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GENDER IDENTITY DEBATE Gender and its relation to capitalism

Professor MARY DAVIS draws out the distinctions between oppression and discrimination under capitalist society

THE Morning Star has bravely entered the troubled and often choppy waters of the debate on gender identity with last week’s roundtable discussion

Clearly there are different sides and many nuances within this debate, which is often beset by a wave of intolerance that not only clouds the subject but, from a Marxist perspective, diverts us from objective substantive analysis. 

The essence of the problem is a failure to understand two underlying issues. 

First, there is a confusion between biological sex and gender, and second, more fundamentally, there is failure to understand the difference between oppression and discrimination. I want to concentrate on the latter. But first, some thoughts on sex and gender. 

There are those who argue that the sex/gender divide is just a socio-political construct. Certainly this is not true for those individuals with gender dysphoria where there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. 

It is also the case that class society has nurtured an ideology of femininity and masculinity which fits the profit motive rather than people’s lived experience. 

But all of this this does not invalidate the fact that the vast majority of humans (unhelpfully labelled “cis”) do not experience a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender. 

This does not mean that all is well for women who are, by virtue of both sex and gender, historically and currently oppressed in patriarchal class societies.

Oppression is the most important means of maintaining the class relations which support class exploitation and, as such, oppression is a function of class society as well as being a product of it. 

This is because oppression, unlike discrimination, is linked materially to the process of class exploitation as well as operating at “superstructural” level through oppressive ideologies which serve to maintain class rule by dividing the exploited. 

Thus oppression operates at two levels. First, at the material level, the fact of oppression is responsible for the superexploitation of the oppressed at the point of production. 

Historically an inbuilt inequality within the labour force, expressing itself through low wages and job segregation, has reproduced itself as the normal process when workers sell their labour power. 

Its victims are the most easily identifiable workers — black people and women. All indices of wage rates nationally and internationally show that the wages of women and black people are lower than those of white males. 

This fact operates to the material advantage of the owners of the means of production — the capitalists — for whom any increase in profit is dependent on an increase in the rate of exploitation. 

The fact of class exploitation (and superexploitation) as the central pillar of the capitalist mode of production does not in itself explain how the relations of production are maintained and reproduced. 

This can only be understood by examining factors which exist outside the economic relations of production through the operations of ideologies — racism and sexism.  

These ideologies can be seen to have a direct material connection to the maintenance of capitalist relations of production in two important ways. 

First, because they are connected to the necessity of capital to maintain profit by pushing the value of labour power to its lowest possible limit. 

Second, the ideologies of racism and sexism are the chief non-coercive means of preventing the unity of the working class and thereby facilitating the perpetuation of the domination of the minority class over the majority. 

So oppression in its material and ideological form is a fundamental prerequisite of capitalist society because it is the most important means of maintaining the relations of production. 

Thus it remains an integral function of capitalism to oppress women and black people in order maintain its existence by dividing the working class, exploiting all, but superexploiting the oppressed. 

Discrimination, which is undoubtedly experienced by, among others, transgender people, stands in a different relation to capitalism. 

Discrimination is not a function of capitalism in the same way as oppression, but it is certainly a byproduct of an unequal and intolerant society and, as such, must be challenged. 

In order to do so, however, there is no point in creating even more divisions within the working class by rejecting the theories and movements which have enabled the oppressed to fight back — feminism and anti-racism. Rejecting feminists as “Terfs” (trans exclusionary radical feminists) is presumptive. 

Those who seek to deny women-only spaces wilfully fail to recognise the long history of the battle for women’s rights. Do they also oppose the fight for equal pay on the grounds that it is women who are the victims of the gender pay gap? 

To go down this path plays into the hands of those who rule and thereby undermines our potential collective strength. 

In this respect we should not be fooled by the Tory advocacy of the Gender Identity Bill. They are championing this not because they care about the issue but because they want to undermine class politics by championing identity politics instead. 

Despite its limitations (as compared to class politics), the now rejected concept of equal rights did at least recognise collective rather than individual solutions.

Identity politics encourages the opposite: it assumes that individual differences outweigh any group identity and in doing so masks and rejects the reality of centuries of discrimination and oppression based on our most noticeable differences — our gender and our skin colour.  

We, however, in rejecting a theory which poses no solution to prejudice, should show our hostility to transgender discrimination, not by using Tory divide-and-rule ideology, but by building unity and fighting collectively, against all forms of intolerance, injustice and downright bigotry. 



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