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IN 1880. Friedrich Engels echoed the early 19th century French socialist Charles Fourier in declaring: "...in any given society the degree of women's emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation." If the number of women in government is an accurate gauge of women's freedom, the level of general emancipation in Massachusetts would have to be called slavery.
Who Rules Massachusetts Women, a study produced by six women social scientists in Cambridge, explores the areas of state government by which women are affected but in which few women, if any, have a policy-making role. Starting with the basic statistic that 98 per cent of the state legislators, 97 per cent of Massachusetts's judges, and 93 per cent of the administrative executives in policy-making positions are men, the report describes the role of each of the state's governmental bodies and how the absence of women in almost all of them denies women representation in vital decisions.
In performing this function, the study is painstakingly thorough. Its feminist objectives aside, it would be a valuable resource for its detailed articulation of Massachusetts government alone. Making up in clarity what it lacks in verve, the writing reflects the "democratic, non-hierarchical fashion" in which the study was produced. The political position of the authors is generally no less thoughtful than their research; their ability to forestall most typical counter-feminist arguments results from the number of perspectives they were willing to incorporate in a cooperative way.
Only occasionally do the authors rise to a level of generalization unsubstantiated by the details in their study. While even these statements make some intuitive sense, some allegations such as "Women are less likely than men to receive parole," and "Banks in the Commonwealth have made a practice of denying loans and credit to women," are worthy of more attention than they are given in the report. Furthermore, because the study is not (as the authors admit), "a treatise on women and Massachusetts government," the inner dynamics of political processes are not fully explained. For example, is discrimination against women in education and the shortage of women in the Executive Office of Educational Affairs at all mitigated by the position of one woman who is head of the Board of Education? Such a question involves issues of particular personalities, but it must be probed in order to answer the title question comprehensively.
AFTER THE EMPIRICAL ANSWER is given to Who Rules Massachusetts Women--namely, Massachusetts men--the questions arise of what that rule means and what feminists should do about it. The complexities involved in analysis and strategy have not eluded the authors, but their answers confuse at least one major issue.
The significance of male rule and of male begemony in the broader sense is clearly shown in the lack of political support given to mobilizing resources on behalf of the feminist cause. Not only do women face basic discrimination in schools banks, and personnel offices, but they suffer sexist bias in any pursuit of a genuine redress of civil or criminal grievances. The system is self-perpetuating, since:
a system run by men will continue to be run by men as long as men have the power to determine how the system will be run...(and)...as long as the men running it believe that male domination of women is in their own interests.
It is natural to conclude, therefore, that more women in government will somewhat alleviate that discrimination. It would not eliminate the existence of bias, but it would help circumvent or end the formal impediments to the female exercise of citizens rights. Women might also be more successful in obtaining the money and personnel necessary to the progress of community action.
BUT, FEMALE REPRESENTATION will do no more than his. The authors acknowledge that female legislators would not necessarily be feminists, although anti-feminist women candidates are often at least liberalized by public pressure and by their own experiences:
Women legislators are not solely women: they belong to particular ethnic groups, to religious bodies, to economic classes, to political parties...most important, women legislators belong to and are beholden to a male-dominated power structure that draws them in even when they would resist.
Furthermore, "women who are motivated to strive for high positions may be more concerned with personal prestige, security, and income, than with social justice."
There is a further contradiction which they fail to explain. Representation is not self-determination. Having female representatives does not allow every female to control her life; having women comprise fifty-two per cent of the legislature would not in itself liberate all Massachusetts women. In fact, it is probable that the feminist cause would benefit more from a legislature of male or female poor people than a legislature of upper class women.
Not only do women fall victim to this contradiction by insisting, "by rights, we are entitled to a majority," but they obscure fundamental clashes of class and status that are more basic than the conflicts of sexual politics. The only "rights" which make sense in the assertion above are the laws of probability. Pushing a quota system for its own sake--which this report rarely does--divides, rather than coalesces the forces opposing economic, political or social imperialism of any kind--racial or sexual.
This report avoids that trap by elucidating more solid arguments for female representatives. Most women would show a better grasp of feminist issues simply because they have experienced sexual discrimination. They will be more responsive to a female constituency. They will accustom male legislators, administrators, judges and voters to dealing with women in positions of responsibility. Finally, they will provide a useful model for other women, who will feel stronger in facing the government with their problems in seeking decision-making positions, and in organizing their communities.
OTHER STRATEGIES are outlined at least briefly: taking over more of the economic system, and developing alternative political and social institutions. These alternatives will require government reform in order to succeed, at least in their early stages. However, as the women's committee points out so well, the reforms they need are "non-reformist reforms," which open the path to further change, rather than co-opt and diffuse the strength of the movement.
In this sense, the accomplishment of the study may be more important than the study itself. Its arguments are significant, and its concluding essay on strategies in approaching the political system is extremely well conceived. However, its most hopeful aspect is the non-hierarchical effort it embodies of people using the tools at their disposal for the sake of themselves and of other people. If their example is emulated by women thinking of starting or joining pressure groups, research committees, day care co-ops, or discussion groups, it will have done more to educate the feminist movement than if every woman reading the pamphlet were to, write her congressman an angry letter. With efforts such as these, both for their results and as models of organization, people may come more and more to recognize that women are more than home makers, more than statistics. They are people with the resources and, hopefully, the will to shape their destinies.
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