An exchange on Feminism and Revolution: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
I have been moved and enlightened by the wonderful discussion in response to my “Feminism and Revolution” essay. I feel deeply heard, appreciated, and responded to, and this is a great gift for me. There is no way that I can respond to all of the thought-provoking points and questions that were raised in response to my piece, but I will do my best to discuss some of the main points here.
We are in clear agreement—no surprise here—that a Great Transition is needed. And we pretty much agree upon the outlines of what we want to leave behind—domination/subordination, violence and militarism, fear, concentrated economic wealth and poverty, the destruction of the planet—and what we want to build —an economy and society based on mutual respect, equality, solidarity, peace, unity amidst diversity, and love.
The key question for us is how do we get from here to there. And how do we think, write, talk, teach, and organize around the shift so as to maximize its chances of occurring? I want to present some answers to these two questions here, briefly, sharing with you aspects of a framework which I have developed which I call “From Inequality to Solidarity.”1
What Are We Against and What Are We For: The Paradigm Shift from Inequality to Solidarity
First, how do we conceptualize what we’re against? Noha Tarek, Miki Kashtan, and Arturo Escobar all posit patriarchy as the system to be overthrown, and doing so foregrounds the key role feminism must play in the Great Transition. However, because our r/evolutionary movement is a movement of movements—including, but not limited to, anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-classist, ecological, LGBTQ, etc.—I think it is better to use a term that clearly encompasses ALL of the various inequalities being transformed. For this reason, I use, simply, “the Inequality Paradigm,” to represent societies built, as Miki Kashtan said, on relationships of domination and subordination. I say “paradigm” rather than “system” because domination/subordination as a way of organizing social life is much more long-lived than a system; there have been many different forms of the Inequality Paradigm throughout the millennia, including agriculture, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and, yes, socialism.
What are we for? One could use feminism, as Noha Tarek does. True feminism leads, as I have argued, to opposition to all forms of inequality, because of intersectionality. However, the term feminism is problematic for me, because it is often understood to mean a movement for women’s liberation, period—and hence, a movement which does not aim to transform race, class, and other inequalities. I have the same problem with the term put forward by Arturo, “matristic.” So instead—while I of course say that I am a feminist, and put forward an expansive, solidarity politics version of feminism—I posit the new paradigm, that which feminism is working towards, as the Solidarity Paradigm. I first adopted this term when I began using the concept of the solidarity economy, put forward by movements all over the world, and then extended it to the concept of Solidarity (as vs. Identity) Politics and the Solidarity Paradigm. While far from perfect, it captures the interconnectedness, unity (even amidst diversity), and caring/compassion for others that are key aspects of what we’re working towards, and it is far superior to “equality,” which is easily collapsed into equal rights/nondiscrimination within capitalism.
The Inequality-Solidarity Spectrum and Capitalism as a Hybrid
One benefit of moving beyond the concept of system change to the concept of paradigm shift is that the latter term is a better reflection of the epochal nature of the shift that is now upon us. Patriarchy—or the inequality paradigm—has dominated our planet for millennia. A second benefit of focusing on the paradigm shift is that we can recognize the progress that has been made towards solidarity over the last 250 years.
I find it helpful to think of the inequality and solidarity paradigms not as a binary, but rather as a spectrum. Within this framework, capitalism falls somewhere between the two, a hybrid. It shares with the inequality paradigm hierarchies of domination/subordination, extremes of wealth and poverty, and widespread violence within the family, by the police, in war, and against nature. However, it was built on the principle of equal rights and opportunities for propertied white men, who, unlike men in feudalism who inherited a fixed status, could move up the marketized economic hierarchy through hard work and/or entrepreneurship. Feminist and civil rights organizing have fought to extend this freedom to women and people of color, with considerable success. I like to say that capitalism brought forward the meme of equality—but has been unable to achieve it. In particular, within the last 50 years, as Piketty has shown, class inequality has worsened in the capitalist world, and environmental destruction (human/nature domination) is spiraling out of control.
There are many benefits to situating capitalism on a spectrum between the inequality and solidarity paradigms. First, it allows us to see the aspects of the inequality paradigm that have persisted, or even become worse, such as militarism and inequality of wealth and power. Second, it recognizes the real contributions that capitalism represents towards the development of equality and democracy, compared to earlier forms. Third, it prompts us to think about significant differences among capitalist countries in terms of their position on the inequality–solidarity spectrum, due to their social movements and public policies. It is helpful to point out, as Bernie Sanders did during his 2016 US presidential primary campaign, the considerable advances which the Scandinavian countries have made towards class and gender solidarity, particularly in terms of economic human rights to jobs, health care, higher education, and paid parental leave. We don’t want to let capitalism off the hook and wait for the revolution. Instead, we can demand that it achieve its promise of equality and democracy, and work towards the paradigm shift within and alongside capitalist institutions and in policymaking. This leads me to a last, obvious benefit of the spectrum—it can be used within a country, such as the US, to draw clear comparisons between time periods or political candidates, such as the positions of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Finally, the use of the spectrum works with the view of systemic change as largely gradual and evolutionary. We are discussing no less that the reconstitution of “human nature”—we have to reconstruct our consciousness, beingness, and ways of doing and relating to one another in all sectors of social life, family, economy, community, politics, art… This can only be done, I believe, by doing the painstaking work of gradually and continually moving ourselves and our societies toward solidarity. Every action we take can be part of this shift, starting “right here, right now.”
The Motor for the R/Evolutionary Shift: The Four Great Social Movements and Solidarity Politics
What moves a society along the spectrum from inequality to solidarity? As my essay implied, I view the four great social movements—feminism, anti-classism, anti-racism, and ecology—and the movement of movements, through which they come together in solidarity politics to become a movement against all forms of inequality—as the motor of transformation from inequality to solidarity. All of these movements—and others against other forms of oppression, e.g., the LGBTQIA movement—are required if we are to deconstruct all of the interconnected forms of inequality and replace them with mutually beneficial relationships of solidarity. None of them alone is enough.
We all must become members of all of these movements, and commit ourselves in principle to standing against inequality in each and every dimension, and for solidarity, as we choose our own particular ways of participating in the paradigm shift. We must work together, across our differences and experienced inequalities, to find a diversity of ways forward. I love Anamaria Aristizabal’s description of the work in her ecovillage, a “community of practice that promote new ways of being; they are like a dojo in the martial arts, where every day we fall down, and get back up with an aspiration of resilience and willingness to learn—‘falling down’ meaning when we fall back into patterns of domination and oppression of others.” I see this as a microcosm, and metaphor, of what we all are doing across all parts of society as we strive to build solidarity.
The Seven Feminist Solidarity Processes and the Equal Opportunity Trap
1. Questioning/envisioning: This is the first step of feminism or any solidarity movement, questioning the beliefs, practices, and institutions which create an inequality, which are usually rationalized as natural and/or God-given.
2. Equal rights and opportunity: This is the process whereby women demand the same rights and opportunities as men. They decry the exclusion of women from men’s traditional, higher-paid, higher-status jobs as discrimination, and fight for the right to be hired for them, if qualified. This process involves taking on the values and behaviors that men take on, so as to be able to “beat them at their game.” As David Fell points out, this process can also siphon off potential leaders, co-opting them into “the system.”
3. Valuing the devalued: Instead of women fighting to be able to do what men do, this process involves critiquing traditional masculine ways of being, and lifting up women’s traditional work (unpaid work in the home, and lower paid, care-centered paid work), and traits (caring, sensitivity). It can take the form of feminist separatism from men (or Black separatism from whites).
4. Integrative: This process involves reducing the polarization between men and women in a variety of ways: women and men combining homemaking with paid work, advocating for work-family policies, and people combining feminine and masculine qualities.
5. Discernment: This step entails systemic, qualitative critique of gendered aspects of society and awareness of the problematic aspects of traditional, subservient, and dependent femininity and domineering, uncaring masculinity. Understanding that, while gender roles empower men vis-a-vis women of their racial-ethnic and class group, they also oppress men terribly (e.g., Miki Kashtan’s discussion of the brutalization of men); hence, the recognition that men can and need to be feminist both in solidarity with the women in their lives, and also for their own liberation. Critique of the very existence of gender roles and identities as straitjackets. Critique of the ways in which gender inequality has been built into capitalism, e.g., economic man’s and the firm’s masculinist focus on money and power over, and lack of caring for others, and the subordination and distortion of caring as a privatized or low-paid clean-up operation.
6. Combining: In this process, feminism comes to term with the intersectionalities of women’s oppression, taking on all inequalities which oppress women, expanding into solidarity politics, and becoming an indispensable part of the movement of movements.
7. Glocalizing: Local and national feminist movement connecting across the globe, such as the women and development movement and #metoo.
The equal opportunity and “valuing the devalued” processes tend to be construed oppositionally, as women vs. men, even though many feminist men support them. Solidarity politics tends to emerge later, especially with discernment and combining.
The Equal Opportunity Trap, Resistance to Feminism, and Men
I call the collapsing of one’s feminist vision into one of equal rights and opportunities with men “the equal opportunity trap.” While the equal opportunity process is an important, indispensable aspect of feminism, taken alone, it has many problems. These include the squeezing of care work—as women adopt men’s focus on income and movement up the economic hierarchy, rather than caring for their families—and not addressing the issues of low-income women and the underpayment and nonpayment for women’s traditional care work.
Another problem with equal opportunity forms of feminism and anti-racism—as well as with the value-the-devalued process—is that they are grounded in identity politics and oppositional thinking and organizing, which Susan Butler so eloquently describes and calls “almost part of the problem, sadly weak, and inadvertently empowering to those opposed.” Men (and whites) are often viewed as bad, sexist, racist—“the enemy.” Many feminist women have even refused to accept that men could be feminist, and most feminist women neglect to push men to identify with the movement. While these views of men as oppressive and abusive reflect the lived experiences of women, the universalizing of this view is highly problematic. In reality, many women are actually actively sexist, and many men behave in feminist ways. And feminist movement should be about encouraging men as well as women to be feminist rather than asserting that they can’t be!
Furthermore, equal opportunity forms of feminism (and anti-racism) also involve a zero-sum view of transformation in which women (people of color) take jobs previously monopolized by men (whites). Men also lose their power over their wives, as the latter become more economically independent, or demand more equality in marriage. Thus white men are triple losers in this process, when judged by competitive capitalist standards. As such, in the US, they can fall easy prey to manipulation by the Republicans, and especially Donald Trump, and be tricked into buying a story which places the blame for their economic hardship upon feminist and anti-racist movements, rather than upon the neoliberal takeover of the political process.
So to answer David Fell’s important point about resistance to the movement towards solidarity politics and the solidarity economy, I believe that recognizing the other solidarity processes (beyond equal opportunity) and calling people towards solidarity consciousness and politics are antidotes to such resistance. It was difficult for Hillary Clinton to attract white working-class men (and women!) into her equal opportunity feminist and anti-racist vision—but Bernie Sanders, while feminist and anti-racist, did not have this problem, because his economic focus came from solidarity, unity consciousness: we are all in the same boat, and we all deserve basic economic human rights.
Finally, I want to acknowledge a related issue which came up in the discussion—the importance of hearing from men in discussions like these. I fully support David Fell’s proposal that men take an active role in educating men about feminism and in advocating for feminist transformation.
I am new to this group, and this is the first discussion/debate that I have participated in. For my part, I would encourage everyone in this group, men as well as women, to take on the identity of feminist, and become part of the struggle to define and actualize feminism in the world. And I want to also encourage all of us, once we realize that we come from that shared value (which I would suggest we expand to a full solidarity politics or consciousness, against inequality in all dimensions), to disagree and debate with each other about what feminism means with as much compassion and sensitivity and courage as we can muster. I think it is the case that those who are oppressed by a particular inequality have a special knowledge of it, and that those of us privileged by it tend to hold more distorted views of it, but we have much to learn from each other, and together. Further, social movements can benefit greatly when they move beyond simple identity politics, because those in the privileged group can use their privilege and access to power to undermine inequality, as David Fell discussed.
And Don’t Forget about Economic Transformation…
I want to draw these remarks to a close, but not without making a few points in concluding about the key role of a vision of economic transformation for the Great Transition towards solidarity.
In spite of the findings of behavioral economics, mainstream economists still take it as self-evident that capitalism is the best possible economic system, and continue to assume, teach, and reproduce narrowly self-interested competitive and materialistic economic agency. Left economists still tend to be focused on a future revolutionary transition to socialism, or the failures that occurred in this, meanwhile ignoring the building of the solidarity economy that is happening right here, right now, within markets and alongside capitalism.
Just as I am encouraging men to be active feminists, I want to encourage those of you who are not economists—seemingly most of you—to take on economists of all types when they say TINA (Margaret Thatcher’s “There is No Alternative”) or tell you to wait until the revolution. We are in the midst of an epochal paradigm shift, and the more we can point out the economic aspects of this shift, and shine a light on the economic ways forward, to inspire people to begin to build as well as resist, the better.
In this regard, I loved Susan Butler’s rich description of the emerging new economics, and Lourdes Beneria’s discussion of the emergence of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and related sharing economy, and women’s contributions within it. The development of the solidarity economy is a key aspect of the paradigm shift from inequality to solidarity, and it is important to continue to encourage progressive social movements, and the movement of movements, to engage with it and move beyond resisting, to building.
We have our work cut out for us! But it is a great pleasure to have connected with such a lively, wise, compassionate, and committed group of comrades, as we work to do what we can to bring about the Great Transition!
1. Julie Matthaei, “From Inequality to Solidarity: Co-Creating a New Economics for the 21st Century,” in Paul Cooney et al., eds., Imperiled Economies 2018: An URPE Reader (Boston: Dollars & Sense, 2018), 147–157, and my book in progress by the same title.
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