Recently, I’ve been studying a lot about Marxism and dialectical materialism, the theoretical approach Marxists take toward history. Materialism asserts that culture is informed by the material conditions that exist around a particular group of people, specifically concerning how they produce and reproduce the essential goods they need for survival. This essentially refers to the economic organization of a given people, since economic systems exist to determine how to produce things like food and shelter and how to distribute them. The second part of this theoretical approach (dialectics) asserts that once a culture grows out of an economic system, the culture will also begin to inform the material conditions, which will then in turn affect the culture, and so on and so forth in a neverending feedback loop. Economics forms the root of culture, but they grow together, influencing one another over the course of time.
About 10,000 years ago, humans began using agriculture to produce food for the first time in our 200,000 year history. Cultivation allowed for surplus for the first time in human history, which led to stockpiles of extra food that could be controlled by a small group of people. This marked the beginning of class society. Written language was actually first developed to keep track of the distribution of these goods, and since only a few people understood the markings, it allowed a small group of elites to control the food supply. This was the first example in human history of “bosses” and “workers,” or as Marx would say: people who control the means of production and people who labor to survive.
Before the invention of agriculture, human beings all across the globe lived in what Marx calls “primitive communism,” small clan-based societies that operated in equality. The skills of all members were valued because they all contributed to the group survival. Women, men, and children had differentiated roles based on the material conditions of their environment, but none of the roles were valued among the others. Decisions were made and conflicts were resolved democratically through group action.
When humans progressed from this stage into the stage of cultivation and thus class society, systemic inequality followed. One of the most harmful effects of this development has been the onset of the Patriarchy, which has continued to oppress women and all non-cismales for the last 10,000 years. If you’re interested to read more about the connections between agriculture, class society, and the Patriarchy, check out this pamphlet: “It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This: Women and the Struggle for Socialism.”
As the millennia pass, we see other horrific developments as a result of the introduction of class society, including systemic Racism, but for now I am going to focus on the Patriarchy and the way it has affected our view of time and, by extension, our understanding of suffering and healing.
Capitalism is largely centered on the notion of forward progress, and we are taught through our culture and the way we teach history to understand that human beings are marching in a straight line of betterment. Yes, slavery existed in the past, but then MLK Jr came and we got over that. Women used to be barred from voting and earning money, but then we all decided that was wrong now we’re in a better place. As informed individuals, we know that this is not really the way things work. Chattel slavery is technically abolished, but the world still has over 40 million people living in conditions similar to slavery. Women have the right to vote and work (in some places), but we make significantly less than our male counterparts and we experience absurdly high rates of gender violence in the form of assault and regular harassment.
I would like to argue that this false sense of forward movement and progress is rooted in Patriarchy because it disconnects us from the natural flow of time that is expressed in our universe through planetary orbits and seasons, which manifests in the assigned female body through the cycle of menstruation. I also would like to argue that this disconnection from the reality of time interferes with our individual and collective understanding of suffering and healing.
When we look at the world (and the worlds) around us we can clearly see that time passes in a cyclical manner. The Earth does not move forward in a straight line with the Sun racing alongside of it. Time is moving forward, but it does so while moving in a circle. As the Earth moves around the Sun, we experience the changing of seasons. When our part of the world is facing toward the Sun, Summer brings life and growth, and when it is facing away from the sun, the Winter brings death and decay. This happens year after year with no chance of stunting this cycle to create a neverending summer. We see this same kind of cyclical phenomenon in the way the Moon orbits the Earth, creating tides which influence the flow of ocean currents on our planet.
Assigned female bodies also experience this cyclical nature. For the majority of our adult lives, we bleed for a week out of the month every month. As our periods approach, we experience of the symptoms of our body preparing for this shedding: volatility, sadness, discomfort, and pain. Then the bleeding hits and these feelings intensify as our body rids itself of its waste. As the bleeding ends, we start to regain our energy, which builds over the next two weeks until we begin to prepare for the next cycle.
This cycle mimics the changing of the seasons so perfectly. Winter is a tragic time for all life. It puts all creatures through intense trial. As the Summer turns into Fall, we watch the Earth prepare for her Winter. Leaves fall, annual plants that are only meant to live for one season put out their seeds and die, and perennial plants and animals begin to store their energy for the long and cold struggle ahead. Over the course of Winter, those that are alive continue to struggle and not all creatures make it through. Spring comes, breathing new life into the Earth. New seeds begin to take root and sprout. The creatures who made it through winter will show off their new growth as Spring comes and rolls into Summer. Summer is a celebration of life and production, but it is only one of four seasons, and even in the deepest joy of Summer we know that Winter will still come.
By attaching ourselves to the Patriarchal notion of time, which implies that we are capable of overcoming struggle once and for all, we put ourselves in a very difficult position to handle new stress when it arises. In order to really process the struggle of life, we need to embrace Matriarchal Time, which is based in alternating cycles of difficulty and growth. It seems obvious that this is a lesson humans should know, considering that half of the population is imbued with physiology that reminds us of the cyclical nature of our universe, but the Patriarchy has disempowered the feminine for so long that this understanding of time was thrown out in preference of a notion of straightforward progress. Under the Patriarchy, vulnerability and healing are seen as weaknesses that should be avoided at all costs. But the Earth reminds us that Winter cannot be avoided and is not a sign of weakness but a necessary part of the growth process. Assigned female bodies remind us of this truth too: in order for life to continue, we must endure the pain and blood.
Understanding Matriarchal Time has helped me personally cope with the difficulty and struggle I endure in my life, including that associated with my period, which is very painful and taxing. Instead of seeing struggle as permanent or as a failure, I am able to see it as a part of the cycle of life. Three weeks out of the month, I am strong, energetic, and productive, but for the other week, I am to forced to take a break to handle the pain and the blood. The same is true in my life on a larger scale: pain and success happen in cycles and the pain I endure helps me grow into a person who can reach even greater successes. Looking at my own narrative, I can see clear examples of this cycle over the course of my whole life. Struggle and achievement are in this constant reciprocal dance, and I can very clearly see periods that are Spring (rebirth), Summer (production), Fall (maturation), and Winter (death). The stronger I am, the more I am capable of surviving hard Winters, and the more beautiful and impressive I am come Spring. Healing doesn’t come from eliminating struggle, but from understanding the way struggle relates to growth and building an empowering narrative that will allow us to face difficulty head on.
Part of my radical Marxist feminist journey is exploring the deepest ways that the Patriarchy has infiltrated our culture and prevents us from healing and advancing to a stage of peace. As a dedicated permaculturist, these reflections are always considered alongside examples from the natural world because I believe the Universe provides us with material examples of how to live in harmony and abundance. This is a style of analysis I hope to continue to develop through writing this blog and I hope you will participate in this journey with me!