Going back to the kitchen radicalized me. I became a leftist and a socialist. I now fully understand and appreciate how Russian women headed into the streets in 1917 full of rage and fury. Pissing off women who spend their days in the kitchen is not a good idea, not in 1789, not in 1917 and not in 2017. It is when I returned to the home to perform the most mundane and traditional of duties that spurred my activism and turned me from a lukewarm liberal feminist to a radical socialist feminist. There is no turning back.
My husband told me that I’ve become too politically radical lately. My criticisms against the police state, white supremacy, institutionalized racism, sexism and misogyny, US imperialism and military aggression, the overt anti-immigrant stance of this and previous administrations has gotten to him.
He told me I am too old to be a radical, a not so subtle dig that my days of political activism and youth are long behind me, that I should focus on “more important things” – translation: being a good mother and wife. Just one year ago I would have vociferously defended myself on the one thousand and one ways in which I am a good mother. I don’t care if I am a good wife or not, but for the record, I am not a terrible wife. I’ve since entered a give no-fucks zone. I give no defense for my actions or beliefs. I don’t care to, I don’t want to and no one will shame me into living my life differently. While I wasn’t much affected by racism, toxic masculinity and patriarchy has scarred me. I won’t defend it, I won’t cater to it and I won’t accommodate it. Me shutting down any fat jokes, racist, sexist, misogynistic or ableist speak has made me a politically correct bore. I used to be so much more fun or I used to laugh at slightly inappropriate jokes. Perhaps, but at who’s expense?
I naturally lean left, but I grew up with mostly conservatives (in culture and politics) around me. My father was a registered Republican but would be considered a Democrat today, he was a social liberal (pro-choice) and fiscal conservative. He died before the 2008 elections heated up, he didn’t live to see our nation elect a black president. My mother and her family are Confucianists, largely apolitical but conservative in culture and beliefs, with an authoritarian bent. My natural anti-authoritarian nature didn’t fit well in this mould. Many times I was far too reactionary for my own good. My early feminism came of the desire to defy convention and there’s no better way to piss off the authoritarian males in my life than to become a feminist.
Feminism is natural to me. How could anyone not be a feminist? What kind of a person isn’t for promoting equal rights for women? If the majority of the people are for equal rights for all people, feminism ties right into that. Feminism seeks to liberate half of humanity.
I became a leftist for my children. I went from a liberal feminist to a radical socialist feminist for my children. I was born in 1979, a generation no-man land between Gen. X and Millennials. I am too old to be a Millennial but close enough in age to see up close and empathize with their plight. I graduated from college in 2001 and was probably one the last batches of college graduates who got a full time job with benefits and 401K plan within six months after graduation. I saw the last vestiges of the corporate boom before it all came crashing down. When the crash of 2008 happened, I had enough work experience under my belt where I could get another full time job and I wasn’t ‘too old’ to start over. I am lucky. Those who were born a few years after me weren’t so lucky.
They experienced the cruelty and evils of capitalism without ever tasting its rewards. The ruling class has completely looted the economy and not any single one of them have gone to prison for their crimes against humanity. Their crimes created untold poverty which might last generations, the economic violence which they unleashed on the working and middle classes is on a scale we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. And nine years after the 2008 crash, they act like all is well again, and the economy is stronger than ever. I heard one financial ‘advisor’ describing the crash of 2008 as getting rid of the “deadwood” which invariably exists in capitalism. People’s jobs, lives, homes, families are “deadwood” to capitalists.
Article after article is promoting the hipness of the ‘gig economy’ as the next ‘cool’ thing. It’s what Millennials want, it’s what they like so they have free time to pursue their other passions. The truth is the economy has no more good jobs on offer; no one has a stable job with benefits because capitalism has exhausted itself. Everyone has to make do with part time contracting work and try to make it seem cool and hip. Remember that Lyft driver who got a special commendation for working until the day she gave birth? If that isn’t sadistic I don’t know what is.
I became a leftist for my children. I grew up in an authoritarian household under authoritarian male and female figures. With the exception of my maternal grandparents and mother, I hated every single one of them. My contempt for them was barely contained and palpable. I became a self-taught feminist out of my disgust for authoritarianism and I reserved extra bile for the women who upheld male authoritarianism and used it to suppress other women. My early feminist influences were Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir; I devoured the ‘The Second Sex’ and ‘The Feminine Mystique’, the early seeds of giving no-fucks were sown. It affirmed my latent belief that as a woman I do not owe anyone an explanation about my choices, that if I made a mistake, I need not hang my head in shame and beg for absolution. There are no such things as the scarlet woman, the whore, the sinner; it was all invented by men to oppress women so they can go on and be the scarlet man, the man-whore and sinner without impunity.
At the time I didn’t see the connection between the oppression of women and the role capitalism played in that context. In order for capitalism to succeed a large number of people need to be oppressed. They include the middle class, working class and within those categories, women. Women provide uncompensated domestic labor so men can go out and earn his living. The woman provides a comfortable and relaxing home so the Fortune 500 company executives can focus on his career and earn all those bonuses. None of it is possible without women giving their labor away for free at home. Even women who work full time still does more chores at home than her male counterpart. Part of the Steinem, de Beauvoir and Friedan’s philosophy is that women can do anything and everything a man does and more, and that includes joining the boardroom, making her own money and more importantly having full control over her own money; a sort of first-wave pre-Sheryl Sandberg ‘Lean-In’ ideology. While that sounds good in theory, in practice, women have just stretched themselves even thinner; never mind the fact that Lean-In doesn’t apply to working class women, only well educated elite women with jobs that earn above the median wage apply. That aside, while she may be the boss of the boardroom, she still has the responsibility of being the archetypical wife and mother outside of the boardroom, and with those titles, there are still expectations attached to them where no amount of status or high salary can erase. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s long essay in The Atlantic brings this point home, literally; she had to give up her dream job as Director of Policy in the State Department because her two young sons were struggling without their mother (her family lives in New Jersey and she commuted weekly to Washington DC for her job). But to save face for her husband, because let’s face it, all that means is he couldn’t hack it, he couldn’t be a tenured professor at Princeton University and look after the needs of his two sons at the same time, something his wife manages everyday without giving it a second thought. Slaughter said she had to return to her tenured position at Princeton University because she had been absent for two years and they can take away her tenure if she doesn’t return. It’s a load of crap. If Anne-Marie Slaughter was a man, it would have never occurred to him to quit his dream job and return home to manage his children, his wife would be expected to handle it, and if she couldn’t she’d be seen as the loser, a mother who can’t handle her responsibilities. She’s supposed to know how to do that without the involvement of her husband.
While Slaughter correctly pointed out the way the American workplace is structured is what contributed to her dilemma, she didn’t point to its biggest culprit which caused her to abandon her dream job and that is capitalism. It is the exploitative nature of capitalism which caused Slaughter to nearly crumble under the stress of her dream job and being there for her family, not the ‘corporate work policy’. We can argue that the way companies and their work policies are set up suits men and single women more than women with children or people with other care taking responsibilities, meaning if we institute more flex hours for those that need it, more people would be able to participate in the workforce. If we can only get out of the rigid nine to five concept of work, we can get more people involved in employment. But the baseline question is still not addressed, who made it a rule that people must sell their labor and time to earn a living. Depending on how much wages we are able to earn, that then determines how much goods and services we can purchase and the quality of life we can lead. How much wages one makes has no correlation to how hard they work or how many hours they work. If that were the case, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet wouldn’t be the richest people in the world. They do not work, they’ve stopped ‘working’ decades ago, they let their capital, which is earned on the backs of workers from all over the world, work for them. They haven’t done an honest days work in decades. Like a good capitalist, they let their money work for them while everyone else works backbreaking hours to just pay rent and put food on the table. And somehow we are brainwashed into thinking all of this is normal and this is the way it should be, because capitalism is deemed the most efficient way to do business, the cream rises to the top, the deadwood float until a tide sweeps them way and the rocks just sink right to the bottom.
Capitalism is a drug, a powerful toxic drug. In the West, Capitalism is equated with affluence, freedom and democracy. Socialism and communism is equated with poverty, oppression and authoritarianism. Capitalism is a system of exploitation, where the ruling class owns the means of production and exploits the middle class and the middle class exploits the working class and the lumpenproletariat. Hence poverty will always be a byproduct of capitalism. Capitalism cannot survive but for the poverty it creates. No amount of reform can change this simple fact, neoliberals can dress it up however they like, but at the end of the day, someone, somewhere, will have to work slave wages in deplorable conditions in order for capitalism to thrive.
I believe socialist feminism can free the world from oppression. This might sound naive and fanciful but I believe it wholeheartedly. Women as a category, is the largest group of oppressed people. Women as a group have been oppressed by the patriarchy since the dawn of time. To liberate women is to liberate the oppressed. But liberation cannot come at the cost of some women over other women. The price of women’s liberation cannot be paid with the blood of underprivileged women so privileged women can enjoy freedom. The first wave and second waive feminists addressed specific rights such as voting, property rights, right to self-agency, to be able to open bank accounts and purchase property without a male co-signer. Then it was right to our bodies, access to birth control and safe abortions so we can have agency over our bodies. If women in Third World countries and the Middle East are being bombed and subjected to unbearable conditions and oppressive authoritarian regimes installed by Western governments, then the liberation of women in the West is meaningless. Freedom and liberation cannot come at the expense of other people, that is not true liberation. Liberal feminism and their brand of Lean-In feminism has no place in socialist feminism. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In method of female advancement in the corporate world has no meaning to working class women all over the world. Feminism which doesn’t address capitalism as the root source of female oppression has no place in socialist feminism.
Women will not experience true liberation unless the underlying economic inequalities is addressed, which again goes back to capitalism. Even if men and women made equal amount of wages for the same work, we are still beholden to wage slavery. Our time and labor can still be exploited and stolen from us, the issue of surplus value still isn’t addressed. Capitalists will still control the means of production, which will determine how the rest of us live.
I do not know what kind of a world my children will inherit. There will be no jobs left for them. Everything will be automated, digitized and robots will take over most of the jobs that used to be done by humans. They have two options, join the army of part time contract workers soon to be the surplus army of laborers or they can become capitalists where they become the oppressors. Both of those options are unacceptable to me, so I became a leftist to show them another way. When I am long gone, they can continue the fight. I hope they sharpen the guillotines and use them when the time comes.