universities, in the left-wing milieu, and in some government agencies, “gender” is in vogue: by modifying words and grammar, one insists that, in every sentence mentioning human subjects, women are again specifically kept in mind and paid homage to. [1]

Why is it, then, that this universally affirmed good will changes so little about the social disadvantages, insults, harrassments, and assaults experienced by women? Why is it that official morality is so disconnected from the one lived in practice? In other words: aren’t there more substantial reasons for the prejudices that women are exposed to in practice and the social roles that prescibe them than the misogynistic hang-ups of a lot of men – reasons that can’t be dealt with by demanding and turning in testimonies of respect?

I. Continuing disadvantages in careers and at work

It is complained that, despite all the progress made by the female sex in education and careers, despite widespread professional activities at the highest levels of the professional hierarchy, women still earn on average 20% less than men, that many are relegated to so-called female occupations, and that even highly qualified representatives of their sex have a harder time reaching the upper levels in companies and government agencies than their equally qualified male colleagues. This is seen as an offence against the fairness of competition; against equal work being worth equal pay; and if women are often only offered unequal, poorly paid “women’s work,” this is condemned as discriminatory prejudice in practice. In the name of an objective, measurable performance by which the individual is to conquer his or her place in the hierarchy of occupations, in the name of a very affirmative ideal of competition, irrelevant, arbitrary standards are denounced – and it is completely overlooked that competition, which employees do not impose on each other but are subjected to by employers who compare them, is not a sports contest in which the best wins, but the form taken by a relation of rule and subservience.

The “gender pay gap” – and its social reasons

Long before the gender of the workforce plays any role, the professional world with its hierarchy of requirements and incomes is ready to go: entrepreneurs have work done with the aim of making a profit for themselves or the company’s shareholders with the work done by the people they pay to do it. They therefore always pay as little as necessary in order to get people for their functions, and they demand as much work from them as they can get. It is also clear that they pay the mass of their workforce which they can easily find and replace badly, and they only spend more money when they need special skills and knowledge or where supervisors are needed to watch over the work of others and enforce capital’s interest in them. There is no other connection between the performance required and the remuneration for it – there is thus no criterion according to which work and pay fit together.

Like men, women are placed in this competition which has nothing to do with their gender. In it, however, the majority of them are then limited to the lower ranks of the professional hierarchy. And this is for no other reason than because they are cheaper, even more susceptible to extortion than men – and because companies use this circumstance as an opportunity for their business.

a) When companies differentiate the pay and career paths of their employees according to gender, they do not really refer to biology, but to another institution of society – the family – which again gets its necessity and character from their business dealings with workers: they demand from men as well as women the greater part of waking hours and pay them for the quantity of work done: hourly wages times hours worked. Whether and how well workers can making a living from their earnings is just as little of concern to the employer as whether the time left over after work is enough for them to accomodate a satisfying life. This is the wage earners’ own problem – and they get to experience the contradiction that they have to take care of all the necessities of daily life – housework, preparing meals, dressing, childcare – outside of a day filled with work and as a rule on a rather tight budget – and at some point, there is still supposed to be a little bit of life.

The contradiction is hard to bear by oneself. The vast majority of the population’s way of life shows how incompatible gainful employment and the necessary housework are in view of the aforementioned barriers of money and time: two individuals of different sexes join forces not only to have children and love each other, but also to cope with everyday life and share the money and household budget. Of course, men and women can share the income and the housework as they wish, but after they have children at the latest, the family becomes something other than an apartment-sharing community of independent earners. The need for additional money makes a more intense commitment to career equally necessary, as family work ratchets up. Because a decision to focus on work or family is necessary, this reproduces, despite all the emacipation, the old fashioned role of the breadwinner, at least of a main income earner, who as a rule is still the man, and the role of the woman who is primarily responsible for the family and who, of course, also works today. Because the wage for one worker, even one high up in the professional hierarchy, does not suffice to allow two or more family members to participate in the normal standard of living. The man therefore often only earns the greater part of the family’s upkeep, the woman goes to work and earns money in addition to her domestic duties as soon as possible. Her much lamented double burden is proof that wage-dependent money making, in accord with its demands on time and energy, as well as the money it yields, is not a means for a good life for either sex.

Companies take advantage of this division of labor between the sexes, which is itself brought about by wages and working hours: they make cheap offers to women who need a job but at the same time have to look after children because they are sometimes absent or can only work during open day care hours, employ them part-time when necessary, and pay them wages that have nothing to do with financing a livelihood. They can leave it to the competition between women who have to bring in extra money for the family budget and do not measure their wages by the standard that they have to provide for a livelihood. Single mothers are the test case; they are reliably counted among the “working poor” and are recognized as a social problem: a woman’s wage is additional income – and if not, it is a catastrophe.

b) The entrepreneurs, however, do not leave it at that, at making their business profitable at the expense of mothers who have only limited availability as a workforce. They generalize the fact that women can become pregnant at a certain age and are in danger of maternal duties into an accusation of the whole sex, regardless of age or whether the individual candidate has foregone family and children, as a possible constraint on performance for the company, which it must be compensated for with lower wage costs. It then no longer matters whether any costs not offset by performance are incurred for the company by the employee’s sex.

Because they generally pay women worse than men, entrepreneurs conclude that their work must be less valuable. They justify the low wages that they pay to women for stupid, repetitive movements in industrial workplaces or at cash registers with the low qualifications these women bring with them – as if they weren’t the ones who give these stupid jobs to women and reduce them to very limited functions. The job and its pay have nothing to do with the qualifications that the applicants bring with them; companies do not reward further training in these jobs even when an applicant gets it. The entrepreneurial interest in exploiting the special dependence of women on work to earn extra money, and the generalization of the not really lesser capitalistic usefulness of mothers to the whole sex, are the morass in which the not at all coincidental prejudices against femininity foment.

“Women’s work” – typical: for what?

The situation is not much different with the typically female occupations. Here, too, women are not the reason why they exist. Social services in education, care of the elderly and the sick are economically characterized by the fact that they are necessary, but do not contribute to the growth of capital, but rather expenses for the community which are financed out of a socialized portion of wages, social security funds, or the national budget, and are therefore always underfunded. Whenever nursing homes and hospitals are privatized and organized as capitalistic businesses, it is difficult, according to the industry, to “make them viable” because saving on wage costs by technologically streamlining the work is only possible to a very limited extent. The employers blame the employees for both capitalistic deficits of this occupational field, and also pay the few men there much less than in industry in order to make a profit or to reduce government expenses. The caring occupations are the domain of women not only because, as additional earners, they are content with lower earnings; personnel departments do not take a chance on representatives of either gender submitting applications for the appropriate positions, but look for women from the outset. In their endeavour to always fill their positions with exactly those workers who guarantee with their whole personality the completion of tasks, thus their subservience to the company’s goal, they follow the rock solid conviction that women are by nature better suited for attending to and serving other people. They say they have empathy, intuition, adaptability and even servility – and they also practice this knowledge of human nature in the other area of service to superiors which is not social, but direct: secretaries, doctor’s assistants, etc., have the task of facilitating the work of the boss (whether male or female), cleaning the work place, attending to his or her needs, and – this too – putting up with his or her moods. In these occupations, the rule of money, which the employer pays and the employee earns, includes a very direct relationship of subordination to the will and even whims of the other – that’s just a woman’s job.

When they attribute to women a natural qualification to serve, employers refer to their family role as housewives and mothers – and simply assume that what they necessarily have to do in the family, they turn into their concern and identity in such a way that they even want to play a serving role, and are able to do nothing else. What personnel managers assume to be character traits of female applicants, they simply require of them; and they define them by the personality traits that are required of them.

So they don’t make fools of themselves with their “knowledge of human nature” – not because they are right, but because they have the power to make their moral evaluation of the personality of the applicants, and their expectations of their character, effective and valid. After all, they decide over a career or failure, over employment or unemployment. The fact that they base their selection of personnel not only on formal qualifications, i.e. training certificates, but no less on character traits, and that they assess the moral personality by means of references from former employers who document the fulfilment of duties and commitment, by means of a well-groomed or unkempt appearance, healthiness and national origin, shows, by the way, that working for capitalist companies and state agencies, which calculate in the same way, is not settled by doing objective work tasks, but includes a willingness to submit, to serve other people’s interest in money and enrichment.

Women who need to earn money therefore know which occupations are easier for them to get into and which are more difficult, depending on what is offered, and apply accordingly. Already during the job interview, which today nobody can survive without the hypocrisy that the offered job is something that exactly suits one’s own personality and is what one has always wanted, the required character image is presented. But it doesn’t remain just a calculating self-portrayal or a detached, only externally coerced obedience. Because people these days are not slaves, but free citizens who are out for themselves and are allowed to be out for themselves, and because in this society every subordination and imposition presents itself as an opportunity to do something for oneself, that is, to earn money, they take what is economically-materially compelled as their own free decision. Women in social work profess their “service to humanity,” even if in reality there is no service to humanity at all (and therefore in hospitals and nursing homes for the elderly, this is also the case), but rather service to the profit interest of hospital capital or to the cost calculations of the state social administration. And they adhere to the character traits needed for attending to other people as their qualification and commitment, as “their contribution to the community,” with which they deserve not only a – actually much higher – wage, but recognition as valuable members of the community. Despite their dissatisfaction with the inadequate material and moral recognition they receive, they maintain an affirmative consciousness, a certain pride in their role and in themselves, the people who fulfill it. Because they reinterpret the capitalist exploitation to which they are subjected into a collaborative effort which they contribute to and thereby acquire a right to participate in, women, but not just them, become the personalities that are demanded by employers; not because they are like that by nature, but because they are so “right.”

By the way, the “gender racism” of personnel managers is not only applied in a demeaning way and only in the serving professions. Some bosses, who attribute more empathy and less striving for dominance to women, may not consider them for the top executive positions where assertiveness is required, but consider them particularly suitable for positions immediately below, namely for “team players,” where it is necessary to balance the competition between male employees. Very large companies fill board positions, if at all with women, preferably in the area of personnel management. They consider representatives of the female gender, with their incredible empathy, to be better qualified by nature at assessing applicants’ personalities and conveying layoffs with the right tone. Women who aspire to these posts confirm these attributes: they advertise themselves with these female nature qualifications.


This is how gender-specific social characters are formed in capitalism. They are not obsolete prejudices that have their reasons in a bygone era, but are personality traits demanded by the employer’s rule over his workforce, ascribed to the whole gender group with a generalized subsumption, and actually intrinsically developed and brought to life by the competitors for jobs. Gender roles form the norms which the individual men and women must respond to. As a rule, they orient themselves by them for the sake of success from their youth onwards, and want to conform to them long before they actually face personnel managers. If they also take a critical view of these roles, even reject them in their own right, then they have to see how they “find their way” as deviants.

Discrimination and anti-discrimination law

Not so long ago, there was a ban on discrimination which applies not only, but especially, to the labor market and the selection of personnel by companies. It prohibits employers from sorting their personnel according to gender, sexual orientation, religion, worldview, and national origin – i.e., according to so-called irrelevant criteria: jobs must be open to any applicant with the necessary qualifications.

With the ban, the legislators confirm the information given about women’s wages and women’s occupations, namely that the differentiation of the workforce according to gender is a widespread practice. If it separates the sorting of applicants into a correct evaluation that is based on objective qualifications and suitability for certain tasks, on the one hand, and into an unlawful discrimination that is based on viewpoints which fall under the civil right to self-determination and one’s own personality, on the other hand, then it represents and prescribes an ideal fair competition vis-à-vis the real competition which employers subject applicants to. As the guardian of competition, the state insists that those who have economic power make only objective use of their power over others, which is acceptable, and that they preserve, in all the measurings and comparisons that dependent employees have to put up with, their freedom and equality as citizens. It prohibits companies from imposing the arbitrariness of a ruling power that sorts applicants according to their moral taste and pre-excluding some from the competition for certain jobs: everyone should be given an opportunity to deliver a performance and to achieve a corresponding position in the hierarchy of occupations. Knowing very well that its society functions on its own in a different way, the state demands that the economic power of capital over the rest of the population organize itself as a tough but fair “meritocracy.”

Since it doesn’t want to change the power and right of capitalistic businesses to allocate careers according to their assessment of the suitability of the applicants and allows them to be guided by a profit interest in the purchased services, it ultimately can’t prevent the selection from being connected with character traits, gender, national origin, etc., which from the employer’s point of view are not at all impertinent. For the private sector, the achievement of anti-discrimination law is therefore essentially restricted to the fact that legally valid rejection letters may no longer be justified on the grounds of gender, etc. As a result, hiring companies no longer justify the rejections of applicants – which they do not have to do – in order to avoid a legal vulnerability in their personnel selection from the outset. The ban carries practical importance and thus a bit of influence where the state itself acts as an employer: it decides not only on the basis of qualifications, but occassionally corrects the negative discrimination against women with a positive one: the distortion of competition to promote women – woman quotas in parties, preferences to female applicants before equally qualified men in universities and government offices – is, however, again controversial among the political camps, all of which take up the cause of justice in competition.

The untrue ideal of meritocratic competition based only on professional qualifications is most vivid among educated, upwardly mobile women, who are exposed to real competition for jobs to their detriment: they want to believe in professional qualifications and in objectively measured performance as a means of being able to use and calculate for their own benefit in serving the economy. When they find themselves overlooked, they appeal to the equal opportunities commissions and emphasize their will as well as their ability to perform for capital. Women advertise themselves by arguing that they can do at least as much as men and are equally suited for all functions. They consider their inferior position to be a violation of the rationality of the system of wage labor and want to know nothing about the relation between power and employment which becomes clear in their discrimination.

II. The culture of harrassment – and its basis in the family

Often even more important for women than career opportunities is the sexual relation between genders in the family, circle of friends, professions and public sphere. They are faced with their husband’s claims to dominance, macho posturing, lewd remarks, smutty jokes, aggressive pick ups and groping, all the way up to sexual violence. The news is full of it – and also of clarifications to the effect that there is no place for this male behavior. If macho men, who are much more than a minority, still do not abandon claims to a dominance and control over women that no employer and no government commits or entitles them to, then there is an interest in it that is not coincidental; a necessity for it, which is best not blamed on nature or hormones or the long tradition showed by the oppression of women.

Family: coping with reproductive necessities together

The sexual sense of entitlement of men and the willingness of women to adapt, i.e. gender roles and their associated customs, have a present-day material basis in the modern family which has already been mentioned. Women and men are not forced to marry by anybody, not by the state, and today not even by decorum. They do it because there is almost no alternative to marriage or a marriage-like relationship for people who, first, work all day for money, second, have to deal with a lot of daily necessities outside of working hours, and third, also need a human circle, an “emotional relationship” in the evening. Those who don’t have one or who haven’t got one – at least at a certain age – and have no home and no private life are sad figures, and therefore have nothing worthwhile to do do with the money earned and the time left over. Married couples cope with life together, and with insufficient time and energy and money they organize their private lives, including child care for children, which above all else obeys a necessity: it must restore them, enabling them to report to work again the next day and in the long run. Their life outside work is a functional reproduction for work. But who sees it that way? [2]

... and its higher meaning: compensation for the hardships of working life

Capitalistic workers who, as we said, are not slaves, but free private materialists, and who have a right to their benefit, see things the other way around: after work is done and with the money they earn, they are free to arrange their lives as they please. Now they are allowed to be out for themselves, now their will matters! Where the necessary work is organized as making money in the service of other people’s interests, life is divided into two in an absurd way: the greater part of waking life is merely service, effort, necessity. The residual is the “for what.” What happens in the remaining time has to compensate for the sacrifice of living time which brings in an income. In and through the satisfaction which it grants, it is decided whether life as a whole is “worthwhile.” Leisure time, especially the sphere of private togetherness, is burdened with the impossible task of turning the balance of a wage-dependent life into a positive and reconciling people with their world. Satisfaction with oneself and the world is pursued as an independent, crazy wish: happiness must succeed because one has worked hard enough for it.

The determination of working people to seek a happy life in capitalist conditions turns the hostile conditions into nothing but challenges and opportunities that are only a matter of what they make of them. In this sense, they accept demands that can’t be reconciled as nothing but tests of their personal ability to succeed in life.

Love for marriage – the compensatory counterworld to competition

The first such test is to find a partner and commit them to oneself permanently. The choice of a partner, in which a man or woman is sought for life, has little in common with a naïve falling in love, immediate attraction to another person, a liking for the ensemble of their character and physical qualities – the feeling that all magazines and films sing about as the true, unfortunately fickle happiness. Fishing for the right man or the right woman is a life program that is pursued with seriousness, which envisages the object of love right from the start under an entitlement to benefits.

With marriage, the partners – they are not mistaken about this – enter into a bond that makes it independent of love: an intentional, moral relation of obligations. And not even in relation to each other: with a state or church wedding, the bride and groom commit themselves to each other before the community. They know that their intimate togetherness is justified in keeping with the good customs of the society, the valid morals, and their individual lives conform with the community.

For their happiness, the partners create for themselves a private counter-world to the competition in which they have to prove themselves daily outside of their togetherness and into which they throw themselves even more in order to be able to afford their nest in the world of interests and conflicts. They do this without buying and selling between themselves, by sharing money and work. Between them, the man should not be valued according to achievement and success, but immediately rccognized, i.e. loved, “as I am.” One does not want to have to win acceptance from the partner first, but to find understanding for one’s own wishes and needs without being asked. These are usually not particularly individual, but given by the family division of labor; a division of labor that many couples today say is discriminatory and in fact survives because it is constantly reproduced under the pressure of circumstances and necessities: so he is still mostly responsible for providing the necessary money and in return expects that she will take care of the housework and children and be responsible for his physical and mental well-being after work. She in turn expects recognition and attention and help with the housework, from the very start if she also goes to work. Spouses face the shared tasks and want to do right by each other, to be there for each other. They identify themselves with their partner and identify their partner with their expectations.

The fact that these expectations are unreasonable demands, and usually disappointed, is due to the standard that the partners apply to each other: the other should do nothing less than make it unimportant that his contribution to family life can’t do in principle and in the long run what he wants it to do, namely undo the hardships of life outside the family and guarantee the comprehensive satisfaction of the individuality of the other. The success as well as failure of this compensation program is not related to what it is supposed to compensate for, but to the partner: all adversities entailed by the lack of money, time and energy are interpreted as an insufficient commitment by the other to the common household and as a lack of willingness to subordinate all other interests to it. In this way, the desire for a counter-world that brings happiness is turned into mutual demands and services; and especially with couples who subordinate everything to the existence of their marriage, into an exchange of selflessness that is also not without calculation. With one’s own services to the requirements and needs of the partner, which one renders without complaint, one claim one’s entitlement to those services which one thinks one has long since more than earned.

The expectations of the partner, long before they fail, are legal claims to fulfill their duty of love. And if the partner falls short in doing their part for the common well-being, then, of all people, the one person in the world who is responsible for their own happiness destroys this high good. The fact that the partners not only love and want to be loved, but claim a right to love is the source of violence in relationships. It ranges from old-fashioned beatings of disobedient women, female revenge through insults and psychological abuse, to extreme cases of marriage battles, inluding rampages and homicide.

A right and duty to sex

Today the duty to love refers even, and even urgently, to the very immediate liking for the other person and the physical passion with her. Lust is dragged into the functionalism of compensation; it is not one pleasure among others, but becomes the field of happiness, the compensatory total satisfaction – in principle for both sexes – on which an unbelievable amount depends. Sex must work out so that things don’t get rocky at home. Marriage counsellors in magazines and in practice make it clear how serious this is when they tell frustrated couples how to do it, what to do, and if necessary, how to pretend to do it so that it succeeds. It is its own perversion, which lowers involuntary, physical desire, which includes an appreciation for the whole nature of the other person, to “good sex,” to “reciprocal use of the sex organs” – as Kant put it – in which both the spontaneous as well as the ideal moment aimed at the other individual is pushed into the background. Sexual pleasure is, on the one hand, reduced to the execution of a technical-physical act and, on the other hand, exaggerated into something much more massive than a pleasure: into the fetish of a successful life and an intact relationship.

Sexual satisfaction is a recognized task of the conjugal partnership and a right of the partners to each other – even if they by no means always understand the same thing by it. Knowing very well that the claim really has to be reciprocal, the husband, the boss of the family, exercises his right when he feels like it; he simply assumes that she accepts the service to his satisfaction as her task, indeed as her own desire. With her means, she appeals to her desire for tenderness or even just to be left alone – things like this can indeed be forced much less than the male version of “making love.” But even if he asserts his right to satisfaction against his wife’s reluctance, stalling resistance, or outright refusal, it is no longer about the compensatory ideal of happiness in marriage – or rather: this ideal has become for him a question of self-assertion, which is what it is now about. He sees himself betrayed by the woman’s rejection of what he thinks he has a right to, and thus she denies his self-image as a possessor of rights, as someone who is capable of getting what he can make a claim to. Violence gives him neither love nor satisfying sex, but rather satisfies his damaged self-image that he is the master in the relationship and that he is entitled to sex as well as to love.

Men’s right to sexual satisfaction is recognized, and today supplemented by the no less barbaric concession that women also have such a right. Getting satisfaction is a practiced convention of the family and beyond. The lives of men revolve around this endpoint and goal of the materialism of compensation: for them, there is nothing more important than conquering, with flattery and pressure, the object of desire they try to hook up with; a “no” is at most accepted if it is very clear. Apropos “hooking up”: there are enormous differences between men. The whole hierarchy of this society of power and money is reproduced in extramarital sex. Men with power – politicians, bosses, film producers, even professors – can often win without direct violence the surrender of women who others can only dream of. Women are also, but not only, victims in this game: some get involved because of the glamor cast on them at the side of the important man, others calculate for the sake of their career. But even the steps to violence with which men take this right have very broad limits. The brothel, where the exchange of money for services legalizes violence against a woman who does not know and certainly doesn’t fancy a john, is still a partially accepted custom.

Where sexual satisfaction becomes a mission in life and a touchstone of male prowess, the accepted custom joins the excess that is no longer approved: predominantly in the family and circle of acquaintances, in extreme cases also against random foreign victims, men take what they consider their right and brutally ignore the female will. Rape is the most extreme form of self-affirmation of the man who is entitled and committed to his sexual success.

The culture of harrassment, of course, goes much further than the real harrassments. Men demonstrate their self-confidence as those who can get what they are entitled to by virtue of their gender when they whistle at random women without further intentions, make stupid passes at them or ogle them. Decent family men who know very well that they can’t talk like that at home brag among other men about how many women they have had or could have had, and present themselves as connoisseurs with salacious remarks about female bodies – always from the point of view that women exist and are available for their pleasure. The real pleasure is quite idealist: the manly self-image that the guys confirm to each other when they compete over it. Even in this transparent showing off, they affirm their right to sexual satisfaction and the paramount importance of these minute events for reconciling the bourgeois individual with his capitalistic world.

III. Customs – a social objectivity

So today’s women who rebel against their role at work and in the family and against the male sense of entitlement that goes with it are up against more than bad behavior on the part of men who cling to outdated role models and patriarchal privileges. First, they have to deal with a capitalist labor market and its gender-oriented sorting of the labor force. Second, they have to deal with the morality of this society observed by both sexes, i.e. with necessary, therefore self-evident and universally approved efforts to organize life under the economic conditions of existence. Of course, apart from money and employment benefits, capital does not decree how men and women have to live together and what they can demand of each other, and not even the state does this any more. But they do put them in the living conditions that the sexes, in trying to constructively cope with them, relate their marriage and marriage-like partnership to – and thus make this partnership not only normal, but also a normative form of life. Because it can’t undo the presupposed contradiction between the need for time and money, it then becomes a compulsory partnership of sacrifice with nothing but unsatisfied legal claims against each other – including the excesses that go with a sense of entitlement. [3]

What customs are, the individual’s adoption and practice of the valid morals, is illustrated by a comparison with the deviant morality of Islamic immigrants who bring their morality from different social and economic backgrounds which involve different forms of the family and a different division of labour between the sexes. [4] In the Muslim woman in a sackcloth and headscarf who does not leave the house alone and whose honor is guarded by male family members, western culture sees only oppression. Her assurance that she feels completely identical under her headscarf is simply not believed. The western woman who is active in public life, has a profession, a husband and children, and is busy fulfilling the duties all this entails, becomes the proud affirmation that she takes complete charge of her life, the way she wants. In the case of the former, one sees only oppression, in the case of the latter, only freedom, and although these cases are indeed different, they are cases of the same thing: the practiced customs are how the subjects arrange the social necessities and constraints in which they live; the common, habitual way in which one leads a life under them. The substance of customs is therefore not random; for the individual, neither non-binding nor externally imposed: the form of life, which one assimilates to, is the reconciliation of subjectivity with the ruling order, the unity of submission and freedom.

IV. The demand for respect

It misses the point to grasp the various economic and private roles of women and the affront they represent as an expression of “misogyny” or a lack of respect for women. First, because it ignores all the differences and different reasons for the very different demands on and outrages against women, equalizes everything and, second, attributes it to a reason which is certainly not the reason for the bad treatment – a negative reason that does not include why women have to serve as low wage workers, housewives, and sex objects, but denounces the lack of a brake on the bad treatment of women, whatever its reason may be.

Strictly speaking, the demand to respect the self-determination of women is based on the first constitutional principle of the capitalist state: every citizen of any sex has a right to his own will, and the freedom of others has its limits where it violates that will. In the case of the state, this principle is not surprising: by granting and limiting the freedom of its citizens, it refers to capitalistic competition’s conflicts of interest, which it simultaneously permits and regulates. Thus it obligates the citizens to live with these conflicts, to endure them.

However, when the women’s movement invokes the right to self-determination and its limits, it identifies the cause of its suffering as the freedom of men, which has too few limits and should be restricted, whether by voluntary self-restriction, self-restraint, and renunciation, or even by the state and its punitive force. In its demand for respect, the movement does not make social relations an object of criticism, nor the social roles and positions of power, but individuals who are only determined by their gender: men and their manhood.

It would like to impose internal or external barriers on them, and thus regards the brutality and meanness generated by the male world’s right to sexual satisfaction as a self-evident presupposition of gender relations that is criticized no further, as the natural interest of men, so to speak, against which only barriers and prohibitions help. With their demand for restriction, women who vehemently defend themselves against the assertion that the gender roles demanded of them at work and in the family correspond to their female nature are happy to let the same apply to the opposite sex.

The movement has had its success. Less so with the mass of men, but no doubt with male allies who are willing to take the blame for the naturally abusive men and to prescribe awareness. Even men who want to have nothing to do with contempt for women and sexual claims to power and would never be rough with a woman confess to a bad conscience and to the necessity of constant vigilance against the rapist in all of us.


[1] To disappoint supporters of women’s liberation by means of personal pronouns, noun endings, and other peculiarities of German grammar from the outset: we use the masculine forms in the sense of conventional linguistic usage when both sexes are meant, and vice versa, we are not shy about letting “person” and “personality” be female even if the idea it addresses includes men, and it gives us cramps to duplicate the object of our explanations by a linguistic segregation of the sexes where this is completely superfluous.

[2] The state sees things that way, even if nobody else does: its family law regulates the benefit entitlements and support duties of married and unmarried persons and beyond the duration of the marriage with the clear goal of foisting the necessary reproductive services on the social nucleus which it protects and which it also grants perks for its task, for the parties involved.

[3] By the way, the general customs of society also apply to the higher ranks of property and occupations in which plenty of money and even more energy after the completion of professional duties, although not necessarily more free time, is available. In these circles, “life” also takes place after professional activity and in the form of marriage. The educated and wealthy can arrange the family division of labor more freely, and often do so very conservatively precisely because of this: the woman does not have to work, stays at home, and is then only the man’s trophy of the man; or she realizes herself in freely chosen activity – and is even more so then. In addition, the rich and powerful are particularly aware of the fact that they deserve something special; their excesses are correspondingly extravagant.

[4] A morally and culturally closer example of this would be German women in the defunct East Germany: the different amenities there with regards to livelihood strategies and child care and the socialist economy’s different pressure on women to fully participate in social labor produced different customs and different women who, in any case, went through life more independently, were less completely fixated on a man, and less psychologized than their Western counterparts.