Jaz Blackwell-Pal writes on a session at Marxism 2013 addressing neoliberalism.
Hannah Dee introduced her Saturday morning talk at Marxism by outlining the contradiction at the heart of women’s experiences of neoliberalism. On the one hand, we have much more sexual freedom than generations before and these are widely accepted by society, as represented by the astonishing popularity of books like Fifty Shades Of Grey. On the other hand, we see sexuality being commodified worse than ever before. The past few years have seen outrage against sexism spreading across the world, from the SlutWalks to the recent protests against rape in India.
Hannah considered the changing role of women, from their original entry into the workplace because of the needs of capital, to the situation today where the majority of women work, the majority of trade union members are women and the majority of higher education students are women too. This has had a huge impact on the concept of the family. “Serial monogamy” is now a norm, and women’s primary location is now in the workplace not the home.
However the systemic oppression of women remains entrenched in our society. Although more women are working than ever before, these are often in industries that recreate traditional gender roles. Hannah also outlined the class nature of sexism: women at the top of society have seen their pay increase by 70% while the rest of us suffer the brunt of austerity. There is now a layer of affluent women who can buy their way out of domestic tasks through privatised childcare etc.
But while neoliberalism tries to attack our hard won gains, it also comes up against a barrier. Capitalism cannot afford to force women back into the home because it now needs our labour. Strikes by workers that hit capitalis at the point of production are key to overthrowing the system and the oppression it breeds, said Hannah. But political fights against sexism can often act a “lightning rod” that gives women workers confidence and build unity.
The introduction was followed by an interesting discussion of the nature of sexism today and how we challenge it. Sheila M began by saying that she largely agreed with Hannah’s analysis, although she questioned whether we really do live in a “rape culture”. Lois C from Brixton responded to this point, highlighting that although society as a whole cannot be described as a “rape culture”, pockets of this do exist on campuses across the country. Estelle C offered a contribution about the role of pornography in the capitalist economy, and how neoliberalism has used it as a testing ground for distribution technologies on the internet.
Some of the contributions touched on the concept of intersectionality and whether this is a useful term for Marxists to use. Esme C pointed out that, although she has disagreements with the theory, intersectionality came out of the failure of white feminists to relate to the concerns of black women and as such should be seen as a step forwards.
In her summing up Hannah stressed that getting to grips with a changing world is not about throwing out our tradition, but about building upon it. We have to assess the impact that neoliberalism has had on our class and the role of women is key to this. She ended by saying: “Help us make the party what it should be: a tribune of the oppressed. Help us build the kind of world we want to see: join the SWP.”
Note: This piece was published before rs21 was established as an independent organisation in January 2014. rs21 was founded by a group of people who had been in the opposition within the SWP and who left in response to its persistent mishandling of rape and sexual harassment allegations against a leading member.