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Elias Khoury

March 8th, 2022

The Future of Feminism is Anti-Capitalist

0 comments | 25 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Elias Khoury

March 8th, 2022

The Future of Feminism is Anti-Capitalist

0 comments | 25 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

To mark International Women’s Day 2022 we invited students to submit an article addressing this year’s theme #BreakTheBias. We’re delighted to announce Elias Khoury as our first place winner.

On International Women’s Day 2020, sociologist Nicole Aschoff declared that “feminism and capitalism are both in crisis.” Specifically, Aschoff argued, they’re suffering crises of legitimacy. Capitalism, and the economic status quo it defines, are increasingly targets of disgust. A rigged system of global commerce siphons vast sums of wealth from poor countries to rich ones. And even those rich countries aren’t doing so well. In many of them, quality of life is either stagnant or declining.

The state of modern feminism also leaves much to be desired. The movement’s core goals — pay parity, equal representation, robust abortion rights, etc. — have yet to be realised in most places. This is despite decades if not centuries of dedicated organising and activism by huge masses of people. And in the few places where those goals have been realised, reactionaries are working hard to undo them.

These concurrent crises are particularly threatening to a certain brand of feminist thought which Aschoff dubs “neoliberal feminism.” Philosopher Nancy Fraser calls it “the feminism of the 1 percent.” Whatever label you choose, the basic idea is the same: gender equality is best achieved through women ascending to positions of power within the capitalist state and economy.

Currently, this strand of feminism is the dominant one. And that’s bad news. Feminism and capitalism shouldn’t be synthesised because the two ultimately cannot coexist.

Capitalism runs on exploitation. The mechanism is simple: workers are paid less than they generate and their bosses keep the difference. Capitalism is also based on perpetual growth. Its emphasis on capital accumulation creates an endless drive for ever-increasing profits. A steady rate just won’t do. Capitalism always demands more.

One common way this demand has been met over the years is through the creation of oppressed classes. An obvious example is the transantlantic slave trade, one of history’s greatest atrocities. White Europeans abducted black Africans and paid them nothing but whippings for generations of unimaginably onerous labour. Through this racist brutality, European capitalism accumulated superprofits via maximal exploitation.

Oppressed classes can also be created along gendered lines. Patriarchal norms assign women the role of domestic labourer, which capitalism insists should be uncompensated. A wide range of socially necessary work is thereby devalued. It’s also rendered virtually invisible due to its omission from national accounts as measured by Gross Domestic Product. None of this, however, changes the fact that unpaid domestic labour fuels the capitalist economy.

A wife keeping the house clean means that her husband doesn’t have to. After a long day of work, he can instead recharge his batteries to avoid becoming less productive. Wives cooking, and keeping their husbands well-fed, serves the same purpose.

All of this is great for corporations. The maintenance of their productive workforce is subsidized by women’s unpaid labour. Corporations similarly benefit from reproduction and childcare, which create the next generation of productive workers.

Even when female labour does make its way onto official balance sheets, it’s systematically shortchanged. Women globally earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. In some countries, the gap is much larger. And it persists even when adjusting for industry, position, and hours worked.

This too is a feature — not a bug — of capitalism. Profit-driven firms meet excess labour demand by recruiting members of oppressed classes and paying them less. For capitalists, this has the added benefit of putting downward pressure on wages generally.

In the case of women, underpayment is often justified by appealing to sexist stereotypes. Women, it is said, just aren’t focused, diligent, assertive, etc. enough to command wages equal to men. These lies strengthen capitalist domination by blaming deep economic inequalities on individual workers rather than the system at large.

Capitalism therefore depends on keeping women in a subordinate and exploited role. Why, then, should modern feminism be tied to such a system? It has an interest in their exploitation! A truly liberatory feminism must demand a break from capitalism and the establishment of fairer economic relations.

And we’re at a unique point in history to do just that. Only three days after Aschoff made her declaration, the World Health Organization made one of their own: COVID had become a pandemic. Aschoff, for all of her wisdom, couldn’t possibly have foreseen what followed.

The COVID pandemic has exposed capitalism’s many weaknesses. Everything from the system’s short-term temporal logic to its tendency toward inequality have deepened this once-in-a-century public health crisis. The need for a new model is evident. Feminism should be leading the charge.

Activists understand this. Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have found ways to marry their anti-sexism to a labour-oriented class politics. The second sentence of the DSA’s political programme states the organisation’s unequivocal commitment to feminist ideals. And their Socialist Feminist Working Group, which operates at the national level, “provides resources… for local chapters… to organize around feminist issues such as reproductive justice… that especially impact working class and poor women.”

On the other side of the world, Pakistan’s Women Democratic Front is organising in a similar vein. The self-described “mass resistance movement” mobilises working-class women in both rural and urban Pakistan to fight against capitalist and patriarchal oppression. While their priorities are primarily domestic in scope, the Women Democratic Front has sought to take their struggle global through their membership in the Progressive International — a transnational collective of left-wing organisations aspiring to a post-capitalist, feminist world “bound by radical love.”

These groups show the way forward. The future of feminism must be anti-capitalist. Neoliberal feminism can, at best, empower only a small stratum of women who succeed at climbing economic and/or organisational hierarchies. The rest will face an all-too-familiar fate of powerlessness and financial precarity. To illustrate, while the United States recently elected its first female vice president, women are still considerably overrepresented in American poverty statistics.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. The event’s organisers are calling on people everywhere to imagine a world free of discrimination. Achieving such a world will require a very different feminism from the current, dominant form. Only through an anti-capitalist feminism can we win freedom and equality for all women — from Vice President Kamala Harris down to the millions of working-class women who voted for her.


Note: this article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.

Image credit: main image contains elements of ‘Bride Manufacturing’ by spDuchamp, ‘Fabric Rolls’ by Phillip Knall and ‘Money’ by 401(K)

About the author

Elias Khoury

Elias Khoury is an MSc student in Public Policy and Administration. His research interests include public opinion and democratic representation. You can follow him on Twitter @EliasKhoury00.

Posted In: Gender | IWD 2022 | Postgraduate | Students

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