In this module, we read an article by Nancy Fraser called “ How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it” as well as a response from Brenna Bhandar and Denise Ferreira da Silva entitled “White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome”. In the former of the two articles, Nancy Fraser claims that ideals and movements initially brought about by second-wave feminists have served to advance capitalism, rather than critique it, and that feminist contributions need to be reclaimed by women, lest they continue furthering our entrapment in an patriarchal, capital driven society. Fraser suggests that recently feminism has been more supportive of a (neo)liberal-individualistic society, rather than one of social solidarity. She outlines three significant contributions of second-wave feminists and how the neo-liberal free market agenda has “harness(ed) the dream of women’s emancipation to the engine of capital accumulation.” Fraser sees this as a crisis and suggests women must reclaim these contributions in order to have a shot at a more solidaristic vision of society.
Bhandar and da Silva fire back at Frasers claims, arguing that she has essentialized “feminists” to a niche of white, first world liberals. They state that lamenting the failures of feminism as a whole should be geared more specifically to failures of this white dominated, second-wave feminism and to generalize is an insult to the scores of black, indigenous, third world, and otherwise “non-white” feminists. They argue that Frasers version of feminism relies on a “limited and exclusionary” framework that ignores pre-existing analyses of several scholars and activists who have “developed critiques of capitalist forms of property, exchange, paid and unpaid labour(…)culturally embedded and structural forms of patriarchal violence.” Another specific quote that resonated with me was “White feminists need to recognize when they engage political strategies that Black and Third World feminists have already been theorizing and practising for a long time.” Bhandar and da Silva conclude by stating that the time is up for white feminists to continue denying and rendering the “experiences, thoughts and work of Black and Third World feminists” as obsolete.
Though I found both articles interesting and insightful, I certainly agree more with the stance of the latter. I have several quandaries with Fraser’s arguments, as well as her perceived ignorance to existing work of feminist scholars and activists.
Nancy Fraser’s article was a great demonstration of a white feminist saviour complex, primarily in that she assumes capitalism and patriarchy as the common enemy of all women. This neglects to recognize that sometimes women can be the oppressors of other women, and in fact, that she has used her position as a white, first-world liberal to stand on the shoulders of the scholars and activists who have come before her. Using the pronoun “we” to compress all women into a box denies the existence of varying forms, functions and appearances of feminism. One of Fraser’s points in particular that did not sit well with me was that of feminisms contribution to critique the “family wage” ideal. Where Fraser sees the outpouring of women into labour markets as a further exploitation of women to serve “flexible capitalism”, she has ignored the likes of unmarried women and single mothers who rely on themselves for a source of income, thus denying them agency and independence. Though the related issues she acknowledges such as depressed wage levels, decreased job security, and declining living standards are very real and absolutely need to be addressed, I disagree with her that the initiative worldwide of women diving into the labour force is wholly negative. In certain cultures and locations, the right to work and generate individual income as a woman is one which feminist scholars and activists have been fighting to obtain for decades.
I obtained the above images from: http://www.bustle.com/articles/120684-7-things-feminists-of-color-want-white-feminists-to-know
You can find the articles in reference above at:
And for further thought on the white feminist saviour complex, I really appreciated the following article by Annie Theriault and urge others to take a read: