Socialism and Feminism: We Can’t Have One Without the Other

Fighting capitalism and patriarchy at the same time.

In These Times Editors September 26, 2018

(Terry La Ban)

Socialist feminism

noun

1. The prin­ci­ple that we can’t achieve gen­der equal­i­ty with­out over­throw­ing cap­i­tal­ism — and vice versa

Why not?

Because eco­nom­ic exploita­tion and gen­der oppres­sion are deeply inter­twined. The sex­ist notion that care­giv­ing and domes­tic labor are women’s work” is awful­ly con­ve­nient for cap­i­tal­ists: If a woman’s nat­ur­al role is to care for her chil­dren, then who needs paid parental leave or pub­lic child care?

As for paid labor, pro­fes­sions dom­i­nat­ed by women are assumed to mer­it low­er pay. Take teach­ing: Once women began enter­ing the his­tor­i­cal­ly male-dom­i­nat­ed field, pay declined across the board and teach­ers became a prime tar­get of the Right.

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You are a woman in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. You get pissed off: about the job, about the bills, about your hus­band (or ex), about the kids’ school, the house­work, being pret­ty, not being pret­ty …” —Bar­bara Ehren­re­ich, in her 1976 essay, What Is Social­ist Feminism?”

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Can’t we just call it fem­i­nism”?

Would that we could! But some types of fem­i­nism aren’t espe­cial­ly con­cerned with racial or eco­nom­ic oppres­sion. Cor­po­rate fem­i­nists might be con­tent with a com­pa­ny mar­ket­ing The Future is Female” T‑shirts and pro­mot­ing women into man­age­ment, but social­ist fem­i­nists want a liv­ing wage and full ben­e­fits for the women who sew the shirts and care for the exec­u­tives’ chil­dren. (Or bet­ter yet, the women who sew the shirts could run things, while enjoy­ing pub­licly fund­ed child care.)

What does social­ist fem­i­nism look like in action?

One great exam­ple is Iceland’s 1975 women’s strike. Orga­nized by social­ists and rad­i­cal women’s coun­cils, the strike saw some 90 per­cent of Ice­landic women take a day off from their jobs and chores. Schools and air­lines shut down, bank exec­u­tives had to per­form cus­tomer trans­ac­tions and a nation­al news­pa­per print­ed at half its usu­al length for lack of women to oper­ate the print­ing press­es. Today, Ice­land has one of the small­est gen­der gaps in pay and edu­ca­tion in the world.

I’m a fem­i­nist and I want to be a social­ist, but what about the Bernie bros?

This is a con­tentious ques­tion, so let’s just acknowl­edge that there are men who iden­ti­fy as social­ists, and maybe even fem­i­nists, and still engage in misog­y­nist behav­ior — from talk­ing over women at meet­ings to harass­ment and assault. In our expe­ri­ence, most social­ist groups today address the prob­lem through anti-harass­ment poli­cies, racial and gen­der quo­tas for elect­ed lead­er­ship, and social­ist fem­i­nist cau­cus­es to make sure gen­der issues don’t get siloed. It’s not per­fect, but that’s why fem­i­nists need to stake out an active, vis­i­ble role on the Left: We need social­ism to win, and it can’t win with­out us.

This is part of The Big Idea,” a month­ly series offer­ing brief intro­duc­tions to pro­gres­sive the­o­ries, poli­cies, tools and strate­gies that can help us envi­sion a world beyond cap­i­tal­ism. For recent In These Times cov­er­age of social­ist and anti-cap­i­tal­ist fem­i­nism in action, see, “#MeTooHits Fast Food: Why McDon­ald’s Work­ers Are Out on a His­toric Strike Today,” Black Fem­i­nism Will Save Us All” and What #MeToo Can Teach the Labor Movement.”

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