This piece is an English translation of the Introduction to Seiya Morita’s recently published book “Marxism, Feminism and Sex Work.” (https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4766427343/)
The book’s Contents page is below. Introduction; Chapter 1: Marxist Feminism and Social Reproduction Theory (SRT); Chapter 2: The Japanese Constitution and Equal Rights: Reading the Equal Rights Discussions in post-war Japan from the Perspective of Feminism; Chapter 3: Sexual Violence in Wartime and in Peacetime: The 20th Century of “Violence against Women“; Chapter 4: Sex Work Theory and Prostitution: Towards a New Abolitionism; Chapter 5: Harms of Pornography and the Possibility of New Legal Strategies; Chapter 6: Marxism and Prostitution: Why Sex Work Theory is Wrong;
There have been books published in Japanese critical of pornography, but this is the first book in Japanese to criticize ‘sex work’ arguments from a Marxist and feminist abolitionist perspective. It is published in Japanese by a reasonably well-known university publisher, which is also unusual, and good for our cause in the country.
In the midst of the global upheaval and the rise of radical movements that culminated in 1968, many heated debates developed in Europe, the United States, and Japan in the 1970s and mid-1980s over the relationship between Marxism and feminism, capitalism and patriarchy, labor and sexuality, and the exploitation of labor and of sexuality. However, with the gradual decline of these radical movements, these large-scale and social-transformative debates rapidly faded, and since the late 1980s, under the hegemony of postmodernism, micro-politics, discourse theory, deconstructionism, and normative theories in political philosophy have come to dominate intellectual debates. Interpretation not transformation, discourse not practice, and norms not realities come to count.
However, after 20 to 30 years of an intellectual atmosphere of overly abstract and overly esoteric language, the demand for a real intelligence that challenges the dominant structures of society more squarely is growing both in academia and among the general public. The global #MeToo movement has been a driving force behind this current, and, before it, the many struggles of women in South Korea, Japan, and other parts of the world that have taken place have also contributed.
This book is an attempt to respond to such intellectual needs, and is written for social change. It attempts to take a multifaceted and critical look at the two dominant social systems of our time, capitalism and male dominant society, beginning with analysis of structures of social reproduction, through a critique of the widely distorted interpretation of the equality clause of the Constitution of Japan and the sexist ideologies surrounding the ‘comfort’ women, to an exposure of the realities of pornography in Japan and prostitution all over the world.
There are three main patterns in the interpretation of the relationship between Marxism and feminism, or capitalism and patriarchy. The first is that the patriarchy as a social structure alone produces the social order of male domination, and it has sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative relationship with capitalism. This theory is commonly called “dualism” or “dual systems theory”. The second is that patriarchy, which produces male domination, is an integral part of capitalism or forms union with capitalism. This is commonly called “unitary theory”. The third is to factually ignore the social order of male domination as a distinct system, and to regard capitalism itself as directly producing sexism and male domination, and thus to link women’s emancipation directly to the abolition of capitalism. This used to be somewhat derisively called “socialist women’s liberation theory.” But recently, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (written by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Verso, 2019) (hereinafter referred to as the Manifesto), which has been translated in more than 25 countries around the world, has effectively taken this position. So, here, I would like to make an introductory discussion of the relationship between Marxism and feminism by criticizing this book.
In the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, a spectacular debate was fought between the camps of dualism and unitary theory. Before the debate was settled, though, the great waves of neoliberalism and postmodernism came and swept it all away. Since then, Marxist feminism stagnated. After this decline of Marxist feminism, however, it began to revive again in the 21st century. This was an anti-capitalist feminism based on social reproduction theory, which I will discuss in Chapter 1 of this book. Unlike so-called third-wave feminism and postmodern “feminism”, which are intellectual toys for sophisticated and high-class academics, this anti-capitalist feminism is commendable in that it aspires to achieve structural change in reality. However, the specific problems of feminism that cannot be reduced to Marxism and the specific structures of women’s oppression that cannot be reduced to capitalism that so animated feminists of the Marxist camp in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s have been virtually forgotten.
The Manifesto doesn’t hide its scorn for the “corporate feminism” of female CEOs who advocate for gender equality, but is sympathetic to the working class men or men of color who rape, beat, and trade women. It understands they are victims of capitalism, and opposes putting them in jail because of the burden this would place on their wives, and argues that instead we should work towards the overthrow of all capitalist violence. But It is a form of reasoning that presupposes a privileged status for the few (one percent) who are most protected from such violence, and thus (ironically) occupy the most capitalist-friendly status. Could this kind of feminism really bring good tidings for the women who are now being battered, raped, killed, and bought and sold by men?
The thirty to forty years of the concretely material backlash of neoliberalism and the theoretical backlash of postmodernism have, in the end, greatly diminished the radicalism of the Marxist kind of feminism, too. The emphasis on anti-capitalism and anti-racism in the Manifesto is certainly radical in relation to class and race, but ultimately is only liberal in respect of gender or sex hierarchy.
More than 20 years ago, I published my first book titled Capitalism and Sex Discrimination: Towards Gender Justice (Aoki Shoten, 1997), in which I presented a certain perspective on the relationship between capitalism and sex discrimination, and between Marxism and feminism. It has a unique view that does not fit into any of the three positions mentioned above. First of all, my book clarified the strengths and weaknesses of using the concept of “patriarchy” to grasp the unique social structure of male domination and female subordination, and it proposed using the descriptive concept of “gender hierarchy” or “male domination” to describe it. Second, it showed that capitalism is not gender-neutral, but is itself a system that produces sexism and the oppression of women. Thirdly, it sees the fact that capitalism itself is sexist as not necessarily meaning that the task of women’s liberation is reduced to overthrowing capitalism. Separate from capitalism, the social structure of women’s subordination and oppression exists through history, and thus the instigator of women’s oppression is not reduced to capital, and its direct beneficiary, men as the dominant sex class, is not exonerated. Fourth, therefore, my book argues, radical feminism has not lost its crucial significance as an incisive analysis and critique of the problems of women’s oppression.
Usually, in Marxist feminism, the social structure of male domination is understood as “patriarchy,” but in this cases, capitalism itself is usually thought to be neutral to sexism and only occasionally colludes with patriarchy to take advantage of its own (dualism). On the other hand, those who want to emphasize the sexist nature of capitalism will argue for the unity of capitalism and patriarchy (unitary theory), but the more they talk about this unity, the more the uniqueness of patriarchy diminishes, and they fall into the third position, capitalist reductionism. On the contrary, if we talk about unity and still try to remember the uniqueness of women’s oppression, we will approach dualism. In this way, unitary theory constantly oscillates between dualism and capitalist reductionism.
The new position presented in Capitalism and Sex Discrimination fundamentally overcomes this dilemma. It argues there is a unique social system of male domination and female oppression separate from capitalism, and, at the same time, capitalism itself is an intrinsically sexist (and racist) system. Therefore, it is fundamentally wrong to throw all feminisms that are not anti-capitalist into the category of “liberal feminism” as the Manifesto does. The Manifesto may be radical on the axis of class, but not at all on the axis of gender. On the other hand, radical feminism, which is not necessarily anti-capitalist, can be radical enough on the axis of gender.
Feminism is, above all, an ideas and theory of critique and transformation of the social system constructed on the axis of gender. If this is the case, then the very idea of “feminism for the 99%” is problematic. It is both too narrow and too broad. As I mentioned earlier, it unconditionally excludes elite women in the top 1% of professional, political and managerial ranks, but it includes all men except those in the top 1%, even if they routinely beat, rape, and trade women. Is this feminism?
There cannot be any kind of “feminism for the 99%” just as there can be no “BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement for the 99%”. Can white men who routinely beat and kill Black people be counted as brothers among the BLM just because these white men belong to the poor working class? What we need to consider is the reason why, while everyone (at least the Leftists) see “BLM for the 99%” or “All Lives Matter” as a denial of the particular interests of the Black people and its unique history as that of the oppressed racial group, but feminism is so often referred to as “feminism for the 99%” or “feminism for everyone” (the feminist version of All Lives Matter), and why are leftist women taking the lead in advocating it?
This is due to a gender norm that has been historically imposed on women and strongly internalized by them, and deeply imprinted on the subconscious of everyone, including women. It is the norm that women must not put their own rights and interests first, but must be first (or at least simultaneously) kind and gentle to take care of all other poor and oppressed people, otherwise they will be considered selfish (Korean feminists would call this a “cultural corset”). This norm is so powerful that even if it is denied in words, it comes back through the subconscious and repeatedly works to restrict and diminish pursuit of the specific demands unique to the interests of women as a sex class and the uniqueness of feminism as a distinct ideology and movement. This undermining of feminism takes place under the slogans of anti-capitalism, anti-racism, or anti-transphobia. And even when feminism is advocated, it is assumed that it must be for the “99%”, including men.
By advocating a theory of “intersectionality”, Kimberly Crenshaw emphasized the distinctiveness of women as a group (especially Black women) who were oppressed even within the Black community. However, in Japan, the concept of “intersectionality” has come to be used as a theoretical tool by liberal feminists to dismantle the commonality of women (as an oppressed social group) that exists across all races, ethnicities, and classes. As Marx said, all dominant ideologies are the ideologies of the ruling class. The gender norms that still dominate everyone, including women, comprise the ideology of men as the ruling gender class. It is an ideology that needs to be destroyed.
The Manifesto is not only problematic in terms of its overall theoretical framework, but also in terms of its individual points. I would like to discuss only one point that is directly related to this book. First and foremost, the Manifesto has nothing to say about pornography and prostitution (or commercial sexual exploitation in general), which is surely the most important nexus of capitalist profit principles and women’s sexual subordination. Thesis 7, which focuses on capitalism and sexuality, is exclusively about heterosexual norms and LGBTQ (which of course includes men), and does not refer to pornography or prostitution which are institutional arrangements of sexual exploitation. The specific relationship between capitalism and women as an oppressed class via sexuality is ignored.
As is well known, the issue of pornography and prostitution embroiled feminism in the intense controversies of the 1980s and 1990s, tearing it into two, fundamentally opposed, camps. While both liberal feminists and most Marxist feminists affirmed or defended pornography and prostitution on the basis of freedom of expression and pro-sex work arguments, radical feminists regarded both pornography and prostitution as major forms of male domination and sexual exploitation of women. The Manifesto, however, avoids saying anything about the issue. It is surprising that the Manifesto, while it calls itself “anti-capitalist,” has nothing to say about the most vicious, exploitative, and sexually violent industries of capitalism.
As discussed in detail in Part II of my book, it is poor women, ethnic minority and indigenous women, and immigrant women (especially those from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa) who are most vulnerable to exploitation through pornography and prostitution. In other words, they are women whom the authors of the Manifesto pretend to speak for more than anything else. Their indifference to the horrific harms and atrocities inflicted to these women clearly shows the deceitfulness of their claim to be”for the 99%”.
My book is extremely controversial. Both Marxism and feminism have forged ahead through countless controversies. How can a book discussing both not be controversial? For those who disagree with my position, especially those who believe in the “sex work is work” mantra, it will be nothing but spiteful. Very good. If there is such a feminist or Marxist work that can be accepted by everyone (or the 99%?), it must be innocuous and boring. Such a book will not offend anyone, but it will not empower anyone either. In a society torn by so many hostile relationships and conflicting interests, it is impossible to say anything meaningful on a controversial subject without incurring someone’s hatred and attack. If your book is accepted by so many people with applause, it should be lamented as proof that your book did not have enough sharpness and acuteness to cut through the essence of things or the thoroughness to get to the bottom of conflicts. I sincerely hope that my book will not receive such a disgraceful “honor”.
November 25, 2020