Marxist feminist tells students 'Donald Trump' proves society promotes rape culture
Marxist feminist Sharon Smith told students at the University of Maryland last week that “family values” are really just the way that capitalism perpetuates sexism.
Addressing members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) student group last Friday as part of a book tour for the new edition of Women and Socialism: Class, Race and Capital, Smith asserted that she need only say the words “Donald Trump” to prove that modern society promotes “rape culture and porn culture, as well as generalized misogyny,” a condition she described as symptomatic of the capitalist system.
“I want to be able to assume, first of all, that everybody here already stands with Planned Parenthood and believes in the right of women to abort,” she began, setting the tone for the rest of the speech. “Secondly, I want to make sure that the people in this room are already fed up with the never-ending victim-shaming and slut-shaming that substitutes itself for discourse about sexual assault and rape today.”
Smith mentioned advertising as one of the ways that capitalism promotes sexist stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that women must become wives and mothers in order to achieve fulfillment, a point she illustrated by asking, “have you ever seen a TV commercial showing a man scrubbing a toilet, smiling and delighted at how clean his toilet is?”
Smith noted that Marxists like herself believe “all women are considered inferior—second-class citizens—because of the rigid gender roles that are imposed by the nuclear family,” which she defines derisively as “a strong and stoic male breadwinner, who of course is the head of the household, and a subservient nurturing female homemaker enthusiastically devoting her life to housework and childcare, and together they live in holy matrimony.”
That stereotype, she claimed, is “what politicians mean when they talk about ‘family values’ as a justification, for example, in most recent years for opposing same-sex marriage or justifying a tax on contraception and abortion, or when they talk about forcible rape as if there’s any such thing as non-forcible rape.”
Smith then went on to argue that capitalism is the reason society continues to adhere to family values, asserting that, “for capitalists, this is a cheap way of reproducing labor power for them,” and referring to normal household chores as “unpaid domestic labor” that capitalist societies exploit for profit.
“Family values are intended to shore up that traditional nuclear family ideal,” she elaborated. “What it does in practice is it requires working-class women, whether or not they work outside the home, to be the ones who are mainly responsible for all the unpaid domestic labor that families need to keep going.”
Smith then criticized corporate institutions for assuming that all women have a male spouse or partner to provide financial support, saying this creates a situation in which single mothers are forced into poverty but still expected to care for their children.
“All corporate and government institutions assume that every mother has a male breadwinner providing for her and her children, and that’s how corporations systematically justify paying women lower wages in the workforce and why so many single mothers today are living with their children in poverty,” Smith said.
At that point, she finally made the case for socialism as a more humane alternative, contending that “socialism is based on fulfilling human needs instead of the never-ending quest for profits that drives a capitalist system.”
In defense of her much-maligned ideology, she argued that socialism does not mean what the “right wingers” claim it does—“forcing people into army barracks or whatever”—but then proceeds to outline a rather authoritarian vision of socialist rhetoric, saying, “when we say, for an example, ‘the traditional hetersexual, nuclear family should disappear,’ we mean that economic unit for reproducing labor in society.”
After Smith’s lecture, the ISO handed out copies of the Socialist Worker, a weekly socialist tabloid, which featured headlines such as “They fan the flames of anti-Muslim hate” and “Who supports this racist asshole?” in reference to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bill O'Reilly.