What's Pulsing in Feminism

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By BEATRIZ GIMENO*

One of the consensus that unites women is that they are united against the extreme right, which knows that feminism is the enemy to be defeated

March 8, 2021 was special not just because it was banned, which was definitely targeted by fascism, but because of some of the debates it left behind. The fact that it was an 8M lived through social networks and the media fundamentally allowed the issue of ideological debate to be made visible, but on the other hand made unity less visible, which I think is more potent than dissent. Although sometimes it doesn't seem like it, feminism is crossed by great consensuses that always push it forward. Consensus is best seen on the streets, dissent on social networks and the media. And one of the great, necessary consensuses that unites us is that we are united against an extreme right that already knows that feminism is the enemy to be defeated. There you will find us all.

But theoretical, ideological debates are also important in a critical theory that is fed by them. And if they occur with respect, there is no reason to be afraid of them. And in this article I want to focus on the analysis of a part of the debate that has gained visibility these days. There is no doubt that it was the Fourth Wave that transformed feminism in this century into a massive and global movement. That is, at a given moment, a change occurs. Going from demonstrations of a thousand or ten thousand to demonstrations of half a million women in two years is no accident; nor is it that the women's strike was a success or the conversion of feminism into a common sense that challenges and crosses the majority of women, many of whom until recently did not feel involved. Evidently, this change has to do with many issues, but it is reflected very well in the content of the claims, which appear in the dozens of manifestos present in the media today. That is, new issues emerged, or new ways of conceptualizing old issues (in feminism, almost nothing can be completely new), and that these issues impacted a generation that until then had not massively identified itself as feminist. Sexual violence (and sexist violence in general), its extent, its systemic and structural character was one of those issues that exploded all over the world as literally unbearable for women.

But the second issue that exploded was that of social reproduction. It has to do with a generation of young people who grew up believing they were equal and without questioning basic rights such as abortion (with nuances, of course), divorce, the right to paid work, education, personal independence, etc., and who wake up one day discovering that everything was a lie. They wake up in the middle of an economic crisis and after a period of emptying of public services that placed what these services covered (more or less) on the shoulders, again, of women. Feminist economists warned us long ago that what some call care work and others call social reproduction was being poorly maintained thanks to global networks of women supporting each other in a chain that is weakening at each link until it reaches the last ones, the ones nobody supports. But the severity of the crisis, and the severity of the response to it, in the form of cuts and privatizations of what was a relief for women (health, education, public assistance services), caused the system to collapse.

And that is why, whether they call it that or not, recognize themselves that way or not, the Fourth Wave reveals itself to be anti-capitalist. Marx already said that it is the material conditions that determine consciousness, and this Fourth Wave is a good example of collective awareness. Capitalism in its neoliberal phase, while claiming to be very supportive of women's rights and creating an elite of women who can have much better lives than their mothers or grandmothers, brings the lives of the majority into a situation that makes them unfeasible. In reality, cuts to public services are a direct attack on women's rights, or to put it another way, without strong public services there can be no equality. The work of social reproduction is the condition of possibility for the functioning of the productive sphere; It must be done. (Excerpt: to introduce here the debate about whether or not men should do it is to deceive, because the system would not support that, in the economic sphere, men were treated in the same way as women; then everything would explode. And that would imply, in addition, having previously ended the patriarchy, something we don't see very close).

Therefore, it is not a joke, nor poetry, to say that if we stop, the world stops. Either women do it (and more and more men do), or public services do it, or we go back home, but that is no longer possible. Neoliberalism, as Fraser also explains very well, has proletarianized women, but it has also emancipated them in another sense, and there is no going back from that. Neoliberalism leads us to a devastating society in which only the rich will be able to solve the issue of assistance services because they can pay for them (mainly other poorer women, who, in turn, cannot pay for them to take care of themselves or their families). Of course, social reproduction does not only concern these services, it is broader, and encompasses everything that maintains social bonds, including affection, but also pure biological reproduction is becoming endangered and we are increasingly moving towards societies in which having children has become a privilege, in which women are forced to postpone their motherhood or freeze their eggs in order to fulfill their obligations in the productive sphere.

Obviously this is the main point where the sexual division of labor and capitalist exploitation come together. And this is the point at which it becomes clear that liberal feminism has nothing to offer the vast majority of women because equality requires, among other things, socializing this care work. And it's not optional. Either it socializes (and is distributed within families), or there will be no equality. Socializing implies many things; Universal public assistance systems imply structural economic reforms that affect tax systems, the external debt, cuts, privatizations, wages, etc... In short: redistribution of wealth. By incorporating women into productive work without socializing reproductive work, what has happened is something impossible, an impossibility that can be maintained for a while, but not much longer.

Fraser is the author of this sentence: "No society that systematically weakens its social reproduction can last very long". This is the point of conflict. A system that for years has been weakening its social reproduction and women who can no longer support it; and, at the same time, a liberal feminism that is capable of having books of quotations with anti-capitalist feminists as a fetish, but that does not naturally accept that these quotations are read aloud because the interpellation is so profound. A feminism that can afford to be culturally anti-neoliberal, but that economically cannot go very far. And that is the contradiction, or at least one of the most important contradictions at this point. Neoliberalism, now on everyone's lips, is used by liberal feminism in a merely cultural sense, not an economic one. And the Fourth Wave is a movement that emerged demanding that all lives are worth living and this cannot be done without a radical change in the economic system and not just in the cultural one.

*Beatriz Gimeno is a Spanish feminist and activist for LGBTQI rights.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

Originally published on Public.

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