Feminism vs Capitalism, and Why We Need Feminism to Succeed
by Theodora Young
Feminist theory, often applied to research in the fields of gender relations, cultural studies, sexuality, class systems and so forth, is a method of approaching research in a way that disrupts conventional binaries. It allows the troubling of normalized power relations embedded in academic knowledge production, addressing both the personal and intimate in global, political issues. These power relations have produced the illusion of separation between men and women, man and nature, and brought our world into its current uneven landscape. Thus, to rectify this, they desperately need challenging.
One of the norms created by unequal power relations is capitalism. This system depends on marginalized, disenfranchised bodies for success. It enables patriarchy, which enables capitalism in a seemingly endless cycle, creating a political climate in which power is vested in a ruling class of powerful individuals. It prevents these individuals (and all of us who unconsciously participate in the system by purchasing commodities, the markets of which cause tensions at the opposite end of the production chain, such as low-price foods and clothing), from connecting with each other. It prevents us from breaking down the boundaries that separate us from those who work at all the disparate points of these chains, and it prevents us from connecting with the natural world. In this system, the natural world is not an extension of ourselves, but simply a means to our own selfish ends.
The breaking down of these boundaries has been encouraged by feminism in its various waves over the past century. However, in a strange paradox, it has come to pass that economic empowerment of women is unequivocally essential to the advancement of feminism. For example, 65% of the world's poor are women. If we look at the success stories of charitable organizations such as The Girl Effect, it becomes obvious that young women are pivotal to the success, empowerment and health of their communities. In developed countries, there remains a stark wage gap between men and women, which needs closing. This apparent failure (thus far) of feminism, has been commented on by many writers, including Germaine Greer, a leading feminist herself. She argued that the second wave of feminism was not inclusive to all who should have been able to participate in it. That intersectional viewpoints were not accounted for (those who experienced prejudice because they were female as well as or because of their race or ethnicity or class status... who could not participate because they did not have the voice nor the means for reasons other than their gender alone). Therefore at that point in time, she argues that feminism was not an ethical pursuit.
What I want to ask is: how can feminism usher in a new order of peace and connectivity, in which all, intersectional members of the population can participate, outside of the margins of the capitalist system? Because, if it operates within this exclusionary world economic system that has perpetuated inequalities, then surely it will never actually, ethically, succeed?
And why does the burden of cleaning up this mess fall on a new wave of feminism?
Well, I have a few ideas in relation to these questions. Feminists hold the view that no-one is more important than anyone else, which also shows feminism's opposition to capitalism. It is therefore vital in combatting the current systems of production and exploitation in place. It has nothing to do with 'man-hating,' or scorning pretty girls with good tans, or denying chivalry a place in the world. These misconceptions hold little relevance when we consider feminism to bear the philosophical importance of a global shift in perspective. This new, privileged viewpoint can be transgender, trans-race, trans-sexuality, trans-class, trans-ethnicity. It's a stance that can effortlessly encompass all the stories that form individual perspectives, allowing us to see the world from each other's points of view. To see the world for what it really is - simply a home to all that exist within it. Here, man and nature are not necessarily separate entities. Man and woman not necessarily fixed categories. Man and child deserving of the same recognition.
Now, all this isn't to say that feminism purports the dreamy impossibility that we can all sit down and knit ourselves into unity, living on as one human race under one religion of love and one politics of freedom. Instead it purports that we, all citizens of the planet, are smart enough to practice empathy, and consequently attempt to understand each other's complex, intersectional views of the world. In doing that, it will be possible to accept that each individual is equal to the next. Therefore feminism supposes that individuals can, if they so wish, reject the images we chase after that are rewarded by a capitalist society in which marketing determines our appearances and achievements. Despite the immeasurable amount of courage and independence required to do so, and the fact that our conditioning in this capitalism society is ingrained such that it is almost ineradicable, many feminists seek to counteract or reverse it. As equals, then, we all have a platform to reject this, thanks to feminism.
There still remains a perplexing dualism; the ladies wishing to actively achieve equal status to their male counterparts in the workplace by closing the wage gap - are they succeeding as feminists by doing so, or failing because they too are participating in a capitalist economy? Earning a living wage is a means with which we all must engage, and it must be fair.... thus capitalism will be the biggest challenge for 3rd wave feminists this century. Elsewhere on this blog are examples of how women engage with the economy to level the playing fields in new ways, empowering themselves and their communities. For example, see Abby Lyall's insight into the ladies obtaining Gareem loans in Bangladesh. This entrepreneurial endeavor is one of the inspiring ways feminism can manifest itself against the normalized, unequal economic landscape of today.
If any readers know about other exciting endeavors, please feel free to share them!
The above opinions are my own. Please feel free to share any other ideas you have on this wonderful platform for discussion.