In Spain, “I Believe Her” became “Yo Te Creo”, with thousands protesting the acquittal of five men accused of gang-raping a young woman. Less than two months earlier, 5.1 million workers had spilled onto the streets of Spain to strike against sexism on International Women’s Day. In Latin America the Ni Una Menos movement has refused to tolerate endemic murders of and violence against women. Millions globally have used the #MeToo hashtag and have broken a collective silence, sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.
Young women in recent years have disproportionately swelled the ranks of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn supporters, demanding a society run in the interests of the many, not the few. Around the world, a new tide of feminist struggle has come in and it strikes right at the root of women’s oppression.
Super-rich profit from sexism & inequality
Just like a seed grows in the right conditions, societies based on the exploitative, inherently unequal system of capitalism are fertile soil for misogynistic ideas to take root and flourish. From the beauty industry, whose $445 billion annual profits depend on women feeling pressure to change their appearances, to the $10 trillion of annual unpaid care work and housework done privately by women – not to mention the additional profits from paying women less than men for the same work – the 1% who reap obscene profit from this system are profiting directly and indirectly from women’s social and economic inequality. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s government ended thousands of children’s entitlement to free school meals, froze child benefit, and refused to provide affordable childcare – examples of how cuts and austerity shift the financial burdens and care responsibilities entirely into individual families, and individual women in particular. Conservative politicians’ praise for the traditional family is nothing more than an ideological counterpart to the destruction of public services under neoliberal capitalism.
The single greatest threat to the capitalist elite’s monopoly is a united movement of workers and oppressed people, to take control out of the hands of this tiny cabal and instead democratically control all production and the wealth society produces. A democratic, socialist society could remove all barriers to free childcare, provide adequate housing, jobs and equal pay for all, meaning no one would have to rely on an abusive partner or go to a foodbank to feed themselves or their children. But stratifying working-class people, and perpetuating the idea that one section of workers has the right to oppress and abuse another, is a beneficial element for the ruling class that helps to prevent the united movements that they dread. The wealthy elite who benefit from this system have no real interest in challenging any form of oppression, even when they are represented by women politicians like Theresa May, because getting rid of all oppression for good means replacing capitalism.
Decaying capitalism trying to roll back women’s rights
At the same time as we are seeing a huge and global feminist movement develop, we face attempts by the ruling class to roll back the rights that oppressed groups have struggled for in history. In the USA, the Trump administration has helped states defund groups like Planned Parenthood that give women access to abortion services. In Russia, Putin’s government legalised some forms of domestic violence. In Poland, the right-wing government, flanked by the Church, has tried twice to place a blanket ban on abortion, and has been defeated each time by the enormous “Black” protests. A common thread in every case is that, in spite of historical gains, the capitalist system has been left standing. Placards at protests for abortion rights and against sexism have read, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit!”. Without challenging the root of all oppression – the capitalist system that gives backward ideas real power in the world – we are forced to fight a potentially endless number of attempts by the ruling class to regain the ground they have lost in past struggles by reinforcing women’s oppression.
The feminist movement that is emerging is one that sees the role played by capitalist states in perpetuating women’s oppression and economic exploitation. The movement will not accept violence against women or tolerate even a vestige of inequality. It is impatient with the tired, old gender roles still being pushed by conservative politicians. Huge numbers of these young women identify themselves as feminists and as socialists. It is a movement that is instinctively allied to the struggle against racism, struggles against homophobia and transphobia, and the fight for workers’ rights, including better and equal pay. United, these movements can be unstoppable in the fight for an equal, socialist society in which all forms of oppression are history.
By Eleanor Crossey-Malone