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Feminisms of the Left: On Gender, Marxism, Capitalism

On the evening of April 8, 2014, the New School’s Politics and Philosophy departments, along with the Gender Studies and Capitalism Studies programs, and PSWIP hosted a roundtable entitled “Feminisms of the Left: On Gender, Marxism, Capitalism.” Johanna Oksala (University of Helsinki), Cinzia Arruzza (NSSR) and Nancy Fraser (NSSR) discussed why capitalism is a feminist issue. Chiara Bottici (NSSR) chaired the event and served as discussant.

In her analysis of how gender roles have changed in advanced capitalism, Oksala argued that the spread of neoliberal governmentality has resulted in a convergence of feminism and neoliberalism in which many women view themselves as neoliberal agents. Arruzza argued that Marx does not address capitalism in purely economic terms, and that we must dispel misconceptions that arise from a reductionist understanding of Marx’s critique of political economy. Drawing on feminist literature on intersectionality, Arruzza suggested that feminism should clarify the framework within which intersections of class, gender, race, and sexuality take place, and that Marx’s critique of political economy enables us to understand these intersections as taking place within a contradictory and articulated unity, i.e. that of the capitalist society. Fraser agreed with Arruzza that capitalism is bigger than an economic system and functions as an institutional order. Fraser argues that the divisions between (1) production and reproduction, (2) economy and polity, as well as (3) the non-natural human world and nature, are binary divisions created by capitalism. Fraser stressed that feminism is not independent of its context and the demands on today’s “lean in” corporate women are far from emancipatory because they not only require a double or triple shift, but also “lean on” the exploitation of other women (e.g. nannies, housekeepers).

The discussion that followed the presentations was productive and punctuated by interesting questions form the audience. Questions included: are the sites for emancipation different for production and reproduction? What is the correlation between the corporate “lean in” woman and the woman in a developing country receiving a microloan?

Oksala maintained that Fraser’s approach to boundary making (e.g. the line between nature and human, reproduction and production) approaches capitalism as an overarching system that doesn’t leave much room for us to imagine a different world. On the other hand, Fraser thinks that her model reconceptualizes how and where the line is drawn, it gives us the analytical distinctions necessary to discuss different kinds of capitalism. Troubling problems considered, but not resolved: How can we develop solidarity when the freedom of some women depends on the exploitation of other women? As femininity is increasingly understood as a choice, are we trapped in this system or can we change it? These and other problems were opened. Our hope is that with a viewing or reviewing of the video above, the highly suggestive exploration will continue here at Public Seminar. -Ariel Merkel

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