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Grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Richmond, El Cerrito, Berkeley, Oakland. My time now is mostly spent getting better at being a person, refining my time management skills, trying to read normal people books and articles, and learning how to be a force for good.

T1D Life in full effect. 

I will never stop learning, nor will I stop working to make a difference for someone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Demonization of Women for the sake of Capitalism

I posted the first draft of a paper for my social stratification course a few days ago, and here's the final product pre-submission. Over the last couple of weeks we read Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch: Women the Body and Primitive Accumulation. I'm posting it in the hopes that maybe I'll get some feedback or start a conversation or few. Here goes:

SOC 754, Social Stratification
Due: 9/30/10
Critical Evaluation for: Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

            Silvia Federici paints a very clear picture of the intimate connections between capitalism, imperialist expansion and the witch hunts. What seems to stand out is her focus on what we have discussed as an accumulation of differences. This accumulation stems from a systematic devaluation and demonization of women, and a simultaneous twisting of female sexuality, access to community through healing and social organization, as well as a merging of religious ideology and centralized state control. This process, which could seem overly complicated to protectors of capitalism, is thoroughly explained and organized in Caliban. Class warfare was eventually won using gender genocide and political control of sexuality and social understanding of what it means to be human.[1] The historical timeline investigated in both Caliban and The Origin of Capitalism is the same, yet I felt more compelled to sink into Federici’s exploration of the devaluation and subsequent demonization of women as a gender.[2]
            At a time when feudal communities were transitioning into state-sanctioned privatized business opportunities for landowners, the working and farming classes were organizing grassroots struggles against the expropriation of workers, and fighting the loss of their previously natural rights of land ownership. This wasn’t just a political move; this was taking the right to survive under one’s own power away from an entire population of people in one broad, long-term swipe. Women organized these rebellious movements extremely effectively, and did so many times over. However, as privatization of access to the ownership of the means of production occurred, so did the understanding of what people were worth. Community was slowly becoming less of a lifestyle and more of a place. The physical body, as it could be understood, was transitioning from just a part of existence to an existential thing to be understood and examined. Popular philosophers of the time began to draw conclusions based on the needs of the bourgeois and the ruling classes to control what was becoming the proletariat.
This proletarianization was accompanied by Federici’s accumulation of differences between the sexes, as women were being devalued for the work they did as healers, mothers, community organizers, and protectors of knowledge, and were turned into naturally evil beings. Primarily, the idea of work was becoming more and more associated with a wage-earning place within the market system, and what became known as “women’s work” was not involved in the creation of a market-demanded labor product.[3] This goes against all humanity and logic along with it, but control was necessary if the upper classes and landowners were to cement their place at the top of the social food chain. While this did coincide with the ruling classes’ need to control the production of a work force, it also coincided with a dehumanization of all women, no matter their class. The loss of the midwife as a social norm and their replacement by male doctors resulted in male control of reproduction, thus the vilification of midwives and healers. Healing was one of the first roles that women played in their community that was propagandized as witchcraft. Two main themes here are state institutionalization of religious rhetoric regarding morality (i.e. the devil), and philosophical dissemination of the idea that the body is just a physical tool with impulses; the mind should ‘refine’ the body’s ‘ill nature’. During this social and institutional process, any and all women could be suspect of communing with the devil in order to batter, de-masculinize and undermine the male society.[4]
Sexuality was identified by the great philosophers of the time as a bodily urge that was unclean in both spirit and practice. Women had already been assigned a worth as lesser yet more evil beings at the mercy of the devil, and were now thought to lack the intrinsic ability to reach the bourgeois mind/body equilibrium. The bourgeois ‘lady’[5] came to symbolize womanhood. In other words, strong femininity was sinful, and against the ‘natural order’ of things.[6] By criminalizing witchcraft,[7] the physical and social bodies of women were illegalized.
Federici’s theory highlights the impact of the accumulation of differences between men and women at a societal level. This interpretation of primitive accumulation begs a discussion of the process of elite classes exerting influence over social relations and social structure.  Widely disseminated propagandized ideologies and ground-level genocidal efforts can be ultimately effective in the implementation of capitalist social stratification. Differences included: inherent trustworthiness or the opposite, sanity, righteousness, clean or manipulative sexuality, knowledge collection and production, ability to reason; these all contributed to the transition of women from community leaders to slave class. In today’s world, I see the effects of witch-hunting everywhere that capitalism has reached. Namely, the implicit assumptions still surrounding the concept of ‘women’s work’, the still lurking idea of natural feminine insanity[8], the mainstream assumption that women deserve to be raped, the list goes on. The capitalistic notion of ownership of the means of (re)production[9] has relegated women to a position of defense, and it is the perpetual defense of the self on an institutional level that masculinity has never had to endure in the same way.

[1] The physical body was now becoming just a tool of production, for a wage and usually for someone else’s profit.
[2] Unlike Wood, which was a fairly good snapshot of the rise of Capitalism on a global scale from the hills of England and France, I felt like Federici made this text engaging in a very different way.
[3] I have to say that this is really outrageous, given that women were literally giving birth to the workforce.
[4] That the church placed man at the head of all social institutions is telling, in that religious idols were historically feminine and rarely masculine in vision. Witchcraft’s mother goddess was very challenging to the church and the state as complicit conspirators in the social upheaval of the ‘transition’ to capitalism.
[5] Meaning quiet, housebound, mannered and subservient to male authority.
[6] So, following Descartes’ logic, the natural order of things is dirty and to be controlled, yet we should ‘naturally’ assume that women are supposed to be subservient to men…the more I read about how this happened the more I want to call it collective insanity.
[7] The practices of witchcraft equalized men and women intrinsically, and didn’t need a separation of social power to begin with.
[8] I would argue that we’re all nuts.
[9] An infuriating political battle in play now.


  1. I'm very impressed, you should check out a history channel documentary called stories banned from the bible 2. (Not the first one). Fact was that there were two stories in the bible about a woman named Mary. Mary a prostitute did in fact wash Jesus' feet w/ oil. However it was not Mary Magdelene. Mary M. came from a wealthy background and heard Jesus speak and decided to follow him and help preach his word. Mary actually became his closest friend and confidant which made the deciples jealous. When Emporer Constantine was having bible stories bound togheher, he decided no woman should be "that close to God and/or Jesus" so had a person combine stories to make Mary M. a prostitute in need of repentance and suggest that women are naturally sinful since the dawn of EVE and need Men to rule them.. Sorry I'll get off my soap box now.

  2. Dig it dude!! Nicely written, and thoughtfully presented.. thank you for writing it :)