They call it emancipation

by Jennifer Geiser on March 26, 2015 - 5:10pm

In modern times, the emancipation of women has progressed as far as never before. One part of this emancipation is the better opportunities for women in the workforce. When it comes to this institutional level, a lot of feminists have the opinion that women have to work in higher positions. But is this really what most women want? And further, is this what feminism should be about? I want to shed a light on the topic of anti-capitalist feminism.

When it comes to emancipation, many people expect of women, who have the choice, to take over leading roles in big corporations in order to demonstrate that they are able to fulfill this role. Due to the fact that the working opportunities for women were never as good as today it is often expected that these opportunities have to be taken. Sheryl Sandberg and her bestselling book "Lean In" show that the discussion has reached a lot of people - which is good. But is more women in the workforce and in higher positions really the goal which should be pursued? Or is there more to emancipation than just following a beaten track?

I believe that there are a lot of women who do not want to be careerists. I assume that the term emancipation and everything which comes with it is also a means to make women become active members of the workforce and thus, serve the capitalist system. I think becoming a careerist is a legitimate wish. Once, I caught myself thinking about a friend of mine who "just" wants to become mother and housewife that she and other women like her were the cause why emancipation cannot develop. But by now, I see this topic in a different light: Emancipation should be a gain in freedom of choice. Instead of expecting women to climb the career ladder, we should reconsider our thinking about emancipation and see it as a possibility for women to make their own decisions.

This paradox - women "emancipating" but then being expected to function in only one direction - is the main critique Laurie Penny, a popular British feminist, levels against the modern "neoliberalism", as she puts it in her book "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution" (2014). In her opinion, it is fatal that the modern feminism does not bring into question the neoliberal regime; instead, it reinforces the system: Women are expected to be successful at their jobs, be loving mothers and be healthy and fit. All in all, the modern woman must be perfect - a superhero. 

Laurie Penny also comments on intersectionality. She wants feminism to be different: Feminism should not just support the ideal of the perfect women, but also homosexual, poor, black, ugly women and also men - people who are in her opinion underrepresented in feminist theories and practices. She thinks it is important to move feminism away from the white middle class woman. Anyway, Laurie Penny also states that in total, the career woman and the minority woman are victims of the same system. In this system, marriage serves the maintenance of the workforce and overtakes the tasks that companies and states would have to accomplish. [1] As we can see, Laurie Penny criticizes not only the women's movement, but also our economic system in general - a system, in which women have to fulfill an ideal that cannot be accomplished. Members of the "anti-capitalist feminism" (such as Penny) question the foundation of our society as a cause for inequality instead of looking at effects inequality has on our society. 

To come back to an individual level, we should focus on the goal that every woman chooses what she considers best for herself. Every woman should ask herself: What do I really want? Is this my own wish or do I just do this out of conformity reasons? Emancipation means that we should have a free choice. We do not have to choose the "ideal path" for women - to unite career, motherhood and being a loving wife. We should also have the deliberate choice to be "only" housewives and mothers - without being condemned.

I'm curious: What do you think about this? 



[1] Laurie Penny: "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution". Bloomsbury USA, September 2014).



I thought this article made a very good point and highlighted intersectional issues very well. It made a point about what feminists are fighting against and what they are fighting for. We often consider racial inequalies and thoe linked to socio-economic class but to put capitalism itself into question is a new angle on feminism. It also involves more than just women in the discussion because it involves everyone. Other than on an individual level however, it is difficult to see how this kind of ideology can be put into practice. Seeing as our political institutions and daily lives are based around capitalism, changing the system seems difficult if not impossible. A study of how the economic system we are in affects us could be interesting in this case. On the subject of different forms of feminism that have taken on other issues, I also recently learnt about Eco-feminism and Feminist Eco-pacifism that include the ideas of harmonious living with nature and all living beings.

About the author

Hello everyone,

my name is Jennifer and I'm 23 years old. I'm studying Sociology and Business Administration at the University of Potsdam.