“Why don’t we hear more feminist voices criticizing capitalism?” a reader asks.
“Because there is no feminism without capitalism,” is my answer.
Before I explain why I say that, I want to clarify my definitions of both capitalism and feminism.
Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, usually in competitive markets.
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.
I took both definitions from Wikipedia to make our lives easier with simple, unencumbered, unemotional definitions.
Women have historically been subjected to men for two physiological reasons:
1. Women are smaller physically and can be overpowered by the greater physical force of men.
2. Women are limited by the birth cycle. If you spend your entire life pregnant, giving birth, nursing, pregnant, giving birth, and so on, this will put you in a position of dependence towards somebody who is not similarly limited.
This is all explained in detail and beautifully by the great Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex.
Now, capitalism is a system where your physical bulk becomes completely and utterly irrelevant. A tiny, feeble, bed-ridden person can easily be the master of 10,000 giants who will follow the small person’s every command. This isn’t the feudal system where brute force rules everything and everyone. In capitalism, money becomes the decisive factor. As a result, the smaller size and the lesser physical strength of women becomes completely irrelevant. The liberatory potential of this is huge.
In a similar way, capitalism frees women from the dependence on the birth cycle. As a system driven by profit above all, it comes to fulfill the huge demand for birth control. Capitalism is always driven by competition. Which is why any product that is in demand, that can be potentially sold to a big enough group of people, will keep getting developed, improved, and offered for consumption. Birth control, formula, breast pumps, day cares, nurseries, etc. have all liberated women from depending on their physiology.
It is no coincidence that feminism and capitalism developed at the same time and at a similar pace. If the capitalism hadn’t come into existence, I am convinced that we would still see the feudal society where women had to be hidden and closely guarded or be raped routinely.
This is a topic where I welcome all kinds of disagreement because I want to see whether and how this argument can be taken apart.