Author: Mia Alexander | Editor: Elizabeth Qiu
These are opinion pieces authored by Women in Politics Club officers. They do not represent the views of the club nor Churchill as a whole. We hope you bring our new perspectives!
The default belief in most mainstream feminist spaces is that one can simultaneously be a capitalist and a feminist. There are often calls for increasing female representation, diversifying the board room, and electing more women to positions of power. Women are encouraged to take up the mantle of the exploiter, the colonizer, and the oppressor, all in the name of feminism. But can capitalistic oppression and intersectional feminism really coexist?
Feminism is broadly defined as the advocacy of equal rights between the sexes. However, a more intersectional definition clarifies that its goal “is not to benefit… any specific group of women, [nor] any particular race or class of women” (bell hooks). Feminism’s very definition is antithetical to capitalism because capitalism relies on the exploitation of workers and the unpaid and unappreciated labor of women to survive. Capitalism does nothing to stop the perpetuation of inequality between the sexes. It doesn’t matter if a few corporations promote more women to higher positions, or if our liberal democratic system elects more women. No matter what, capitalism will continue to suppress the rights and freedoms of women, regardless of who’s in charge.
An inconvenient and unglamorous truth that liberal feminists hate to mention is that class and gender are closely tied together. Women are more likely to be food insecure than men in every region of the world. Women also suffer disproportionately from the affordable housing crisis due to the wage gap. Yet, rarely do liberal feminists talk about these issues, because they pose a threat to the neoliberal capitalist consensus of their brand of feminism. Instead, they thrive on methods of tinkering around the edges of the system and meager reforms.
There is a belief that patriarchy can simply be reformed away with increased representation pervades liberal feminism. This belief, however, has often been debunked. For instance, the World Economic Forum found that there was almost no change in the average wage gap between male and female led companies. There’s no doubt that representation does matter, but it’s completely irrelevant when the person in power changes but the same oppressive and exploitative system remains. CEOs regardless of gender have the same priority in mind: profit and growth. CEOs, shareholders, landlords, and other members of the capitalist class rely on a blatantly exploitative system to thrive. That often includes denial of vital benefits for working women, like paid leave. It also manifests in the ever-present wage gap. It doesn’t matter how feminist or how female the leadership of a company is, even if they have the best intentions and truly want to empower women, they can’t when profit is their main priority.
It’s important to recognize that the profit motive is engrained in the capitalist system. As a result, women will continue to be disadvantaged and face continuing inequalities because of the pervasive belief that women are caretakers. Additionally, the election of more female and/or feminist politicians is not enough because they are also bound by the rules of capitalism. Because politics in America are so far skewed to the right, donors won’t even bother approaching more progressive candidates. Even when a progressive politician is elected, any policy that they propose or support will be immediately stricken down by both right leaning and moderate branches of their party.
Additionally, a politician being a woman doesn’t automatically mean their policies will be good for women’s rights or the broader population. Great examples of this include Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton.
Margaret Thatcher destroyed British industry, deregulated the financial sector, suppressed miner’s strikes with brutal force, and caused massive unemployment in Britain. She also actively opposed feminist goals — she froze benefits for child care, insulted working mothers, and did little to fix systemic problems such as domestic abuse and rape. Even though Thatcher was the first female prime minister of England, she was in a lot of ways horrible for women’s rights and the feminist movement as a whole.
The same can be said of Hillary Clinton in the United States. Although broadly hailed as a feminist icon, Hillary Clinton has shown to have a horrible record when it comes to feminism and worker’s rights. She encouraged her husband to cut vital social services, which millions of women and children relied on. Then, she sneered at these very women who rely on welfare to raise their children and survive as “dead beats.” She also played an instrumental role in her husband’s campaign to shut down the unions of public school teachers, many of whom were African American women. Hillary isn’t only an enemy to American women, but also an enemy to women in the global south. She lobbied against a fair wage for Haitian women toiling in garment factories as Secretary of State. She also played an important role behind the scenes in supporting a coup in Honduras which led to greater social instability, higher crime, and a resurgence in femicide. Hillary Clinton’s feminism is the type of feminism that only benefits people like her: rich, cisgender white women in the imperial core.
A feminism that doesn’t apply to all misogyny-affected individuals regardless of gender, race, class, etc. isn’t true feminism. Of course, liberal “feminists” might say that any critique of Hillary Clinton is misogynistic and based on internalized misogyny. While there’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton has been the victim of blatant sexism, that doesn’t erase her horrible policy record, nor merit her for canonization. It should also be noted that many female politicians have it significantly worse than Hillary, because of their race, class, immigration status, sexual orientation, political platform, etc. Additionally, representation shouldn’t be done for the sake of representation, but for the sake of providing valuable role models, a position that Hillary has proven horrible at filling. There are many better examples of female representation in politics, including members of the Squad, Nina Turner, and Stacey Abrams.
Representation, while a noble goal, isn’t enough to liberate women. To truly smash the patriarchy, it’s insufficient merely to encourage women to fill the very same roles that oppress and marginalize vast swaths of the population. True liberation comes with the destruction of these oppressive and exploitative positions. Capitalism relies on the patriarchy to survive, and the patriarchy requires capitalism. As long as capitalism exists, so will the oppression of women. It doesn’t matter who’s exploiting the workers by stealing their surplus value, busting the unions, or forcing people into sweatshops.
As long as these very conditions exist, there is no liberation, and there is no feminism.