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On Duty/On Gender

by James


Communists have not abjured the concept of duty. Article VI of our Constitution details the rights and duties of membership in the Party. A central duty is to carry out the will of the majority, whether that be the club majority, the district majority, or the national majority. Many of our duties are combined with rights, that is, "members have the right and duty...to criticize...to practice criticism and self-criticism...to initiate activities...to strive to improve their knowledge and their understanding..." That is an interesting idea, that a right and a duty should be the same thing, and it goes to the heart of what our Party is.

In a recent conversation with comrades, both Party members and allies, the subject of gender came up. We discussed the various constructions of gender, their manifestations, and we engaged in a fair amount of both criticism and self-criticism. As a man, and as a Communist man, I have "the obligation of all Party members to struggle against all manifestations of male supremacy and discrimination against women, and to fight for full social, political and economic equality for women." If this is my duty, then what does that mean? Does it mean I speak out against patriarchy, and consider my duty done?

That's not my duty. The concept of duty is transcendent. It means that I must give 101 percent.

My duty is to understand to the best of my ability, every day, in every situation, how I can most effectively struggle against male supremacy. It means that I must seek new ideas and information to expand my understanding of male supremacy in order to be more effective. It means not only that I "help out" at home, but that I quit thinking of it as helping out, and not only that I willingly share work, but that I discipline myself to make mine the work that was not mine .

I can't just willingly put the clothes in the dryer or sweep the porch when I am asked, but I must exercise myself to notice that it needs to be done without anyone asking. It means that I listen, accept criticism without defensiveness, and stop summarizing for women. It means that I should not stay at the table full of progressive men to talk about an event after it happens, while the progressive women pick up the trash, rinse out the glasses, and wipe off the tables. It means that I ruthlessly root out every vestige of patriarchy in myself, while I simultaneously struggle against the exploitation of women in the socio-economic exterior. It means, as all duties do, to check my ego at the door and to submit to the necessities of the movement, that I lead when necessary, follow when necessary, and listen when necessary. It means that I identify with women as a class.

No class can stand alone. A class' character is defined by its relationships to its opposite and antagonistic class. Those relationships are economic at their foundations, connected through control of resources, division of labor, and appropriation. Gender as class is quite possibly the original class division, growing out of biological reproductive roles, and likely represents the original appearance of material exploitation. It is frequently complicated by physical attraction between the economic antagonists, and by a centuries-long overgrowth of various social and cultural behaviors.

Of all the oppressions, it is the most stubborn, in its outward manifestations and in its internalization by both oppressor and oppressed. Finally, the impact of poverty, of war, of national oppressions are horribly magnified for women as a result of sexism.

It is our duty then, as Communists, to integrate the work of dismantling patriarchy into all our work, and to be as uncompromising on this as we are with regard to racism, imperialism, and xenophobia. Because it is right. Because it is our right. Because it is our duty.


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