De Beauvoir on Engels The theory of historical materialism has brought to light some most important truths. Humanity is not an animal species, it is a historical reality. This arrogation is not an inward, subjective operation; it is accomplished objectively in practical action.
Thus woman could not be considered simply as a sexual organism, for among the biological traits, only those have importance that take on concrete value in action. Woman's awareness of herself is not defined exclusively by her sexuality: As we have seen, the two essential traits that characterise woman, biologically speaking, are the following: But these facts take on quite different values according to the economic and social context. In human history grasp upon the world has never been defined by the naked body: In times when heavy dubs were brandished and wild beasts held at bay, woman's physical weakness did constitute a glaring inferiority: But, on the contrary, technique may annul the muscular inequality of man and woman: Thus the control of many modern machines requires only a part of the masculine resources, and if the minimum demanded is not above the female's capacity, she becomes, as far as this work is concerned, man's equal.
Today, of course, vast displays of energy can be controlled by pressing a button. As for the burdens of maternity, they assume widely varying importance according to the customs of the country: Engels retraces the history of woman according to this perspective in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State , showing that this history depended essentially on that of techniques.
In the Stone Age, when the land belonged in common to all members of the clan, the rudimentary character of the primitive spade and hoe limited the possibilities of agriculture, so that woman's strength was adequate for gardening. In this primitive division of labour, the two sexes constituted in a way two classes, and there was equality between these classes. Through the discovery of copper, tin, bronze, and iron, and with the appearance of the plough, agriculture enlarges its scope, and intensive labour is called for in clearing woodland and cultivating the fields.
Then man has recourse to the labour of other men, whom he reduces to slavery. This was "the great historical defeat of the feminine sex" It is to be explained by the upsetting of the old division of labour which occurred in consequence of the invention of new tools. Here we see the emergence of the patriarchal family founded upon private property.
In this type of family woman is subjugated. This is woman's sole defence against the domestic slavery in which she is bound; and it is this economic oppression that gives rise to the social oppression to which she is subjected.
Equality cannot be re-established until the two sexes enjoy equal rights in law; but this enfranchisement requires participation in general industry by the whole female sex. And this has become possible only in the big industry of modern times, which not only admits of female labour on a grand scale but even formally demands it. The problem of woman is reduced to the problem of her capacity for labour.
Puissant at the time when techniques were suited to her capabilities, dethroned when she was no longer in a position to exploit them, woman regains in the modern world her equality with man. It is the resistance of the ancient capitalistic paternalism that in most countries prevents the concrete realisation of this equality; it will be realised on the day when this resistance is broken, as is the fact already in the Soviet Union, according to Soviet propaganda.
And when the socialist society is established throughout the world, there will no longer be men and women, but only workers on a footing of equality. The turning-point of all history is the passage from the regime of community ownership to that of private property, and it is in no wise indicated how this could have come about.
Engels himself declares in The Origin of the Family that 'at present we know nothing about it'; not only is he ignorant of the historical details: Similarly, it is not clear that the institution of private property must necessarily have involved the enslavement of women.
Historical materialism takes for granted facts that call for explanation: Engels assumes without discussion the bond of interest which ties man to property; but where does this interest, the source of social institutions, have its own source?
Thus Engels's account remains superficial, and the truths that he does reveal are seemingly contingent, incidental. The fact is that we cannot plumb their meaning without going beyond the limits of historical materialism. It cannot provide solutions for the problems we have raised, because these concern the whole man and not that abstraction: It would seem clear, for example, that the very concept of personal possession can be comprehensible only with reference to the original condition of the existent.
For it to appear, there must have been at first an inclination in the subject to think of himself as basically individual, to assert the autonomy and separateness of his existence. We can see that this affirmation would have remained subjective, inward, without validity as long as the individual lacked the practical means for carrying it out objectively.
Without adequate tools, he did not sense at first any power over the world, he felt lost in nature and in the group, passive, threatened, the plaything of obscure forces; he dared to think of himself only as identified with the clan: The discovery of bronze enabled man, in the experience of hard and productive labour, to discover himself as creator; dominating nature, he was no longer afraid of it, and in the faceof obstacles overcome he found courage to see himself as an autonomous active force, to achieve self-fulfilment as an individual.
He shows how man, through the hammer and the anvil, asserts himself and his individuality. It promotes the worker to the mastery of time, through the forcefulness of an instant' P. On the other hand, the affirmation of the subject's individuality is not enough to explain property: As we have seen in the preceding chapter, the existent succeeds in finding himself only in estrangement, in alienation; he seeks through the world to find himself in some shape, other than himself, which he makes his own.
The clan encounters its own alienated existence in the totem, the mana, the terrain it occupies; and when the individual becomes distinguished from the community, he requires a personal incarnation. The mana becomes individualised in the chief, then in each individual; and at the same time each person tries to appropriate a piece of land, implements, crops. Man finds himself in these goods which are his because he has previously lost himself in them; and it is therefore understandable that he places upon them a value no less fundamental than upon his very life.
Thus it is that man's interest in his property becomes an intelligible relation. But we see that this cannot be explained through the tool alone: On the same grounds it is impossible to deduce the oppression of woman from the institution of private property.
Here again the inadequacy of Engels's point of view is obvious. He saw clearly that woman's muscular weakness became a real point of inferiority only in its relation to the bronze and iron tool; but he did not see that the limitations of her capacity for labour constituted in themselves a concrete disadvantage only in a certain perspective.
It is because man is a being of transcendence and ambition that he projects new urgencies through every new tool: And it was not from the bronze itself that this desire welled up. Woman's incapacity brought about her ruin because man regarded her in the perspective of his project for enrichment and expansion.
And this project is still not enough to explain why she was oppressed; for the division of labour between die sexes could have meant a friendly association. If the original relation between a man and his fellows was exclusively a relation of friendship, we could not account for any type of enslavement; but no, this phenomenon is a result of the imperialism of the human consciousness, seeking always to exercise its sovereignty in objective fashion.
If the human consciousness had not included the original category of the Other and an original aspiration to dominate the Other, the invention of the bronze tool could not have caused the oppression of woman. No more does Engels account for the peculiar nature of this oppression. He tried to reduce the antagonism of the sexes to class conflict, but he was half-hearted in the attempt; the thesis is simply untenable.
It is true that division of labour according to sex and the consequent oppression bring to mind in some ways the division of society by classes, but it is impossible to confuse the two. For one thing, there is no biological basis for the separation of classes. Again, the slave in his toil is conscious of himself as opposed to his master; and the proletariat has always put its condition to the test in revolt, thereby going back to essentials and constituting a threat to its exploiters.
And what it has aimed at is its own disappearance as a class. What is still more serious, woman cannot in good faith be regarded simply as a worker; for her reproductive function is as important as her productive capacity, no less in the social economy than in the individual life.
In some periods, indeed, it is more useful to produce offspring than to plough the soil. We know how often and how radically Soviet Russia has had to change its policy on the family according to the varying relation between the immediate needs of production and those of re-population. But for that matter, to do away with the family is not necessarily to emancipate woman. Such examples as Sparta and the Nazi regime prove that she can be none the less oppressed by the males, for all her direct attachment to the State.
A truly socialist ethics, concerned to uphold justice without suppressing liberty and to impose duties upon individuals without abolishing individuality, will find most embarrassing the problems posed by the condition of woman. It is impossible simply to equate gestation with a task, a piece of work, or with a service, such as military service. Woman's life is more seriously broken in upon by a demand for children than by regulation of the citizen's employment no state has ever ventured to establish obligatory copulation.
In the sexual act and in maternity not only time and strength but also essential values are involved for woman. Rationalist materialism tries in vain to disregard this dramatic aspect of sexuality; for it is impossible to bring the sexual instinct under a code of regulations. Indeed, as Freud said, it is not sure that it does not bear within itself a denial of its own satisfaction. What is certain is that it does not permit of integration with the social, because there is in eroticism a revolt of the instant against time, of the individual against the universal.
In proposing to direct and exploit it, there is risk of killing it, for it is impossible to deal at will with living spontaneity as one deals at will with inert matter; and no more can it be obtained by force, as a privilege may be.
There is no way of directly compelling woman to bring forth: These ancient patriarchal restraints are just what Soviet Russia has brought back today; Russia has revived the paternalistic concepts of marriage. And in doing so, she has been induced to ask woman once more to make of herself an erotic object: As this case shows clearly, it is impossible to regard woman simply as a productive force: In vain have the totalitarian or authoritative regimes with one accord prohibited psychoanalysis and declared that individual, personal drama is out of order for citizens loyally integrated with the community; the erotic experience remains one in which generality is always regained by an individuality.
The sexual relation that joins woman to man is not the same as that which he bears to her; and the bond that unites her to the child is sui generis.