DEVAKI JAIN | 27 MARCH, 2018
A Feminism for the 99%
‘Do we even want to sit at their table?’
It was stirring to listen to Nancy Fraser , the speaker at the J P Naik memorial lecture , sponsored by CWDS , on “A Feminism for the 99%” . She took us on the journey of feminism including what she called the views of neo-liberal feminists , like those who imagine that breaking the glass ceiling is a form of achievement, – and brought all those constructs down.
As a feminist of earlier decades, I can say that we too, critiqued the idea of the glass ceiling, with even more simple questions, such as, do we want to eat a piece of the poisoned cake ? do we want to sit at their table? Or set our own table ?
The quest of many of us , in the 80 s and 90 s , and even now , was to deconstruct the economic reasoning of the old , and try to develop ideas for the kind of political economy that emerges from the location and experience of women, in our, namely the south countries . Especially the women existing in the lower end of the economy, ( but in fact contributing collectively to most of the national income !) a unique phenomena of the countries of the south .
Nancy Fraser then, listed all the challenges faced by women especially the masses of women, including now, what is upfront in our minds, care work and so forth. This idiom of 99% is perhaps borrowed or one of the idioms that has become language initiated by Thomas Piketty. Piketty proved how the 1 % of the population of various countries in the world, was taking over the major proportion, 99% of the wealth and income of various nations.
There are various shades of this argument , but by and large that is the argument. Further, this has been proven across the world that a few families are reaping the benefits of what is called the GDP, the gross domestic product – the measurable total national income of a country.
Most feminists of the kind that I belong to, in India, would absolutely support Nancy’s proposal that feminism needs to begin with justice, and a better life for the less privileged. That it has to focus on bringing down the neo liberal, capital led economy .
Feminist economists in India have been preoccupied not only with overall inequality, not only gender inequalities but also stratified into caste , religion and so on - but also how these various shades of inequality exacerbates poverty.
The arrival of neo-liberalism in India in the 1980s, euphemistically called reform, was a very big blow to an economy which was struggling with socialist principles and a focus on a broad based economic programmes. The new entry ushered in free flow of capital into the Indian economy – and thus deepened the corporatization of the economy . This was a devastating experience in many of the other developing countries too- especially Latin America and Africa . The collusion between corporate and the state , led to the dilution of the States responsibility for justice , for rights .
Feminist economists in India are engaging with these issues. They are not only revealing the issues that were flagged by Nancy Fraser but also going on to try to visualize an economic programme that would not lead to so much inequality. Obviously no State to day nor in the near future can become 100% socialist, in the sense of suggesting that capital needs to be owned by the state.
At this point in the evolution of global economies that will be something that cannot be immediately assured. Attempts at such revolution in some countries have been put down so violently .Further the interdependence of the globe, not only the economies, but total due to the digital revolution, makes it impossible for a go it alone policy to day .
But it does ask for more attention to the real engines of growth i.e. the 80-90% of men and women in our countries , who are in fact providing the goods and services that add to the economic pie, GDP growth , but are denied its fruits.
Feminists in India are addressing these questions as also trying to rebuild/recast the logic of old economic theories, as well as to deconstruct the concept of equality further as parts of gender inequality , and to stratify it into other sublines such as caste, colour, religion and so forth.
Where I found myself frustrated in Nancy Fraser’s lecture , was how do we reconstruct, how do we dismantle the current capital led growth unless we are able to develop a revolution. Revolution is definitely an answer but many countries especially in Latin America who have attempted it had only the experience of falling apart in shattered pieces.
In India, feminist economists are being more pragmatic but radical. Radical in that they would want to break the hierarchies of caste and class. Women’s collectives are showing the way in the sense of organizing themselves to negotiate for a different kind of economics, not really to negotiate for a piece of the cake of the capitalist economy, but a different kind of economics. Thus, I thought that Nancy Fraser’s lecture stops short.
If for example , as she reasoned about the various ways in which feminism is evolving and criticized some of the ideas of what she called neo-liberal feminism , we could also see what kind of reasoning, what kind of restructuring can battle against the current highly unjust, and totally almost unstoppable rollout of the neo-liberal paradigm. How does a feminism that she visualizes deal with the system in order to move away from neo-liberal feminism to a feminism of the 99%??.
When scholars are able to prepare such a totally well-constructed argument, showing the pitfalls in the old, and setting a new goal, it is so important to back it up with a few ideas and suggestions on how to proceed. Thus, unless political scientists of the kind that Nancy Fraser belongs to, also bring in some economic reasoning, such lectures leave us troubled but not assisted