The recent waves of citizen-led activism that swept the globe inspired numerous attempts to identify common drivers across diverse instances of public disobedience and protest. Growing numbers of educated, unemployed, alienated youth, the humiliations of autocracy, the authority- busting potential of the internet and social media, and the coming of age of Generation Y are among recurrent leitmotifs. These common denominators – broadly related to the tensions between the global forces of neoliberalism seeking to expand the freedom of capital, and the forces of social resistance struggling to preserve and redefine community and solidarity - provide an overly broad umbrella for phenomena as diverse as the Arab uprisings, the Occupy movement, the indignados of Southern Europe, the student movement in Chile or the Gezi protests in Turkey. Could the lure of the “global” be making us lose sight of more subtle and context specific idioms of discontent?
In this article, the fourth in a series of reflections on the Arab uprisings (and beyond), I explore the reasons behind the apparent anti-patriarchal thrust of struggles against authoritarianism in some parts of the MENA region, and pose a relatively neglected question: Are there any lessons to be drawn from youth-led activism for a new politics of gender? At first sight, the answer would appear to be negative. A mobilized citizenry was, first and foremost, demanding their social and political rights, clamouring for justice and freedom and an end to state violence and corruption. If and when gender issues came up - as they did in the context of the Arab uprisings - they were treated in a rather truncated manner, mainly to document levels of women’s participation in popular protests, their subsequent exclusion from formal processes of transition and their exposure to increasing levels of violence. Feminism and women’s rights activism - considered by some as “old politics” par excellence - appeared to elicit ambivalence, if not outright indifference, among members of a new insurrectionary generation.
Yet this distancing was taking place against the background of widespread popular protests against gender-based violence, involving both men and women, who were plainly engaged in new forms of grass roots activism and social critique. How can we account for this state of affairs? Is the language of feminism up to the challenge of capturing the new sensibilities and aspirations animating the actions and idioms of multitudes of youth, both male and female? Or do the lenses we train on the politics of gender inadvertently restrict our vision?.. read more:
BEATRIX CAMPBELL - Neoliberal neopatriarchy: the case for gender revolution
We are living in a distinctive moment when neoliberal capitalism and neopatriarchy converge. Male dominance is no mere footnote to this new historic settlement. It is central. And feminism is decisive in the resistance... Violence - and that means violent masculinity - is part of neoliberalism's way of doing business..
Beatrix Campbell: It is! We have to ask ourselves: what's new about our moment? After the Second World War, capital struck a historic compromise with labour, in a partnership with the unions and commitment to a welfare state. With it came a new sexual contract. Neoliberal neopatriarchy is a riposte to both. Of course, in those postwar decades patriarchy never disappeared, but the welfare state created conditions for what we could call the 'equality paradigm'. With the expansion of social care, some of the labours of love historically performed by women became professionalised and paid. We won new laws on equal pay, marital status, reproduction, sexuality. The idea of equality between men and women was inscribed into international law. Feminism was creating new political terrain.
BC: What we have is a symbiotic convergence of neoliberal capitalism and a neopatriarchal gender order. The 'structural adjustment' the financial institutions have been imposing on states all over the world is an attack on social solidarity, on welfare statism and trade unions, the institutions that intervene between men and women, that democratize gender relations and mitigate patriarchy by alleviating women's poverty and overwork.
BC: Yes, if there was any doubt before, we can see quite clearly now how gender is more than just a footnote in the neoliberal project. It's central. Take Osborne's austerity budget of 2010. Labour's front bench MP, Yvette Cooper, who's been described by one of her colleagues as 'seriously good' at maths, scrutinized every detail of that budget. She calculated the consequences for women and men. What she found was so simple, but so startling! Seventy-four percent, almost three-quarters, of the burden of the austerity measures would be borne by women, barely a quarter by men. At the same time, men as tax-payers are valorized and soothed by Osborne's budgets. It's obvious. The neoliberal project can't work and doesn't work except in relation to another political project: male domination. What we have today is a neoliberal neopatriarchy. And you see that expressed most clearly in its dependence on two ancient patriarchal practices: the sexual division of labour, and violence.
BC: Sure. Women do unpaid work in the home, and underpaid work in employment. Men and their children are cared for by the women in their lives, or by other women whose labour they buy for a pittance. And it's not just men and children - it's care of the elderly, the disabled, the maintenance of everyday life. Research by the Centre for Time Use Studies shows a similar pattern across most developed countries between the 1970s and 2000s: men's core housework activities rose from an average 20 minutes to just 40 minutes a day; and their participation in dedicated child care rose to a meagre 15 or 20 minutes a day - a rate of increase of about 30 seconds a day per year over three decades.
BC: The movement for equal pay is over. It's stuck. It is unable to withstand the new regimes of remuneration, the 'new dynamics of undervaluation' that are inaccessible to radical collective challenge. We have equal pay in name, but the actual gap between men and women has stabilized. In the European Union the gender pay gap - that's the average difference between men’s and women’s rate of pay - is 26%. The gap between the hourly earnings of women part-time workers and men full-time workers is a massive 65%. Men's pensions are 50% higher than women's.