The root of society is a woman giving birth to a child. No one looking at that root could fail to see the ability of one life to affect another or the changes wrought in one individual by interaction with another. A mother’s autonomy, free will and physiology are thoroughly disrupted by the experience. Hormonal changes in the mother can create an overwhelming urge to nurture and protect a strange and separate human or an overwhelming urge to kill the helpless infant. With lactation, mood altering hormones can stay with the mother for years and the act of giving birth leaves lifelong effects. There is evidence that cells from the fetus cross over and remain in the mother’s body, possibly influencing her physiology for years and transferring cells to younger siblings.[cite] There are also indications that the fetus may receive DNA from not just their father but also previous men their mother received sperm from[cite]. The physical reality of an autonomous individual created by parasiting off another person and receiving input from many more, not just before birth but for years after, is a microcosm of society. Life is not an individual achievement but a continuum passed from one generation to the next through a vast number of life forms. Society is a network of dependencies.
Once communities are destroyed, families are the only society preventing children from growing up completely dissociated or as sociopaths. In stratified societies, particularly those heavily dependent on trade economy, women had their roles more restricted and were treated less as community members and more as possessions. Trade inherently favours those not performing the lifegiving and caregiving roles in society so power concentrated in men everywhere trade flourished. As women and their labour became more and more a possession that men could buy, women’s lives were more restricted and they were more guarded as the possessions of one man. With that isolation came a loss of community in almost every case unless a man could afford more than one wife. The treatment of women varied greatly under the trade economy, but because Europe spread the third age of supranational empires around the world, the pattern for industrial destruction of families still followed everywhere today follows the one set in Europe.
Where all had previously worked together in a society, waged labour created class warfare and a new master-servant relationship between men and women. Men had autonomy through land replaced by autonomy through wages and women were now unpaid slaves. With the destruction of peasant society, women lost their communal support network. A woman had to either manage a job in the trade economy while also being solely responsible for societal support or accept work as a slave to her own husband and family, with even her wages from the trade economy often being paid to her husband. Frequently, there was no choice of independence from marriage for women. Men were reduced to working all day away from their family to purchase their admittance into it. Family relationships which had, once established, been purely social were now monetized and deeply humiliating and divisive to all.
The division of men and women was the most important class division, the one which enabled the commodification of all the most basic dependencies and destroyed the possibility of horizontal society.
European history is usually written as a history of the inexorable progress of the trade economy, depicted as civilization. The peasant rebellions and resistance between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the resurgence of trade following the raids on Constantinople is largely depicted as a blank spot called Europe’s Dark Ages. Endless battles and insurrections and powerful networks of horizontal collaboration are buried in a history which reads as Thomas Carlyle’s “Biography of Great Men”.[cite]
The communalist movement that existed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries … was the complete negation of the unitarian, centralizing Roman outlook with which history is explained in our university curricula. Nor is it linked to any historic personality, or to any central institution. – Kropotkiniv[cite]
The decline of the Western Roman Empire brought increasing resistance from peasants to those who sought to enclose and control their land use and acquire their labour. Slavery had evolved into serfdom in most places in Europe and many people had far greater autonomy, their own land plus the commons, solidarity and community. The Magna Carta[cite] was first signed in 1215 and the Charter of the Forest[cite] in 1217. Centralized power under the Catholic church was being challenged by Martin Luther and the Protestants preaching spiritual freedom. The peasants had diversity and society and were fighting to maintain autonomy. Silvia Federici calls the heretic movements of the 11-13th centuries the first “proletarian international” and she describes the heretics “liberation theology” which “denounced social hierarchies, private property and the accumulation of wealth” and disseminated “a new revolutionary conception of society that … redefined every aspect of daily life (work, property, sexual reproduction and the position of women) posing the question of emancipation in truly universal terms.”[cite] The Cathars saw the spirit as being sexless and gendered roles as illogical.viii
The Beguines of the 12th century also created a society of horizontal collaboration among womenix, devoted to prayer and good works but free of subjection by the church or any other hierarchy, as did the smaller male Beghard communities. The Mirror of Simple Souls[cite], by Beguine Marguerite Porete in the early 14th-century, was written in French and intended to make religious teachings accessible, unlike the church’s Latin. During a time when the Catholic church acted as the sole NGO, collecting money for the poor and keeping it for themselves, these women were threatening the church coffers. Women were also, according to Federici, a major force behind the later peasant revolts during food shortages and other troubles as they seldom had the option of leaving and were responsible for the caretaking of children and others. Women who were part of the families and communities they were healers in were also less likely to act in the interests of the powerful over the health of their families. Isabel Pérez Molina writes[cite] “… witches-healers … advised people to control their consumption of sugar, since they had detected illnesses related to such consumption. However, for the Church, which had interests in the sugar industry, it was in its interest for consumption to increase, not the other way round.”
In the mid 13th century, the old silk road reopened under the Pax Mongolica. European traders demanded increased production and more control over both the workers and the production of workers, but at the same time, the Black Death killed a third of Europe’s population. There were two outcomes of the increased desire for labour. First, women were blamed for their failure to produce a work force. Second, Europe became a major player in the slave trade. In response to the first, the church and capitalists sought to establish corporate control over childbirth and respond to the rising egalitarian threat by dividing the previously united peasants.
The power of life and death was largely the domain of women in medieval Europe as they were the keepers of medicinal knowledge and the medical practitioners. They were also the midwives and the people who performed abortions and taught contraception so they controlled the production of the labour force. With industry demanding more workers, women’s bodies, no less than foreign continents, became the site of a capitalist war for resources. By 1484, when Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull approving the Inquisition, women were clearly defined as capitalism’s first terrorist threat, accused of having “slain infants yet in the mother’s womb … hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving”.[cite] A heretic who recanted was made to embroider a bundle of sticks (a faggot) to their sleeve in reminder of the fire they had escaped and may yet suffer. The term once used against argumentative women is now used as a pejorative against homosexuals, the other targeted practitioners of non-reproductive sex. The women healers had used sedatives and other drugs to assist in childbirth, but the church also decided that was against God’s will that women give birth in pain and die frequently in childbirth.[cite] As of 2012, almost 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every day.[cite] The Catholic church today still spends far more time objecting to abortion than to murder.
Between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries, the witch hunt which raged over Europe and the Americas killed untold numbers of women and indigenous healers who practiced medicine or had medical knowledge at the same time that the institution of all male professional medicine was being established. The medical knowledge taught in the universities established in the twelfth century was primarily a study of the works of Galen and Hippocratesxv and included little to no practical experience. The professional practice consisted of little more than blood letting and incantations by the church with confession required before treatment. The universities commodified care for society members into a product to make the Catholic church more wealthy, much as the medical industry has continued to put corporate wealth over medical care today. The execution of all female and indigenous practitioners and forbidding of all old knowledge was to establish a monopoly over the most important societal knowledge, the power over life and death. What is billed as The Birth of Modern Medicine was really the death of all women’s knowledge and most importantly, the death of women’s control over their own reproductive destinies.
As medical education in Europe became regulated and restricted to men, the women previously known as wise women who traveled and taught others were condemned as gossips. The word gossip, which once meant friend, was turned into a vice and churches warned of women’s idle tongues. In the words of the Malleus Malleficarum , “they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from the fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know”.[cite] Entire networks of learning were dismantled as these women were named witches and tortured to reveal their networks of trade and knowledge sharing in an apparent attempt to genetically cull daring or intelligent women. Daughters were made to watch their mothers burn and sometimes received lashes in front of their mother’s fires in warning.[cite] The women’s networks had also been used to spread information between villages. In centralizing control over medicine and education and isolating women, the church also controlled horizontal communication. Traveling healers were replaced by traveling priests and professional doctors. Peasant rebellions would find neither a sympathetic conduit for information.
In an interesting parallel to today’s terrorism laws, witchcraft was also deemed a crimen exceptum[cite] with far less rights for prisoners, interrogation under torture, death sentences for suspicion of offence and inquisitions which sought new names to prosecute. Then as now, the new medical professionals played a significant part as ‘expert witnesses’ for the prosecution. The demonization of women was also greatly helped by the teachings of their professional rivals who brought back such Hippocratic favourites as female hysteria (still a very popular diagnosis for any woman who speaks in public) and the wandering womb, described by Aretaeus: “In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb, a female viscus, closely resembling an animal; for it is moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks, also upwards in a direct line to below the cartilage of the thorax, and also obliquely to the right or to the left, either to the liver or the spleen, and it likewise is subject to prolapsus downwards, and in a word, it is altogether erratic. It delights also in fragrant smells, and advances towards them; and it has an aversion to fetid smells, and flees from them; and, on the whole, the womb is like an animal within an animal.”[cite] It is hard not to be reminded of politicians in the United States today who claim that women’s bodies are full of hundreds of tiny dead babies.[cite]
Current history describes the Inquisition as primarily religious persecution despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims were women of all faiths. The popularly known victims who were persecuted for their beliefs, the ones taught in schools today, are scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus who both lived to very old age and continued to work. The hundreds of thousands or millions of women and indigenous and enslaved South Americans killed are unmentioned. All of the texts at the time of the Inquisition made clear, the primary target was women (and in South America, indigenous and slave cultures) and their professional knowledge. The Inquisition was not, as it is depicted today, an attack against men of science, it was an attack for and by men of science.
It is still not acceptable to today’s corporations to mention the gynocide that put them in control or the dissociated structure that exists more than ever today as medical knowledge is not just centrally controlled but also copyrighted and patented. A search for the history of western medicine will jump straight from Hippocrates to the twelfth century with all of the intervening knowledge photoshopped out, dismissed as old wives’ tales with no recognition of the fact that it provided health care for all of Europe for centuries.
At the same time that women saw their own bodies turned into workhouses to enslave them and lost autonomy over their own bodies, the trade economy made all work not traded to the powerful for a wage unrecognized. The World Bank today still speaks of women entering the workforce and contributing labour when they enter the trade economy. Worker’s movements centre around waged workers and men’s rights activists insist more men die on the job because the occupational hazards of childbirth and marriage aren’t considered jobs. Laws protecting against forced labour and slavery do not include motherhood. According to the World Health Organization, 287 000 women die in childbirth every year.[cite] All United States combat casualties in all wars ever come to 848,163.[cite]
The erasure of value from women’s work was necessary for the enslavement of women. The enslavement of women was necessary for outside ownership of their bodies, the factories producing the labour force.
Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.