10 Things That Feminism Could Do Better
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Editor's Note: Nina Power is a British philosopher and feminist, who published a must-read book,One-Dimensional Woman, out now from Zero Books. Power's brand of feminism stands apart because, as she has been known to say, we've had the "c"-word wrong all along. Indeed, capitalism is behind most of the issues facing women today. (Her book nods at Herbert Marcuse's 1964 One-Dimensional Man , which detailed the delusive freedoms of the capitalist system.) Power's book is a fascinating read, as she tackles subjects ranging from the farcical feminism of Sarah Palin to the usurping of feminism -- packaged as "women's liberation" -- to validate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Power is witty, biting and thoughtful in her analysis, and a departure from mainstream feminist thinkers today.
I should start by saying that this list should in no way be seen as an attack on anyone actively involved in feminist politics, or on the history of the women’s liberation movement. The fruits of feminism reflect the most successful and long-term social revolution that human history has ever seen -- this should never be forgotten. The list is simply a set of personal reflections on some current dimensions of the struggle, and could equally well be applied to women in general, as opposed to just those who identify themselves as feminists.
1. Feminism should realign itself with movements committed to social justice, and reclaim its ties to other progressive movements, such as the gay rights movement and campaigns for racial equality. Feminism has sometimes allowed itself to become distracted by debates about essentialism (particularly in Britain), leading to ugly attempts to exclude trans-women from feminist debates, for example. Feminism needs to have a strategic and inclusive definition of "femaleness," which avoids compounding the oppression heaped on those who are already more likely to be the victims of violence and discrimination.
2. At the same time, the word ‘feminism’ itself (and the battles it wages) should become much clearer and stronger. In an age in which Sarah Palin can describe herself as a feminist, despite passing anti-abortion legislation, the word needs to be reclaimed by the left and placed firmly back among broader questions of class, exploitation and oppression.
3. Feminism should not be misled by the successes of individual women at the top of their professions (politicians, CEOs, etc.). Better than thinking of these women as "tokens," though, we would do well to see them as (sometimes) being "decoys" (as described by Zillah Eisenstein in Sexual Decoys). Which is to say, simply because they are women and successful, the success (and therefore end) of feminism is frequently announced by the media, and their noxious politics are ignored (think of Margaret Thatcher). Feminism would do well to remember how the struggle for real equality and fair income can sometimes be disguised by the purported success of the odd individual woman.
4. Feminism should be concerned with all women everywhere, and be careful not to focus on the experience of small groups of women in the West. Issues such as immigrant labor (which frequently revolves around childcare and housework for other families) often involve women from other parts of the world leaving behind their own families, and the misery that this entails. The issues affecting women in richer parts of the world may sometimes obscure the struggles against oppression, violence and economic exploitation taking place in poorer countries. Western feminism must not cut itself off from the rest of the world: there are many groups working and fighting for grassroots feminist activism around the world -- feminists everywhere should see themselves as part of the same global struggle, whilst nevertheless paying attention to the differences that exist in different parts of the world as part of this shared struggle.