Belinda Brown: Men control the means of production. Women the more vital means of reproduction

(Last Sunday, TCW writer Belinda Brown braved the The Big Debate: Women and Politics in the 21st Centurytaking on the arch feminists Bonnie Greer, Dr Leslie Orr and Heather Wakefield. Over the next few days, in a series of posts, she will set out her argument as to why their feminist demand for equal political representation is so deeply flawed.)

It is accepted by all mainstream political parties that political institutions should broadly reflect the social characteristics of the people they represent. The most conspicuous group ‘missing’ is women who constitute 50 percent of the population but only make up 29 per cent of MPs. Political parties are much preoccupied with how to bring more women on board .

We can identify three main reasons why it is believed to be important that politicians reflect the social demographic of the people they represent.

First, it is important for reasons of social justice; second it provides a symbolic legitimacy; finally it is believed that by having female politicians the concerns and interests of the female constituency will be ensured.

I am going to argue that none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. Furthermore, I am going to argue that female politicians are potentially less likely to represent the interests of their female constituents than male politicians. I will suggest also that the consequences of ensuring female representation can actually be detrimental to the furtherance of ordinary women’s interests and contributes to a top heavy political system as a whole.

In this post today I start by examining the validity of the ‘Social Justice’ argument for equal women’s representation in the political sphere.

The notion that we should have equal proportions of men and women in every single area of life is such a taken for granted component of social justice that it is enshrined in the highest international bodies and in the laws that govern our political life. However, the focus on achieving equality in every public institution obscures the greater ‘inequality’, the one in favour of women, which pervades private domestic life.

Women have control over motherhood – something to which they attach enormous value and importance. Women also have a high degree of control over paternity – if a mother does not want the father to be a parent, he will have to go to court if he wants to be involved. On the other hand, Child Support Agency (CSA) paternity claims show that mothers sometimes inaccurately confer paternity when money is involved.

In practice, men have to obtain the cooperation of the mother if they want a paternity test to check a child is actually theirs.

In Marxist terms, men may have greater control over the means of production. But when it comes to the means of reproduction women are utterly in charge.

Traditionally, women have also derived enormous financial benefits from marriage. In our society women are estimated to do about 70-80 per cent of consumer spending despite earning considerably less than men. This suggests that the transfer of significant amounts of wealth from men to women is still occurring and marriage and partnership are likely to be the relationships through which this happens.

The realm of home and family also provide women with significant levels of control and autonomy over children, over physical space, and over social and kinship networks – a control and autonomy that the average man seldom finds at work.

However, despite all this, feminists have colluded with the political ‘philosophers’ by completely ignoring these benefits, to them, of the private realm.

Once the private realm is brought into focus we realise that the inequality that appears to work in the favour of men in the public realm has its counterpart in favour of women in the private realm. If we look at things partially we see inequality. However, once we look holistically we realise things are actually quite fair.

Tomorrow, I will examine symbolic legitimacy and how women MPs are possibly even less representative of ordinary women than male MPs.

Belinda Brown

  • Colkitto03

    Good article. The feminist argument for 50% female MP’s is horribly divisive. MP’s are there to represent every constituent regardless of gender.
    Ironically the feminist community in the UK despises Margaret Thatcher. We don’t want to go down the road of identity politics that is infecting the USA. We already see the Muslim community voting as a block in parts of the UK.
    The Media seems to promote a narrative that we all vote out of blatant self interest and that we don’t vote for the common good of all.

  • Stephen T

    Interesting article, Belinda. The linked articles to paternity fraud are shocking. It’s such a serious and life-changing offence, yet it’s completely neglected by the system. If a woman makes a claim for maintenance surely a man should be able to establish whether he’s the father.

  • William Collins

    Yes, this is absolutely correct. The pre-60s gendered society consisted of pros and cons for both sides and was, overall, reasonably equitable – not the patriarchal oppression it is represented in feminism. So, even if the world of work truly was becoming more equal, this would still represent a move towards inequality as men’s domestic position is unchanged (in fact, considerably degraded now due to the operation of the family courts).

    But even in the world of work the drive for equality is fraudulent. The ostensible ideal of “equal proportions of men and women in every single area of life” is actually only adhered to in a work area if two conditions are fulfilled: (a) if women are in the minority, and, (b) the job is desirable. In cases of desirable jobs where men are in the minority (teaching, social work), the equality ideal is ignored by the prevailing feminist mindset. Similarly, for jobs which virtually no women do, because they are nasty jobs that no one wants – well, men will go on having to do them.

    • Colkitto03

      Both HR and publishing are both professions with 75% female populations but as you say we hear nothing about that. The projections show that the legal and medical professions will in future be 65% female in years to come. What is interesting is that whenever there is an NHS scandal (another one today, at Southern Health NHS trust) the media never flag the fact that bad things happen in what is a female dominated organisation. That angle is ignored.

      • MEZ

        the media ignore that its happening a female dominated group a) because it’s irrelevant, b) because women are most often working part time in general practice, and general practice Doctors are self employed,

  • Phil R

    In my local primary school there are 51 staff on the noticeboard.

    Two are men. One is the caretaker and just one of the 23 teachers is male (poor lad?)

    If there was ever a need for quotas….

    However, I am very happy with the school it works well and my children were and are very happy there.

    The thing is that I would not want my kids taught be a crap male teacher simply to make up the 50%. So why should we expect to put up with crap female MPs simply to make up an artificial 50% target?

    • Stephen T

      Twenty-three women and one man. I think I could cope with that. Although I’d probably need the caretaker for a bit of variation on the usual, predictable conversation.
      I agree with what you say, but boys need to see education isn’t just for girls and most primary teachers know this balance is wrong. Some women teachers really don’t understand boys. They sometimes see bad behaviour when I see a boy being a boy.

  • Mez

    You say that women generally earn less than men, but have most spending power , creating an over all benefit for women in being part of a partnership,which solves income inequality.

    Not necessarily, it could be that the mans income goes towards paying major debt – rent, mortgage, running the car, paying bills. leaving women to pay for the things she’s mostly involved with, buying food, household cleaning, childrens, family clothes etc. That doesn’t mean that she is better off financially, because she is still totally dependent on her husband/partner for the cost of shelter, (which wouldn’t be available to her without access to his equivalent level of income). 70-80% of consumer spending doesn’t equate to 70-80% of disposable income
    It also means that a woman is economically reliant on finding a man to provide her with that component of his income, which just isn’t an option for a lot of women, who would far prefer the ultimate security of educating themselves to the same level, expecting the same salary.

    • Belinda Brown

      The stat I hear is that women are responsible for 70-80% of consumer spending – here is one link. http://www.forbes.com/sites/bridgetbrennan/2015/01/21/top-10-things-everyone-should-know-about-women-consumers/#428c0b732897
      I am not sure what consumer spending includes exactly – it is an interesting question. But separately I have seen that women are responsible for the majority of house buying decisions and even cars.And if men are paying the rent the mortgage and the bills – that just confirms my point that the women who have men often do very very well out of them (except in the working class since we we aren’t educating our boys very well)
      Well if women do want to have children they are economically reliant on men, either directly through their husband or indirectly through the welfare state. But if women don’t want children – they can educate themselves to the same level as men (more likely to educate themselves to a higher level) and if they don’t have kids they generally have higher salaries than men. So either way they do alright.

      • Colkitto03

        Advertisers whose income and careers depend on getting this right aim a clear majority of the output at women (70%)
        Consumer spending is typically described as goods and services not mortgages. The key bit missing from Mes’s argument regards what type of spending brings pleasure?
        When my mortgage direct debit goes out on the 5th of each month I get no enjoyment. I don’t stand outside my house beaming with happiness thinking ‘brilliant only 104 payments left to go!!!’

        • Belinda Brown

          I am thinking of spending as the power to make the decisions which affect our everyday lives. And I suspect that in the majority of cases women have control over how money is spent (although would be a good research questions speaking as a researcher). Of course if you start looking in the public realm politics and finance, it is all very male dominated – and that is the real attack to my argument. But still, someone I know who is very wealthy – her husband may be making decisions over very large sums of money in the workplace but she has control over what he brings home.