New feminism should stand together with the new proletariats against female exploitation and violence – Published on AlJazeera, by Zillah Eisenstein, July 2, 2013.
… New proletariat(s):
This proletariat of women is named by and for the structural location that one inhabits in the system of labour exchange and enforced abuse and punishment. The “epidemic” that the World Health Organisation names as a global health problem is also more deeply a structural problem of misogyny.
I look at these times and see a new polyglot proletariat, or maybe many proletariats that are uniquely similar, made up of more girls and women of all colours than ever before, alongside the men already there. I am hesitant to try and retrieve the term “proletariat” because it exists with historical constraints. Yet, the idea of multiple, many, or plural proletariats undermines a static usage. I resuscitate “proletariat”, especially for women and girls, with the new and old forms of labour on the globe alongside the new transnational networks that derive from this.
Girls and women do labour of every sort – domestic, peasant, migrant, farming, reproductive, consumer, affective, slave and waged. Birthing – that is actually called labour – is done exclusively by women. The new proletariat(s) embrace the labour of girls and women: from sex workers in all their variety, to migrant female labourers crisscrossing the globe, to women and girls hauling water and gathering wood, to the dagongmei in China’s mind-numbing iPad factories. It is no small point that many of the women and girls in the Congo and Rwanda, who are brutally raped and murdered, are/were out gathering firewood.
The other side of labour’s enormous fountain of profit-making and sustenance is sexual harassment, prostitution, rape and violence. In sum: the sex class, containing women of all races and cultures in all their varieties in terms of both labour and sexual violence, remains a silenced secret in the age of supposed transparency.
Gender keeps morphing. What women do and what they are allowed to do and expected to do keeps changing. A tiny minority of women reaches unbelievable sites of power and wealth. But this should not confuse us. The vast majority of women and girls become and remain the labourers of the globe – the newest proletariat making new proletariats. We might be poor, or middle class, or upper middle class in income – but proletariat nevertheless – relegated to selling our labour for wages or salary.
Four in 10 mothers in the US are primary breadwinners and upwards of 80 percent of women contribute significantly to the economic well-being of their households – yet, they remain poor and one’s colour plays a huge role in it.
The disparate realities of women’s lives today are probably more present than ever. As economic inequality grows – so does the difference among white women and women of other colours. This intensifies as new progress is made for a few, while the majority remains in well-established ghettoes of sorts. It would be a mistake to ignore the change and the progress. And it is a mistake to not recognise what remains problematic and unchanged. And it would be wrong to assume that the change means that the structural limitations of a racialised misogyny do not remain.
Inchoate politics as a pacifier: … //
… Modern misogyny:
Modernised misogyny is still misogynist. The privileging of masculinity exists today but with much more economically diverse and diversified forms and expressions. Chattel slavery created all blacks homogeneously as poor, even if there were distinctions of privilege from the manor to the field. Being black today is more economically diversified than in the past. This is true of gender privilege as well. The once traditional white heterosexual married family now exists in much more various forms: single parent families, blended families, gay families, black and Hispanic and Asian families. Violence is still threaded through these forms
Women in Eastern Europe before the revolutions of 1989 already carried these burdens of the labour force. Women in most African nations have carried more than their share of life’s burdens. Women in China were said to hold up half the sky during Mao’s regime. Women filled the munitions factories during WWII in the US and England.
Yet, still, most women do not get equal pay. They are not promoted as equals either. But there is also something new here. What is new is that this labour is being put more in view, and some females are also doing newly paid labour. Misogyny has more egalitarian forms today without the equality. There is a more diverse range of jobs that females of all colours hold today. This level of differentiation and diversity defines the present global economy. This newest form of patriarchy exists for the benefit of corporate greed and its racialised masculinist privilege. It is not to the benefit of most women or men across the globe. Neither is the sexual violence.
Contrary conditions seem to multiply. Although 80 percent of the displaced and refugees in the conflict in Kyrgyzstan between the Kyrgyz’s and the Uzbeks are women and children, the new president, Roza Otunbayeva, is a female. The greatest penalties for the conflict are women and their children, while a woman oversees the process. Poor women in India, Thailand and Cambodia are a supply for surrogate motherhood – the outsourcing of pregnancy through which women of other classes exploit them. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is threatened to death by stoning for adultery in Iran, while Hillary Clinton negotiated nuclear issues with Iran’s president. President Jacob Zuma boasts his sexual promiscuity, while women in South Africa suffer rape and HIV/AIDS in devastating numbers.
New feminisms must stand together with the new proletariat(s) against the transnational exploitation and violence towards women and girls. The health of the planet depends on it.
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