What is wrong with Liberal Feminism?
Note: This is not a denunciation of feminism in general. There are many strands of feminism, some problematic, others revolutionary. I personally adhere to Marxist Feminism or Class-War Feminism.
Liberal feminism makes the essential argument that one can achieve women’s liberation within the framework of capitalist society, the bourgeois state, etc.
This is deeply flawed because it doesn’t understand how the oppression of women is tied to social reproduction and private property system, as well as the nuclear family. It sees all these structures (and the structures from which emerge, from advertising to imperialism) as not having a true political content, but rather you can reshape them as you will, to make them more egalitarian.
This is of course impossible, and in the end all liberal feminism ends up doing is empowering a certain layer of women (wealthy white women in the imperialist nations mostly) to take up some level of equality with their counter-parts in the bourgeoisie, without advancing the emancipation of all women everywhere.
Liberal feminists see the opening of institutions like the imperial state up to women’s participation as great victories for all women, when in fact it is only a gain for a small minority at the expense of the rest.
A good example is the hype amongst feminists about the Hillary Clinton campaign. As a political leader, Clinton is an imperialist, a arbiter of capitalist authority and a representative of the ruling class. She maintains this position by systematically disempowering women in the third world, for example.
This is one type of liberal feminism, which has been labelled Power Feminism. But there are other examples of liberalism in the feminist movement.
These include lifestylist or individualist feminisms, where women are encouraged to empower themselves on a wholly individual basis, by dressing in a certain way and trying to climb the corporate ladder. No one ever asks how the corporate ladder itself is a capitalist construction that needs to be torn down.
Another form appears in the sex-positivity movement. I am not wholly against sex-positivity in many aspects, but the liberal feminist argument that ANYTHING can be empowering as long as one consents to it freely goes against many of the most basic things we (as radicals) understand about social relations. That:
- Emancipation is not a personal process. While it may be experienced on a personal level (in fact, it has to be if it is to be manifested), it is still a collective struggle.
- That all interactions between people are social relations and are reflections of social structures in the concrete.
- This means that social relationships are not devoid of content. Regardless of how one feels about them, they can still be characterised by oppression (the wage-labourer is exploited whether they like it or not).
- It also forgets that our wants and desires are shaped, to a very powerful degree, by the social relations within which we find ourselves. Nothing is in the abstract.
This is of course not a call to flip to the other side and take moralistic stands, attacking women for their personal choices. That is also reactionary, and fails to understand the development of political consciousness and the need for self-emancipation.
So these are some of the ways which liberalism has and will continue to manifest itself.