Re: women hold up half the ceiling

Ruby Rohrlich (rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU)
Wed, 6 Sep 1995 21:00:24 -0400

That's a terrific posting, Daniel, even better than the previous one.
Please write it up as an article and send it out -- all kinds of journals
and, even more important, magazines will grab it. Also, it makes a
first-class lecture. Present it please. Love. Ruby

On Wed, 6 Sep 1995, Daniel A. Foss wrote:

> Now that Ruby has brought up the unspeakable (illegal to say in Chinese,
> hence difficult of translation into English) treatment of women under Dengist
> Modernization, let me direct the Tribe to page A1, National Edition of The
> New York Times, Sept 6, which is today: "Women as Chattel: In China, Slavery
> Rises." Readers might wish to compare these horrors with the historical-
> anthropological study by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, The Inner Quarters, 1993,
> which deals with the period of the "Song economic revolution," a thousand
> years ago. As is true today, commercialization of the economy a thousand
> years ago intensified women's sheer physical toil in the commodity economy,
> while considerably lengthening their working hours; compensatory loosening
> of constraints, in the guise of independent sources of cash income, failed
> to appear. Economic history has repeated itself, except that wherein China's
> economy was the most technically and commercially sophisticated in the world
> a thousand years ago, this is, politely put, no longer true. Ebrey, however,
> puts at least as much emphasis on the commercialization of women as domestic
> property, "chattel," if you will, in large-scale commerce conducted, often
> over long distances to orders placed by niche-market consumers, those buying
> women on term contracts (as opposed to lifetime ownership), and other
> demand for diverse wants.
> It would seem that sale of women was organized in a far less ugly fashion
> a thousand years ago than it is now: kidnapping and beating (as part of the
> analogue of "softening up," as in, ah, resocialization of Africans victimized
> by the Middle Passage in the eighteenth century by a stay in a concentration-
> camp-like hell in the British West Indies prior to delivery to the final
> purchaser) are conspicuous excrescences, unlike their obscuring by gentility
> in the Song. The economic coercion remains the same: No source of income, in
> employment, self-employment, nothing.
> In the Song, this commerce was Perfectly Legal, and by definition the Best
> Families patronized the brokers. A man's duty, in terms of status symbolism
> and emergent consumer-society aspects of urban culture (especially in such
> megacities as Hangzhou) dictated his ownership of concubines qualitatively and
> quantitively in keeping with his Station In Life; and where the wife had
> dominion over household purchases, it fell to her to select the merchandise
> from the broker's catalogue. (Jealousy on the wife's part was construed as
> inexplicable psychopathology, hers, at that time. The occasions for husbandly
> jealousy or frustration alike were rendered as institutionally minimal as
> possible for the wealthy.)
> The crudity of the contemporary market in women may reflect its nominal
> illegality. Much of Chinese life is nominally illegal, as it has been for
> 3800 years of recorded history, with the anticipable result: "Yet when it
> comes to the selling of women, the authorities show a tragic indifference
> to what women's rights advocates now consider the most pernicious violation
> of human rights in their nation."
> It's my Suspicion, based on my Paranoid Powers and Training, that if they
> want to find even Worse Stuff going on, they should Look Harder.
> Daniel A. Foss