The Incompatibility of Radical Feminism and Capitalism

radical feminism is radical because it challenges all relationships of power, including extreme forms such as male violence and the sex industry … Instead of tinkering ar

ound the edges of the question of gender, radical feminism addresses the structural problem which underlies it.

We do not use the term patriarchy to refer to the rule of the father but rather the systemic oppression and subordination of women rooted in the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity” which, as Gerda Lerner states predates the formation of a class society and the concept of private property but it is nonetheless now inseparable from capitalism. Control of women’s potential capacity for reproduction and sex(uality) has been commidified and politicised with the creation of the state

When radical feminists use the term sex, we are referring to the biological realities of female, male and intersex bodies. We use gender to refer to the social constructions and stereotypes placed on bodies which are culturally and historically contextualised. Gender is a harmful social construct that operates as a system of oppression through the unequal power relationship between men and women: and within the categories of male/female when referencing race, sexuality, class, faith etc. Gender is harmful because it takes the simple biological reality of women’s potential reproductive capabilities to deny women access to public spaces and, therefore, power. Gender creates categories of masculinity and femininity and claims them as real despite the fact that they vary widely in definition across cultures and history. It also eroticises the power differential between men and women rendering women as a “sex class”.

The patriarchy predates capitalism but they are now intertwined so that we cannot dismantle the patriarchy without fundamentally deconstructing capitalism, or, more simply, eradicating it completely. As such, radical feminism and capitalism are inherently incompatible. After all, when the stock phrase “equality under the law” is used, radical feminists ask: equal to whom? What group of men do women want to be equal to when wealth and power are located within a very small group of mostly white men.  This power is maintained through the threat of and the actuality of violence whether this is violence within the home or sanctioned by the state. When

What we don’t do is adequately contextualise male violence within the broader framework of control of women’s reproductive and sexual capacity. The media occasionally covers the mass rape of women in the Congo yet consistently fails to mention that the war in the Congo is caused by capitalism and consumerism.[4] We artificially separate the economic reasons for war from the human cost of those wars.

Human trafficking, for sexual, domestic and labour slavery, is one of the largest industries in the world and is intimately tied in with trafficking of illegal substances and arms.  We allow children to work in sweatshops earning less than a subsistence wage so we can change our wardrobe every 3 months and have a new mobile phone every 12 months. We simply fail to discuss the reality that capitalism requires poverty, racism, misogyny and classism to exist. This is antithetical to radical feminism.

The Equal Pay Act has existed since 1970 and women still earn 15% less than men.  Women of colour continue to be paid less than white women for similar work. Women still do the majority of unpaid work including childcare, housework, caring for elderly relatives or those with disabilities, and the organising of family life. This work is not counted when we assess women’s economic output despite the fact that the unpaid labour of women is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. This is male economic violence against women: both within the family and by the state. It maintains women’s oppression through poverty.

We all know the statistics on domestic and sexual violence: we know that 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence from a male partner during their life. We know that 2 women a week are murdered by their current or former partner, yet we don’t talk about the consequences of male economic violence against women and children which starts with women’s unpaid labour.

Women’s Aid states that the financial cost of domestic violence in the UK, in which women are the majority of victims, is 23 billion dollars. According to the charity Gingerbread, only 38% of single parents receive child maintenance. Despite the fact that children in single parent households are twice as likely to live in poverty, the government has seen fit to dismantle the Child Support Agency, which was hardly fit for purpose to start with, and replace it with an agency that will charge people to use it.

The dismantling of the welfare state in the UK has disproportionately affected women pushing more women and their children into poverty. According to the Fawcett society:

(w)omen are more likely to be employed in low paid, part-time work, more likely to head a single parent household, likely to have less financial assets and more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

Women are more dependent on state benefits than men. In their roles as carers, women are more likely to be impacted by cuts to the NHS, education and social services, particularly if they or their children are disabled.

If we look globally, more than 780 million people live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation. In the US, 1 in 3 women live in poverty. The UN estimates that 80% of female workers in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are in vulnerable employment.

These are the consequences of capitalism that is predicated on racism, poverty and misogyny. We cannot liberate women from male domination as long as our economic and political power requires many women to live in poverty without access to education, clean water, health care, and nutrition. This is why radical feminism and capitalism are incompatible.

 

Below are links to research into poverty and women’s rights.

 

Prostitution, Sexual Slavery and the Sex Industry:

Radical feminism opposes the legalisation of prostitution and seeks to end what is commonly referred to as the “sex industry”. The global sex industry uses women’s poverty and institutionalises and normalises violence against women, racism, and the colonisation of women’s bodies. Aboriginal women in Canada and the US are disproportionately represented in prostitution, poverty and prison. Women involved in the sex industry, from prostitution to lap dancing clubs, have higher rates of PTSD than other groups of women as well as higher rates of substance misuse and histories of sexual violence.

Prostitution, trafficking for sexual slavery and the legal forms of the global sex industry is worth billions of dollars and the vast majority of this money rests in the hands of men. Men control the trade in the bodies of women and childre, profit from the trade and abuse women’s bodies for their personal gratification. As long as women are forced to live in poverty, women will be forced to work in the sex industry.

Beauty Industry :

The beauty industry is a billion dollar industry that prescribes women’s behaviour and appearance. Women are deemed unfuckable unless they meet very narrow guidelines of beauty: tall, thin, and white. Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth shows how the industry keeps women materially and psychologically poor.

The cost of being “beautiful” (and therefore worthy of humanity) includes the billion dollar cosmetic industry, plastic surgery for implants and liposuction as well as designer vaginas. The fashion industry, with it’s obsession with clothes which do not fit adult women and shoes which maim, is also worth billions:  money which women are forced to pay to deemed worthy of employment and life.

 

International economics controlled by multinational corporations and poverty:

 

Water Facts from the UN

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
  • 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.
  • Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planets Earth would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050.
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth (WHO/UNICEF, 2010).
  • With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% (70% by 2050) (Bruinsma, 2009), while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60% (WWAP, 2009). These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions. Yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention.
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for ~70% of global freshwater withdrawals (up to 90% in some fast-growing economies).

 

Domestic Violence Statistics (taken from Women’s Aid):

  • 1 in 8/ 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • 45% of women experience one form of interpersonal violence during their life.
  • There are 13 million separate acts of physical violence or threats of physical  violence each year against women by current or former partners
  • 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence
  • women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.

 

What is the cost of domestic violence?  (Women’s Aid)

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby 2004). The estimated total cost is based on the following:

  • The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).
  • The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence, (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of total NHS budget.
  • The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is £176,000,000.
  • The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.
  • Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.
  • The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion.

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to children (including moving schools and the impact this has on their education), and it excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.

The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.

 

Information on Child maintenance from Gingerbread:

  • Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  • For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)
  • The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)
  • Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)
  • Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

 

Signs of Violent and Controlling Behaviour from Women’s Aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening.
  • Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you; checking up on you; opening your mail; repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you; embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex; any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abusive behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

 


[1] Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (Sage Pub. 2001)

[2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press: 1986)

[3] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press: 1986) p.8

[4] Million Women Rise coalition at UK Feminista Summer School. 2011

4 thoughts on “The Incompatibility of Radical Feminism and Capitalism”

  1. Thanks for publishing this. It’s very interesting. And sobering.

    “The UN estimates that 80% of female workers in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are in vulnerable employment.” Can I ask what is meant by vulnerable employment?

    Thanks

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