Reimagining Feminism

Rubina Saigol details the 11 theses of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto

Reimagining Feminism
This book begins with a clear rejection of liberal corporate feminism entirely compatible with capitalism and its competitive race for profits. The Manifesto underlines eleven theses that seek a total transformation of the world to liberate all classes and groups from oppression, exploitation and dispossession.

Reinventing the Strike

The book reignites the passion for the strike as the means to overthrow the capitalist system as done by Polish and Argentinian feminist workers. As the authors state: “Breaking through the isolation of women’s power; the power of those whose paid and unpaid work sustains the world.” Reimaging what counts as labour, the writers do not limit the strike only to waged work; rather, “by making visible the indispensable role played by gendered, unpaid work in capitalist society, it draws attention to activities from which capitalism benefits, but for which it does not pay.” The interconnectedness of work and private lives is upheld as the work of production (making profits) and reproduction (making people) are completely interlinked. By devaluing the work of reproduction necessary for capitalism to survive, it manages to extract it for free.

Liberal Feminism is bankrupt 

The mainstream media equates feminism with liberal feminism which is part of the problem. Liberal feminism reflects a neoliberal view of feminism, in which climbing the corporate and military ladder is completely acceptable and diversity is celebrated in the service of profit-making, rather than to ensure equality. It is a privileged feminism of those positioned to rise in the corporate world and enjoy the economic, social and cultural benefits of capitalism. Feminism in this articulation is confused with the rise of individual women. Comprising one percent of humanity, this class leaves the 99 percent ‘stuck in the basement.’

Anti-capitalist feminism for the 99 percent 

Feminism must respond to a crisis of epochal proportions visible in the falling standards of living, mass migrations, unbridled wars, increased dispossession, heightened racism and rising xenophobia. Globally there is an erosion of hard-won rights, both social and political. For poor, working class, racialised, migrant women and queer and trans and disabled women, there is a diminution of rights and access to basic services that should be the basic rights of all citizens. Feminism for the 99% proposes to “join with every movement that fights for the 99 percent, whether by struggling for environmental justice, free high-quality education, generous public services, low-cost housing, labor rights, free universal health care or a world without racism or war.” As a staunchly internationalist movement, this feminism is anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal.
Capitalism thrives on dividing people along the axes of culture, race,
ethnicity, ability, sexuality, and gender. Feminism must unite existing and
future movements into a broad-based global insurgency

Capitalism - root cause of the crisis of society 

The capitalism we inhabit today is globalising, financialised and neoliberal. It captures a huge chunk of the world’s precious and limited resources in the endless search for profits without paying for their replacement. It has ravaged the environment, pushed down wages and usurped the energies available to sustain families and communities as it spreads its financial tentacles across society. The antithesis so far has been the rise of populist right-wing movements that promise to save the family, community and religion by restricting the rights of women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community. Reactionary populism attempts to co-opt feminism and encourages feminists, anti-racists and environmentalists to close ranks with their “liberal” protectors. Feminism for the 99% rejects not only reactionary populism but also its neoliberal opponents.

Gender oppression and social reproduction

Capitalist societies, “are also by definition wellsprings of gender oppression.” Far from being accidental, it is built into their very structure. Capitalism separated the work of making people from the work of making profits and subordinated the first to the second. In capitalist society, the organization of social reproduction (making people) rests on women; it relies on gender roles and entrenched gender oppression. The fault lines of race, class, sexuality, religion and nation are the axes of domination that are deployed in the process of profit-making. Women’s social reproductive work has been enlisted to reinforce gender binarism and heteronormativity. The work of people-making has equally been instrumentalized for national and imperial projects. Education and family policies have been geared towards creating the right kind of ‘nationals’ or ‘citizens’ for nationalist projects. Education for the working classes is designed to inculcate the values of obedience, deference to bosses, tolerating exploitation and accept their station in life. Class struggles must include struggles over social reproduction including health, education, housing, clean drinking water and clean energy.

Forms of gender violence

Gender violence is not accidental but grounded in the institutional structure of capitalist society. The weaponization of rape of enslaved and colonized women to terrorize communities of color and enforce subjugation are widely recorded phenomena. Rape of ‘enemy’ women in war and sexual harassment in all kinds of workplaces – offices, homes, fields, streets and other public and private spaces – are only too well known. Capitalist violence is a system of hierarchical power that fuses gender, race and class and normalizes it. The knee-jerk response is the demand for criminalization and punishment. However, it is problematic to assume that laws, police and courts have autonomy from the underlying capitalist power structure. The criminal justice system “disproportionally targets poor and working-class men of color, including migrants, and leaves the whit-collar professional counterparts free to rape and batter. Feminism for the 99% believes that violence is integral to capitalist society which produces the systemic violence in its various forms - economic, environmental and other. Neoliberal capitalism has defunded social security programs and increased women’s burden of care which places enormous stress on them and their families.

Capitalism and regulation of sexuality

Capitalist societies have always tried to regulate sexuality but in ways that have varied. The normalization of taboo sexuality in a capital-friendly disguise “encourages individualism, domesticity and commodity consumption.” Capitalism has successfully co-opted an oppositional narrative of multiple sexuality in such a way that queer and LGBTQ+ persons are acceptable in the process of creating enticing advertising images, product lines and lifestyle commodities, and prepackaged pleasures. ‘Sex sells in capitalist society and neoliberalism merchandizes it in many flavors.’ Poor queer people and queer people of color continue to be marginalized and repressed. The rights granted to “Right thinking” and “right living” gays are showcased to legitimate imperialist and neocolonial projects as the victims of imperial and colonial adventures are represented as homophobic.  Feminists for the 99% reject both neoliberal and neo-traditional homophobia and misogyny.

Capitalism and colonial violence 

Feminism for the 99% is anti-racist and anti-imperialist and rejects colonial projects in which white liberal feminists defended colonial rule and imperial war in the name of rescuing or raising up brown women from their lowly conditions. Anti-Muslim policies from Israel to India to Europe and America tend to be justified in similar terms. In a racist and imperialist society no women’s liberation can be achieved. Racism and imperialism are integral to capitalism as only violent colonial plunder led to the so-called ‘free labor’ and ‘the wage contract’. Racialized people globally have been expropriated so that capital could increase profits by confiscating their land, natural resources and human capacities which are not replenished by capital. Debt-servicing is a tool that has evolved to reduce social services for poor populations who work only to pay back rich countries the loan they never received. The informalized workforce, consisting mainly of poor and racialized women, has no access to the most basic rights and are forced to work in the service of privileged women so that they may pursue demanding careers.  Some of these privileged women invoke women’s rights to jail black men as rapists and persecute Muslim migrants.

Reversing capital’s destruction of the earth

Capitalism makes profits by capturing natural resources which it treats as free and infinite and it steals them outright as it does not pay for their replenishment. It destabilizes its own conditions of possibility by exhausting the soil and depleting mineral wealth, and by poisoning the water and air. Capital plundered resources formed over hundreds of millions of years. Women constitute 80 percent of the climate refugees, and are forced to cope with drought, pollution and the over-exploitation of land. Globally women have resisted the privatization of water and seeds and struggled for the preservation of biodiversity essential for life. Women’s liberation and the preservation of the planet from an ecological disaster go hand in hand.
Capitalism makes profits by capturing natural resources which it treats as free and infinite and it steals them outright as it does not pay for their replenishment. It destabilizes its own conditions of possibility

Feminist internationalism 

Hobbled by global finance, states are increasingly unable to address pressing problems. Captured by corporate power and enfeebled by debt, governments are increasingly becoming the handmaidens of capital. Governments are forced to comply with Central Banks tied to the global financial systems, international investors and war profiteers. In many countries the masses have given up on mainstream political parties and politicians who promote neoliberalism. Political crisis is rooted in the institutional structure of capitalist society. Capitalism is fundamentally anti-democratic and generates imperialism. Capitalist countries use trade regimes which are tilted against the poor countries which are strangulated with debt, enticed with “aid” and threatened with attacks if they fail to comply with the Global North. In the accumulation project capitalism freeloads off public power, secures private property for itself and uses repressive force to crush opposition. However, the answer is not more women in power doing the dirty work of bombing other countries, backing neocolonial interventions in the name of humanitarianism, engaging in genocides through structural adjustments, imposed debts and forced austerity. As the first victims of colonial occupation and war they face rape, harassment and enslavement. Solidarity must be with these women and not with ‘warmongers in skirts, who demand gender and sexual liberation for their kin alone’. To them, we say ‘not in our name’.

Anti-capitalist insurgency

There should be solidarity with all kinds of anti-capitalist movements across the world - environmentalist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and LGBTQ+ movements and labour unions. The 99 percent should be championed while rejecting both “progressive neoliberalism” and “reactionary populism”. It is in the splintering of these alliances that capitalism succeeded. Working class communities must be separated from those promoting militarism, xenophobia, and ethno-nationalism that present themselves as the ‘defenders of the common man’ all the while promoting plutocracy. Capitalism thrives on dividing people along the axes of culture, race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality, and gender. Feminism must unite existing and future movements into a broad-based global insurgency.

Feminism for the 99% is one of the best books that I have read in many years. It is a comprehensive manifesto that neatly brings together the various strands of feminism by demonstrating convincingly that the global financialised capitalist system is at the root of the world’s troubles. What are often seen as disparate movements for race equality, gender justice, environmental protection and an end to war are here shown to be interrelated as capitalism makes inroads into all aspects of modern society—from the cultural to the political and from the economic to the social.

Feminists have long worked on violence against women, women’s access to health and education, women’s political participation, labour rights and struggles against racism, militarism and nationalism. However, they have worked in silos, seldom perceiving the interconnections between all forms of injustice and discrimination which have roots in the global capitalist system, that encompasses our lives, livelihoods, families, communities and regulates our bodies, our sexualities, our labour and our consumption in its pursuit of profit.

This book is a must-read for all those involved in social activism of any kind. Written in a very accessible language, it avoids jargon and heavy theory. I would recommend it as a basic text for all students of Women’s Studies and Gender Studies, and for all those eager to familiarise themselves with feminism as it provides a holistic rather than fragmented perspective on feminism. It would be extremely useful as a resource for those working on feminism, gender issues, human rights, labour and peasant struggles. To make it even more accessible, I would suggest that it should be translated into Urdu, and possibly regional languages, as it represents a perspective that touches the heart of those engaged in real daily struggles.