Reclaiming Feminism from the Logic of the Market

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= The author is a very erudite women's rights scholar within the more conservatively oriented communautarian tradition, linked to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.


Erika Bachiochi:

"In its inception in the 19th century, the early American women’s movement worked hard to resist the powerful draw of market values in the personal lives of men, women and children. These women recognized early on that the most good, true and beautiful things in life would never be counted in the growing industrial economy nor valued by a wage.

They foresaw clearly that the character-shaping, solidarity-building work they did with their husbands, raising up new generations of Americans in the virtues of collaboration, reciprocity, trust and concern for others, could be undermined by the materialistic tendencies of the new commercial economy, even as these virtues make such an economy viable and sustainable in the first place. Through their political advocacy for joint property ownership, workers’ rights, suffrage and more, these women sought to elevate legally and politically the essential work of the home: that person-oriented island in a market-driven sea.

In the last half century, that traditional resistance to the encroaching logic of the consumeristic market has withered, and more often than not feminism too has ceded to its worldview. Today, mainstream feminism promotes a view of freedom as autonomous choice, manifest most plainly in the popular abortion-rights slogan “right to choose.” Parenthood is increasingly viewed as one lifestyle choice among many, and for mothers an “opportunity cost” at that. The value of children (and other dependents) are too often subject, like other “trade-offs” in the marketplace, to individual (or social) “cost-benefit” analysis.

The women’s movement of the last 50 years has made extraordinary gains, not the least of which is the recognition of women as individual persons equal under the law. The myriad and diverse capacities, interests and abilities of women, especially as opportunities have become increasingly available to them, know no end. The modern-day women’s movement can be credited with at last putting to rest the ways in which women’s unequal legal status in the family and in society had subordinated women unjustly for too long.

But the feminist movement today has been slower to recognize that abstract rights only take women so far. Taken to their limit as the mere power to choose, abstract rights tend to eat away at the very conditions that make their exercise worthwhile—and humane. Other evaluative considerations, especially our shared responsibilities to the vulnerable and dependent, are subordinated to the duly unencumbered, autonomous self so prized in the “good life” of our late modern capitalist society. And that consuming, choosing, disembodied self makes no room for the concrete asymmetries inherent in sexual intercourse and reproduction, and in caregiving too. The deck is stacked today against pregnant women and caregiving families: the very people to whom future generations will owe their existence and well-being.

Without a substantive account of human freedom, and its proper end, human excellence, the essential human goods of children, family and community, so necessary for authentic human flourishing, are subordinated to the dominant value of choice dictated by the logic of the market. We’re left with a culture that aggrandizes consumerism, workaholism and the relentless quest for power, wealth and pleasure. And though this new American way of life may appear to benefit the rich, well-educated and otherwise privileged, none of this bodes well for children and other vulnerable populations.

Women’s rights are no different; without an account of what freedom is for, feminism ends up appropriating a market orientation too. Individual choice is to be maximized without an obvious limiting principle and without due consideration of the apparent goods that are being chosen. As a consequence, the modern-day feminist movement on the whole has difficulty condemning epidemic pornography, the sexual mutilation of children at the behest of a cultish gender ideology and other forms of sexual exploitation (from “sex work” to now normative casual sex). It insists on retaining “consent” as the highest value in the sexual context, even as asymmetrical power disparities rightly put this concept into question in other areas, and as increasing numbers of ordinary women lament today’s male-oriented sexual norms.

In the now-dominant logic of the market, marriage, children and caregiving—human goods that have been affirmed and celebrated throughout human history—are treated as merely individual preferences with substantial financial consequences. Rendered private goods mediated by private choices, the inherently public nature of these goods, and the communal and political responsibilities they entail, is widely forgotten. The wealthy are scarcely affected by such cultural amnesia, as many persist in living out relatively family-centered lives, but the poor are shorn of that essential familial and communal substructure upon which they might find their own footing and rise above their circumstances.

It is no surprise that as law and policy over the past several decades have elevated the rights of the isolated, unencumbered, autonomous individual above our common and shared responsibilities to the dependent, weak and vulnerable, our workplaces have not grown much more hospitable to those who care for such persons. Nor has the community at large found ways to support this most essential work."


More information