This book makes the case for an inclusive form of socialist feminism that will
benefit both individuals and societies, and that puts multiply disadvantaged
women at its heart. It argues that developing a feminist vocabulary is a key
part of feminist politics, and it demystifies some key terms, including
patriarchy and intersectionality. The book’s longest chapter engages with fierce
disputes between some feminists and some trans women, and suggests possible
compromises and ways forward. It argues throughout that the analysis of gender
cannot be isolated from that of class or race, that patriarchy is inexorably
entangled with capitalism, and that the needs of most women will not be met in
an economy based on the pursuit of profit. In making these arguments, it
explains why capitalism is not meeting human needs and it highlights the flaws
in the ideologies that sustain it; it also shows how the assumptions of
neoliberalism are incompatible with anything other than a narrow, elitist form
of feminism that has little relevance for most women. Throughout, the book
asserts the social, economic and human importance of the unpaid caring and
domestic work that has been traditionally done by women, and the need to
redistribute this and value it properly. It concludes that the combination of
some policy trends, the increased presence of feminists in positions of
influence and a rise in all kinds of grassroots activism give grounds for
optimism about a future that could be both more feminist and more socialist.
themselves with run-down health services and punitive welfare systems that were quite inadequate in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, and that failed to meet the needs of the disproportionately female health and social care workforce.
All this makes neoliberal thinking an unlikely source of feminist ideas. Nevertheless, ‘neoliberalfeminism’ has become an important strand of twenty-first century feminism. This is the focus of the next chapter .
thinking can seem in tune with some kinds of ‘go-getting’ power feminism, and a number of left-leaning feminists believe that it has produced a damaging new form of ‘neoliberalfeminism’. They argue that this is particularly dangerous, not simply because it is associated with exploitative, unjust and anti-women policies but because it represents a takeover of feminism, which is now being used to justify these policies. Although the details of their critiques vary, the arguments of these writers overlap and are perhaps best summed up in the title of Hester Eisenstein
bodies, private companies and international NGOs.
This is not a cohesive and unified movement, but it
has clear directions and effects. In other texts, it has
been called ‘neoliberalfeminism’, ‘lean-in’ feminism
and ‘feminism for the 1%’.8 This is because it wants
power within the existing system, rather than an end
to the status quo.
Mainstream feminism, exemplified by campaigns
such as #MeToo, tends to set the agenda for parliamentary politics, institutional reform and corporate equality work. It tends to be highly visible internationally,
-only groups, and many work with men in trade unions, political parties or direct-action campaigns.
While some kinds of feminist activism can loosely be described as socialist, others are not socialist in any way; indeed, some are strongly anti-socialist. In particular, as discussed in Chapter 6 , the kind of neoliberalfeminism promoted by women such as Sheryl Sandberg and Ivanka Trump is primarily concerned with enabling more women to become ‘successful’, rather than trying to improve the situation of those in more lowly positions, and it focuses on securing equal pay
opportunities for women and girls in the global south.
These arguments feed into discussion in Chapter 6 , in which I look at feminist politics in the west today. Here I assess some feminists’ claims that neoliberal ideology is taking over feminism and using it to legitimise new forms of exploitation. I find that, although ‘neoliberalfeminism’ is influential, feminist activities and ideas are much more diverse than this claim suggests. I also argue that neoliberalfeminism is full of contradictions, and that this helps explain why Theresa May failed to deliver on her
I N CHAPTERS 5 and 6 , I argued that the liberal and neoliberal ideas that dominate western economic thinking today cannot provide the basis for the kind of feminist politics that will benefit the majority of women. I rejected the assumption that we are essentially competitive, self-sufficient individuals and that we can and should rationally calculate and pursue our own self-interest in all areas of life. I also criticised neoliberalfeminism’s failure to understand the importance of ‘women’s work’, its focus on high-achieving women and its apparent