Just when you thought the failure of the Democratic Party’s strategy of identity politics was dead and buried, its more notorious proponent is back, proving that her and her party have learned nothing from their humiliating electoral defeat. According to a story from the Guardian,
Wherever she goes – a hike in the woods near her Chappaqua home, at the theater for a Broadway show, delivering a speech to a room of women and girls – Hillary Clinton causes a stir. Fans ask for photographs. Crowds stand for extended ovations.
Such appearances have been rare. In the more than four months since her devastating election loss to Donald Trump, Clinton has largely resisted the spotlight. On Friday, however, she hinted that she is ready to return to public life.
Like many efforts and movements that emerge from worthy origins, the idea of “identity politics” rose up in the 1970s to address issues of inequality facing women, as well as ethnically and sexually marginalized minorities. It didn’t take long, however, for the Democratic Party, no longer the “party of the working man” (embracing Wall Street immediately post-Watergate and Vietnam) to find a new populist horse to ride to electoral victory. It took three Republican presidential terms, however, for the Democrats to figure out that the identity politics game is a losing strategy, when Bill Clinton found victory in 1992 borrowing an inclusive campaign message from Ronald Reagan. Never mind the fact that both Reagan and Clinton ultimately served corporate, neoliberal interests. Boys will be boys. After Clinton, however, the Democratic Party returned to its pandering ways, losing twice to George W. Bush, till Barack Obama rekindled the slick, linguistic magic of Clinton and Reagan. But Obama first had to best Hillary Clinton in the primary, who was running the ultimate identity-driven campaign, as the “first woman to break the glass ceiling.” And while voters rejected Hillary’s non-inclusive message, she was back with it, full bore, for the 2016 race. But whether it was women, Latinos, LGBTQ or Black voters, the Democrat’s identity game ultimately alienated enough Americans simply interested in a better payday to deliver the party their worst across-the-board loss in generations. While political identity exploitation proved a dud for Democrats, however, it was effectively played by capitalists.
Usually absent from common English language definitions of capitalism are its exploitive demands on human labor. One must visit Karl Marx for such critique. As such, capitalism by nature thrives with a deep labor supply, as excess demand of workers for jobs allow the capitalist to reduce wages and benefits for those jobs. This, incidentally, is why labor unions are necessary. Even better, it’s why Worker Self-Directed Enterprises offer equitable sustainability to workplaces. Back in the early 1970s, however, objections of second-wave feminists to traditional household structures coincided with neoliberal shifts in the economy that valued and promoted individualism over the collective. Out of fashion was social welfare; in vogue: personal responsibility, trends reinforced by new age and pop psychology of positivity and mindfulness.
The codependency of feminists and neoliberals is hashed out in an essay by Nancy Frasier, published in the Guardian,
In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. Where feminists once criticized a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to “lean in”. A movement that once prioritized social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorized “care” and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy.
What lies behind this shift is a sea-change in the character of capitalism. The state-managed capitalism of the postwar era has given way to a new form of capitalism – “disorganised”, globalising, neoliberal. Second-wave feminism emerged as a critique of the first but has become the handmaiden of the second.
The failure for the feminist movement of looking to workplace and wage equivalencies as curatives for gender exploitation lies in the reliance on neoliberal prescriptions of individualism, as pointed out in an essay by Amit Singh, published in the New Internationalist,
Encouraging capitalism means promoting individualism over collective action. The celebrating of female entrepreneurs is an example of this. It is easy to point to a female entrepreneur such as Oprah Winfrey and come to the conclusion that there is no sexism or racism and that capitalism helps advance us all. Against this backdrop many women and vulnerable groups around the world are being exploited in a neoliberal world order.
Still, despite decades and volumes of evidence suggesting that fighting the feminist battle in the workplace created casualty alongside victory, it’s difficult to offer even valid criticism of modern-day feminism without receiving pejoratives about being sexist. Why?
I am woman
I recently wrote about the phenomenon of modern tribalism, and how that social dynamic is drawing people into groups that reflect the emotional and ideological over the practical and pragmatic. The danger here is that when groups identify this way they trend exclusive and xenophobic over inclusive and welcoming. There’s a reactive over proactive tendency to this sort of tribalism. Identification with our two major political parties reflects the danger in such tribal name tagging. And the inherent danger of reflexive identification as a feminist was on display at the Women’s March on Washington, which, when the dust settled, was revealed to be a production of liberal organizations aligned with the Democratic Party. In fact, the march was open to all genders. Who was not included, however, were women’s groups of a conservative, pro-life, pro-business bent. So what was advertised as a march for women was actually a march for liberals, exploited for their tribal identification by savvy, political propagandists.
With my own daughter entering the workforce, I’m certainly grateful for workplace advancements that allow young women like her to find career opportunities. But those opportunities comes at a price, according to a 2015 study of millennial women, as reported by the Washington Post,
Between 2007 and 2012—just before and right after the recession—birth rates among American women in their twenties declined by 15 percent, the report found. Financial hardship “causes young women who aren’t worried about the biological clock to say, ‘Things are tough right now. Let me put this off because I can,’” said co-author Nan Astone, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.
Additionally, according to a recent Pew survey on two income households, even in higher income groups, both partners are working longer, and report a lack of quality time, according to a report in The Atlantic on the survey,
Forty percent of moms working full-time “say they always feel rushed.” Half of dads who work full-time say they don’t get enough time with their kids…
This is a group of people who have been working longer and longer hours over the last few decades. According to Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times, today workers in the 6oth to 95th percentiles of earners work the most hours of any group—2,015 hours in 2013, up 5 percent since 1979.
Finally, with a recent report from Oxfam and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that women fill a majority of low-wage jobs in nearly every state in the U.S., the marriage of second-wave feminism with neoliberal capitalism has – except for the lucky few atop the career ladder – watered down the labor pool, making two-earner households a burdensome necessity rather than a career choice for most women. Despite sprouting from worthy goals and intentions, the exploitation of second-wave feminism by capitalists provided the mechanism to evolve their neoliberal agenda by subjugating every American adult life to the ever-consuming demands of the marketplace.
While breaking the ceremonial “glass ceiling” would provide a symbolic breakthrough for women, only through emancipation from the shackles of the neoliberal workplace by providing a Universal Living Wage, or through exploration of Modern Monetary Theory might women and families finally thrive. Now that’s a feminism I can get behind.
I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
– Helen Reddy, Ray Burton