Beyond the Double Standard: Towards a Real Liberation Politics

Beyond the Double Standard: Towards a Real Liberation Politics – Published on New Socialist Webzine, Canada, by Cinzia Arruzza, July 25, 2013.

A few months ago on the New York subway I saw the most incredible poster, a picture of a crying baby of colour with the words, “Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year”. While I was still recovering from the shock, I saw a similar poster of a little Black girl: “Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”  

These two posters were part of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign organized by the Human Resources Administration of the New York City Department of Social Services. This advertising campaign is a perfect example of the way inequalities around class, race and gender can be entrenched and covered up with a liberal discourse. The message conveyed by the campaign is first of all that you need to have money in order to have the right to have a child: if you are poor and nonetheless have a child, you are responsible for his or her future unhappiness, poverty and social failure. Secondly, there is no mention either of social services or of abortion rights in the posters: the whole problem of teen pregnancy is reduced to a matter of individual choice, where girls are to be considered responsible for their sexual behavior. Hence, here is the kind advice provided by the authorities: finish high school, get a job, and get married before even thinking of having a child. Finally, the prominent use of children of colour in the campaign suggests the message of the campaign is fundamentally racist … //

… Capitalism and Gender Oppression:

This double standard raises important questions about the idea that has become prominent in the last few years that women’s emancipation is one of the positive consequences of capitalist globalization. Indeed, the so-called “feminization” of the labor market, that is the massive employment of women in the work force in the Global South, was welcomed as the occasion for a transformation of gender roles and family relationships. Yet, in those very same countries, the current trend is now to “de-feminize” the labour market. As soon as capitalism develops and capital-intensive productive sectors grow, women are again expelled from the work force. Indeed, women’s employment is still characterized by the fact that most women are employed in labour intensive sectors, where wages are lower, working conditions are worse, and the turn-over is high. Women still play the role of an “industrial reserve army:” they are cyclically employed and then expelled again from the labour market.

In addition to this, the sharp separation under capitalism between the public and private spheres, and between market and family, has historically hidden and devalued women’s domestic work, and therefore women themselves. This fits perfectly well with capitalism’s need to have a hierarchically-organized and differentiated labour force: gender oppression and racism are translated into a sexual and racial division of labor, where women and racialized people are at the bottom of the hierarchy and subject to the worst working conditions.

Moreover, it is clear that in moments of crisis the cuts on social spending and the dismantling of the welfare state count on the work of women as surrogates of social services, performing the largest part of the necessary care work for the reproduction of the working class. The hierarchical family and gender relations play an ideological and political role, making deepening inequalities seem natural and contributing to the reproduction of capitalist relations and of the society as a whole.

While women have gained unprecedented formal rights under capitalism, this was due mostly to women’s and workers’ struggles rather than the automatic unfolding of capital’s law of motion. This is why women’s rights, such as reproductive rights, are never really granted in a definitive way. And it is why in the absence of struggle formal equality rights are often entirely decoupled from substantial transformations of women’s material conditions of life.

Identity Politics and Neoliberalism: … //

… From Identity Politics to Socialist Politics: … //

… Finally, it requires also the political acknowledgment of the centrality of gender and sexual oppression and analysis to our critique of capitalism and to our political and social struggles. The question should not be whether class is “prior” to gender, but rather whether we can really think of the working class, of its lived experience and the way it fights, as separate from thinking about gender and sexuality.
(full text).

(Cinzia Arruzza is a socialist and feminist activist in the US, and the author of Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism).

Links:

+74.2% to the top 5%, -1.5% to the middle fifth, 1983–2010 – USA, on Real-World Economics Review Blog, by Editor, August 2, 2013;

The Infrastructure Summit – October 29th 2013 in Grange St Paul’s, London: Future Cities, on The Economist;

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