Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Misogyny and Capitalism
Recent Supreme Court rulings highlight the persistent presence of misogyny in the US.
Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, expressed her anger over the Supreme Court’s message that “women are second-class citizens, not capable of making our healthcare decisions without the interference of our bosses and complete strangers on the street,” and she encouraged the crowd to send a message back.
This was the most striking language in the buffer zone ruling, to me:
petitioners are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.
Unbidden strangers given the rights of “counselor.” Since when is anyone who wants to talk to me considered my counselor? Why is the word “consensual” in that sentence? Patients haven’t consented to this counseling. They are hounded by it. This kind of distortion of someone’s behavior and giving it a title which then affords them rights, when they are really just harassing people would never happen if the recipients of said counseling were white males. Where is the autonomy of the woman in this interaction? This is codified misogyny.
In a country which claims to be “democratic” and to believe in “liberty”, how is it that autonomy is not fully respected for all people?
It would seem that something overrides our belief in the respect of the individual which should be inherent to a democracy and our commitment to privacy when it comes to personal liberty. Could that be capitalism?
Will you join me for an exploration of the linkages between capitalism and misogyny?
For understanding my communications, please know that I distinguish sexism from misogyny, just as I distinguish bigotry from racism. Sexism and bigotry are personal expressions of seeing a demographic group as somehow inferior to oneself. Misogyny and racism are larger cultural systems and atmospheres which serve to keep certain demographics oppressed for the benefit of other demographics. I give an example at the end of the diary.
I want us to explore not only what it is we experience as the actuated reality of a country which worships the concept of capitalism, but what it is we would want in the country of our dreams. Toward that end, I have a question at the end of the diary which I hope sparks some fun and creative conversation. What lies between here and there is simply leading to that.
An Imperfect Metaphor
So, we in the US claim to believe in democracy and personal liberty, yet when we look at our behaviors both as a nation and culture, we see those principles betrayed quite often. I’d like us to think of the country as an organism. A living, breathing entity with a complex set of biological systems. Our principles or values are the heart – the source of our vision and mission, our laws are the brain – directing how we carry out the mission, our populace is the gut – it’s responses and reactions reveal the harmony or disharmony between the heart and the brain. The political and economic systems are the arms and legs with which we walk through the mission and feed the internal systems.
If there is discord and suffering, let’s see it as an illness. Something in the system isn’t serving all the parts of the system. Things are not stable. It won’t be a perfect metaphor, but it can help us to think about how things can move in an unhealthy direction without anyone consciously steering it there.
This is an easy metaphor for me, as I live with a chronic illness. I know many people who do. Often, there were signs of things going wrong earlier than we acknowledged. For me, it was persistent exhaustion. I would complain about how no amount of sleep rejuvenated me. People around me would say that I was stressed and not handling it well. I believed that and kept pushing myself. Once more serious symptoms such as cognitive decline, temporary loss of vision, debilitating pain and seizures presented themselves I finally went to the doctor. Still, it took two more years to get a diagnosis. Why?
It took that long because I had contracted the disease long before and it didn’t look as expected, now. I had an “advanced” version. Something far worse than the original disease. We still had to address the disease, but that would not fix everything. The disease is now pernicious and will return if I’m not vigilant about it. Worse, it had ravaged my body so badly that my systems got messed up and couldn’t recognize healthy cells from destructive ones. My body now attacks itself. I must consciously tend to myself all the time, if I am to have any quality of life. The minute I am lax about it, I lose more functionality.
You see where I’m going here? A society can contract a disease and not realize it. It can start to show a symptom and be in denial about having the symptom and then about recognizing where the symptom comes from. It can live with the disease for so long that it end up not being able to tell the difference between healthy cells and destructive ones. It can begin to perpetuate the symptoms of the disease all on it’s own. One has to work hard to consciously recognize the symptoms and address both the disease and the resulting disorders.
If you build a democracy based on the tenets of individual liberty and equality, how can you have slavery and misogyny and genocide? Those are symptoms of an infection. Likely, something you are not conscious of.
In a healthy organism, the heart and brain and gut and arms and legs are all working together in harmony doing the right thing to keep things running smoothly. If they are fighting with one another, or one of the systems is suppressed, something is wrong.
If the political and economic systems are the mechanism for nurturing the organism we need to look at what they’re feeding us. Good food replenishes our healthy cells. Bad food replaces them with something dysfunctional. Eventually, you are what you eat. Regardless of what you set out with in your heart or how you thought you were going to carry out that vision or how well you managed your gut reactions to individual moments, the food you eat is what you tell yourself to become. Bit by bit, you change. While you’re still healthy enough, you can recognize disruptive change early on and adjust your diet. Farther in, though, your feedback mechanisms won’t work or you’ll deny what they’re telling you. You suppress dissent and keep pushing forward without addressing the unhealthy diet.
It doesn’t take much for an infection to set in. For me, it was a little tick bite I never saw or felt. For the United States, it was capitalism. Capitalism isn’t named in our founding documents, but Adam Smith was very influential at the time. Here is his view on the purpose of government:
“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”
It was a relatively small group of people who wrote our founding documents. They were the wealthy and educated elite. Though they fought against the idea of a monarchy ordained by God, they were products of their time and social class. They may not have had royal titles, but they did see themselves as the “gentleman” class. They held all the economic power in the thirteen states they represented. They wrote the laws to control who could participate:
In twelve of the thirteen states (Pennsylvania excepted), only property-owning White males could vote, probably not more than 10 percent of the total adult population. Excluded were all indigenous First Nation people (“Indians”), persons of African descent, women, indentured servants, and White males lacking sufficient property. Property qualifications for holding office were so steep as to exclude even most of the White males who could vote. A member of the New Jersey legislature had to be worth at least 1,000 pounds. South Carolina state senators had to possess estates worth at least 7,000 pounds clear of debt (equivalent to more than a million dollars today). In Maryland, a candidate for governor had to own at least 5,000 pounds of property. In addition, the absence of a secret ballot and of a real choice among candidates and programs led to widespread apathy.
What is Democracy?
I don’t want to spend more time here on the details of just how elite the founding fathers were. The link referenced above does a great job of it. It’s fascinating to see just how well the idea that the US was egalitarian has been implanted in our consciousness, when, in fact, it never was. We know it, too. We know there was slavery. We know that Native Americans were not treated as people. We know that women were not allowed to vote. We tell ourselves that these were just vestiges of pre-democracy. Yet, even amongst the white males there was exclusion based on wealth and property holding. Only 10% of the people living here were participating.
Here is the Oxford Dictionary definition of democracy:
A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives
Is our whole population governing? Or do we need to understand who is considered an “eligible member?” Do we feel that the people elected to office are really representative of us? If only 10% of the people who lived here at our founding were eligible members, was it really a democracy? Or have we come to have a distorted understanding of democracy due to those beginnings? Did we let capitalism infect our ideal? Why are some people eligible to participate and some not?
As soon as you justify disallowing one group of people, you start to chip away at the very concept of self-rule. You start to class some people as more or less worthy of mature adult autonomy and you establish who makes that determination. You are willing to impose governance on them by force. Coercion, the threat of force, or actual use of force is the only way to stop them from participating in the system you want. As soon as you are willing to use force to control who can and cannot participate, you are establishing an authoritarian class.
Once you’ve established an authoritarian class, you have established oppression. It is patronizing to think that the authoritarian class will be able to fairly and justly represent the interests of those they consider less worthy, due less respect. If you don’t respect someone, you will not honor them and cannot consider their interests without bias. You disenfranchise them from the group which you call “the people.”
Is that democracy?
Even with increased eligibility to vote here, we don’t have full participation. When participation is less than full, is that because it’s just human nature to not care? Or is it a sign that something else is impeding the actualization of democracy? Is something else dampening the faith in participation?
What About Liberty?
In the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence is this line:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Here’s the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘liberty’:
The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views
Liberty is very anti-authority, or pro-autonomy. With liberty,as long as I am not impeding on someone else’s liberty, no authority shall exercise power over me. As soon as someone is impeding my liberty, I have the right to stop them. My life is mine to live and no one else gets to impose their will about how my life should be lived or how my body is used. Self-determination. As a nation which has codified the right to liberty, I am under no obligation to anyone else. My right to authority over my own body trumps anyone else’s needs.
Liberty for He but not for Her
If we truly believed in liberty, a woman would have no more obligation to allow her body to be used for gestation than she would for saving the life of someone who needed her kidney. The life of no one else would trump her right to self-determination. Period.
Yet, women have been subjected to laws denying them the right to vote; denying them access to contraception and abortions. There is a long list of social norms, shaming and shunning which women are subjected to based on their “way of life” or the way we look or whether we speak our mind. We are both literally and socially policed into silence and acceptance of subjugation.
If we proclaim to be proud of being a democracy and the “land of liberty”, when we are not really living those ideals, what is causing the contradiction? Who does it serve? The founding documents of our country lay out some operating principles or moral codes, but we ignore them. Something is trumping our commitment to them. Misogyny just might serve that which betrays our proclaimed principles.
The Injection of Capitalism
The other proud proclamation so often made about the United States is that we’re a capitalist country. We deem ourselves superior to other countries based on the form of economic system we employ. It is practically a cardinal sin to believe that any other economic system is even valid to consider.
What is capitalism? Back to the Oxford Dictionary:
An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
So, what does it mean to be a capitalist state? The only values expressed are that everything is controlled by private owners and it’s done for profit.
There is nothing in there which speaks to what kinds of rights people have, ways to treat each other, how we want society to look,or whether anything needs to be sustainable. Profit for private owners is all there is.
If capitalism is solely about profit, what does that mean? To profit in a transaction is to get more out of it than you put in. That means taking more from someone else than you are giving them. How do you convince someone to give you more than you give them?
We have ways of obfuscating the fact that this is what we’re doing. When currency is used to mediate transactions, you don’t know whether equal value is being exchanged or not. We are trained to think that my $100 equals your $100. If I had to work 10 hours to get $100 and you only had to work 1 hour, then our $100 dollars are not equal. Mine cost 10 times as much! We only accept that because we tell ourselves that one person is worth more than another. A human life is nothing but a span of time and we have come to accept that the time of some human beings is worth more than the time of other human beings. So, one person can put in 1/10th the effort of the other person and we’ll call it equal. But that means that we don’t really believe that “all men are created equal.”
Capitalism has infected the system we thought was build on . We’ve been living with it for so long that it is now a chronic illness in an advanced form. We have stopped fighting it. In fact, we have developed an auto-immune disorder wherein we’re fighting each other. Whether by force or coercion, we let capitalists rig every transaction in their favor. With all their resources they can control the flow of information via media. They can spend more money on political campaigns to get themselves or those who will favor them into government. Then they can control how education happens. This impacts our perception of the world, how we use language and whether or not we practice critical thinking.
When I went to business school, I was told that a business should have perpetual growth. A business, an economy and society were not healthy unless they were always growing. It was an axiom. Not a hypothesis. It was not open for discussion. Profit, profit and always more profit. Nothing matters but that. Don’t think about anything else. Be good little capitalists and pursue perpetual profits.
Women have been at the butt end of capitalism, always. Men owned everything. Men made the laws. Women were seen as intellectually and physically inferior, as well as inherently immoral. All the work which women did to support a functioning society was valued at zero. Every transaction they made was a 100% loss or worse. That supported the capitalist system. Misogyny is a feature, not a bug. Devaluing other human beings so that capitalists can continue to have gains is a feature of capitalism. That’s the disease.
Yes, there have been some gains over the last century. Hey, women can vote, now. What are we complaining about?! But, centuries of seeing women as inferior and evil has infected our social consciousness. That infection is secondary to the chronic illness of capitalism. It’s part of an auto-immune disorder.
Capitalism must always have it’s losing classes. If we don’t have women and slaves to take up the 100% loss slot in the social strata, where do all those losses go? Those who benefit, or suffer the least, from the capitalist structure are not going to give up their profits without a fight. This is why misogyny and racism are so persistent. It’s also why we see great tensions amongst different demographic groups are struggling against oppression. We don’t want to say it out loud, but we all know that capitalism can’t exist without losers. We’re all just scrambling to see who is going to wriggle up out of the bottom tiers. We’re reshuffling the deck rather than designing a new game. That’s the auto-immune disorder. We have to fight that consciously. We can’t continue to passively let it serve the disease. We must tend to our health.
What’s happening, now, is that as it become socially unpalatable to oppress groups based on gender or skin color or ethnicity or sexuality, the capitalists need a new way to maintain their dominant position. The top tier may have some “diversity” so that it looks more acceptable, but it will always need to be elite and in power. If you can’t use the readily identifiable factors of gender and skin tone, how do you draw new, easily distinguishable lines?
You start to redefine people. That’s the key, right? A democracy is about who is deemed eligible as “the people.” If capitalism is to survive, you figure out how to make sure that capitalists’ interests are represented by “the people.” What better way to do that than to establish person hood for corporations? How long before they are the only eligible participants in democracy? With their vast wealth, it can become de facto in no time at all.
If corporations are people, they can can vote, they can use their vast wealth and affluence to control elections and, therefore, maintain laws which support their capitalist interests.
It’s a natural evolution of a capitalist state. It’s what happens when we don’t remain conscious and vigilant about our ideals. Everything else about the US becomes subordinate to it’s core identity as a capitalist state. We’re only a democracy if we serve the interests of capitalism. We only get liberty if it serves the interests of capitalism. We only get person hood if we serve the interest of capitalism.
Of course, you can’t have a peaceful transition to corporate person hood if you just rush in and change all the laws over night. You need people to go along with the idea. The ownership class knows that they are small in numbers and that their ability to maintain their position is dependent upon getting a critical mass of people to accept their ideas. Too many people losing and you get revolt. So, you use all the things which have allowed you to keep people oppressed to date and you push it a little further.
Women have been seen as inferior and of evil judgment all along. We have been chattel of our fathers and husbands. It’s not a stretch to convince enough people that we should also be chattel to our bosses. How do you give bosses the right to be involved in what kind of health care a woman has access to? You deem corporations to be people, with religions! You give those corporate people rights which supersede the rights of women. I mean why does our health insurance have anything to do with our employers in the first place? Only capitalists have autonomy. They have authority over the bodies of everyone else. Their time is worth more; they determine how little they can get away with valuing other people and they get more and more control over every aspect of society.
Misogyny is a tool for the ownership class. If we want to thrive in a sustainable world, we need to face the fact that there is no morality, no call for justice, no concern for ecological health in capitalism. It is a system designed to serve a few and keep the rest of us clawing at each other so we leave them alone.
Solidarity is the only meaningful recourse. There can be no justice for anyone until there is justice for everyone. We need to rid ourselves of our internalized misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. We have to very consciously reestablish the health of our immune system so that we can fight the disease.
Capitalism doesn’t know national boundaries, either. Nationalism is just another symptom. If we cling to the idea that we in the US are somehow superior and, at the same, vulnerable to all those inferior people around the world, we don’t challenge what capitalists are doing. We say we care about human rights, but we won’t give up comforts when we know people are being abused in order for us to have them. We think of our ability to buy things as power. That’s part of the auto-immune disorder. When we buy things who are we serving? Beyond food, shelter and health care we don’t need things. The money we hand over for things we don’t need is simply a transfer of wealth. We keep giving away our wealth. Wealth inequality has been growing in the US for the past 30 or so years. If we believe that the ability to buy things is power but we keep giving away our ability to buy things, aren’t we draining our own power?
Or are we incorrectly perceiving our power? What if our power is in NOT buying things? What if we stop handing over our resources? What if we turned to one another to get or needs met? We have to have faith in one another first. That means learning to appreciate one another. Fighting all the messaging we’ve gotten about how to view each other.
We have to gain some consciousness. We must resist the attacks on our critical thinking skills and our compassion and empathy. Contrary to popular belief, humans are not born selfish. We are instinctively compassionate. We actually have to be trained to be otherwise. That is, it gets acculturated out of us. If we choose, we can undo that acculturation. We can learn about each other. Share stories. Listen and don’t criticize. Just take in other people’s experiences. Anyone who is different from you. Let their experiences and perspective become a piece of the whole cloth of the culture which is clothing the body of nation. Every single person’s experience is a thread in that cloth. If you’re only aware of the experiences of one or two kinds of fibers you can’t mend things properly.
One of the things which happens when there is an economic elite class is that they control all the mechanism of national storytelling. All the news, entertainment, magazines and books are laden with their perspective of life. We get taught what is “normal” and “good” and we get told their version of why people behave “badly.” We believe it because the message comes from so many directions, subtly and not-so-subtly at such a relentless pace that it literally starts to direct the development of our brains. Mass access to social media is starting to change that.
For the first time in human history the voices of women are being recorded en masse. Everything from our mundane experiences to our great sufferings and brilliant ideas are being made available. This is true for other demographic groups, as well. We’re all being humanized by finally having direct exposure to one another.
Since we’ve all been programmed and it’s natural to follow the path of what is comfortable to us, we need to be careful about only exposing ourselves to people who are comfortable. If we want to fight the disease, we need to work against the auto-immune disorder. Diversity of perspective, experience and ideas is the antidote to the auto-immune disorder of gentrification and commodification. Seek out difference. Don’t debate with people. Don’t demand that they be your definition of perfect. Or without any hypocrisies. An auto-immune disorder has left us all with hypocrisies. Simply read and listen and bear witness. Be there for one another. Have meals together. Build bonds. Build solidarity. If you’re white, take in the stories of what it is to be black in the US. Let those very real human being tell their own stores without your intervention or interpretation. Don’t require that they “speak your language” or “take responsibility” or “learn to play the game” or whatever meme pops into your head when you hear about someone different from yourself.
If you’re a male, listen to the stories of females. Question your internal messaging about “she asked for it” or “she should dress a certain way” or “she’s too bitchy” or “she’s not assertive enough.”
If you’re straight or cis-gender, listen to the stories of those who aren’t. Don’t overlay their stories with “something probably happened to them to make them this way.”
Simply accept people where they are and know their stories are a part of our culture. Everyone. We need to stop invalidating everyone’s stories. Let all the stories be part of your story. Sub-plots in the chapters of your life.
Solidarity, a unified mission of the whole, is the only medicine to fight the disease of capitalism. We’ll never get rid of every vestige of it. There will always be those who believe in it and fight for it’s ascendance. They’ll tell us that we just need to amend it and we’ll be fine. But, by definition capitalism is nothing but the pursuit of profit, and therefore the cold-hearted willingness to cause someone else to lose. The vision of equality and liberty is always compromised by that. With solidarity, we can keep it at bay and more fully pursue that which will lead us to a more just and sustainable world.
How do we tend to our social health in such a way that we fend off disease and keep auto-immune disorders at bay? We must vigilantly remind ourselves of our vision and mission. Everything we do, every decision we make must be tested against those. We must be willing to fight the inclination to urgently address a temporary issue with a “fix” which doesn’t fit our vision and mission. Each time we compromise on that we’re saying that we really don’t believe in them. If we don’t believe in them, then let’s stop saying that we do and determine what it is we do believe in. If we do believe in them, then we must have faith that they will guide us to better solutions. If we aren’t ready to say that we don’t believe in them, then we need to question why we’re making compromises. If it is because of fear, let’s face the fear by applying our values. If we seem to facing fear all the time, we need to figure out why. Perhaps that’s a symptom of disease.
At any time, if we’re doing anything which feels like it compromises our values, changes our mission or is reactionary we need to consider what is infecting us and address that. We address that by going back and examining our values and reconfirming that we hold them dear. If we hold democracy dear, then we everyone should be allowed to participate. Anything less means we don’t believe in democracy. If we hold individual liberty dear, then bodily autonomy should be inviolable for everyone. Only I make choices about my body. I can be stopped from making choices about someone else’s body.
Figuring out how to stop bad behavior can seem like a conundrum when we’ve all been brainwashed with the culture of might makes right. Being so out of harmony with the tenets of democracy and self-determination, we’re all a bit diseases and will, therefore, exhibit a lot of bad behavior and this will challenge our belief in the those tenets. We must fight the urge to address the disease with symptoms of the disease. We must find ways to ensure bodily autonomy and democratic participation even for those who may have violated those tenets, whilst still impeding their ability to continue to violate. How do you do this?
That’s complex. Something I’d love to see us, as a culture discuss. Recovery from disease is challenging and painful and has it’s setbacks. The simple answer is compassion. If our choices are always founded in compassion and a belief in self-determination and a people self-governing, we’ll figure it out. We’ll find alternatives to punishing and seek paths of healing. We’ll realize that when people commit offense, they are likely are in need of healing. That by healing them, we heal the social fabric. Punishing them only tatters the social fabric.
Tend to each other. Always. Here and everywhere. Radical tending. That is our real power. Not in purchasing, but in tending. No one can drain us of that power. They can bankrupt us but they can’t stop us from caring for one another. Only we can do that. That’s the auto-immune disorder triggered by the disease. That’s the piece we have sole power to address. Start tending to those who are suffering the most. Constant, relentless tending. Put all your focus there and watch our power generate a transformation.
You may have noticed that I’m not suggesting any particular economic system to replace capitalism. The first defensive response from people who don’t want to consider that capitalism may not be healthy for us is often, “well, what else do you suggest? Communism?! Socialism?!” I don’t suggest we start there. I suggest that we start by asking ourselves how we want to be together and what it takes to thrive in justice and sustainability. I suggest that we’ll develop a way of nurturing ourselves – an economic system – once we’ve solidified those ideas and base everything we do on them. To that end, I offer up an exercise. (Maybe this will be the sole subject of a future diary!)
You and 149,999 people are sent to a new land mass which has risen up from the bottom of the ocean. A continent the size of, say, Australia. Human social systems are collapsing everywhere and we recognize that we need to send a group off to try something new. You have all committed to the mission of building this new social structure. Everyone there knows it will take time to work it all out and has committed to 50 years of determining how you will all manage the process of living and thriving together. The rest of the world will leave you alone. In fact, it is likely that no one else will exist by the fifty year mark. No one has to worry about food, shelter or health care for those fifty years. After that, everyone must work together to thrive. The one rule is that it has to be a system which every single person agrees to and has ongoing governance participation in. Where do you begin? What’s the first topic of discussion? How do you organize the discussions so that all 150,000 people can participate and come to agree to the social structure which gets devised?
Sexism and Misogyny
“Women are horrible drivers” is a sexist comment. Laws preventing women from getting licenses to drive are misogynist policies. One could think women are horrible drivers and still believe that all people have the right to a driver’s license, including women because one sees women as full-fledged people. That person would be sexist but not misogynist.
One could think women may drive just as well as men, and be very respectful and admirable of the women one knows. Yet, that person may still believe that “person”, as originally used in the US Constitution, doesn’t include women (or people of color.) This person is misogynist. And sexist. They simply wrap all their sexist perspective into a larger package. As long as women know their place, they may express surface respect and admiration, usually in the form of “chivalrous” or “gentlemanly” behavior.
Picture from Mike Licht licensed under Creative Commons