Woman and the Origin of Family

Ilyass Chetouani
2023 / 2 / 22

In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State Engels traces the genesis and evolution of the human family, beginning from savagery, to barbarism and finally to civilization. Engels reveals that woman during savagery and barbarism did not only enjoy freedom, but she held honorary position as well. She participated in daily labor, assisted in keeping the family and the tribe fed and clothed, and ultimately regarded as a true lady. He argues that the emergence of monogamy and patriarchal family had constituted the greatest defeat women had known.
Through the historical-materialist approach, Engels looks at determining upheavals in the history of human society, and through drawing on Morgan s ideas, he argues that the family as we know it now is not a template of all human societies, but the consequence of the rise of class society. Like the state, the family serves the interest of a male-based ruling class seeking to maintain control over their property.
With a change in the social circumstances, Engels argues, comes a change in the structure of the family. The domestication of animals and the advance of agriculture made it possible for human beings to create more than they necessarily needed to survive. For the first time, there was an accumulation of wealth. As a consequence, with the rise of class society came the rise of inequality between the rich and the poor, and concurrently between men and women. In pre-class society, the work performed by women was central to the group s survival, and therefore valued highly. Men for their part exerted themselves in the hunting and later on with the domestication of animals. Systematic inequality between men and women did not exist at that period. Inequality came with the emergence of private property, as men controlled the sphere of production. The monogamous family became the means by which property could be passed down from generation to another. Marriage became little more than a material-based relationship and a means by which men assured their economic and social dominion.
As the need for surplus raised, so did the demand for labor. Women were now in the position of having to produce more children to perform more labor. In this sense, women became shackled to the household. This means that the division of labor between men and women didn t change, but production was moved out of the household, and had systematically developed, and this is how marriage had become just another way for men to assume their symbolic and material superiority over women and ensure its continuance through time.
According to Engels, women can liberate themselves primarily through the abolition of patriarchal family as a dominant economic unit, and taking part in the collective social production.

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