Since there are now something like 300 posts in the thread Heart started, I thought I’d extract an exchange Heart and I had in that thread to start a new post.
In response to that, I wrote:
However, if I understand your argument correctly (and maybe I don’t), you seem to be saying that this sort of comparison shows men to be better off “across the board,” and therefore we should understand “sexism as the first or root or foundational or core oppression, with all other oppressions … racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, modeled after this one.”
Here’s where I’m confused: Couldn’t you say the same thing about virtually any other kind of widepread oppression? For instance, I’d argue that the correct way to evaluate white supremacy is to compare whites and blacks who are similarly situated in all ways other than race. Doing this will show whites to be better off than blacks “across the board.” Does it therefore follow that racism is the root oppression, and all other oppressions are modeled on it?
And Heart responded:
First, I think if we compare black people and white people who are similarly situated, we do not find that across the board, white people are worse off than black people. I think we find, for example, that black men, in general, earn more money than white women and have consistently for a very long time. I think we find that black men were, for example, enfranchised as citizens in the United States 70 years before white women were. And I think we find, for example, that black college-educated women earn more money today, than similarly situated college-educated white women. I have written about this in some depth here.
I think we can say that male supremacy is the first, or root oppression, because men, throughout history and in every culture, first oppressed women, before any man, or any tribe or culture, ever oppressed anyone on account of race, class or whom someone loved. Racism, classism, homophobia, are recent inventions compared with the subjugation of women to men because we are women. The first oppression — oppression of women because we are women — occurred wherever women were assigned the tasks of sexual servicing men, reproduction for the benefit of the tribe or people group, and wherever women were assigned the tasks of the care of infants and children for the benefit of the tribe or people group. This goes back to the very earliest civilizations in all and every part of the world, without respect to race, ethnicity, religion, people group. Students of black history — which I am — know, for example, that in the 10th, 11th centuries, kings in African people groups exchanged women, wives, concubines, with kings in white European people groups. And the African kings were as racist in the direction of European royalty as was true, vice versa. A good book to begin with for those who are unfamiliar with this history is Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett.
Male supremacy was the very first “othering,” the very first objectification by one class of people, men, of another class of people, women. Men’s otherng of women occurred, again, across the boundaries of race, culture, class and history. The othering was enlisted in the service of specific goals, i.e., the sexual servicing of men, the bearing of children, creation and perpetuation of family dynasties, and all of the caretaking and labor involved in these efforts. In the othering of women, men learned the usefulness and efficacy of dominance hierarchies. Power-over was eroticized and celebrated. Over time other people groups were othered, in later periods of history and in various cultures, for specific reasons, most of them having to do with the amassing of wealth or the preservatin of dominance hierarchies. But 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. And for this reason, among others, radical feminists attend to the *way* women as a people group continue to be objectified and othered by men as a people group. Other otherings are important and the subject of the attention of all feminists, including radical feminists, but radical feminists attend first and foremost to this one, which is so central in so many ways.
So that’s where we stand. I do intend to respond to Heart, but it may be hours before I can do that, because I’ve got things going on in the meatworld right now.