Feminism and Capitalism

A very interesting, and moving, piece by Anwyn Crawford over here, in which I was confronted once more with the idea that genuine liberation from the constraints of gender can only occur with the advent of what one can only call, in the vaguest possible terms, an anti-capitalist society.

This used to be a very pervasive idea in the first half of the 20th century (for so university has told me) and it usually meant that the ladies in socialist or labour movements had to wait a little bit for their freedom, while the men worked on realizing the collective ownership of the means of production. Women's liberation was effectively put on hold, and struggle against capital was given first priority.

The Second Sex, which I am still wading through, begins by attacking the Marxist explanation for the enslavement of women. I guess that might have been the turning point -- when women realized that it wasn't capitalism, but something else, that was inhibiting their emancipation. It ended up being called patriarchy -- a set of assumptions about the two genders that licensed oppressive laws, an inequitable distribution of resources, and personal relationships that lacked reciprocity.

My view is that Crawford confounds capitalism and patriarchy, which I believe (along with De Beauvoir, and along with the feminists in her wake) are two different things. Crawford argues that capitalism is an ideology which influences personal relationships -- that there is a "market paradigm" that governs the way we treat each other -- that creates female objects. (Not male ones? one might ask). I think capitalism is simply a system of distributing resources and organizing society, and can support a huge variety of ideologies: religious belief, liberalism, patriarchy, feminism...

I haven't thus far come across a convincing argument for why capitalism NECESSARILY equals patriarchy, and I would be very eager to listen to anyone who is willing to explain this link to me. In the meantime, I have no option but to continue to think that the emphasis of the feminist movement should not be on dismantling the market economy, but the patriarchal assumptions to be found within it. Let's face it, doing the latter is a tough enough task in itself.


  1. Anonymous24.11.10

    Aren't the two, capitalism and patriarchy so intricately intertwined that one cannot thrive without the other, in this day and age? If we are still a patriarchal society and we also exist in a consumerist/capitalist World surely they feed each other. However, I personally believe that there is another fundamental element: media. The three dominant 'ideologies' of consumerism, patriarchy and the media marry to perpetuate an environment in which women (and feminism) are marginalised or exploited. Both of which act to 'keep women in their place'. If gender is a social construct the normative gender identity is established and endorsed by the powers at be, but a tangible mechanism is required for 'norms' to permeate society: enter capitalism. It's not just about making money, it's about control. In my oh so humble opinion. I also believe that capitalism, interestingly, promotes 'individualism' but prohibits people from being 'unique'.

  2. Thank you for commenting, I'm sorry it took so long for me to respond.

    I'm agreed that we need to look at the mechanisms that spread gender norms through society. But does a capitalist society necessarily spread patriarchal ideas? I think it might just be possible for a capitalist media to NOT marginalise feminist discourse.

    I should say, I have rather strong doubts about the notion that capitalism imposes a single consciousness on all those living within it. My feeling is that shareholders, managers, advertisers and wage-slaves don't all subscribe to the same values of 'individualism' or 'thrift' or patriarchy for that matter.