- Capitalism and Alternatives -

The failure of 'women's liberation'

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 23, 19100 at 21:04:01:

Trotsky once said that '[i]n order to change the conditions of life we must learn to see them through the eyes of women.'(1)

The conditions of life are quite different for women than they are for men.

Not too long ago, many women---'housewives,' 'home-makers'---had only a peripheral contact with capitalism. Instead, dependent on their mate, they lived under feudal conditions inside the home while their mate lived under capitalist conditions (at work). Of course, all this has changed---women expect their own professional lives, they expect their own financial security. They want more out of life than raising children, cooking, cleaning, and tending to their mates.

And well they should!

This sentiment, 'women's liberation,' coincided with a long-term economic recession that necessitated families to take on an extra job in order to retain the living standard that, previously, one job supplied. In many cases, the wife took that job instead of the husband taking on a second job. Either way: to continue the standard of living that working families enjoyed before, an extra job was required---because the recession froze wages and turned back benefits (for almost a generation).

This whole economic process, as it so happened, preceded the ideology of 'woman’s liberation.'

As I see it, the economic process CREATED a need for an ideology that supported families taking on an extra job. After all, without 'women’s liberation,' families might have noticed that their incomes were shrinking and that the capitalist rulers were reneging on their post-war promises of middle-class prosperity for all!

One of the central failings of the (bourgeoisified) feminist movement, in my opinion, is that no one directly confronted the economic exigency that led to the necessity for 'women's liberation.' No one questioned that women's 'liberation' was little more than a new form of subjugation: the subjugation to capital. And, when the work that women used to do at home became commodified because women no longer were content to work for 'free,' no one questioned that such work as looking after children should, by 'free market' logic, be relegated to the low-skill underworld of low-wage work. This last issue was perhaps feminism's greatest blunder.

Feminists did not question that the work women previously provided was worth so little. Instead of insisting that such work be paid high wages, women simply left such tasks to the 'free market' and went after 'men's work.' AND WELL THEY SHOULD! Women should do the engineering and the lawyering and the computer programming regardless of gender. And men should do the child caring and the cooking and the cleaning regardless of gender. BOTH SHOULD DO SOME OF EACH.

But---instead---the feminists were led astray by the alluring promises of the capitalist workplace and the 'democratic' promises of autonomy (under capitalist conditions).

They agreed that child care and cooking and cleaning were low-prestige, low-skill tasks. Every time a family pays the evening's babysitter a pittance to look after their child(ren), they are in effect saying: looking after my child(ren) is work ANY boob could do---and here's a wage that corresponds to such boob work, proving the point. Thus the feminists accepted market logic, and sold women---and men---out.

The problem, as I see it, is that most feminists simply want a piece of the action according to capital's rules (a prestige white-collar labor-aristocracy job and wage) instead of questioning those rules entirely!

Questioning the rules of capital is a task too large for feminism alone. Only a revolutionary Marxist perspective can confront such a challenge. The challenge starts with a very skeptical analysis of the social division of labor---the real task of (proletarianized) feminism.



1. Trotsky, 'Against Bureaucracy, Progressive and Unprogressive,' Problems of Everyday Life, Pathfinder 1973, p. 65.

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