Sexuality, alienation and capitalism

Issue: 130

Sheila McGregor

The last few issues of this journal have seen a debate develop over the Marxist attitude to sex work.1 Jane Pritchard’s original article, “The Sex Work Debate”,2 elicited a critical response from Gareth Dale and Xanthe Rose.3 Jess Edwards replied to these criticisms in her article “Sexism and Sex Work”,4 which Dale and Rose responded to in turn.5

Pritchard’s original article addressed two opposing positions on sex work, “abolitionism” and “decriminalisation”. It also criticised the view that selling sex is “a job like any other”.6 Pritchard, Edwards, Dale and Rose all agreed that sex work cannot be “abolished” under capitalism. All agreed that the activities of both sex workers and their clients should be decriminalised. All agreed that sex work is a consequence of women’s oppression, alienation and capitalist society.

The disagreement is over the nature of human sexuality and identity.7 Dale and Rose believe that Pritchard’s arguments “rely upon an idealised view of sexual activity as inextricable from our essential, inner selves”.8 Pritchard says that sex “is part of our human nature, an experience that can be fulfilling and a central part of an individual’s identity”,9 while Dale and Rose argue that “an individual’s core identity—whatever it is—may well include their sexuality but surely cannot be capacious enough to include all sexual acts in which they engage”.10

If Dale and Rose are right that sexuality is not fundamental to human nature, then not only has Pritchard got it wrong, but so did I in 1989, Chris Harman in 1994 and Judith Orr in 2010—not to mention key Marxist writers such as Frederick Engels, August Bebel and Aleksandra Kollontai. This is not a case of saying that “the tradition must be right”, but of indicating that there is a fundamental issue at stake here—one that accounts, I believe, for the anger in Edwards’ reply to Dale and Rose and their equally angry response.11

So there is a need to establish a clearer understanding of human sexuality and its interplay with alienation and women’s oppression.12 We also need to understand how the neoliberal economic conditions prevailing since the 1990s have shaped human sexual relations, including the rise of sex work. This analysis has profound implications for developing the Marxist response to the “normalisation” of the sex industry. It also, I would argue, directly affects our vision of a future socialist society.

Sexuality and human prehistory

In the 1980s revolutionary socialists opposed radical feminist arguments that presumed men were by nature aggressive and violent, and that rape was a weapon used by men to oppress women.13 The arguments today are very different, but we still put forward an analysis of human sexuality rooted in a materialist understanding of the development of human society and therefore of human nature.14 I take the fact of sexual behaviour as a given, since the evolution of humanity would not have been possible without it. The evolutionary process that gave rise to modern humans also shaped and gave rise to human sexuality.

Marx’s and Engels’s approach to understanding human society was based on analysing the organisation of the production and reproduction of human life. The means by which men and women secure their existence shapes the development of human behaviour, including sexual behaviour. Engels further argued that labour was the crucial motor for the transition from ape to man.15 Human beings developed over several million years as “cultural toolmakers”, as social beings who cooperated and communicated with each other to ensure their survival.16

Harman pointed out that patterns of sexual behaviour were changing among pygmy apes (our nearest cousins) up to four million years ago. Female pygmy apes use gestures to indicate how they want sex. They are able to initiate sexual activity.17 He went on to argue that the greater social organisation required of our species “probably explains the change in the pattern of female sexuality, encouraging permanent ties between the sexes rather than the frenetic coupling concentrated around a couple of days a month found in the common chimp”.18 If labour, culture and tool making drove the transition from ape to human, this entailed a change in sexuality and sexual relations along the way.

Engels argued that prehistoric human beings lived in societies without class division, state oppression or inequality between men and women.19 There was a sexual division of labour between men and women, but no oppression of women by men. This view has subsequently been backed up by a number of Marxist and feminist anthropologists. They concur that human beings evolved as small bands of hunter-gatherers in which men and women cooperated to secure the existence of the band.20 Such bands were observed right up to the mid-20th century and exhibit traits such as cooperation, lack of hierarchy, and egalitarian relations between men and women. This sexual egalitarianism was rooted in the fact that both gathering (usually done by women) and hunting (usually done by men) contributed to the successful existence of the band.21 Certain North American hunter gatherer tribes accept a fluidity about gender roles, in that a child could adopt a gender role different from their biological sex.22

So human sexual behaviour developed in an egalitarian and cooperative environment. It would have most likely been consensual in nature. Since human beings are not restricted to “mating” at only certain times of year, human sexuality appears to have evolved with a pleasurable aspect to it, unconnected to the direct needs of reproduction of the band. Early human societies were not subordinated to the discipline of the clock. Men and women would have had a degree of leisure time that would permit more relaxed relationships to develop between all members of the group.23 If labour was the motor for our emergence as a distinctive species, we also evolved with a capacity for sexual pleasure.

This is not an “idealised view of human sexuality as inextricable from our essential, inner selves” as Dale and Rose suggest.24 On the contrary, it is a materialist view that starts from the fact of evolution and embeds our development within the production and reproduction of human life through interaction with nature. We are born with the ability to see, hear, smell, touch and taste. But how we do these things depends upon the society we grow up in. We are born with the ability to speak, but which languages we learn depends on which ones are used where we grow up. And so it is with human sexuality.

Women’s oppression and class society

The egalitarian relations between the sexes that characterised human prehistory came to an end with the development of agriculture. Engels argues that the oppression of women was linked to the rise of class society and the family.25 Women were subordinated to men, just as the majority of men and women were subordinated to a ruling class. This historic shift destroyed bonds based on equality and solidarity. It reshaped our personal relations according to the needs of successive class societies.

Hannah Dee provides an overview of the varieties of personal relations prior to the rise of capitalism in order to show that homosexual relationships had an important status in earlier times.26 Kollontai has some interesting reflections on the different kinds of love in feudal society.27 But there is a common thread running through successive class societies: the family, the oppression of women and the subordination of women’s sexuality to the reproductive needs of society.

The rise of capitalist society set in train a further series of dramatic if contradictory changes to human sexual relations. In its early stages, capitalism destroyed the feudal family as a productive unit as thousands, then millions, were drawn into the new mines and factories. Such was the impact on the old society that Marx and Engels foretold the end of the family for the new working class. They were proved wrong initially as the new bourgeois class campaigned for the reconstruction of the family. This new working class family was required to ensure the reproduction of the working class. It would be the place where the next generation of workers would be born and reared until they in turn entered the production process. This reconstituted family was partly welcomed by working class people as a defence against the ravages of industrialisation.28 But the family’s re-establishment came with a raft of legislation to lay down the parameters of sexual relations:

The Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834, by outlawing outdoor relief for unmarried women, helped break earlier patterns of premarital sex. Other laws in the 1880s raised the age of consent for girls, regulated obscenity, prostitution and homosexuality and were a part of a drive to establish the marriage bed as the sole legitimate place for sexual relations at least for women.29

The working class family once more subordinated women to men, ensuring that women’s oppression continued. It enshrined segregated gender roles with the burden of reproduction in the home falling on women’s shoulders. This in turn led to discrimination both inside and outside the home: in terms of legal rights, unequal pay and sex discrimination. Women were also expected to serve men’s sexual needs.

Nevertheless, the basis of the family had changed decisively, from a unit of production under feudalism to a unit of consumption under capitalism. This also changed the basis of the partnership between men and women into what Engels called “individual sex love”. “In modern capitalist society, marriage and its equivalent common law relationships are entered into freely by men and women on the basis of mutual attraction,” he wrote.30

Mass production of household goods accompanied by mass advertising soon focused on women as consumers of household goods. Women were also encouraged to see sex and their physical appearance as a means of maintaining their husbands’ interest: “Women were increasingly pushed into becoming self-conscious about their bodies and appearance. Beauty and sensuality became subordinated to consumption and the cash nexus”.31 We should not underestimate the huge change this meant for the majority of women. Their decisions over what to buy suddenly became important. And they were encouraged to look and to be sexually attractive. Women as consumers were being written into society’s script—and their bodies were too.

But there were other long-term trends in capitalist society that undermined the continued existence of the working class family as a unit with a father, mother and children. These changes have fuelled a mass of contradictions in women’s position in society. They have had profound repercussions for the sexuality of both men and women.

The most important change has been the way in which working class women—never entirely absent from the production process—have been systematically drawn into paid work outside the home. As Orr points out: “Today, the majority of adult women in Britain (71 percent) work outside the home… Women are almost 50 percent of the workforce in Britain”.32 This economic independence of women from men underpins the rise in divorce, the decline of marriage and the increasing number of single parent households.

Another key change has been the advent of safe contraception and legal abortion. This has given women the ability to plan the timing and the number of children they choose to have, leading to smaller families started later in life. Contraception and abortion further separated sex from reproduction and opened up the possibility of sexual relationships based on pleasure without fear of pregnancy. One other change is the advent of mass education, which partially shifts tasks of socialising and training young people from the family onto the state. Meanwhile the market has almost entirely taken over the task of producing goods to be used by the family.

The rise and fall of the Women’s Liberation Movement

The years following the Second World War saw the mass entry of women into paid work outside the home and the mass education of young women alongside men at university. The conservative morality that dominated the 1950s soon began to clash with the aspirations of working class women and women students.33 These clashes that ultimately gave rise to the Women’s Liberation Movement, emerged in the late 1960s alongside other liberation movements.34

The Women’s Liberation Movement’s key demands were for equal pay, 24-hour nurseries, an end to sex discrimination and the right to abortion and contraception.35 In addition, the Women’s Liberation Movement challenged gender stereotypes around intellectual capacity, jobs and sexuality. The grounds for this challenge had been well prepared in a myriad of ways: sex and sexuality became more openly discussed in the public domain; young women won the right to wear shorter skirts if they so chose, and cut their hair shorter. Young men established their right to wear their hair longer and both sexes established a trend of wearing blue jeans. They wanted to be in control over the appearance of their own bodies, their sexuality and their reproductive capacity as well.

Young women not only wanted to open up jobs reserved for men but to be able to have sexual relationships outside marriage on an equal basis with men without being seen as “sluts”.36 A space was created in which women’s sexuality could be seriously discussed by both women and men, including how women achieved orgasm. Young women began to demand the right to sexual pleasure, backed up by the work of Masters and Johnson, even though it took Shere Hite to establish that: “the majority of women did not achieve orgasm through sexual intercourse but through clitoral stimulation”.37 Gender stereotypes began to diminish, opening up possibilities for both women and men to realise their potential more in tune with their individuality than according to their sex. For if women’s oppression seriously constrained women’s development, it also constrained that of men.

At around the same time in Britain an increasingly confident working class was winning key battles against the employers and the government of the day. Working class solidarity expressed itself through respect for picket lines, collections and solidarity strike action. And that experience of working class solidarity also enabled socialists and feminists to convince wide layers of the male dominated trade union movement that women had a right to control their sexuality through access to abortion and contraception.38

While many of these changes in women’s role have proved lasting, many other ideas about women’s liberation were lost as the optimism of the movements around 1968 receded. The reaction against women’s liberation came from a number of directions and was underpinned by wider developments in society as a whole. Working class challenges to pay controls and trade union laws were undermined in the late 1970s, leading eventually to Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government.

As the working class solidarity weakened, a layer of feminists began to argue that the roots of women’s oppression lay in the biology of men, with rape as the chosen weapon for maintaining women’s submission. More mainstream voices put forward the view that the demands of the women’s movement had generated a “crisis” in masculinity. There was also a resurgence in the notion that human behaviour could be explained by reference to our genes or our brains, which fuelled the “boys will be boys” view that gender stereotypes are innate.

At the end of the 1980s the resurgence of male sexism occurred after the threads that connected feminism to ideas about socialism and women’s liberation had been cut. The backlash against “political correctness” pursued by right wing politicians and the right wing media did not succeed in “driving women back into the home” but contributed to rehabilitating male sexism and the idea of fundamental differences in gender.

Neoliberalism and sexuality

However, this background does not account for the more recent normalisation of the sex industry, which involves the participation of and acceptance by millions of women. As Orr argues, part of the explanation lies in how “raunch culture” has been sold as being somehow empowering: “It reflects and has absorbed the history and language of women’s struggles to have the right to assert their sexual needs and desires, to be more than mere objects for the enjoyment of others, all the better to continue that process”.39

The way in which “sex” has become a commodity is equally central to this process of normalisation. An aspect of our human nature—our sexuality—has been alienated from us, dehumanised, repackaged and sold back to us.40 And this alienated sexuality is one shaped by women’s oppression. That is why the sex industry overwhelmingly involves selling images of women’s bodies and sexual services provided by women.41

This industry is hugely profitable, bringing in an estimated $57 billion a year in revenue worldwide, with $20 billion a year coming from adult videos and $11 billion a year from escort services. Revenue from pornography is greater than that from all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises put together.42 This has been accompanied by a “relentless seepage of values, images, behaviour and dress from the world of selling sex for money into mainstream culture and society”. This in turn feeds directly into the argument that selling sex and women’s bodies is “just another job”.43

Why has this happened? The key lies in the impact of neoliberalism upon sexuality in a context of rapid changes to the working class family and a weakened working class movement where class solidarity is no longer the norm.44

Orr and Pritchard rightly point to the continued resilience of the working class family both as the means for reproducing the working class and as an ideal for working class women. Privatised reproduction, ie the family, is after all the source of women’s oppression. But that is not the whole story. Neoliberalism has undermined the working class family—and this helps explain the ease with which sexuality has become more profoundly alienated and commodified.

The changes in sexual relationships over the last 40 years have been enormous. Sex is no longer confined to marriage. Boys and girls mature earlier and start sexual relations earlier. Women are choosing to have babies later. Increasingly women choose to remain childless. Divorce is much easier. More people are choosing to live with a partner or a series of partners. Same sex relationships are accepted in a way that was unthinkable a few decades ago. Some people change their sexual orientation in the course of their lifetime, while others are bisexual.

One consequence of these changes is that women and men have a far greater range of choice in their relationships. Another is that in longer term relationships, whether couples are married or not, individuals can at least look for sexual love and companionship (what Engels called “individual sex love”) even if such relationships prove not to be viable in the longer run. All of this means that people’s sexual experience is much more varied than it used to be.

But this also has to be seen against a backdrop of the stresses of working class life. Sex education is sadly wanting for both boys and girls. People are working longer hours under greater pressures from targets and managerial supervision. We live in a world where “all our human needs have been transformed into commodities” that can seemingly be satisfied as easily as buying a McDonald’s.45 Weekends are times when alcohol and other drugs promise to ease the unbearable pressures of working lives.46

But our sexual needs cannot be satisfied like that. The most intimate of relationships requires an acknowledgement of the other as a person, as an equal, as someone who also has needs. Human sexuality requires a human setting and human relationship, time and patience as well as a human spark. The very lives we lead make satisfying sexual relationships difficult. Small wonder that the sex industry plugs the gap with porn videos, sex toys, lap dancing clubs, escort agencies and old fashioned street prostitution.

And in so doing the industry reinforces the gender division of women as sexual objects and men as buyers of the product. This division traps women in a denial of their own sexual needs and men in the belief that women are bodies to be ogled at or bought. One of the beauties of contraception was that it opened up the possibility of men and women developing sexual relationships without having “to stop off at Malton”.47 Lap dancing and other forms of sexual display substitute “looking” for real sexual relations. Perhaps it is fitting that Paris Hilton, who is bored by real sexual intercourse, has become an icon recently. Compare this with Jane Birkin in Serge Gainsbourg’s song “Je t’aime…moi non plus” of 1967, where Birkin seemed to be having an orgasm.48

A Marxist approach to sex work

What are the implications of all of this for Marxists and our attitudes to the family and sex work? First, we need to restate that one aspect of liberation for both men and women is about developing our full potential as individuals, regardless of gender. Second, we have a vision of human sexual relationships that are freely entered into and based on mutual attraction, consent and satisfaction. Whether such relationships are short or long lived, with the same or the opposite sex, between couples of the same age or with big age differences, will be a matter for the couples themselves to decide. And in a world which encourages the development of every aspect of the human personality, the utter dependence on one “love” relationship will give way to more varied relationships based on solidarity.49

Such a vision will only be realised through a complete transformation of society. It will only be achieved when we organise production to answer human needs rather than to maximise profits. The role of advertising to get us to buy things will disappear when we can discuss and decide what our needs are. In particular, however, it means the socialisation of all aspects of the family, in order to open the door to different kinds of loving and supportive relationships, both between adults and between adults and children. In addition, it will also require the disappearance of the sex industry so that women no longer sell their bodies for sex and men no longer look to pornography, lap dancing or buying sexual services.

But where does that leave the question of organising sex workers today? We have to start from opposition to any kind of condemnation of the women and men who get caught up in the sex industry. We need to unequivocally oppose all forms of criminalisation of sex workers, and of their clients. This includes campaigning for the free movement of people around the world and their legal rights to become part of the society of their choice.50

We also need to be unequivocal in our support for the right of sex workers to unionise and to campaign for demands that improve their conditions. In particular we should recognise how revolutionary upheavals can enable some of the most vulnerable workers in society to transform their lives. The role played by some prostitutes in the defence of the 1871 Paris Commune is one such example.51

But does that mean Marxists should see the organisation of sex workers as a priority? A degree of caution is in order here. Sanders, O’Neill and Pitcher estimate that “of the seven countries where unionisation [of sex workers] exists, membership can be estimated at approximately 5,000 people”.52 These numbers are small. Dale and Rose themselves point to some of the difficulties involved in this field:

It is self-evidently the case that sex workers’ collective organisation, in the West as elsewhere, faces structural and social barriers. Much sex work is individualised or takes place in small workplaces… Many are independent contractors and/or have small business aspirations and, as such, are pitted in direct economic rivalry.53

They go on to rightly note that the same arguments can be made about “plumbers or freelance journalists or domestic workers”.54 But it is worth considering the last example more closely. There were a million, mainly female, domestic servants in Britain at the end of the 19th century. But it was the strikes by match girls alongside dockers and others in east London that built the first major general unions in Britain and thus transformed the prospects for working class women and men.

We have always argued that the revolutionary party has to fight for the working class to be the tribune of the oppressed. But that does not mean starting from the most oppressed. Our approach to the organisation of sex workers should run along these lines. As a rough guide, this means that individual revolutionaries organise where they find themselves. But in party branches and caucuses, the focus should be on large concentrations of workers, students and others engaged in struggle. We need to avoid the two moralisms: that of rejecting sex workers as enemies, and that of elevating them to be the focus for combating oppression.55

But if we positively support the right of sex workers to organise, does that mean we simply equate sex work with other work? Here it is worth looking at how Kollontai describes prostitution:

Prostitution is above all a social phenomenon; it is closely connected to the needy position of woman and her economic dependence on man in marriage and the family. The roots of prostitution are in economics. Woman is on the one hand placed in an economically vulnerable position, and on the other hand has been conditioned by centuries of education to expect material favours from a man in return for sexual favours whether these are given within or outside the marriage tie.56

Kollontai is fundamentally right to pinpoint economic vulnerability as the primary reason why some women see the selling of sex or sexual services as an option: “For men as well as for women, the motivating factor for entry into the sex industry is economic need and for many this is a conscious choice, as it offers them more money than they could earn in mainstream employment”.57

What has changed, however, is the way in which the commodification of sex has created a market for the sex industry. What effect does this have on sex workers? Dale and Rose claim that the stigma attached to sex work creates “greater psychological difficulties for sex workers than the work itself”.58 But there is evidence that this stigma is decreasing. A whole range of practices associated with the sex industry are becoming more acceptable: the sexualisation of girls’ bodies, girls providing fellatio for boys at a young age, the use of porn videos and so on.59 To cite Sanders, O’Neil and Pitcher:

Bernstein (2001) has argued that the prolific and unabridged use of sex, in particular the female body form, in advertising and other mechanisms of cultural production has produced a greater acceptability of the erotic, a normalisation of the desire for the erotic and an increasing acceptance for men (and increasingly women) to pursue these desires.60

So more and more people are being drawn into the sex industry, while the reactions to this range from positively welcoming the development through ambivalence to downright hostility. Orr has documented the recent growth of both raunch culture and opposition to its intrusion into society, particularly on university campuses.61

A Marxist understanding of sexuality

Marxists need to maintain a clear view about a number of things. First and foremost, there is a difference between the consensual sexual relationships people aspire to (whether short or long term) and anything which involves the buying and selling of sexual acts.

The difference between these two is real, which is why those involved in selling sex talk about “splitting” themselves in order to do their work. In the case of a personal relationship, individuals hope to “be themselves” without having to put up a mask or play a role. Sex work necessitates the opposite: playing a role in order to separate their sex work from their personal relationships. That is why a future society in which all human beings can experience fulfilling relationships would be one in which sex work would disappear.

Second, there is a difference between the erotic and the pornographic reduction of women’s bodies to sex objects.62 In fact I would argue that the latter leads to a de-eroticisation, which perhaps partly explains why so many young women can strive to present themselves as sexually attractive while having no real concept of, never mind experience of, stimulating and satisfying sexual relationships.63 The surgical restructuring of women’s sexual organs illustrates this triumph of “presentation” over sexual desire and satisfaction.

Third, there is the question of working class solidarity. Workers, through their unique position in the production process, have the power to overthrow capitalism and create a different society. But there are crucial concrete aspects to actualising this potential economic power. Unity has to be forged in the face of a common enemy. Divisions inside the working class must be overcome through a democratic process of debate and discussion. Solidarity is essential for a working class intent on transforming society. Male workers have to accept women as their equals. And all workers should accept that a person’s sexuality can be varied but is always human, and that religious beliefs are strictly a private matter. As Kollontai argues, solidarity is about listening and responding to the needs of the other.64

How can this process occur if men think that women’s bodies are sexual objects to be ogled at and occasionally bought for a quick fellatio or other sexual act? How can women feel confident about solidarity if they feel obliged to present themselves as sexual objects to men? Or that their purpose is to sexually stimulate men without experiencing the satisfaction of their own needs?

The sex industry cuts across and undermines this need for working class solidarity. Hence Marxists need to challenge its claims to be erotic, to provide a useful service or to be in any way empowering for women. Without being moralistic, we need to explain that the sex industry is part of the deformation and destruction of human sexual desire, both male and female. It objectifies those who work in it and those who use it.

As mass movements contest and challenge social structures, they inevitably throw up issues about personal relations and sexuality. Marxists should hardly be surprised that millions of people involved in fighting and transforming oppressive societies should turn their thoughts to breaking the bonds of unsatisfactory personal relationships and reshaping them. This process was visible in Cairo’s Tahrir Square recently as we saw Christians alongside Muslims, men alongside women, young alongside old, all fighting together for social change. It is an intrinsic part of the revolutionary liberation process to begin to breathe, to dare, to feel and to experience in a different way. Provided we place the question of working class solidarity at the heart of what we do, we might make mistakes but we won’t go far wrong.


1: I have decided to use the term “sex work” for the same reasons as Jane Pritchard-to avoid any hint of moral condemnation, but without implying that “sex work” is “a job like any other”-Pritchard, 2010, p161.

2: Pritchard, 2010.

3: Dale and Rose, 2010a.

4: Edwards, 2010.

5: Dale and Rose, 2010b.

6: Pritchard, 2010, p161.

7: Dale and Rose, 2010a, pp2-3.

8: Dale and Rose, 2010a, p3.

9: Pritchard, 2010, p171.

10: Dale and Rose, 2010, p186. This formulation is hedged with so many qualifications it reveals the authors’ own uncertainties. A few questions are in order. If sexuality is not part of our human nature, how does it emerge and why? How has the human race evolved and continued to reproduce if it isn’t part of our human nature? Or are Dale and Rose in fact positing some sort of dualism, with a “sex instinct” to ensure reproduction and an additional dimension we can call “sexuality”?

11: Perhaps a word of caution is in order-all of us are committed to fighting women’s oppression and for a world without oppressive relationships, including sex work.

12: I believe Pritchard did present a clear and correct analysis so in many ways I will be restating much of what she has already argued. However, Pritchard could not have anticipated that disagreement would emerge round the issue of sexuality and human nature. Hence the need to develop this argument further, as well as address the fundamental shift in the place of sex in capitalist society over the last 20 years.

13: See my article, McGregor, 1989.

14: For a longer analysis of this and references, see McGregor, 1989, and also Kollontai, 1977.

15: Engels, 1975.

16: A definition popularised in Duncan Hallas at meetings throughout the 1980s.

17: Harman, 1994.

18: Harman, 1994, p100.

19: Engels, 1978.

20: For a full review of Engels and an updating of his analysis see Harman, 1994. For the purposes of the discussion here, whether Engels was right in all his arguments is not pertinent.

21: Hunting was usually a collective affair, sometimes involving women.

22: See McGregor, 1989, p7.

23: Marshall Sahlins makes this point in Sahlins, 2003.

24: Dale and Rose, 2010, p187.

25: Engels, 1978.

26: Dee, 2010.

27: Kollontai, 1977.

28: McGregor, 1989, pp10-11.

29: McGregor, 1989, p10.

30: See McGregor, 1989, p10.

31: McGregor, 1989, p11.

32: Orr, 2010, p55.

33: The Second World War saw a massive disruption in “normal” relationships as fiancés and husbands went off to war, perhaps never to return. This gave women drawn into productive work a margin of independence and freedom in personal relationships they would not otherwise have encountered. This caused difficulties for many when “normal” family life was re-established after 1945.

34: This period of revolt has been amply documented elsewhere. See Harman, 1988, and Orr, 2010.

35: I prefer to use the term Women’s Liberation Movement rather than “second wave feminism” because it is a more accurate term for the development of the movement in the 1960s. The latter term seems to me to be associated with burying the idea that fundamental social change is needed to get rid of women’s oppression. In any case, “second wave feminism” reminds me of advertisements for hair styling.

36: Students had to campaign to be allowed to use one another’s bedrooms at night.

37: McGregor, 1989, p13.

38: The link between working class solidarity and combating sexism was illustrated during the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. A common chant by miners at the first major demonstration in Mansfield was “Get your tits out for the miners” (addressed to women police officers). At the time I commented to those around me that, with attitudes like that, the miners would never win. Yet by the end of the strike those same miners had been transformed. Miners’ wives became central to organising solidarity. The Gay Liberation Demonstration in 1985 was led by a miners’ banner.

39: Orr, 2010, p36.

40: These points were amply expressed by Pritchard, 2010, pp169-170.

41: A proportion of the sex industry is devoted to servicing women clients through escort agencies and male street prostitutes. There are also transvestites involved in sex work. Pornography is heavily used by women and children. But although many of the users of pornography may therefore be girls and women, its content is about the use of women as sex objects to satisfy men.

42: See, though note that all such statistics are hard to verify as so much of the sex industry is illegal.

43: Orr, 2010, p21.

44: An absence of working class struggle and solidarity can, of course, change very quickly.

45: Pritchard, 2010, p170.

46: I would also argue that the growth of obesity is another consequence of the commodification of the human need to eat and drink.

47: The place for stopping varied from one part of the country to the other. In any case, contraception meant that women were no longer afraid that penetrative sex would lead to conception.

48: Levy, 2005, p30.

49: Kollontai, 1977, pp288-289.

50: Pritchard, 2010, pp166-168.

51: Cliff, 1984, p42. The was not true of the majority of prostitutes, however.

52: Sanders, O’Neill and Pitcher, 2009, p108. Their figures are for 2007 and taken from Gall.

53: Dale and Rose, 2010a, p191. See also Sanders, O’Neill and Pitcher, 2009, chapter 6.

54: Dale and Rose, 2010a, p191.

55: Marxists developed similar arguments in the 1960s and 1970s against focusing on the organisation of housewives, in opposition to arguments for “wages for housework”.

56: Kollontai, 1977, p264.

57: Sanders, O’Neill and Pitcher, 2009, p40. See also Carré and Agostini, 2010, p24-50, Mathieu, 2007, pp23, 105-117.

58: Dale and Rose, 2010a, p188.

59: This point is made by Dale and Rose themselves-2010b, p203.

60: Sanders, O’Neil and Pitcher, 2009, p30.

61: Orr, 2010.

62: I am aware that this is a rather bald statement but I hope that it will suffice to just state it here.

63: See Levy, 2005, chapter 1.

64: Kollontai, 1977, p290.


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