”The confidence we experience as we make a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that it is right. Confidence is a feeling, one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable. An individual who expresses high confidence probably has a good story, which may or may not be true…(Y)ou should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about” Daniel Kahneman, “Don’t Blink!“, October 2011.
Nancy Fraser on the co-development of the latter-20th century feminist movement and neoliberalism as a form of capitalism.
Neoliberalism wants cheap women workers.
Pillars of 2nd wave feminism (against state-organized capitalism) that melded with neoliberalism, post-1970s, to create the degraded form of feminism characteristic of the conservative age:
1) Critique of economism/focus on distributive justice –> cultural determinism, glorifying political-economic ignorance.
2) Critique of androcentrism, male family wage–> uncritical embrace of wage labour.
3) Critique of managerialism/technocracy/nation-state as arena of political contestation
–>market over state, deregulation, welfare state retrenchment.
It’s not just that feminism has been hijacked by capital.
There is an affinity between feminism & neoliberalism that enables their coalition: They both oppose traditional authority. Ideally, feminists oppose the traditional authority of elders, fathers, husbands; capitalists oppose traditional authority that slows or broadly redistributes profit accumulation. But capital has the resources and some feminists have the motivation to efface those specificities, or to cohere when the specifics overlap; and it’s capital’s terrain.
Current trends in feminist neoliberalism:
1) Today, feminism is less a critique of capitalism, and more of a contribution to neoliberalism, eg. microcredit finance as “answer” to poverty.
2) Gender and sexuality departments in universities are used to pioneer academic proletarianization, privatization and other neoliberal policies.
3) With the explosion of surveillance states, especially the US, feminist anti-male violence politics and policies are used as a tool to enforce US-centric state monopoly on violence and conservative policy orthodoxy within the capitalist World-system.
4) Feminist obeausity entrepreneurs oppose pro-working class food, health, and transit movements.
5) Neoliberal feminists continue to insist that we have to valorize popular political-economic illiteracy, which, they hold, is within a properly female domain, whereas they hold that political-economic literacy is “male.” This conceptualization translates in practice into the Victorian Progressivist/feminist assumption that a competent, educated woman’s work is properly low-paid/unpaid caregiving and hegemony transmission, wherefrom eventually elect women are promoted into caregiving and cultural management.
6) “Polyvocality” busywork keeps the young women fussing, fretting and preening about in the house, forever perfecting cocktail party guest lists and chiding each other about their manners, even as the house is being systematically dismantled by bulldozers, and plundered by Christian patriarchs, bankers, and oil men. It’s a prefigurative technique; it’s not political engagement. It’s a partial gesture, thats game-changing effectiveness requires social preconditions.
I agree strongly with Nancy Fraser’s dead-on observation that feminists (maybe because we come from different political and material vantage points) have not in this conservative era figured out how to oppose traditional authority in a way that makes feminism distinct from neoliberalism (that is, US-centric global monopoly capitalism).
While feminists who acknowledge this prefer to claim that feminism is just weaker than conservatism, and there is truth to that, it is also true that mainstream, liberal feminist politics and policies cohere feminists to neoliberal initiatives as well.
Eisenstein, Hester. 2009. Feminism Seduced: How Global Elites Use Women’s Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World. Boulder: Paradigm.
Eisenstein essentially takes up Viriginia Woolf’s enlightened charge in “Three Guineas” (1938).
and cites Johanna Brenner: “(M)ainstream feminist goals are entirely compatible with the economic doctrines of corporate globalization” (ix).
Judith Orr (2010) reviews the feminist terrain from England.
But for one anti-neoliberal feminist example, Naomi Wolf is always in there, drawing the line in the sand between capitalist class political projects and feminist commitments. You may prefer the (co-optable, acontextual) brand of female “purity” offered by liberal or radical feminism, but I really appreciate the dirty public role Wolf takes on in these controversies.
Prominent, reliable anti-neoliberal feminists include:
Jacqui M. Alexander
Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Frances Fox Piven
Brooksley Born (?)
Karen Orren (?)
Jenny Marx Longuet
Lena Morrow Lewis
What will feminists replace traditional patriarchal authority with, besides the orthodox, male-dominated US-centric market daddy wagon we’ve way too often been hitched to and steered by since the 1970s?
Neoliberal feminism is not so much an abeyance institution as it is a technique for advancing conservative initiatives that feast on the blood, sweat and tears of women– while letting feminists feel those familiar feminine feelings: righteous and altruistic and busy…and exhausted and frustrated. This is a central problem to feminism that should no longer be pussy-footed around in the interest of maintaining a vagina- and queer sexual identity-centered coalition.
It does not increase women’s freedoms to answer “We shall replace the capitalist capitan of our hearts with polyvocality,” the idealist, romantic, pluralist “substitute” for sometimes-coalitional, sometimes-contentious political democracy, and a diluted, denatured and anxiously-respectable form of resistance. Which is not to say polyvocality isn’t difficult. Indeed, under present might-makes-right social relations, polyvocality can never be substantively accomplished to challenge the order. That difficulty doesn’t mean it is the prime lever to order change.
We don’t exit hierarchical, exclusionary, patriarchal “gang” relations by urging an interdependent pluralistic voluntarism (AKA polyvocality). There’s an alluring micro-macro homology to that theory–and it’s too easy, and the US has shown that the valorization of pluralism cannot counter social human organization and power within a hierarchy building, surplus accumulating framework.
Instead Enlightenment’s champions fight together, over centuries, to found institutions that systematically, broadly redistribute resources, surplus, status, and power (This is the Frodo Baggins theory: Concentrated power is a burden that corrupts. Control tyranny by distributing power to those least capable of (ab)using it, and keep it moving around. I’m sorry, it’s very nerdly; but essentially, in this view, Lord of the Rings is an Enlightenment story about how you get to communism. It should be rewritten by a socialist-feminist.), and we fight to beat back organized, capital-backed coalitions of conservatives–people who specifically want to restrict power, status and surplus to a small group most able to abuse it.
This is a long haul. Sometimes it requires disruption; sometimes it requires coalition-building and alternative institution building. Because there is an outside context of motivated power that systematically rapes and pillages, you cannot (figuratively) expand the acequias outside the remote interstices (figuratively, Northern NM) unless you repeatedly fight the long fight, as well as build alternative institutions and culture. Here is where historical-materialist feminists do not buy the capitalist portrayal of communism. Yes, communists fight, and that is needed. Pacified alterity cannot induce change by itself, because surplus-accumulating power is complex enough and flexible enough to absorb it; and it is not enough to celebrate the marginalized existence of pacified alterity within a dehumanizing, environmentally-destructive system. We need to re-engage strategic, contentious politics, to disrupt, as historical political sociologists Frances-Fox Piven and Domhoff will agree.
As Lichterman says, it is strategic not to reify specific individuals and groups as opponents, so that we can recognize the moment’s coalition opportunities; but we always have to be able to recognize the conservative difference and oppose it. We understand that egalitarian liberation requires a role for creative, contentious collective strategy when we recognize, as Zizek notes, that an order, including patriarchy, mobilizes its defenders. The twentieth century’s basic passion, “the belief that politics was the key to our truths as well as our myths,” (Hobsbawm 2012) has not been superceded, only suppressed for class warfare purposes.
Polyvocality has to be a preservation practice of monastery communities, and a second-tier goal, after feminists have stopped forming “coalitions” with (being co-opted by) capital’s primitive accumulation and exploitation initiatives, and have instead embraced the long hard road of forming capitalist order-disruptive, organization-building coalitions with the working class, which is not male (even if conservatives have had some of it wishing it were). It’s obvious that US working class institutions are heavily to blame for this coalition failure–but they’re nearly obliterated now.
The point I am making in this post:
Feminists need a socialist backbone not because socialism is a more transhistorically-essential political program; not at all. Feminists need a socialist backbone because without a critique of capital, in a capitalist context, feminism will be emphatically subsumed by and subordinated to conservative surplus and power accumulation projects that eviscerate feminist achievements and obstruct feminist goals.
The conservatives are showing us that in the US, time and time again, they can invoke and wield Little King politics that promise, no matter what else might be going on, that every dispossessed American can join together with the political-economic elite in ruling with an iron fist over women as a group. That political strategy cannot be beat back and held down unless feminists can join together with socialists to advance, both with some prefigurative politics and with plenty of non-innocent, political conflict, both the egalitarian distribution of the wealth society collectively creates and post-feudal freedoms for all.
Women who have emerged from abuse know–You cannot overcome systematic abuse with a culture of “egalitarian” respect and listening, practiced by only one side, the abused. Now consider this difference in this analogy: We cannot exit our abusive relationship (based in surplus and power accumulation)–We cannot exit our planet, and find a more supportive “women’s shelter” planet. Ours is the long, hard battle not just to maintain a distinct, better vision of human relations, but to engage in conflict, to subdue, and to conquer the oppressor–as the political-economic opportunity strikes (as he loses coherence, confidence, hegemonic monopoly), and put him on a new track, within which he is motivated and compelled to share in the reproductive provisioning and to share resources, status, and power.
At that point the idealists–the anarchists and postmodernists have an important role to play in fostering reinforcing polyvocal culture and art. The monks and nuns of prefigurative politics will take care of themselves today. We need to be fostering, valorizing, and protecting organizers, strategists, communist horizon theorists (including socialist-feminists), monkeywrenchers, and fighters.
“American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.
Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.
To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.”
Landler, Mark & Andrew W. Lehren. 2011. “Cable Shows Delicate US Dealings with Egypt’s Leaders.” The New York Times, January 27.
In this essay/speech, Linda Gordon reviews historical evidence from the US, revealing how, in an inegalitarian society, even altruism comes out all wrong (not unlike egoism). She commences by condemning the modern reification of childhood innocence.
In addition to the shock doctrine and Policy Drift (Hacker & Piereson), pimping out victimhood (here feminism) is a third pillar neoliberal strategy in coordinating the advancement of conservative policy.
People’s desire to “do something” altruistic with their feeling of victimhood (which they are groomed to misread) meets their timid desire to do something reassuringly “close-to-home”–producing righteous, cowardly energy, easy fodder for neoliberal elites cultivating hoi poloi-screwing neoliberal crises.
At this blog site, Joanne Namerow discusses the main Wikileaks outrage, from elites’ perspective: States’ use of surveillance technology, rendering subjects’ lives and political views transparent to rulers, can occasionally be used to make capitalist state and capitalist elite machinations transparent to the public. What Namerow doesn’t discuss is that transparency isn’t half of what’s required for political mobilization. The state has the advantage of being run on behalf of antidemocratic elite interests, whereas the capitalism in front of our faces remains illegible to most of the unorganized public. Further, the leaks can’t stop the great assembled masses of neocon strategists and secret polices from doing their job #1–suppressing democracy and promoting Anglosphere financial-militarist capitalist interests.
The public elite freak-out over Wikileaks is a nice, petulant, fascist law’n’order rallying cry and all, and it’s not like they don’t have the excess machinery to prosecute their campaign; but it is also a lot of wasted energy and resources. But hell– I’m all for elites & their retainers wasting their considerable, malevolent, ne’er-do-well energies, and they’re wasting our appropriated resources anyway.
Democracy Now! hosts a Dec 20, 2010 debate between a socialist feminist, Naomi Wolf, and a neoliberal feminist, Jaclyn Friedman over the international persecution of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.
What’s at stake in this debate is setting the criteria for the circumstances in which socialist feminists coalesce with neoliberal feminists, and the circumstances in which socialist feminists must break off from neoliberal feminists and regroup as a separate network (cf Nancy Fraser).
When Karl Rove comes knocking at your door and tells you he will let you decry rape for 15 minutes on teevee if you sell imperial tyranny for him, and your reaction is “OK! Sounds like a bargain!”, you know you’re a fucking neoliberal tool. If and only if in the context of an international antidemocratic elite campaign, you do not believe that women have the capacity to make decisions, then you are not a feminist; you are a paid neoliberal shill. Since we are strict pomos and we must allow women to label themselves feminist if they want (or if it serves their career networking), we could gamely specify them as Karl Rove feminists. Which version of feminism led Friedman naturally to resort to yelping, “Fear! Fear! Fear is the reason!” at the end of the Democracy Now! debate.
Yes, most of us women and many men have been raped; it involved fear and other emotions, and rape is one of the overlapping abuses of power in a rapacious, proliferating, inequality-based political-economic culture of alienation and “unmaking,” as Elaine Scarry might put it. The existence of abuse in individual relationships requires us to morally oppose the further development of the institutions that foster such oppression. The long elite antidemocratic campaign is a central corrupt and corrupting institution.
Inasmuch as it first pointed to hypocrisy (as articulated by Naomi Wolf and Michael Moore), the charge that Sweden underprosecutes rape is a distortion of the actual legal strength of women in Sweden vis-a-vis sexual violence. Sweden has a very different legal system that approaches almost all crime with restitution, rather than vindictive, long-term punishment as in the Anglosphere; and that social democratic legal tradition is an asset that reduces alienation and oppression. (In ignoring this, Amnesty is cooperating with a local Swedish effort to use the international public sphere for local political purposes. Perhaps in the Swedish context, Amnesty’s classification of women in Sweden as particularly vulnerable to consequence-free violence supports women’s emancipation; perhaps instead it supports neoconservative efforts to augment inequality by replacing the current legal system with a punitive, capitalist class-biased Anglo legal system.) There is a very good reason why some Swedes are angry with the state prosecutor and the neoliberal feminists for assaulting that reconstructive social democratic tradition.
This Assange prosecution case will most definitely NOT make Sweden and the world better at opposing rape, contrary to Friedman’s baseless assertion. It will only continue to give conservatives license to destroy democracy in the glorious, cynical, patriarchal name of protecting the sub-rational womenchildren sub-citizens. Sweden has a conservative Law’n’Order government that got into power and stays there by flogging the idea that swarthy immigrants threaten the virtue and accomplishments of “real,” “liberated” Swedish women. Those politics of pimping out feminism are honed to a fine art in Sweden, as you can see from watching the cynical Swedish lawyer in the Democracy Now! report.
Sweden’s conservative government is absolutely colluding with other conservative states to pimp out women’s fear and rage at being raped for these rulers’ own antidemocratic purposes. Wolf knows what she’s talking about, and her incisive analysis is impressive.
Assessment of socialist-feminist / neoliberal feminist coalition:
In the Assange case, the neoliberal feminists are not fighting for rape victims or any women. They are serving as a voluntary army for politically-organized international capital. But simply wrapping the terrifying, bloody flag of sex victimhood around the shoulders of this conservative campaign cannot make it liberatory for anyone but already overly-mobile capital, rapist of whole communities and societies, progenitor of alienated, dehumanizing, abusive, exploitive relationships. And I speak not just from a political perspective, but also from an experiential perspective, as a feminist who was raped by an IDF soldier.
This is a point where socialist feminists cannot reconcile with the political program of neoliberal feminists, which has led directly into the pit of extreme social inequality, including gender inequality–if you recognize that women make up the majority of the world’s poor, exploited, dispossessed and disenfranchised. In today’s political context, mutual opposition to rape and patriarchy is not enough, nor is mutual commitment to women’s advancement. Which rape? Which patriarchy? Which women’s advancement? These are crucial questions, because the neoliberal feminists’ abstracted emotional triggers cannot hide the bloody flood of wretched disparities in life chances that we have seen and will continue to see under the management regime of such neoliberal supplicants to the conservative movement.
This is a point at which socialist feminists must regroup around their own separate, historically-rooted Left feminism. They can and must fight sexual violence and promote women’s networks separately from the neoliberal feminists. Mobilize their own constituency. Build upon their tradition’s own ideas. The neoliberal feminists’ only policy answers are sealed within the bleak, corrupting world of Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney, and Reinfeldt, wherein Karl Rove’s Angels can sell their glossy, full-color magazines to the self-righteous daughters and wives of finance, insurance, and real estate.
Considered strategically, socialist feminists should remember, however, that over an historical sweep, the existence of elite conservative feminist hegemony–while destructive in many terrible ways–can produce something of a hegemonic check on Left patriarchs. As Paul Lichterman’s work has shown, it’s sometimes wise to refrain from enjoining fierce bullying with all your firepower–but rather to practice some jijitsu. You don’t want to completely alienate or destroy all enemies.
Naomi Wolf is a good model. She articulates a consistent, clear socialist feminism firmly and confidently, even while she is being savaged by the neoliberal feminists. The trick is to regroup with other socialist feminists at such junctures–not to let the neoliberals get inside your head.
There will come a point in the future where the competing feminist groups will have temporary use of each other. You want your head clear to take advantage of that moment.
This 2006 American Prospect piece by Garance Franke-Ruta proposes that some people who are activated by “traditional values” politics are receptive to such politics because those traditional values are unobtained aspirations for them (not because they’re defending their lifestyle).
I missed this when it came out a few years ago. It’s framed as a strategy consideration for Democrats. I don’t know what they did with it, if anything. Obviously nothing creative (OK they got into the Presidency. Good for you, Rahm Emanuel).
History of families researcher Stephanie Koontz’s sociological (as opposed to F-R’s Dem strategy) take on Aspirational Traditional Values is that where people (eg. Anglo-American societies) have a culture that does not legitimize obligation and security in the labour market, people tend to rely on and demand excessive obligation and security from the institution of individual nuclear families.
According to Koontz, this creates the American family “churn” effect–instability in family relationships rooted in security-demand overload. (In this blog, I’ve previously suggested such a demand-overload churn plagues the institution of American education.) See here for the 2010 Henwood radio interview in which Koontz discusses this issue and debunks myths about contemporary families. (The interview with Koontz is a little more than halfway through the on-line radio show, after the interview with labour historian Dan La Botz.)
For more families research, see the Council on Contemporary Families’ website.
The American marriage churn is discussed by Andrew Cherlin in his 2009 book “The Marriage Go Round.” There he shows that Americans hold contradictory values with regard to marriage sanctity on one hand and extreme individualism on the other. He argues that these very contradictory values result in irrational and harmful family practices–result in imploding relationships, the marriage churn. Capitalism downloads contradiction and conflict into the little institution of the nuclear family, the very institution that is supposed to be sanctified.
Engels’ definition of materialism:
“According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side,the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species.”
French feminists, particularly Christine Delphy, argued that materialism (i.e., part of the Marxist historical-materialist approach) “is the only theory of history that views oppression as the most fundamental reality; this is why women and all oppressed groups need it to examine their situation: ‘to start from oppression defines a materialist approach… oppression is a materialist concept.'”
Gimenez’s contribution was to caution against conceiving of patriarchy ahistorically. In her view, patriarchy should be analyzed in its historical relationship with the conditions of production and reproduction.
Gimenez advocates “a return to Marx whose method and analysis of capitalism, despite its ambiguities, omissions, complexities and 19th century limitations, has far more to offer feminists and all oppressed people than contemporary theories which, having severed the internal relationship between existence and consciousness or, between discourse and its material conditions of possibility, postulate the materiality of the discursive and whatever there might be ‘outside’ discourse (Nature? the Body?) while rejecting as ‘economism’ the materiality — i.e., the reality, independent of people’s consciousness, and causal efficacy — of labor and of the mode of production. As Ebert unerringly points out, Marx’s critique of ‘Feuerbachian materialism’ aptly describes today’s MatFem materialism: ‘As far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with history, and as far as he considers history he is not a materialist.'”