National Anti-Suffrage Association, 1911. Photograph via National Library of Congress
They preach equal opportunity, but in practice produce a “regressive modernization” that reshapes but continues the patriarchal division of labour, and of traditional masculinities and femininities.
So, beware the liberation language of global capitalism: it rules the world, and it deploys the language of freedom, choice and competition to oust solidarity, co-operative creativity and equality. After the deluge of state communisms, the world is quivering with resistance but struggles to find new ideological and institutional forms for those great values of solidarity, co-operation, creativity and equality – values that are crucial for gender equality. In this moment of capitalism’s hegemony – its apparent inevitability, invincibility and normality – the language of the marketplace appears not only to govern the economy, but life itself.
It is a lie, of course. Capitalism does not do life. And that lie is never more exposed in the twenty-first century than when we bring to it the light of gender and the unsaid – the silences and secrets that are knotted in the articulation of capitalism and patriarchy.
“Woman” as commodity, as carer, as producer and reproducer (though rarely hailed, it appears, as taxpayer and never as citizen) is positioned anew as Other; the sovereignty of ideologies of masculinity is simultaneously rattled and reinstated. Gender, uniquely, exposes the limits of this articulation, its contradictions and – most important – its unsustainability. The old sexual contract is recognized as unsustainable but retained in modernized form. Neoliberal neo-patriarchy is the new articulation of male domination.
But gender, uniquely, exposes the limits of neoliberal hegemony, its contradictions and – most important – its unsustainability. Though neoliberal neopatriarchy is hegemonic, it is an unstable site of torrid angst, complaint and trouble – and radical alternatives. As Leonard Cohen saw:
There is a crack in everything
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in (Anthem).
Although gender remains an often invisible, or at best marginal, theme in radical and party political discourses, it takes us to the fissures and fault-lines, to the unsustainabilities, of the new, global capitalist settlement. For gender, like nature, is omni-relevant: it is everywhere, in everything. The new global settlement is nothing if not a new sexual settlement. Global capitalism works with patriarchal principles, institutions, cultures and psyches. So, our liberation from this tragedy is inconceivable – it is, literally, unthinkable – without feminism.