Liberation Feminism… *sigh*

So, Jess H. at Feministe has the best blog post, feminist or otherwise, that I’ve read all year. It’s long and personal, it’s got some feminist theory and some Marxist theory and some blogosphere reflections. In other words, there’s a ton there, but it’s worth reading every word.

I’ll be honest, it’s left me not only with about a million thoughts running through my head, but also more than a little heartsick. I’m not really sure where to start on this post, so I’ll just let it flow, and maybe responding to this one post will become a little series before I’ve said all I want to say…

After establishing her background with reading radical feminism and her belief that liberation cannot be complete until all dominant systems of oppression, including capitalism, have been broken down, Jess pleads to better understand how someone can be feminist and not agree with those points:

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?

I have shared so much of Jess’ sentiment about this. The mainstream feminist bawling about Clinton’s defeat in the primary, as if getting a rich white woman elected from an already elite position to an even more elite position were the greatest feminist challenge our world faced, was so upsetting to me for the past 6 or 7 months. Seeing such narrow understandings of feminism and liberation was one of the more discouraging things I’ve encountered since my feminist awakening a few years ago…even more so than blatantly anti-feminist nonsense.

Even reading Jess’ articulation of that frustration brought back that same old hurt, but then reading the first comment on the thread was almost more than I could take. Commenter DavidSpade says:

Are women in other political-social systems, like communism or fascism, better off than in capitalist societies?

Capitalism has tremendous power to push gender equity forward. When an industry generally underpays a class of workers competing firms will enter the market, offer the underpaid workers more, snatch up a lot of skilled workers, and be able to keep their prices lower than the competition. Over time, and with low enough market barriers for new firms, discriminating firms will be weeded out.

Sure capitalism has it’s dark side, but the solution is to fix capitalism, not to discard the entire system. You can’t blame all of sexism, racism, and classism on capitalism. Is American and modern European colonialism that much different from the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Mongol hordes, Timur the Lame, the Japanese Empire, or the Azteks?

Here is Jess writing a post about how frustrating it is that a liberationist feminism is a minority among blogosphere feminisms, and how tired she gets of having the same conversations over and over without ever advancing to the critical questions we need to be asking, and then we have the greatest display of ignorance and well, a contentment with the status quo, imaginable.

And here we go again? Will this just be another thread in which we talk about the fact that there is a major cultural bigotry and ignorance in the assumption that women in capitalist systems are better off than women in other parts of the world? That free-market ideology that pretends capitalism will solve social inequality is based on the false assumption that there is ALWAYS profit to be had in equal treatment? That this ideology is exactly that, an ideology, and not a fact. Do we once again have to reiterate why modern colonialism is a modern phenomena brought on by modern capitalism, and this is true no matter how bad empires in pre-modern eras may have been? Is this where we have to explain to more reform-minded feminists that just because we’re arguing a just economy is vital to a just society does not mean we’re arguing capitalism created sexism and racism, just that economic oppression cannot be disentangled from any other oppression?

Well, I don’t know about Jess, but I’m over this conversation. As Jess makes clear, it’s not like this ideal for liberationist feminism is new, or original, something she just thought up, and she’s thoughtful and patient enough to even name authors, texts, and even to write out quotes to show this rich line of feminist thought:

None of what I wrote up there is some unique insight of mine. It’s all stuff I’ve learned –- from experience, from observation, and, very significantly, from the work of feminist activists/artists/thinkers/scholars/writers who have gone before me. Over generations and across borders, feminists of color and a few allies have developed a language and way of thinking about how systems of power are interconnected. For instance:

In 1986, the Combahee River Collective wrote, “We are…trying…to address a whole range of oppressions … If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

bell hooks’ insistent, decades-long use of the phrase ”white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

2003’s Feminism Without Borders, in which Chandra Talpade Mohanty wrote: “I firmly believe an antiracist feminist framework, anchored in decolonization and committed to an anticapitalist critique, is necessary.” (Do check out the entire book if you haven’t already, but quickly, see how she connects anticapitalist feminism to a resistance to U.S.-centric feminism: “a protocapitalist or ‘free market’ feminism is symptomatic of the ‘americanization’ of definitions of feminism’.)

And quite recently, Sudy introduced many of us to the concept of kyriarchy.

Those are just a few examples. I could not have written any of what I wrote in the first section of this post without having encountered the profound work of everyone quoted above as well as Andrea Smith, Angela Davis, Vandana Shiva, Patricia Hill Collins, and so, so many others.

It is not because I believe gender oppression underlies or trumps other forms of oppression that I work within the context of feminism. It is not because, as someone the world reads as a “woman” within a binary and patriarchal gender system, “women’s” issues are the issues that are closest to my heart and experience that I work within the context of feminism.

It is because Audre Lorde, the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, INCITE!, and so many others did this work, built this language, nurtured this vision of challenging all forms of unjust power within the context of feminism that I work within the context of feminism. They and so many others have, in their different ways, created a flexible and shifting and many-sided framework — and a beautifully complex legacy — of multi-issue work toward liberation. They have offered visions of liberation that do not ask any of us to leave any pieces of ourselves behind to participate in building something new, visions that will not uncritically support one piece of the scaffolding of oppressive power while trying to take apart another. The Combahee River Collective, again:

“Our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

The legacy is out there. Why does it seem so often in the feminist blogosphere, that this legacy never existed, that we’re at ground zero with feminist thought. Is this part of the backlash? That feminists themselves neglect the work that has been done for us already? Like Jess, I’m sort of at a loss…and it’s so discouraging…


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