Worse still, the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed with a rising neoliberalism eager to repress all memory of social equality. In effect, we absolutized the critique of cultural sexism at precisely the moment when circumstances required redoubled attention to the critique of political economy.
Finally, feminism contributed a third idea: the critique of welfare-state paternalism. Undeniably progressive in the era of state-organized capitalism, that critique has since converged with neoliberalism’s war on “the nanny state” and its cynical embrace of non-governmental organizations. A telling example is microcredit, the program of small bank loans to poor women in the global south. Cast as an empowering, bottom-up alternative to bureaucratic state projects, microcredit is touted as the feminist antidote for women’s poverty and subjection. However, what has been missed is a disturbing coincidence: microcredit has burgeoned just as states have abandoned macro-structural efforts to fight poverty. A feminist perspective aimed originally at democratizing state power is now used to legitimize marketization.
In all these cases, feminism’s ambivalence has been resolved in favor of (neo)liberal individualism, but the other solidaristic scenario may still be alive. The current crisis affords the chance to pick up its thread once more, reconnecting the dream of women’s liberation with the vision of a solidarity society. To that end, feminists need to reclaim our three “contributions.”
First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centers waged work and valorizes unwaged activities, including — but not limited to — carework.
Second, we might disrupt the passage from our critique of economism to identity politics by integrating the struggle to transform a status order premised on masculinist values with the struggle for economic justice.
Finally, we might sever the bogus bond between our critique of bureaucracy and free-market fundamentalism by reclaiming the mantle of participatory democracy as a means of strengthening the public powers needed to constrain capital for the sake of justice.
Nancy Fraser is the author of Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis.