Capitalism v Feminism: A Necessary Battle?

I’m no economist, so I am going a bit outside of my wheelhouse on this topic, but failing to be an expert on something has never stopped me before. So here we go!

There has been a long fought battle between feminism and capitalism, in which capitalism just generally shits on women and feminized people, and feminism just generally hates everything about capitalism.

Many feminists argue that capitalism is inherently sexist. They say that at its core, capitalism is a system that oppresses women.

I agree and I disagree with this statement.

These people are correct in saying that capitalism oppresses women and is patriarchal, but no system can actually hold such values. Rather, society places these values – beliefs, assumptions, stereotypes and norms – upon a system.

So capitalism, like any institution/system, is only sexist because it operates within the patriarchy. If men had not oppressed women for centuries and we lived in an egalitarian society, capitalism would not necessarily be sexist. It is not the system itself, but the deeply ingrained stereotypes, gender norms, biased beliefs and institutional inequalities that drive capitalism to oppress women.

Sexism did not begin with capitalism. Unfortunately, that crap has been going on since the beginning of time. Capitalism is simply a vehicle for society’s operations and our operations have always privileged men over women.

So with that said, when feminists says that capitalism is inherently patriarchal and there can be no true gender equality while this market system persists, I argue that they are taking the easy way out.

If we accept that no true equality can be reached alongside capitalism, we are essentially saying “not in my lifetime” (unless someone has big plans to bring down Wall Street that I don’t know about). But if we posit that capitalism is a product of the patriarchy, and we continue to challenge that patriarchy, then perhaps feminism can indeed prevail in harmony with (a more egalitarian) capitalism.

I believe that if feminism is successful at dismantling the patriarchy (which I do believe will happen!), then the institutions operating under its paradigm will undergo fundamental transformations. I believe that if we eliminate gender norms, rape culture, gender stereotypes, etc. that capitalism will look very different. Without these harmful beliefs and norms, capitalism would not have a wage gap, women would not be predominately placed in precarious work situations, there would be no glass ceiling, and the workplace would not be a hostile or uncomfortable environment for so many women and femmes.

It is not capitalism that pays (white) women 80 cents to the dollar, it is male CEOs who have been taught to devalue female labour. Capitalism doesn’t compel its employees to sexually harass women in the office, it is the patriarchy that allows the degrading treatment of women. It is not capitalism that prevents women from rising the ranks at their firm, it is gender stereotypes telling us that women are not good leaders. It is not capitalism that fails to provide sufficient parental leave, but gender roles keeping women in the home and men in the workplace.

Capitalism is about supply and demand; an invisible hand. There was never an automatic gendered lens to this system; our society that made this hand was male dominant. And it is our job, as feminists, to eliminate the gendered aspect of this market system.

Is capitalism great? Do I love capitalism as a market structure? No. Beyond the gendered aspect of capitalism, I believe there are a number of other issues with the system. Do I believe North America would be better off emulating a socialist system like many European countries? Yes.

But my point remains: don’t blame capitalism for the subjugation of women in the labour market; blame the patriarchy for creating an unequal, oppressive paradigm under which that system operates.

Let’s stop blaming the game and start holding accountable those who perpetuate the game (and the society that tells them it’s allowed).

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