Class Society was Male Supremacist Before it was White Supremacist
I was at my morning AA meeting in a poor White working class neighborhood of Boston when one of the participants, speaking of his recovery from drug addiction, spoke about his recovery of his family. This person is a body builder and he trains people in his neighborhood in physical fitness. “My twelve-year-old son worships me like I’m some kind of god, as if I’m a member of the Boston Bruins [hockey team] or something.”
He told us that he was walking down the street to get his son, and as his son saw him “He got so excited.” “As we walked together my son tried to hold my hand. I said, ‘You’re a little old for that, aren’t you son?’ My son replied, ‘I want to hold your hand because you are my father and I love you’…”
Another man spoke, and he was visibly shaken by this testimony which went before him. He tried to explain that he was taught not to show emotion, not to cry, and that today, when he tries to hug his son he is only able to get his arms around his neck, but he must hold his entire body away. “I just wasn’t brought up like that.”
When the meeting was over, I went over to the first man who spoke of his son’s love for him. The main reason I wanted to speak to him was because it did not seem to me that he completely got what his son was saying. I merely wanted to repeat his son’s words to him: “I want to hold your hand because you are my father and I love you.” The other man was there at the same time. So, with tears in my eyes I tried to give him a hug. He smiled and laughed nervously, and called me “a cry baby.” “You want to cry and hug me at the same time?!” He was uncomfortable, and begrudgingly gave me the kind of hug which he told us he saves for his son — arms barely around my neck, while holding his body rigidly away from mine.
And I got a very tactile reminder of the deep roots of male supremacist culture. It is deep inside each of us; it holds a foundation stone position in our psyches and in our spirits. Indeed, the spirit of male supremacy has its roots in the emergence of “Western Civilization.”
Class and “Western Civilization”
Today, “Western Civilization” and class society are synonymous terms. They are two names for the same social phenomenon. It is also true, and this experience in my AA group reminded me of this, that class society and male supremacist society are in fact also synonymous terms. The first class society, in other words, the first split of society into classes, was the split between men and women.
There is much agreement among anthropologists from differing social systems today that pre-class society, communal society, indigenous society was (and where indigenism still exists today, is) woman-centric, matrilineal and egalitarian (Rodney, p47; Some, p7, Sahlins). Woman-centric society did not imply oppression of men. Men were treated equally to women in the matriarchy.
The oppression of women emerged with the emergence of a surplus product which needed a section of the population to attend to it (Engels, pp39–45). This private property was coincident with a division of labor which held the women close to home and had the men as hunters (Kusimba). Early anthropology held a theory of rigid sexual division of labor in this regard. Much research has proven the uniformity/rigidity of this division to be false, that much variety existed all over the world in the way humans produced for need previous to classes coming into existence (Hudecek-Cuffe).
However, the need to protect a surplus product, the link of this protection to the labor of the men with weapons to facilitate hunting, and also the men tending to captured warriors from rival clans, were some of the pillars of this division which relegated women to a lower status, a status of an oppressed class (Kristiansen). In these social circumstances, first with property being the object of the development of the social order, the rule of men over women, as the owners of the property, became the first rule of exploitation. As matriarchy was replaced by patriarchy, the rule of men emerged as the first social class above women (Reed, 1970).
The first state, in other words, the first rule by force of arms, is coincident with the oppression of women and the emergence of patriarchy. Matrifocality never meant the rule of women over men, and was always a reflection of the fact that women bore the children and tended crops in the division of labor (Amadiume, p15); and children in communal, indigenous, that is to say woman-centric, society were never regarded as property (Some, pp7–9). Patriarchy, conversely, came into existence for the purpose of establishing the rule of one class over another, and establishing the object of society to be the accumulation of private property. With the emergence of the nuclear family, i.e., patriarchy, children became the property of the men.
Since the establishment of patriarchy, all class culture, and all class ideology, including religions, has understood women to be inferior to men. “Jewish, Hindu, Chinese and Christian ideologies all defined women as subordinate. Traditional [sic] Chinese usage bound women’s feet. Ancient Greece was particularly ruthless at imprisoning women in the home. Ancient [Western] codes of law punished female adultery severely, while not touching male adultery” (Workers’ Liberty).
It is in this connection that it now can be pointed out that before there was a system of European colonialism, or a system of white supremacy, by which some nations subjugated others, the system of male supremacy existed across nations as the first class division.
European Colonialism and the Age of Imperialism
It is in the mythology of Western Civilization that Western Civilization is coincident with the emergence of class society. In fact, this is history being written after European countries went about conquering the world, using white supremacist ideology as their excuse and ultimately dividing the world between “White nations” (Europe and the US), on one side, and People of Color nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, on the other (Rodney, pp13–28). The fact of Japanese capitalist/imperialist rule over many other Asian nations during the 20th and 21st centuries is proof that white supremacy is not monolithic. That other nations are capable today of imperialism, that China may become an imperialist rival of the United States, for example, undermines the ideology and practice of white supremacy. (As Lenin long observed, all imperialist competition weakens the social order of class domination. 1916, Chapter VI). In fact, the concept Western Civilization emerges with white supremacy, with world domination of Europe and the United States.
It is in this connection that when classes emerged, as we have explained above, the first classes were men as the exploiting class and women as the exploited class. Ideologists for Western Civilization, that is, professors of sociology, historians and statesmen of the West, are rewriting history when they claim that the rule of Europe began with the split into classes. This is not the case. But to the extent that this history has been rewritten, and Western Civilization is the term used to describe class society, to that degree is the ideology of white supremacy doubling back to insert the rule of white supremacy to be synonymous with the class rule of men. In fact male supremacy predated white supremacy.
Referring to this condition ALAS! Commentator insists that “the techniques by way of which a class of people — women — were made the servants of an upper class — men, were honed in the earliest relationships between men and women” (Heart). Here we must establish that this “earliest” must mean the earliest split of society into classes. Indeed, most anthropology today asserts that classes have only existed as the dominant social order for at best ten thousand years, and in that expanse of time it was a minority system in the world (Leaky, pp10–11). In other words, class society has only been the dominant social order throughout the world for the past 5,000 to 3,000 years (Harris, 1986). Previous to this time clans were matriarchal and without classes. Women were the first exploited class.
Having established this origin of classes in the split between men and women, it then becomes important to establish the export of male supremacy to the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America through the process of European imperialism. As Manuelita explains:
In contrast to dominant modes of feminist critique that locate women’s oppression in the structures of patriarchy, the project of decolonization begins with the understanding that the collective oppression of indigenous women results primarily from colonization — a multidimensional force underwritten by Western Christianity, defined by white supremacy, and fueled by global capitalism (p177).
Male Supremacy is White Supremacist
All of this brings me back to this exchange with these recovering men in my AA meeting. Men are taught not to show emotion. The Recovery Movement is one supra-gender area of the culture which is challenging such views. Ultimately, it is Womanism* all along the line that has been showing us all that male supremacist culture is destroying us, and the planet. While the culture we live in today emerged with male supremacy it is also dying with it.
As was established above, this illness permeates the society. It crosses national lines. The realization that Black men, Latino men, and Asian men are also susceptible to this ideology is what inspired this writing. That male supremacist ideology crosses lines of nationality lets us know that it holds a firm grip on us.
However, I believe that my experience of men of Color also shows that the ties which People of Color have with pre-class, that is, indigenous, society are one reason why men of Color are available to Womanist ways (Some, pp35–37). I experience African American men, for example, as generally more open, as the male section of an oppressed people, to Womanism, to being warm, gentle, to owning a stance of being loving and caring, to owning incredible strength, intelligence and endurance not as power-over, but as Womanist qualities to which men should aspire. This is not from a scientific survey. It is my lived experience, and I mention it here because of the cross-section of male supremacist rule and white supremacist rule. As Alice Walker explains it:
I have known black men in my life who are flexible like the grass and sheltering like the tree. But many black men have themselves forgotten they can be this way. It is their own nature that they miss…. As I see it, black men have a deep desire to relearn their own loveliness… (112)
People of Color have, as part of our lived experience, ways which coincide with indigenism (Canon, pp131–135). We also have the experience of being oppressed for our nationality.
Womanism, White Supremacy and Internationalism
A few days after the above-mentioned scene in the AA meeting, a few men in the group were testifying to their disappointment about the New England Patriot’s game the night before, when an older Irish man, veteran of the group, ended the madness: “To be honest, I really don’t find this obsession with football to be very important. I actually chose to watch the women’s tennis finals instead, and enjoyed it more” (Serena Williams won the US Open). This is not a scientific sampling; and there’s nothing “right” about it. It’s an image of a direction that is possible for us to move in.
A men’s movement which champions Womanism cannot end patriarchy, but such a movement is needed. Similarly, individual members of an oppressor nation can aspire to participate in the movement to bring down the dominance of their nation. To the extent that a White person acts in this way she is acting to abolish the oppressor nation. At the heart of the identity of imperialist states like the USA, and oppressor nations like White America, is supremacy over others. The behavior by a member of an
__________________________________________________________________*Womanism is the spirit and practice of the Women’s Liberation Movements world-wide. It was a specific nationality which discovered the existence of the spiritual tradition of Womanism — the women of African America. The universal applicability of Womanism resides in the genuineness of the particular national liberation movement of the women practicing this spiritual tradition. _______________________________________________________________
oppressor nation of fighting against the privileges of an oppressor national is known as the practice of internationalism. Internationalism is the spiritual disposition of the working class. Internationalism seeks the ultimate abolition of classes, and with this the abolition of the oppression of nations and of woman.
I can identify, all along the line, with the feelings and behavior of these men in my AA group. As we “recover from living here” (from living in the USA in the 21st century), and act to liberate ourselves from patriarchy, we are also acting to liberate our ancestors — both women and men, of all peoples, including the indigenous peoples who were wiped out by the system of classes. It is my lived experience that men can move together and act on our mission to honor the leading role of women in a liberated society. Men cannot be fully human unless we can act on this, our birthright.
We are under the influence of previous generations of our ancestors and society. At the same time we hold within us the seeds of future generations. We have to live in a way that liberates both the ancestors and the future generations who are inside of us. Joy, peace, freedom and harmony are not individual matters. If we do not liberate our ancestors, we will be in bondage all our lives, and we will transmit that to our children and grandchildren. Now is the time for liberation. (Thich Nhat Hanh, pp36–37) ________________________________________________________________
All men who stand for righteousness, who want us all to live healthy lives, must participate in such a men’s movement. Only such a men’s movement can be legitimately part of the world-wide women’s liberation movement — one of the pillars of the human effort to build a new society in the image of the timeless ways of women.
It is impossible for the oppressor gender, males, to renounce maleness as a group. Is it not our responsibility as men, however, to organize for equality for women, to honor the leadership of women, to aspire to Womanism? Is it not our responsibility to teach each other and our sons and daughters the history of the ways of women, and the need to let go of male rule? Only a men’s movement that openly adheres to the principles of Womanism can rescue the male section of the population — and contribute to the liberation of all humans, women and men, girls and boys of all nationalities — from male supremacy and the death of this social system.
As we work to respect the leading role of women in transforming the society, as we work to realize the transformative power of Womanism, and as we work to live dignified, righteous and free, we must acknowledge that the illness runs deep, it runs as deep as the entire life of the civilization. As we see the coincidence of white supremacy, male supremacy and classes, we must also see the coincidence of Indigenism, Internationalism and Womanism.
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