Monday, November 8, 2010

Liberal feminism vs. independence for women

bell hooks, via caring labor:

Masses of women feel angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce. Mostly they have found that they work long hours at home and long hours at the job. Even before feminist movement encouraged women to feel positive about working outside the home, the needs of a depressed economy were already sanctioning this shift. If contemporary feminist movement had never taken place masses of women would still have entered the workforce, but it is unlikely that we would have the rights we have, had feminists not challenged gender discrimination. Women are wrong to “blame” feminism for making it so they have to work, which is what many women think. The truth remains that consumer capitalism was the force leading more women into the workforce. Given the depressed economy white middle-class families would be unable to sustain their class status and their lifestyles if women who had once dreamed solely of working as housewives had not chosen to work outside the home.

Here hooks offers an account of liberal feminism, in which women's rights are pronounced to be "equal" to men's.

Two problems arise from the liberal formula. One is that women aren't the same as men; for example, men don't require any "rights" relating to pregnancy. For a woman to have the same rights as a man, in this regard, is not to have any rights at all: such rights aren't relevant for men. Women are subsequently penalized in the workplace for being people who carry and deliver children, because men are the employees that don't.

The second problem in asserting "equal rights" with men is that men themselves don't enjoy equal rights! If being dependent on a husband for her economic security was the plight of the domestic housewife, being dependent on an employer for his economic security has been the plight of most men. As hooks suggests, liberal values are those values arising out of the direct subordination of human beings to capital, taking for granted its "progressive" effects. It is little wonder that US women are angry about its feminist pretensions.

Feminism might be better defined simply as "independence for women," not "equality with men." Independence for women implies a personal right to economic security as the basis for free association with others, rather than limiting itself only to that which is deemed suitable for men.

See also ladypoverty


JM said...

What's your opinion on this then which seems to denounce Hook's viewpoint:

Do you think Hooks and Power are on the same wavelength?

Anonymous said...

Power and hooks do not disagree on the issue of women and work. hooks has called herself a socialist and she believes that feminism is an inherently revolutionary movement--meaning that the liberal feminism of equal jobs and equal pay is a non-starter. She's a radical and she knows that black women were unimpressed with the liberal feminist call to work as black women already worked and found wage slavery unspectacular.

Power is a Marxist who believes most if not all work has become feminised to the point that women especially, but men too, are required to be always primed for work at all times of the day--to always be selling oneself. As a radical one would expect she also sees equality in the work place as beside the point. She is, however, as a Marxist, a bit more class reductionist on the whole than hooks.

JM said...

I'd like to point you to this:
"We're all salaried by Universities, after all, and have no responsibilities; we all have nobody depending on us and healthy parents who own a big house outright where we can live and be fed, read and watch television. We're all legal in the country we live in, enjoying healthcare for free, and none of us have criminal records, and everyone we know enjoys the same security and equivalent resources. What better time than when you're out of work to reconsider what it means to work at all? Why try to cling on to employment no matter the cost when you don't even have any to cling on to? What the real radicals who write in the Guardian understand is that unemployment is an opportunity, not a hardship. What's wrong with being unemployed? Okay, okay, but money isn't everything! Why does everyone have to be a "job seeker" with a mortgage, a vibrator, your same sex domestic partner and a solar panel on your roof? That's not emancipation! If you don't have a job you're in an even better position to resist the temptations to consume luxury items, just as if you don't have a vibrator you're going to be less tempted to while your days away "researching" vintage porn and Girls Gone Wild. Closer to subjective destitution, you are closer to your true liberation. Instead of working, you could travel or re-read Kant. The shocking controversial non-conformist possibilities are endless! You could cook your way through Julia Child but with all vegetarian substitutes. There are lots of new tofu-based products. You could start a bondage and domination kibbutz, or go to graduate school for a qualification to think a radically different future with no work for all, not just no work for you. After all it's not all about you, Right to Work Grrrl, it's not all about your job, your debts, your kids, your needs; you could stop being such a selfish bitch."

Hate to say it, but some people do need to work in order to live.

JM said...

P.S.Correct me if I'm wrong but you're using Hook's quote to say that work is unnecessary whereas she is saying encouraging women in working is potentially good, but it's going to take a lot more welfare programs, security,etc. to ensure lower class women can live health lives.

JRB said...


I think women should be supported in the things they do, and work of some sort will inevitably be one of them. So what are their preferences? Social institutions should conform to them, not the other way around.

JM said...

Okay, I understand. Sorry for my misunderstanding.

JRB said...


I should probably apologize for not being clear enough!

It's really helpful to know when people get what you are trying to say and when they don't. I'm grateful you are interested enough to ask!