“It is true that equality of the sexes is impossible under capitalism. If all women work as much as men, what will happen to those institutions on which capitalism depends, such institutions as churches, marriage, armies, and the millions of factories, shops, stores, etc.. which are dependent on piece work, part-time work. and cheap labor?”
Interview with Simone de Beauvoir (1976)
In theory, our (capitalist) society is governed under the principle that gender is different but equal. This principle, however, appears quite problematic from the beginning; why does sexism exist? The ‘pay gap’? Shocking numbers of sexual assaults and rapes against women? Cat-calling? Abortion-shaming? Transgender discrimination? The notion that society’s attitude towards women is unfair and oppressive is just a small fraction, or even better, a symptom of a deeply unequal and polarised society, that challenges and re-defines women’s existence and bodies, rendering unto them a state of constant war in order to defend and vindicate their rights.
Feminist scholar Simone de Beauvoir eloquently touched upon the issues of sexism and gender inequality under capitalism. For de Beauvoir, gender class is class struggle. And capitalist society is dependent on class exploitation. Looking back at what the struggle for women’s liberation has achieved in many societies throughout the world over the last 100 years, where radical improvements for women rights, as well as a deeper understanding of gender roles and social expectations have taken place, one can observe on the whole that, sexism and patriarchy have been crystallised into a Foucaultian dispositif. It is more invisible than before, but the power relations appear too rigid to collapse.
I was reading an article the other day on voidnetwork.gr about how women are more financially vulnerable than men. Under capitalism, childbearing is women’s responsibility. The biological role of women means that (provided they have children) they should abstain at least some time away from their paid employment. Their biological role also makes them ultimately responsible for any child they give birth to. Consequently, paid maternity leave, single parent allowance, parental leave, leave to care for sick children, free kindergarten and childcare facilities, etc., they will always be exclusively issues for women. Battles over custody, childcare services, single parenting, and so on, always affect women more than men. Yet, without full economic equality, it is difficult to put an end to the unequal power relation between women and men and the ideology of sexism associated with them. Thus, although capitalism could adjust equality between women and men, the reality is that full realisation of this equality is quite unlikely to be achieved under capitalism. This is simply because there is a financial penalty linked to women’s biology that makes the profitable capitalist society inherently biased against women.
The right to abortion is another soft spot. It isn’t arbitrary to say that, the biggest adversaries of abortions are men. Their tactics vary from merciless witch-hunting, where they target women who have undergone abortion by calling them murderers, that they will burn in hell, etc., to cyber-bullying, organising and coordinating protests outside planned parenthood clinics with the most horrendous graphic signs. Of course, governments only add insult to injury. In countries like Poland, where the government outlawed abortion after decades of liberal legislation or Argentina and its dashingly disappointing referendum on abortions. In other countries, like Greece for example, the voices of pro-life advocates are becoming more and more strong, it seems that despite the long history for women’s liberation, the progress is not linear and that liberation won’t be gained only “in time.”
There are still many lingering norms and stereotypes, even within the more liberated movements, that we need to uproot so that we can move towards a free, autonomous society, where each person respects the freedom and independence of the other. So far, gender inequality issues are buried with excuses such as “it’s not the time,” “there are more urgent issues to solve,” “they’re outdated, since things are better than before,” “they are exaggerations of feminists who want to cast off men” or “the feminist claims divide and break the movement.” Feminism is an intersectional, changing ideology which permeates many aspects of the social sphere, such as, political, philosophical, economic, psychoanalytic. But it has never been just a system of ideas. It is, more importantly, an invitation and a challenge for action. Without action, feminism would be simply a hollow, self-indulgent rhetoric. We have gender studies, feminist perspective, the female gaze, and post-feminism interpretations. This said, in addition to defending the liberation of women, feminism constitutes a different angle under which we can interpret and criticise society as whole. Doesn’t it all come down to women in the end?