Throughout this class we’ve tangled with “equality” as both an idea and social reality. Specifically, we’ve asked whether “women” can become “equal” to men and whether “women” would really want to be “equal” (what WOULD this “equality” look like?).
In order to further problematize this question (as if we haven’t thought enough about this over the past 4 weeks) I’d like to subject the idea of equality of women to the opening few paragraphs of Marx’s critique ‘On the Jewish Question’:
Marx wrote this famous article in response to Bruno Bauer’s Die Judengrage in which, among other topics, he articulates what it means to be human amidst others in a social environment. Very generally, Bauer criticized the Jews for desiring emancipation within the German order while not working to emancipate others.
Marx takes this analysis further, and describes that the Jews’ yearning for freedom is flawed in that it does not address the cause of oppression. The Jews wish to be equal to the Christians within Germany, but not only is this impossible (the impossibility rooted in the functioning of Christian anti-Semitism), but it is also unreal because it recognizes and legitimizes the oppression of the German dynastic state under which all are oppressed:
“…Do the Jews demand the same status as Christian subjects of the state? In that case they recognize that the Christian state is justified and they recognize too the regime of general oppression. Why should they disapprove of their special yoke if they approve of the general yoke? Why should the German be interested in the liberation of the Jew, if the Jew is not interested in the liberation of the German?”
Thus Marx identifies the root cause of division between Germans and Jews. It is very apparent that religion is separating these classes of people, and that this chasm is unbridgeable in its current manifestation:
“By its very nature, the Christian state is incapable of emancipating the Jew; but, adds Bauer, by his very nature the Jew cannot be emancipated. So long as the state is Christian and the Jew is Jewish, the one is as incapable of granting emancipation as the other is of receiving it.”
How, asks Marx, can the Jew expect to operate within a system that is so anti-Jewish? Within the Christian state, identities are allotted by religious devotion, and social standing (the arena in which Jews fight for equality) contingent upon a Christian basis:
“The Christian state can behave towards the Jew only in the way characteristic of the Christian state, that is, by granting privileges, by permitting the separation of the Jew from the other subjects, but making him feel the pressure of all the other separate spheres of society, and feel it all the more intensely because he is in religious opposition to the dominant religion.”
“On what grounds then do you Jews want emancipation? On account of your religion? It is the mortal enemy of the state religion. As citizens? In Germany there are no citizens. As human beings? But you are no more human beings than those to whom you appeal.”
As the consequence to the German political order, humanity is repressed and crass religious divisions of society are exploited in order to preserve this order. And yet, Marx asks exasperatedly, you want to maneuver within this oppression in search of equality?
Bauer arrives at his solution by criticizing Judaism, identifying The Conflict as being the points in which Jews differ from Christians. Marx thinks differently: if the basis of division goes unaddressed, then there can be no solution.
“The formulation of a question is its solution. The critique of the Jewish question is the answer to the Jewish question. […]
“We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others.
“The most rigid form of the opposition between the Jew and the Christian is the religious opposition. How is an opposition resolved? By making it impossible. How is religious opposition made impossible? By abolishing religion.”
While it is unlikely that gender and patriarchy are completely analogous to the contradiction analyzed by Marx (Jews within a Christian power system) similarities can be identified. How can women be “equal” in a gender system that is predicated on the gender divide? Rather than settling for a “solution” that involves false reconciliations (in which the “special yoke” of oppression is “addressed” while the “general yoke” persists), the root of oppressive tendencies must be abolished. This infers an abolition of gender is necessary to destroy a violent system of gender/sexual oppression.
Is this correct?