Has feminism really become capitalism’s handmaiden?

graffitti: "All my Marxist feminist dialectic brings the boys to the yard"

Has feminism become capitalism’s handmaiden? That’s what Nancy Fraser argues in a really fascinating piece over at The Guardian, claiming that feminist ideas have been used in the rise of neoliberalism:

In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. Where feminists once criticised a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to “lean in”. A movement that once prioritised social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorised “care” and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy.

Fraser continues to argue that women’s liberation pointed ambiguously to two distinct futures: a participatory, democratic one, and one of liberal individualistic advancement. It’s a compelling argument, and I agree with many of the points she makes. That said, where she misses the mark is by starting with the assumption of a monolithic feminism. As long as there have been feminists, there have been feminisms, and while Fraser’s assessment does seem to match up to a feminism – perhaps even a quite dominant feminism – this critique overlooks that feminisms pioneered by women of color have always had an intersectional focus and even strong critiques of capitalism. While many of Fraser’s points ring quite true to me, this oversight seems pretty big.

What do you think?

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Veronica is an immigrant queer writer, domestic artist, and music video enthusiast. 

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2 Comments

  1. Posted October 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    If that is the case–for the mainstream of feminism, at least: as you say, we have “feminisms” more than “feminism”–I can only say one thing–GOOD! Any form of feminism that’s a proper feminism is inherently an individualistic proposition–it is about not being told by the patriarchy what roles we must play in life, about choosing our own path. If we’re just going to let a new set of rules take the patriarchy’s place, what’s the point?

    Winston Churchill once famously said that democracy was the worst form of governance there was, save all the others; well, capitalism is the worst form of economy there is, except for all the others. Capitalism isn’t perfect–that’s why we need unions and regulations and such–nor applicable in every single situation–just look at what happened because we’ve been outsourcing background checks for top secret clearances to private firms–but it is in fact far, far better than every other economic system humanity has ever tried. Globalization, too–after all, the best way to help poor nations is to stimulate their economy.

    • Posted October 19, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Shaun,
      I think by “individualistic” Fraser means valuing what can be achieved by a single person, rather than valuing what can be achieved by a team. She is not arguing that giving everyone options is a bad thing. She is arguing that modern, mainstream feminism champions the women who “lean in” and break down boundaries. That leaves a lot of women behind, including lower income women, women in care giving roles, many women of color, women who aren’t lawyers and CEOs and doctors.

      Fraser is arguing that feminism originally had a goal of elevating the respect of roles traditionally performed by women, IN ADDITION to helping women break into areas that have been dominated and controlled by men. So that means supporting women who want to “lean in,” but also giving women who choose to take on more traditional family roles the support they need to keep them out of poverty, keep them from being abused, help them to reenter the workforce if they choose. It means getting more women doctors, but also increasing the respect for nurses. It means explaining that an elementary school professor works as hard and is as intelligent as a college professor.

      I agree with Fraser, that the mainstream face of feminism has dropped the dual track goals that the suffragettes and second wavers had. It is why feminism can make women feel alienated instead of welcomed. Mothers and nurses and elementary school teachers don’t earn as much as CEOs and doctors and professors, so society and “neoliberalism” don’t respect them. If feminism isn’t standing up for them as much as they do for the women breaking barriers, then they are agreeing with society that these women are less valuable.

      I would also agree that feminism and womanism as expressed by WOC tends not to fall in this trap.

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