Jessica Hoffman’s challenge on capitalism and feminism

// 25 August 2008

Jess Hoffman wrote an interesting post at Feministe on “Toward a Liberationist Feminism (Or, I Hope Pro-Capitalist Feminism Is an Oxymoron)”.

Hoffman, of Make/Shift magazine and other interesting projects, says:

What does feminism, or sexism, mean in a vacuum?

And what is that pro-capitalist, individualist notion of feminism aiming for? More Carly Fiorinas and Madeline Albrights? More women participating in — profiting from — the endgame rush to climate chaos fueled by global capitalism?

Again, I get stuck: So many people have already made this critique. Is it that it’s not being circulated, heard, widely enough? Is it that the people defending a pro-capitalist feminism have heard those critiques and simply disagree? But if it’s that, why are they not even substantively engaging with, responding to, addressing those arguments?

Comments From You

Shea // Posted 25 August 2008 at 1:50 pm

Brilliant and not before time. I have long believed that feminism and capitalism (at least in its presently formation) are simply incompatible. This make the case perfectly.

Daniel // Posted 25 August 2008 at 6:57 pm

We live in a capitalist society, so does the vast majority of the world, there is no sign of it changing, the alternatives that exist have been tried are worse.

The system can and needs to be tweaked, but anyone thinking a better alternative system is going to come along is living in dream land, and to tie into it any significant progress for women and other oppressed groups does them a diservice.

Anti-capitalist feminists are, (if you will forgive the rather odd analogy) in effect left waiting at a bus stop for a bus that will never come, refusing to walk or to get on to any other buses that might take them near their destination.

A Very Public Sociologist // Posted 25 August 2008 at 10:30 pm

Class society and women’s oppression have gone hand in hand throughout all of history – it’s absurd to assume you can abolish patriarchy and still have a system based on the exploitation of labour power and the accumulation of capital to the exclusion of all else.

Oooh, I feel a polemic coming on …

Mobot // Posted 26 August 2008 at 1:21 pm

Daniel – I appreciate that capitalism is so ingrained and so all-pervading that it is difficult for many people to see it as anything other than inevitable or even natural. However, I don’t see why it’s so difficult to get your head around the idea that a system which is explicitly and unapologetically based around *inequality* can never hope to achieve true social equality and justice. It’s all very well for those who benefit from the status quo to dismiss dreams for a more inclusive and egalitarian future as silly, but others make it their life’s work to help bring about meaningful change and this does not amount to sitting around fantasising while everyone else gets on with the daily grind. Capitalism is simply not physically sustainable in its current incarnation, and there are alternatives other than living in a communist state.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 26 August 2008 at 4:26 pm

Well Daniel, that is a very defeatist attitude!

Why do you think that no alternative system will ever come along? Why do you think that no other system has ever worked? Besides that, we know that Capitalism works via the oppression of people and at the end of the day, only really makes the rich richer. Sure, it gives me personally a lot of privilege, but I can’t say that I can ever be happy or comfortable benefitting off it because that privilege is gained from the oppression, misery and sometimes death of others.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that it is not in human nature to stop looking for improvement. We’re always trying to make things better and the idea that socio-economics has reached its pinacle of achievement in capitalism is laughable.

So yeah, I’ll stay in dreamland – those that dream are usually the ones who make a difference, not accept the status quo.

kitty // Posted 26 August 2008 at 5:20 pm

I am a capitalist for the same reason that I am a feminist, because I believe that my body, my thoughts and my labour are mine. The idea that they should be utilised for the greater good is the antithesis of feminism.

I have to admit that I do not understand how it is possible to be a feminist and not be a capitalist, or vice versa.

It is strange that the blogger assumes that capitalists have not read the anti-capitalist critiques, while I assume that the blogger and her supporters have not read pro-capitalist literature.

Daniel // Posted 26 August 2008 at 6:26 pm

Perhaps it is a defeatest attitude but no one appears to have suggested an alternative.

Sam // Posted 27 August 2008 at 1:36 am

Kitty: Why do you assume that anti-capitalists do not believe in self-ownership? Many Marxist critiques of capitalism are based on the theory of surplus value, the objection to profit gained through the capitalist compensating the worker for the former’s time, rather than what they produce. As G.H. Cohen pointed out in the book, ‘Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality’, any objection to a theory of political economy based on the discrepancy between labour time and labour power must begin from the premise that the worker owns the labour.

I hope this helps you understand how it might be possible to be a feminist and not a capitalist.

Carol // Posted 27 August 2008 at 7:56 am

kitty, from what you say I don’t understand why you consider yourself a feminist and not just an individualist, liberal capitalist.

Feminism surely means you want the same rights for all women, not just the achievement of YOUR rights. Now that would mean, in your terms, that all women should have the right to have control over their thoughts, body and labour. But as many above have explained, that is just not possible under capitalism, especially not individualist capitalism.

Bai He // Posted 27 August 2008 at 8:16 am

Re: Daniel’s comment, I have lived in Britain for the past 7 years, but I grew up in another country in Europe, in a society which is based on an entirely different model,a socialist democracy. Daniel’s attitude is one I keep meeting in Britons, you feel an alternative is unrealistic merely because you have not tried anything else.

Kitty – a reading list?

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 27 August 2008 at 8:55 am

But Kitty, in a capatalist system all your labour is not your own – your labour benefits those far above you more than it does you.

Jess McCabe // Posted 27 August 2008 at 10:24 am

I also find it hard to understand the idea that in a capitalist system, an individual has much control over their own labour. There’s some level of choice over what sort of job you take, but it’s constrained choice, depending on, basically, what condition find yourself in, and often in large part that’s conditions you’re born into. And once in a job, there’s little that you have control over – wages, working hours, working conditions… Those controls and limits on how far the employer can set the terms under which you work have certainly not been introduced by the market. The further down the pile you go, the less ownership of your own labour you really have, as far as I can see.

Daniel // Posted 27 August 2008 at 2:58 pm

Bai He I would be interested to know what country you are refering to.

Is their currently a system in use that people critiquing capitalism would prefer? Is their a well developed theoretical system that they think is better?

Shea // Posted 28 August 2008 at 12:17 am

Daniel – yes ! I actually like the look of Venezuela at the moment. For once a leader is using his country’s oil revenues to actually benefit the poorest of the population through reinvestment in clean water and healthcare for all.

I have always thought a socialist system founded on Keynesian economics was preferable to the current laissez-faire version of capitalism, which through the spectacular lack of regulation and accountability in the financial sector has led us to the brink of recession.

But, if you look at Jessica’s article it really is an invitation to develop something better. We are at a point when it should be clear that capitalism as it stands, based on individual enterprise and unlimited expansion of markets is impossible in a world of finite resources. We have seen that certain brands of socialism/communism failed because they did not allow market to tell the economic truth, now we are seeing that capitalism does not allow for the ecological truth to be told (to paraphrase Oystein Dahle).

Given that the vast majority of the poorest people are women it should be obvious that a system that exploits them is incompatible with feminism.

James // Posted 25 June 2009 at 9:56 pm

The problem with alternative systems to the system of capitalism is that in the real world they end up competing with capitalism. There are very few societies in the world or in modern history that were impervious to effects of the selfish trade of goods. In effect commerce.

Since capitalism is all about competing (and maybe in this way a manifestation of mankind) it will literally out compete any other system it comes in contact with. It eventually reaches into the deepest parts of the world and extracts the resources and labor that the greater market desires. Ever since the Soviets fell there is no longer a place for a radical alternative to capitalism to exist in the world. Unless you wanna talk about brutal dictatorships like North Korea have, or places that seem like Oasises for a while until the markets catch up to them like Venezuela now that oil prices (the dirty fuel of capitalism) has fallen.

It is much better overall to instead work to reform capitalism. Instead of Marxing up the place, the best effect to be made in the 21st century is to talk about with nuance the problems that occur in the world due to capitalism and work on improving these many issues individually.

The goal of feminism should be equality for women in all effected societies, whether that be an equal pay for equal work law in the States or a banning of female driven sweatshops in the third world.

The results of a contrast pressure upon single issues have been proven. The gay rights movement has made big progress over the last twenty years, proving that singular dedication to a goal can work.

You might not like it, but unless you can somehow come up with more (literal and figurative) firepower to stop the way the modern world spins in a capitalist direction then it seems indecent to tie something needed still in the 21st century to something no longer possible in it. The Women’s Right Movement still has a lot of work to do. I would love to see federal equal pay for equal work legislation be passed in my lifetime.

Unless you wanna move to Cuba of course.

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