A good article – a long time coming – by philosopher Nancy Fraser about why second-wave feminism got coopted by second-wave capitalism.
Where feminists once criticised a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to “lean in”. A movement that once prioritised social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorised “care” and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy.
What lies behind this shift is a sea-change in the character of capitalism. The state-managed capitalism of the postwar era has given way to a new form of capitalism – “disorganised”, globalising, neoliberal. Second-wave feminism emerged as a critique of the first but has become the handmaiden of the second. …
Never mind that the reality that underlies the new ideal is depressed wage levels, decreased job security, declining living standards, a steep rise in the number of hours worked for wages per household, exacerbation of the double shift – now often a triple or quadruple shift – and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households. Neoliberalism turns a sow’s ear into a silk purse by elaborating a narrative of female empowerment. Invoking the feminist critique of the family wage to justify exploitation, it harnesses the dream of women’s emancipation to the engine of capital accumulation.
Two things are worth noting additionally about this article.
The first is that it fails to recognise (omits to mention?) any role for the media in defining the ideological horizons of second-wave feminism. If feminism lost its way, as the author suggests, was the media not the means by which its message was coopted and corrupted?
Also, this is being published in the Guardian, which has probably done more to define and shape second-wave feminism in Britain than any other publication. If feminism’s ultimate fantasy became “joining the men in the boardroom”, the Guardian was one of the chief engines of that “re-evaluation”.
Why is it that when we get these all-too-rare deep analyses of social developments, the media never features in them? Does the media not play a – the – key role in shaping our ideas, creating consensus, imposing limits on debate, defining the imaginable? And if so, should it not be at the heart of these kinds of analyses? But if Nancy Fraser had included the media’s role, would it have been published in the Guardian? And there, in microcosm, we have the conundrum facing not just feminists but all of us.