Scaring the menz, taming the wimmin

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Social and economic (in) justice II (click here for part one of this series)

Part One on social and economic justice, ended with this:

Such unequal access to power occurs throughout our society: in institutional and political policies, economic arrangements, and social practices (such as those described as part of rape culture). The whole system, and social attitudes that support it, needs changing from the bottom up.

This system damages the lives and well-being of many people, including many women, people of colour, LGBTI people, and those on low incomes. In this unequal power system, social and economic (in)justices are frequently intertwined.

There is an urgent need at the moment to decrease economic inequalities, to provide everyone with a living income, plus affordable, safe and secure housing. Social injustices are embedded within these economic injustices.

In the course of her long participation in political and social justice campaigns and movements, Angela Davis was seen as a notorious enemy of the US state. She was charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder”, imprisoned for a period, but eventually acquitted.

She’s also a respected academic and writer. Davis is no namby-pamby chardonnay feminist, whining because some man slighted her at a corporate board meeting (as anti-identity politics stereotyping would have it). Davis was a leader of the Communist Party of the US in the 1960s, supporter of the Black Power Movement, and continues to be a very vocal campaigner against the prison-industrial complex. She argues for a complete change of society, not just for a contained shift towards equal rights before the law, as she describes the civil rights movement.

In a 2014 interview Davis said:

At the time of its [Black Feminism’s] emergence, black women were frequently asked to choose whether the black movement or the women’s movement was most important. This was the wrong question. … We are still faced with the challenge of understanding the complex ways that race, class, gender, sexuality, nation and ability are intertwined—but also how we move beyond these categories to understand the interrelationships of ideas and processes that seem to be separate and unrelated.

In a more recent article on Black Lives Matter, Davis said:

I was once asked to finish the statement, “My feminism is…” It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. I’m a gay, black woman. My feminism is intersectional. … experiences in life are shaped by the intersection of class, race, gender, sexual orientation and identity.

The public face of feminism tends to focus on extremes: it includes those who want to convince harsh opponents, while working to increase equal opportunities within the current system; and also includes those who, like Angela Davis, are very outspoken, may seem shockingly radical, and to many may appear to be jarringly, in-your-face and uncompromising.

Others, in an attempt to convince people potentially antagonistic to change, may become tame, and non-threatening. Consequently they are in danger of becoming neutralised and contained within the patriarchal capitalist system. This poses a dilemma on the most effective way forward.

Some women who support social justice campaigns, don’t like the “feminist” label because, as mentioned by Davis, it is seen as white women’s thing. Annette Sykes, for instance, talks about wahine toa and mana wahine:

Since the election of president Trump, debates about social justice issues have intensified among progressive or left wing people in NZ. Many of us have been attacked online for promoting “identity politics”, and often dismissed as authoritarian “identitarians”.

We are told to back off and focus solely on economic injustices. We are told by some we are damaging and splitting the left, even as they try to split the core matters of the left (economic and social justice) into two unequal parts.

Like Catriona MacLennan, I don’t like the term “identity politics”. Too often it is used as a stick to attack those who speak out on social justice issues, as for instance often happens to those who are critical of our society’s all pervasive rape culture. Masculine and corporate dominated, capitalist culture is damaging to life, social networks, and ultimately the economy.

Others have produce in-depth, well-sourced, evidence-based arguments for a left politics on this topic. See for instance the 2014 article “Economic Inequality or Social Justice for Everybody?” by Victor Baez and Yasmin Fahimi.

Many blame feminism for watering down the class struggle in the post 1980 neoliberal era. In fact, feminism has also been diminished in the same period. Social justice campaigns were not the cause of this, but another casualty of neoliberalism. Feminism has been commodified into marketable, images and lifestyle for women. Campaigns for empowerment of women throughout society, have been narrowed to individualistic, often sexualised representations of empowerment, while women struggling on low incomes have been marginalised, and too often demonised.

Many women and men on the left do understand the enormous damage done by both economic and social injustice, and the way they are interwoven. And we will not be silenced.

Sleater-Kinney’s song is is a jarring riot girl response to the way feminism was commodified towards the end of last century (lyrics here)

Sleater-Kinney #1 must have

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Carolyn is committed to economic and social justice. She has researched and taught in film, TV and media studies, sociology and gender studies. Carolyn is actively interested in local history, and its impact on the present and future. Carolyn currently works part time as a research librarian in Auckland Libraries, which is part of Auckland Council. The views, analysis, and opinions she expresses on this site are her own, and not those of Auckland Council.

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