“Doing Gender Justice” was the original title of today’s Guardian article. Catherine and I produced this essay in a moment of keen frustration about the way gender issues are so often subsumed under a critique of capitalism. We present information about the way a program helps women (or does not) and predictably are met with a barrage of (largely irrelevant) commentary about corporations and consumer goods. The assumption seems to be that women’s rights are somehow tied to the left’s fight against industrial capitalism.
Feminist theorists like Heidi Hartmann poked holes in this canard years ago. Stories coming out of the communist countries after the fall of the Soviet Union also made the picture pretty clear: Marxist-inspired economies are not friendlier to women. Anybody who thinks preindustrial societies are better for women is living in a nostalgic fantasy (and hasn’t read the news since the Iranian Revolution). And now, the global gender data demonstrate consistently that industrial societies have produced better conditions for women.
Yet this blinkered, stubborn insistence–especially from people who consider themselves progressive–on ignoring the realities of patriarchy in favor of a notion born with the New Left of the 1960s (but never updated) continues.
Patriarchy does not equate with capitalism. It is profoundly insulting to the women who struggle under conditions that are deeply dehumanizing but very unlike the ones men confront, to keep insisting on replacing their distinctive inequality with this ideological knee-jerk.