The Feminist Spring and the Patriarchal Counter-Offensive

Irene León

One of the most relevant contemporary political events is the positioning of feminism as a transforming force with a global scope, achieved both by its contributions to the mobilization of ideas to apprehend reality and act upon it, and by the political and strategic action that, as the core of all change, is deployed from multiple scenarios.

From Buenos Aires to Manila, from Cape Town to Sao Paulo, from Delhi to San Juan and in every corner of the planet, a multiplicity of structural situations and data outline the variegated cartography of patriarchal power relations, while at the same time broad mobilizations, demands and resistance reveal the historical and therefore reversible nature of that power.

Legitimate of the epistemological provocation placed by the conceptualization of the patriarchy[1] as a complex socioeconomic and cultural system, 21st century feminism has undertaken to elucidate the components of this social formation, to highlight both its situated expressions and those of a systemic nature and to propose changes that disable the dynamics that propitiate its historical reproduction.

These political and theoretical advances have made it possible to demonstrate that the transformation of women’s socioeconomic reality has a dialectical relationship with changes in the general structure of society. Thus, in a context in which the concentration of goods and resources is condensed and levels of geo-economic exclusion are multiplied, feminism places the capital-life contradiction as a category of analysis that is indispensable for explaining phenomena such as the tendency to exponentially discard women and others affected by structural inequalities. The capital-living contradiction becomes more acute as the reproduction of global capitalism aims at the commodification of life – all spheres and all needs – while its expansion rests on the intensification of the exploitation of nature and people.

On the basis of the recognition of the sexual division of labour formulated in the 19th century and the value of domestic work conceptualized in the 20th century, feminist economics has ventured into the formulation of alternative and systemic economic horizons, which aim at the sustainability of life[2], from an approach of economic diversity in which the capitalist market is the dominant power, but only that. This perspective appears in recent conceptualizations such as the economy for Buen Vivir (Good Living)[3], which places the reproduction of life and not that of capital at the center of society’s projects. Similar proposals are outlined in other perspectives of alternative economies, such as the care economy, which “include various production, exchange and income-generating activities that are not governed by the logic of the capitalist market and which are associated with the satisfaction of basic needs for food, housing, clothing, basic infrastructure. They involve knowledge, practices and technologies that are part of the cultural assets of various societies and communities”[4].

With creativity and multiple enquiries into the dominant discourses, their omissions and assumptions, feminism has revealed a heterogeneous, diverse and contradictory reality, which in turn calls for renewed dialectic views on the future and history, including dimensions previously considered specific, as is the case of sexuality and reproduction, now under debate in the spheres of public policy and international regulation, as well as in the streets, in economic and political scenarios, in the media and others.

For its part, the patriarchy, mimicked by the power reconfigurations of global capitalism, flexes muscle and presents mechanisms readjusted to circumstances and times. The symbiosis between patriarchy and global capitalism is present in the dispute for the control of the world by transnational, financial, communicational and military powers; it is in the struggle for technological hegemony, which is peremptory for the exercise of power in surveillance capitalism; it is in the geo-economic issues and the ‘territorial reordering’ inherent in the control of ‘natural’ resources and land; as well as in the managerial designs for the management of societies ‘outside politics’, and others.

The transition from a multilateral world project, based on the existence of states, countries and cultures, to one based on private corporate interests, with supranational, all-embracing and factual powers, is no less significant. Globalization, which crystallized in the last quarter of the 20th century, produced an important dispute of meanings, not only because of the resistance of peoples and cultures against homogenization, but also because its extraterritorial model, under the predominance of transnationals and financial capital, implied an intense violation of economic, social, and collective rights, among them labour rights, in order to reorganize production on a global scale, with forms such as the delocalization of labour, flexibilization or global production chains.

Women are in the majority in flexible and often unhealthy production chains, in key areas for the new moment of capitalism, for example that of digital technologies[5], not to mention the well-known free zones or those of transnational agricultural production, to mention a few. Moreover, socio-economic margins have developed where women, together with people without power, such as the undocumented among others, constitute a geopolitics of survival on a global scale [6]. Saskia Sassen characterizes the submerged, informal and even illegal economies as structural to the system, so that labor precarization not only coexists but also sustains high salaries, rights and dignified jobs for a few.

But we are also facing a transnationalization of patriarchal violence, since at the same time as public and private male violence has intensified, the doctrines of control and practices of spoliation of personal data associated with surveillance capitalism have also been positioned, and worse still, the symbols and realities of war have entered into daily life.

With the great waste of power exhibited by the Military Industrial Complex -of the United States and its partners-, the restructuring of a political economy of violence is on the table, as well as a renewed version of the international and sexual division of labour of destruction and war, which ranges from the inclusion of women as military or paramilitary, to their enrolment in prostitution and other activities associated with entertainment, which militarization encourages[7]. But there are also workers who, exposed to chemicals or in precarious conditions, abandon their health in the manufacture of chips for drones or other weapons.

Paradoxically, in these unhealthy contexts, stereotypical ‘subcultures’ of femininity and consumption patterns are also reconstituted, with everlasting debts, while imitations of acquired ‘global’ brands have very short expiry dates and disappear. But these disappointments also happen to countries that get into debt to participate in the dynamics of security and defence of other hemispheres or of the world, while it is known that weapons are spent in the South to plunder the territories and resources of the indebted.

The Military Industrial Complex, as a factual global power, exhibits a militarization ad infinitum approach, which commits capitals directly linked to the profits of financial capitalism. In turn, through these dynamics, transnational corporations have the guarantee of being able to multiply -manu militari- their profits also to infinity.

The sexist power impregnated in the symbols

In the transition towards patriarchal and capitalist globalism, with symbolic and cultural production and communication scenarios under the hegemonic control of transnational corporations, there is both a re-edition of sexism in codes and practices and a re-adaptation of the patriarchal and hierarchical vision of social relations in all scenarios.

8] By resorting to seduction, they seek to fill minds and hearts with the symbols of success associated with financial power, they hope to create an illusion with the allegories of undeniable progress that typify the image of the transnationals, and they even try to awaken a sense of the need for militarization, to safeguard private business interests with weapons and technologies, as if they were their own.

Along these lines, the trivialization of violence also stands out. The incessant display of fights, sexist reprimands, pugilism, shootings, repression and wars, leads to an imaginary of violence and subjugation. The growing culture of militarization and the militarization of culture have a decisive influence on the production of values and meanings.

Latin America and anti-patriarchal disputes

A high-intensity feminism proposes, acts and disputes future horizons in Latin America and the Caribbean, where an unprecedented historical process of changes raised since the beginning of this century, put into perspective proposals for the common good, redistribution and rights, with scope in national and even regional scenarios and the South. Concomitantly, a multiplicity of trends and tendencies of the feminist movement managed to raise a significant mass mobilization, with demands ranging from the right to abortion and freedom from violence to the struggle for agrarian reform, against poverty or global warming.

But there is also its antithesis, the so-called “conservative restoration”, “…whose disciplinary responses do not leave any loose ends, rather, as part of a systemic pattern of control, they apply an all-encompassing strategy, with multiple and heterogeneous mechanisms, to establish the project of the world elites as immovable and to ensure that the factors of financial, military, mercantile, communicational, transnational and national power return to the absolute control of the destinies of the region…”[9], there are even certain temptations to become a spearhead of so-called global fascism. In this scenario, feminist proposals are under suspicion, rights and freedoms are frozen, and the feminist agenda must go on the defensive.

In this dispute of meanings and horizons, the interrelationship between scenarios of change and the possibilities of the realization of feminist initiatives is irrefutable [10]. In Bolivia, now under a neo-fascist dictatorship, the historical initiative of decolonization and depatriarchalization of the State -that is, the deconstruction of the macho structures of institutions and society-, undertaken by the government of Evo Morales, has been suspended. Not to mention the viability of various redistributive and equality-based economic initiatives.

For his part, President Bolsonaro intends to take Brazil back to remote times, replacing the feminist inspired public policies put in place by the governments of Lula and Rousseff with those inspired by the Inquisition.

Likewise, with the return to neoliberalism, different economic policy priorities that made visible the need to pay for care have been disappearing from the agenda in Ecuador. Several issues corresponding to economic policy have been returned to the care area, while the budgets for action against male violence, among others, have been reduced to their minimum expression.

But power relations are also dialectic and women resist from anti-victimization perspectives, as is the case in Chile and other countries.

Ways of managing life and wisdom other than the anti-ethics and anti-aesthetics of patriarchal capitalism are also evident. Among them stands out the historical enunciation of feminist socialism formulated by Hugo Chávez in 2006, with the correlative challenge of its construction in the middle of blockades and threats. Likewise, Cuba only surpasses itself with the deepening of cultural changes in society, towards a full and unprecedented equality for its sentiments of humanity.

Conclusion

Feminism has spread its call to place the sustainability of life at the centre of a new project for society, free from patriarchal and capitalist powers, stripped of corporate neo-colonialism and market dictatorship. It is a project for peace in the world and in daily life, which calls for the formation of a broad movement to transform the world.

In the words of Magdalena León T.: “Geographic expansion goes hand in hand with the projection of the strategic scope of feminism: it is about transforming the world, promoting a radical change in the hegemonic system, abandoning predatory capitalism, leaving behind the patriarchal order and all forms of domination, exploitation and violence. An urgent transformation before which women are already at the forefront, moved by a commitment to life that, in various ways but continuously, they have sustained throughout history. Building material conditions from a logic of care for life, fighting for equality and justice, are at the base of experiences that already make feminism a solution for a world in crisis” [11].

Humanidad en Red Magazine N° 1 2020. Resistance and Anti-patriarchal Struggles, Network in Defense of Humanity, 2020/03/08, Cuba

Notes

1] Patriarchy is a male power structure, which operates systemically in specific socio-economic contexts. Through institutions, norms and cultural devices, it configures androcentric dynamics, privileges for men and forms of control and oppression of women that mark economic, social and political disadvantages. The overlap between capitalism and patriarchy is central to Marxist feminist analyses, from Friedrich Engels’ founding work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Authors such as Sylvia Walby, Maria Mies, Marilyn French, Gerda Lerner, Sheila Rowbotham, Zillah Eisenstein, among others, stand out.

2] Magdalena León T., Repensar el cambio estructural desde el feminismo. América Latina en Movimiento 441, 06/2014, https://www.alainet.org/es/active/37927

3] Magdalena León T., The transformative potential of alternative economies. América Latina en Movimiento, 15.11.2019 https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/203294

4] Magdalena León T. interviewed by María Sanz, Transforming the Economies, Feminist Economies open paths of transformation, Barcelona, 2019/11 https://www.elsaltodiario.com/transformando-las-economias/economias-feministas-caminos-transformacion

5] Irene León, Mujeres, Medios de Comunicación y Liderazgos, Mujeres en Red, 2007, Spain https://www.nodo50.org/mujeresred/spip.php?article1408

Saskia Sassen, Women’s burden: Counter-geographies of globalization and the feminization of survival. Journal of International Affairs; Spring 2000; 53, 2; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 503

7] Andrée Michel, Le complexe militaro-industriel et les violences à l’égard des femmes, in Nouvelles Questions Feministes No 11-12, 1985, France

8] Same as 5.

9] Irene León, Ecuador in the Architecture of the Neoliberal Coup in Latin America, Latin America in Movement, 2018/10, https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/196193

10] Magdalena León T., Irene León. Synergies between economic model change and economic empowerment of women, UN Women Expert Group Meeting ‘Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work’. Geneva, 26-28 September 2016

11] Magdalena Leon T., 8M: Transform the world. 15.03.2019 Latin America in Movement, https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/198733

Translation by Internationalist 360°