broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the tag “Marxist feminism”

Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Reflections on Al Franken

H. Bradford

I haven’t weighed in publicly on the Al Franken sexual harassment debate.  I don’t have the time to engage in internet debates and I don’t want to alienate allies in the Democratic party, who feel very personally hurt and confused by his resignation.  At the end of the day,  all feminists must work together to end sexual harassment/assault.  Further, as a Marxist feminist, I am in the extreme margins of feminism.  I feel that my opinion means little to most people or that my opinion is a quaint anachronism that is tolerable so long as I do my best to work well with others.   Still, I do want to share my opinion, as I feel very frustrated by some of the ways this debate has been framed.   Thus the following is a laundry list of my Marxist feminist “pet peeves.”

1: Al Franken was a feminist/ally to women


Many people have expressed a sense of grief, loss, disappointment, anger, etc. because of the argument that Al Franken was an ally to women.   I fundamentally disagree with this statement.  He supported the Iraq war in 2003, he has supported airstrikes in Syria, voted for increased sanctions against Iran, approved the national defense budget, voted in favor of PROMESA, he supported Israel’s 2014 attacks on Gaza, against closing Guantanamo Bay, etc.   I have said this many times, but internationalism is central to my feminist beliefs.   US foreign policy is based upon promoting US interests in the world.   The US has violently exerted its power in the interest of profit making.  This has been done through countless coups and wars.  What benefits the continuation violent US hegemony does not benefit women, does not benefit working people, does not benefit oppressed nationalities, does not benefit people of color, does not benefit the environment, and does not benefit the vast majority of the world that lives in poverty.  It does not benefit our own people, who fight in these wars and who pay for these wars (at the expense of social spending towards education, health, jobs, environment, etc.).   Supporting Palestinians is a feminist issue.  Supporting Puerto Rican independence is a feminist issue.  Supporting the end to US wars is a feminist issue.  Politicians who support the status quo of US foreign policy- that is, those who do not question our right to play world police or the assumed moral superiority that nationalism grants us the right to starve, bomb, or destabilize other countries… is not in my opinion a feminist.  Women happen to live ALL over the world.  American women are no more important than women in Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, or Iraq.

This woman in Gaza matters, along with thousands of other people who were killed/injured in Gaza in 2014.  (Image from International Business Times).

 

2. It isn’t Fair that He Stepped Down

The “it isn’t fair” that he stepped down while worse Republicans remain in office is weakest, least morally courageous argument I have heard.   If someone does something bad…something that has hurt women…isn’t the morally responsible thing to do …is take accountability, step back from public life, and quietly work to rebuild trust through atonement?  It doesn’t matter if someone is worse, has done more, or others are not taking accountability.  The “grown up” thing to do when a mistake is made is admit it, apologize, bravely face the consequences, reflect on what happened and how to prevent it again, and work towards remedying the offense.  Yes, it certainly stinks to get in trouble for something when others are evading the consequences of their actions- but if a person truly believes that what they did was wrong, then the punishment of others should be of little concern.   This could have been an opportunity to set an example of how to gracefully, genuinely handle the serious issue sexual harassment.  Instead, Al Franken’s unapologetic resignation made him look like a petulant child- the same sort of behavior one would expect from Donald Trump.


3. Victim Blaming

One of the grossest things throughout this ordeal is the amount of victim blaming.   Despite photographic evidence of Al Franken groping Leann Tweeden, her credibility was attacked because of the bawdy nature of comedy, her conservative interests, her history with Playboy, etc.   Victims who have not identified themselves have even been blamed for not having the courage to reveal themselves- which implies perhaps they are not credible.  Worse, some people bemoan the fact that Al Franken was SUCH a good politician.  Why, he might have had a chance at becoming president some day!  Oh my!  Well, Brock Turner was SUCH a good swimmer!  That pesky sexual assault got in the way of such a promising athletic career.  When people bemoan “what could have been” it blames victims for ruining the careers and futures of offenders.  It is true that groping a sleeping woman is not the same as raping an unconscious woman.  However, there has been a great deal of minimizing Al Franken’s behaviors.   Eight accusations of unwanted touching and kissing IS a big deal.  And yes, Trump’s pussy grabbing and Roy Moore’s grabbing, dating underage women, forcing an underage woman’s head to his crotch, and other allegations of nastiness also matter.  ALL of this matters.  Everyone should resign.  Everyone sucks.  But please, believe victims!!


 

4. Get a Woman into Office!

Another pet peeve has been that the solution to all of this should be the appointment or election of more women into office.  Indeed, the socialization and social position of women in society has not lent itself to the same kinds of oppressive behaviors.  Women are more often the victims of sexual harassment and assault because women it is a method of social control of all women, this keeps women in their place, men feel entitled to women and have historically been entitled to women, women are not socialized to be sexually aggressive or exert control over men in this manner, victims historically and currently are not often believed, this behavior often goes on without consequence, etc.   However, this argument is troubling for a variety of reasons.  For one, it reifies gender.  That is, men and women are different, women are naturally better or less violent/gross/terrible, and the solution must be to include more women in power.  I think that this oversimplifies the problem while reinforcing the gender binary.  It assumes that there is some evil kernel within all men that makes them sexually harass/assault people.   This also ignores transgender, gender queer, gender fluid, or the many other ways to express gender and that these individuals are ALSO often the victims of sexual assault.  It also makes the issue a matter of who is in power rather than a matter of power itself.  Returning to the first point, women in power can be just as terrible- if they are promoting capitalist interests.  The world does not need more Condoleeza Rices, Madeline Albrights, Angela Merkels, Margaret Thatchers, and Hilary Clintons.  Yes, these are women, but they all promoted policies that have hurt women.  While it is less common, men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Women can sexually harass and assault each other in same sex relationships.  So…this argument is very base to me.  It does not tackle some fundamental issues of power or broader issues of feminism beyond sexual harassment. Image result for madeleine albright starved iraqi children


Beyond this critique, this is a disempowering message to feminists.  This message says that the best thing we can do is hope for a female politician to save us!  Gross.  We should be out in the streets.  Every night should be Take Back the Night.  We should be blocking roads and walking out of our work places in protest of sexual harassment/assault.  We should make power FEAR US.  We should not accept that power should be replaced by a female face.  We should take back power.  We should become power.  Politicians of both parties should fall over themselves to resign, because they fear the rage of millions of mobilized men, women, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, etc. people in the streets demanding  not only accountability….but the destruction of patriarchy itself.   This is a great opportunity for building a mass movement against the machinery of sexist oppression.  A woman will not save us.  We must save ourselves….and this planet.  The politicians will scramble to follow our lead.  If we are smart, we won’t give them the luxury of promises.


Conclusion…

I am sure I could go on, but these are some of the main “peeves” that have angered my socialist sensibilities.   I know that everyone is struggling with these issues.  I know that activism is a path- there is always room to grow and change.  I don’t wish to shame my fellow feminists.  I just…feel like I am alone in the wilderness sometimes.  I am not a Republican or a Democrat.   I don’t have any skin in that game.  I want a new game, with new rules, and new players, and a lot more winning for everyone.  I’m tired of playing Monopoly or Risk.  We are ALL losing.  We will ALL keep losing if we can’t change the discourse and step out of the realm of elections and politicians and into the realm of building the power of mass movements…and labor movement.

Consuming Feminism: The Abusive Touch of the Invisible Hand

Consuming Feminism: The Abusive Touch of the Invisible Hand

H. Bradford

4/2/17

In full disclosure of my consumerist hypocrisy,  I have a few t-shirts with feminist themes on them and a pair of Karl Marx sneakers.  The shirts were free leftovers from political events, but I probably would have bought them anyway.   All of these items were probably made in a sweatshop with the hyper exploited labor of mostly female garment workers.  Thus, what I write is not from some high and holy place.  It is meant to provide some sort of framework for understanding feminism and consumerism.   This understanding is meant to be tactical for social movement building rather than a personal attack or call for confessions of consumerist sins.  I sin.  We all sin.  Personal mistakes are inevitable and unavoidable.  Social movement mistakes have more weight as it represents a collective error.  Of course, social movements also make mistakes.  One mistake is the embrace of feminist consumerism.  While this was not part of the official organizing suggestions of the International Women’s Strike USA, some feminists promoted the tactic of patronizing women owned businesses on March 8th.  Some feminists believe that by buying certain products, they are promoting a better society.   I don’t wish to shame those feminists, but I do want to make an argument against that tactic.  The following is why I am against feminist consumerism:


 

The Myth of Consumer Sovereignty:

 

Many activists believe that we vote with our dollars.   However, like American democracy, market place democracy is a rigged system!  The argument that we vote with our dollars assumes that we enjoy consumer sovereignty, or control over supply and demand.   We lack full consumer sovereignty because supply and demand is confounded by such things as advertisement and government policy.   The items that appear in the market place, our knowledge of them, our desire for them, and our ability to obtain them are all variables that we have less control over than we think.   For instance, when we go to the store, we probably find one or two varieties of potatoes.  These varieties are cultivated because they have desirable qualities such as durability, pest resistance, size, uniformity, or long shelf life.  If we want a variety of purple potatoes or Russian fingerling potatoes, we may not find these at an ordinary grocery store.  If we do, they may be more expensive because they are grown on a smaller scale or are harder to grow.  Only those with more money, more time to search for this desired item, and knowledge can afford these specialty potatoes.  And while, perhaps they are grown locally or non-GMO, the world is probably no better a place because of the purchase of these potatoes because the purchase of the potatoes does not, in isolation, challenge systems of globalization, environmental problems from industrial agriculture, etc.   Further, this trend could influence companies to begin growing more of these potatoes, but may not challenge the working conditions or unjust systems under which they are produced.  Justice materializes into the form of a potato, rather than the productive forces that go into the potato itself.

 


I think that this probably sounds confusing and my potato example may not have clarified this position.   Basically, according to Marxism, we are all alienated from our labor.  This means we don’t have control over how things are produced, our workplace, and where the fruits of our production end up.  A potato grower at an industrialized farm probably does not know where those potatoes go or have much control over the length of their hours, their working conditions, the way the potatoes are grown, their wages, etc.  Likewise, when we go to a store, we see thousands of products, but because we are alienated from labor, we have no idea where, when, and how they were made.  So, if you order an order of fries at McDonalds, you have no idea if you are consuming GMO potatoes, potatoes grown with pesticides that cause cancer, or potatoes from Idaho, Minnesota, or even another country!  This is alienation.  Because we are alienated from labor, we are never really fully free to make autonomous and empowered consumer choices.  Even if we researched the conditions and source of McDonald’s french fries, we would find our self blindly ignorant about a million other consumer choices.   Thus, when it comes to the market place, were are never really able to fully vote with our dollars, since we are always alienated from production.

consumersovereignty


 

The Myth of Small and Local:

Because we don’t really have control over production, activists often try to seek out trusted alternatives to corporations.  To this end, they often try to buy items locally and from smaller producers.  Now, this isn’t a terrible idea.  When a person buys locally, they may be more aware of the production process.  For instance, if you bought locally grown potatoes, you could talk to the farmer or see the farm itself.  It also keeps money in a community.  Further, there may be less environmental destruction involved in production, since shipping is not over a long distance and may use less chemicals or produce less waste.  Thus, seeking out smaller scale, local sources can be a reasonable alternative to buying from larger corporations.


Nevertheless,  buying local or small scale is not the panacea to our social problems.  All businesses, large or small, seek profits.  From a Marxist perspective, profit is derived from the surplus value of labor.  Thus, the sweatshop worker who I assume made my sneakers may have been paid a few cents an hour.  The shoes were much more expensive.  The company that made the shoes did not pay the worker the full value of their labor.  In fact, they paid them a minuscule amount and kept the rest as profit.   At a local level, businesses also want to profit.  This is why the local business community has come out against Earned Safe and Sick Time.  This would cut into their profits.  This is also why some businesses have been against the Homeless Bill of Rights.  These businesses do not wish to have homeless people in their shops because they don’t want to scare of their costumers, which they think would diminish sales.  This is also why it has been hard to think of companies to support the HOTDISH Militia’s abortion fundraiser.  Vikyre, which came out for equal pay, was afraid to publicly support the fundraiser.  Why?  Perhaps they thought it was divisive and would scare off other consumers.  Even well meaning businesses, such as the Northern Waters Smokehaus had to abandon its no tip policy and reduce the wage of wait staff in order to remain profitable.  When given the choice between profitability and failure, a business will always choose profits.  This, of course, always hurts workers.  Finally, if there is the opportunity to do so, most local businesses would expand and grow.   Every large corporation began somewhere.  Some began as small businesses that made it big.  The profit motive is inherently inhumane.  It is inherently inhumane since profit represents the conversion of the life of workers into the wealth of business owners.  The exchange rate in this conversion always favors the capitalist.   Thus, it is certainly useful to patronize small or local businesses, but this tactic is not going to end capitalism or patriarchy.  It may alleviate some of the worst excesses of the system, but it does not challenge the laws by which the system operates.  Worse, when social movements call upon individuals to shop locally, it can create an illusion that local businesses are our friends.  They aren’t.  They are not for $15 minimum wage.  They don’t want to offer more benefits to their workers.   They don’t want homeless folks hanging out.  They don’t want workers to take  control of their business and decide for themselves how things should be done or how profits should be used.

senecacominwage1

 


 

The Myth of Labels:

Alienation makes production mysterious to us.   One way to shed light on the mystery is labels.  Labels are great.   I want more labels.  I like that it is an easy way to know the ingredients or nutrition value in a food item.  It is an easy way to know where a shirt is made and what it is made of.  It is a way to know if your tuna is dolphin free or your coffee is fair trade.   I am for labeling GMOs.  The more we know, the more capacity we have to make informed choices.


The main problem with labels is the false security they may provide and the way in which they reinforce the myth of consumer sovereignty.   For instance, a person may be secure that their Starbucks coffee is fair trade.  It has a label!  But, the coffee could have been packaged by an inmate.  There is no label for prison labor (which Starbucks has used in the past).   Companies try to sell their products by shrouding themselves in labels and packaging such that is green “fair trade” “rainforest alliance” gluten free and breast cancer ribbons.   Consider the recent debacle with Cheerios.  The company was trying to market itself as concerned with bees, but in 2016 Cheerio’s tested positive for glyphosate, the bee killing pesticide produced by Monsanto.  Critics also pointed out that some of the seeds that Cheerios provided are considered invasive or are not native to the U.S.  Finally, critics also noted that the industrialized farming of cereal grains has destroyed bee habitat.   The big idea here is that many companies know that people are mobilizing or at least aware of issues like environmental destruction, gender equality, globalization, cancer, etc.  Labels and branding are used to attract consumers, but also to distract consumers from other unsavory business practices.  I wrote about this before with the phenomenon of Trump washing.  Nike came out against Trump.  Suddenly, everyone loved Nike.  Coming out against Trump is a way to seem progressive and draw attention away from sweatshop labor.   Again, no company should be entirely trusted as all seek profits.

en_hnc_social_0004_gen1


 

Tactics:

This piece may seem like it takes an impossible position.  Obviously, we live in capitalism but we HAVE to buy something.  Women must often shoulder the burden of both underpaid paid labor and under valued unpaid labor.  While a person might be able to survive without buying, this would require a lot of labor!!  Imagine weaving your own cloth, sewing your own clothes, producing and preserving your own food!  The amount of time would not be realistic for most people.  Further, it would force women to work harder at unpaid labor in the interest of usurping capitalism.   Of course, there are benefits of making and growing or collecting and gleaning rather than buying – but these do not really have the collective economic power to liberate us from capitalist patriarchy.


I accept that some buying is inevitable.  I accept that people should be mindful of what they buy, but that even this requires time, knowledge, and money.   I accept that there are tactics related to buying that CAN be powerful.  Collectively, we can engage in anti-buying campaigns.   For instance, there are activists who are divesting their money from banks that support or benefit from the Dakota Access Pipeline.  There are activists who supported boycott and divestment against apartheid South Africa.  There are activists who currently support the same against apartheid in Israel.   The labor movement often calls upon people to boycott companies which are not using union labor or to not patronize a business that is in the middle of a labor dispute.  The International Women’s Day March called upon women to boycott sexist companies or avoid buying for the day.  Boycotting and divestment is a useful tactic when it is collective and associated with a social movement.   These movements use consumer power to collectively punish a business in the interest of creating social change rather than individually reward for doing something perceived as good.


Finally, the major flaw with consumer feminism is that it is focused on consumption rather than production.  I get it.  It is easier to focus on the consumer end of things.  I can go to a store and as an individual choose what to buy.  It is easy.  The choice takes little time.  With hope, others would do the same.  However, consumer choices traps one in the logic of capitalism.  It locks one into supply and demand and consumer sovereignty.  It hopes that buy changing one company, the day will be saved.  But, even if everyone chose to buy an organic, Whole Food co-op version of cheerios….and even if Cheerios went under…there would be other cereal brands and other issues with industrial agriculture.  Capitalism is too massive and adaptive to be fought on its own terms and with its own rules.  Thus, this is why ultimately tactics must be production centered.  To this end, we must do the slow and tedious work of building the labor movement.  Only when workers own and control the factories, fields, shops, schools, hospitals, etc. will we really have control of if and how things are produced.  These choices can be thought of logically, with social and environmental good in mind.  In the interim, we must support the struggles of workers for unions, greater autonomy, better wages, more benefits, etc. and connect these struggles to the struggles for racial, gender, sexual, disability, age, etc equality.   The invisible hand will not liberate us.  Capitalism is abusive to women.  It is abusive to everyone who works.  It is abusive to the planet.

landscape-1475243086-hbz-dior-feminist-tee

Some Basics of Socialist Feminism

Some Basics of Socialist Feminism

H. Bradford

3/11/17

This week, International Women’s Day was marked by an impressive array of feminist mobilizations around the world.  For the first time in a long time in the U.S., the holiday hearkened back to its radical roots.  Women from Lansing to Chattanooga, along with at least fifty other cities in the United States, participated in demonstrations related to “A Day Without a Woman.” Locally, there were numerous events spread across the week which touched upon a wide range of issues including domestic violence, wage parity, reproductive rights, and U.S. foreign policy.  Considering the connection the holiday has to the labor and socialist movements, it is suiting that this month’s Feminist Frolic would include a labor history hike around Superior.  I wanted to end the hike with an equally relevant topic: socialist feminism.


It is hard to know where to begin when explaining socialist feminism.  It is something I take for granted and something that isn’t easily explained.  There is no “one” socialist feminism, since there are many strains of socialist thought.  As such, this is not a theoretically nuanced piece.  Rather, it seeks to lay out some basic principles of socialist feminism.  To this end, in 1976, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a short, basic piece which sought to explain socialist feminism.  Her beginning point was to break down feminism and socialism.  According to Ehrenreich (1976), both are ways of looking critically at society.  From a socialist, or more specifically, a Marxist perspective, society is unequal because a tiny segment of the population profits from the labor of the majority.  The vast majority of the population are workers, who must work to survive and who do not control their wages, working conditions, or productive outputs.  The tiny minority are capitalists, who profit by underpaying workers.  According to Marxists, these classes are in conflict with one another.  And, it is possible and hopeful, though not inevitable nor easy, that this conflict could lead to the workers emancipating themselves by overthrowing the capitalists and the system that benefits them.  Thus, the main concern of Marxists is class conflict, through, issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and all the other “isms” are also important antagonisms which serve a purpose in capitalism and which Marxists seek to resolve through mass movements and the overthrow of capitalism.  Inessa Armand summarized the importance of organizing to end these oppressions as part of the struggle against capitalism in her quote, “if the emancipation of women is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without the full emancipation of women.”  Ehrenreich (1976) summed it up by stating that socialist feminism is “socialist, internationalist, antiracist, antiheterosexist feminism.”

Inessa Armand


Feminism, like Marxism, sees inequality as characteristic of capitalist society.  However, the area of special focus of feminists is the oppression of women.  Various kinds of feminists come to different conclusions about how to end oppression.  For instance, liberal feminists often want to elect more women into political office.  They might support businesses owned by women and want to promote women into leadership and business positions.  This position generally wants to work within the framework of capitalism and the confines of our existing political system to enact reforms that benefit women.  To be fair, socialist feminists are not against reforms, but are critical of capitalism and our political system.  From a socialist feminist perspective, capitalist democracies cannot end women’s oppression.  The socialist feminist critique of liberal feminism is that promoting women into power perpetuates the oppression of women by giving them reign over foreign policies, military decisions, and austerity measures that hurt women.  For instance, one of the first events for International Women’s Day was a panel sponsored by Witness for Peace.  The panel focused on Honduras, which experienced U.S. supported coup in 2009.  Berta Caceres, an environmental activist, was killed about a year prior to the panel.  She was a critic of Hillary Clinton and her death resulted the violence and intimidation that has sought to suppress activists since the coup.  From a socialist feminist perspective, it is not a win for women if Hillary Clinton would have been elected as president.  For poor women, working women, and women who suffer from our militarism and violent, business centered foreign policy, this would not have been a gain at all.  Socialist feminist critique liberal feminism because it mainly benefits wealthier or more privileged women.

I want a feminism that stands against U.S. foreign policy.


The critique of liberal feminism is nothing new.  Historically, socialists have not always been perfect on the issue of women’s liberation.  While Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote about women’s oppression and socialists organized around issues related to working class women, early socialists were cautious and critical of feminists.  They viewed early feminists as upper to middle class women whose interests were not aligned with those of working women.  These early feminists supported suffrage, but also wanted property rights for women.  These demands seem basic, but to a socialist, who views private property as the basis of patriarchy and who advocates for people who lack property, it is a demand that speaks more to those with means.  Socialists were late to adopt women’s suffrage as a demand for a variety of reasons (e.g. worry about participation in capitalist governments and concern that women could be drafted into imperialist wars) and did so due to the pressure and leadership of women within their own party.  While there is a rich history of socialist women such as Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, and Alexandra Kollontai, these women are often overshadowed by their male counterparts in history.  Women played an important role in the Russian revolution by leading a strike on International Women’s Day in 1917, but were relegated to less “powerful” or important roles in the government.  The Russian revolution transformed society.  While it is common for people in our society to view Russia as conservative and repressive today, it was actually the first country to legalize abortion and decriminalize homosexuality.  After the revolution, maternity leave, civil marriage, easier access to divorce, free daycares, free health care, communal kitchens, and equal pay for equal work were introduced.  Women’s jobs were even protected from being taken by returning soldiers.  But, these gains were halted and reversed by Stalin.


Stalinism put the brakes on the development of socialist feminist thought in the Soviet Union, but this did not stop socialists elsewhere in the world from developing socialist feminism.  The flourishing of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, deepened the interest in questioning the nature of oppression and how to resolve it.  Some feminists were dissatisfied with the solutions offered by radical feminism, which did not examine social class, and liberal feminism, which did not challenge the economic foundation of women’s oppression.  These feminists also rejected understandings of Marxism which gave primacy to class over gender.  They saw the two as intertwined.  Thus, this was the birth of modern socialist feminism.  Personally, while socialist feminism and Marxist feminist are supposedly schematically different, I find that I am both.  I come from a Marxist tradition, but I also view class and other oppressions as intertwined.  It is not possible to organize a worker’s revolution without the support and advancement of oppressed groups.  Thus, I don’t use the term socialist feminist to differentiate myself from a Marxist feminist.  Perhaps if I was around a larger variety of socialists and feminists, or wrote for an academic audience, these distinctions would have more meaning.  It is also important to note that my education in socialist feminism does not come from academia, but rather my experiences as an activist.  Because of this, the theoretical grounding and minutiae of socialist feminist debates is not as sophisticated as it could be.  Nevertheless, from my own experiences, here are some of the key components of modern socialist feminism.


1.Patriarchy arose with the advent of private property.  Private property results in the first class societies, but also required methods of passing property from one generation to the next.  This resulted in a system of primogeniture, or passing property on to the oldest son.  However, this also required that women’s sexually had to be controlled to avoid passing property along to an “illegitimate” heir.  Thus, patriarchy predates capitalism by many thousands of years.  Yet, since property is a cornerstone of capitalism, monogamy and marriage continue to be a means by which individuals manage and pass on property.


2.Capitalism is one of many class based societies.  Each had particular shortcomings and class antagonisms.  The main class antagonism in capitalism pits workers against capitalism.  Workers provide capitalists with profits, which is done by lengthening their work day, increasing production, and underpaying them.  At the same time, women play a few unique roles in capitalism.  For one, any oppressed group can serve as a scapegoat for social problems, which distracts workers from their common oppression.  Secondly, women play a role in the social reproduction of labor.  That is, they produce future generations of workers and maintain the current generation of workers through their unpaid labor.  Since women shoulder more unpaid labor than men, they play a bigger role in maintaining the workforce by making meals, cleaning the home, doing laundry, taking children to doctor’s appointments, raising children in general, caring for elderly and retired workers, etc.  In short, women do an astonishing service for capitalism.  Their unpaid labor means that less profits are diverted to social programs and socialized modes of care.


3.Socialist feminism calls for the overthrow of capitalism, because anything less puts social movements in an endless treadmill of fighting for reforms and fighting against the erosion of previous reforms.  For instance, reproductive rights have been eroded over the last forty years.  Activists may be able to fight some of these rollbacks, but unless capitalism is overthrown, there will always be pressures to reverse the rights won by activists.  There will always be another war, another attack on workers, and another cut to social programs.  This is the nature of capitalism and the role that governments take in ensuring that business can happen as usual.


4. Although socialist feminists want to see the end to capitalism, they support a variety of reforms to capitalism in the meantime- as a way to alleviate the suffering wrought by this system.  These demands include safe, legal, free and accessible abortion and reproductive health services.  Free and accessible are important demands that contrast to some liberal feminists, who have argued that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.  Abortion should be accessed without coercion and stigma.  It is important to be mindful that minority women, women with disabilities, and women in the third world, have not been given the same autonomy over their reproductive health.  They have been experimented upon and sterilized.  Other demands, which were put forth by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union in 1969, include pleasant private and collective housing, nutritious and varied food, community control and the disarmament of police, social responsibility for raising children, 24 hour free and client control daycare, free quality, public education for all ages, democratic councils within homes, communities, and workplaces, free competent, prevention focused, quality medical care, social respect for all jobs, an end of housework as private, unpaid labor, etc.  Many of these demands are quite revolutionary and would likely not be accomplished within capitalism, at least not without the pressure of strong and militant feminist and labor movements.  But, they represent the multifaceted nature of socialist feminism.  Social respect for all jobs, including janitors, fast food workers, sex workers, etc. not only benefit those workers, but they benefit women.  Women’s work is not socially respected.  This lack of social respect is used to justify unequal pay.  Respect for all work means rethinking how wages are structured and social inequality is viewed as an outcome of worth or merit.

Work should not be shameful.  It should not be a reflection of a person’s intellect, dreams, talents, personality, potential, or worth.  Even within capitalism, it is the means to survival, yet it is given so much symbolic meaning.


5.Socialist feminism is international.   While liberal feminists may look towards policies that benefit women within their own society, socialist feminists look at feminism globally.  Not everything that seems to benefit U.S. women benefit women elsewhere in the world.  Electing a woman as president means little of this president promotes war, sanctions, and free trade.  The U.S. is not the world’s police.  At the same time, oppressed women in the world will not be liberated by the U.S. or its military.  This is a task they must take up on their own.  For instance, a socialist feminist is against war in Afghanistan, even if some schools for girls are built or other projects that benefit women are supported by this mission.  The cost of war, the violence, the death, environmental destruction, and the usurping of national autonomy is always worse than these gains.


6.Socialist feminism is environmentally minded.  Socialism has not always had the reputation of being focused on the environment, just as it has not always had the reputation of focusing on women.   While I would argue that socialism has always had strong environmental and gender implications, social movements have helped socialists to further develop theory about and emphasize these issues.  It is clear that capitalism is destroying the planet.  Climate change is an outcome of the anarchy of capitalist production.  Capitalism will not transcend a fossil fuel based economy so long as it is profitable.  At the same time, climate change disproportionately impacts women globally because women are more likely to live in poverty.  In the third world, they are also more likely to be involved in farming and food production.  Thus, women are more likely to face food insecurity, disease, loss of livelihood, displacement, and increased impoverishment as the result of climate change.  Economic vulnerability lends itself to other vulnerabilities, such as to trafficking and domestic violence.  Socialists want an economy wherein production is based upon human needs rather than profit.  The productive forces of society should be socially owned, made more efficient, more sustainable, and localized, in the interest of meeting human needs and salvaging the planet.  The fossil fuel economy must be abolished.


7.Socialist feminism is intersectional.  Many feminist activists who use the word intersectional today use it in a very generic way.  That is, intersectionality is commonly understood to simply mean that oppression is complicated and often compounded.  A person may experience many kinds of oppression, including classism, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc.  Thus, feminists are called upon to not only look at the oppression of women, but how this oppression interacts with other oppressions.  In this very generic understanding of intersectionality, socialist feminism is extremely intersectional because it is very aware of how the mission of feminism should not be to simply advance women, but to end racism, ableism, environmental destruction, heterosexism, and all of other social ills produced by capitalism.  Of course, socialist feminism does differ from the post-structural understanding of intersectionality.  Class is not one oppression of equals.  Class does have an important place in socialist feminism, because it is not only a type of oppression, it is the heart of the economic system and the engine of liberation.  Class is a node that intersects with many kinds of oppressions.  All of these oppressions play an important role in the functioning of capitalism.  However, because workers, as a class, make up the vast majority of society and because they are the economic power that drives capitalism, they have a special place in the network of oppressions.  Class is more than an identity, it is a social position and economic function.  At the same time, a working class revolution will not succeed unless it is anti-racist, feminist, against heterosexism, against ableism, etc.  These things cannot be divorced or teased out of this struggle.  They are enmeshed so tightly that socialist feminism is intersectional in practice, despite slight theoretical differences with the academic understanding of the word.


Conclusion:

With the resurgence of the feminist movement, it is important to revisit some of the variations of feminism.  Socialist feminism is just one kind of feminism.  Liberal feminism, which is the center of my critique, is another.  But, there are many variations of feminism.  There are variations of socialist feminism.  This piece set out to establish a few of the basics, at least from my own perspective and experiences as an activist.  While socialist feminism may seem old fashioned, I think it remains extremely relevant.  Attacks against collective bargaining, austerity, challenges to reproductive rights, and war have become commonplace.  The planet is dying.  The challenges faced by humanity are as daunting as ever.  Big problems need big solutions.  That is the promise of socialism.  It is a big solution.  Of course, building a socialist movement itself seems like an impossible task.  The question is not, “What is to be done?”  It is, where to begin?  International Women’s Day was a great beginning point to a feminist movement that connects to socialism and the labor movement.  Capitalism atomizes us.  This system breaks the continuity of history so that we feel isolated, lost, and alone.  But, the Day Without a Woman sought to make a connection to the labor and socialist history of the holiday.  It also sought to highlight the economic power of women and the connect the struggle of women in the U.S. to those abroad.  To me, this contains of the seeds of possibility.  On my part, I can continue to have conversations, promote these ideas, and dedicate myself to a variety of causes in the struggle against capitalism.  With hope, others will join in.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing, hat, shoes and outdoor

 

 

https://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/ehrenreich-barbara/socialist-feminism.htm

http://socialistreview.org.uk/367/women-and-revolution

https://monthlyreview.org/2003/03/01/the-socialist-feminist-project/
http://www.oakton.edu/user/4/ghamill/Socialist_Feminism.pdf

Post Navigation