(Dr Victoria Bateman is an Economic Historian and Fellow in Economics, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, and Fellow of the Legatum Institute, London who believes to be a capitalist you have to be a feminist)
Victoria Bateman is on a mission. She wants feminists to make progress in social and political spheres. As feminist ideology is ubiquitous and highly influential and male inequality routinely ignored, it is female domination she is talking about here.
However in focusing on the contribution that women can make to capitalism she is travelling a well worn path. The waxings and wanings of the feminist movement do as Neil Lyndon suggests, appear to reflect the economy’s demands. The conspiracy theory about Rockerfeller funding the feminist movement expresses this relationship well. Cameron’s drive to get all women into the workplace is the most recent example of these processes at work. Women can certainly play a positive role in capitalist processes, but this will only work as long as capitalism remains the outcome of the ‘invisible hand’, rather than an interest group being in charge.
Women also play a crucial role in supplying and nurturing the workforce. This is something that exercised the socialist feminists who thought it meant that women were invisible and subordinated to the means of production and that actually men were in charge. What they failed to understand was that through the vast (but not all) expanses of human history and society the needs of the family motivated production, the family was the invisible hand , and women were in charge.
This can be seen in peasant economies, where far from lacking agency as Bateman claims, women often have a final say in decision-making processes, they play a key role in agricultural production and are central to barter and exchange. Likewise in much of the developing world women play management roles in both production and reproduction with men providing the physical strength and stamina where required, or else an additional income from their work in the towns. While it is difficult to encapsulate the breadth of human experience in a single paragraph – to claim that women lack agency in comparison to men is simply a downright lie.
In developing and peasant societies where the private realm forms the heart of society men are peripheral and women are central. Women’s far more direct and unmediated responsibility for the nurturing and raising of children provides them with the motivation for production and for organising the community as well. The complaint of women in these societies is not the socialist one – that women lack direct access to the means of production. It is that men are lazy and women do all the work.
The big achievement of Western society has been, as MGTOWs have realised , that women have identified and harnessed and utilized the potential of men. We found ways of motivating them so that they wanted to create for us, build for us, work for us and protect us. We did this by giving men the experience of a personalised dependency of significant others; i.e. women and children, just as women had always experienced the personalised dependency of children on them. Women understood that it was this experience of dependent others which pushed them to work and self sacrifice. So they set up a system which placed some of this dependency on men. This was patriarchy – a system which harnessed the potential of men through motivation and reward.
Within the resulting gendered division of labour there is room for flexibility and interchangeability but if we want a capitalist society some distinction between the family and public realm needs to be maintained. A strong family and private realm not only provides the engine for capitalism, it also provides a check on it ensuring that it is responsive to the needs of the individual and the family. Where it no longer does so it becomes unsustainable – a capitalism out of control.
If, as Bateman appears to want, women have control over both production and reproduction this would simply carry on the erosion of the family and private realm. Men’s relationship to children is almost invariably mediated through women; they are secondary here. Decreasing their role and influence in the family is simply going to entrench a growing alienation and the social ‘checking out’ which is going on among men.
If there is no one to care for the family this will massively increase the burden on businesses and the State. A truly vast amount of ‘caring’ work is currently done willingly by women with some indirect financial recognition of their contribution from their partner or the State. Women do this work in their own time, and in their own homes and on their terms, and receive recognition and authority for it, and do not expect direct financial rewards. If we erode this system the work will have to be paid for at the market rate, which would involve huge financial investments, which would directly or indirectly have to be deducted from profits made.
There is also the question of what will happen if women increasingly take over those arenas which were previously the preserve of men. Men without family responsibilities to motivate them, or interesting or prestigious jobs to drive them, will increasingly be a drain on the community as they decide, as they already are beginning to, to simply go their own way. This may be why as female employment increases, male inactivity is on the rise. In the long run we will return to a situation where women do the bulk of labour and childcare – a situation seen in swathes of the developing world.
Finally there are questions of what will happen to children as they increasingly grow up in childcare institutions, without a solid base in family life to nurture them. Evidence suggests that children who grow up in fractured or single parent families fare far worse than those who grow up with two parents. One can only guess at what will happen if children grow up with almost no family at all.
Bateman implies that she is interested in the wellbeing of the capitalist system and gender equality. I would suggest that Bateman is interested neither in gender equality nor capitalism, neither in men nor even in women. What Bateman is really interested in is feminist power and control.