Home page > 1. IV Online magazine > 2019 > IV536 - September 2019 > “The Feminism of the 1 Percent Has Associated Our Cause With (...)
Save this article in PDF Print article Printable version

Feminism

“The Feminism of the 1 Percent Has Associated Our Cause With Elitism”

An interview with Nancy Fraser

Monday 9 September 2019, by Nancy Fraser

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the working-class women’s movement, from impressive protests against domestic violence and workplace harassment to the mass strikes marking International Women’s Day in Spain, Poland, and beyond. These actions point the way to an anti-systemic feminism, going beyond the liberal, individualist variant promoted by the likes of Hillary Clinton.

One of the expressions of this new wave is the popular manifesto Feminism for the 99% (Verso Books, 2019). It insists that feminism does not stand as an alternative to class struggle, but rather represents a decisive front in the fight for a world free of capitalism and all forms of oppression.

Nancy Fraser is co-author of the manifesto together with Cinzia Arruzza and Tithi Bhattacharya. She spoke to Rebeca Martínez of Viento Sur about the book, her critique of so-called “progressive neoliberalism,” and her understanding of a feminism that puts the voices of working-class and racialized women front and center.

RM: What exactly is Feminism for the 99% — and why launch such a manifesto now?

NF: The manifesto is a short piece of writing that’s intended to be popular and accessible rather than academic. I’ve written it together with the Italian feminist Cinzia Arruzza, who lives in New York, and Tithi Bhattacharya, an Indian-British woman who teaches in the United States.

This is the first time since I was a ‘68er — an activist in the 1960s and 1970s — that I have written a piece of real agitational political writing. I am, after all, mainly a philosophy professor. But the times now are so severe, the crisis of politics so acute, that I really felt that I had to jump in and try and reach a broader audience. So, the manifesto attempts to articulate a new path for the feminist movement, which has been dominated for the last couple of decades by a liberal-corporate wing of feminism, as personified in the United States by Hillary Clinton.

That was the feminism of the professional-managerial class, of relatively privileged women — middle- or upper-middle-class women who are highly educated and mostly white — who are trying to get ahead in the worlds of business or the military or the media. Their project was to climb the corporate hierarchy, to be treated in the same way as the men of their own class, with the same pay and prestige.

This wasn’t a genuinely egalitarian feminism — it wasn’t a feminism with much to offer for the vast majority of women who are poor and working class, who don’t have those privileges, who are migrants, who are women of color, who are trans or non-cis women. And this feminism of the 1 percent or maybe, at best, the 10 percent, has really tarnished the name of feminism. It has associated our cause with elitism, with individualism, with corporate life. It’s given feminism a bad name, associating us with neoliberalism, with financialization, with globalization, with anti–working-class politics.

The three of us thought this was a good moment to jump in and try and create a short, accessible statement of a vision and of a project of a feminism that takes the situation of poor and working-class women as its starting point, and asks what we really need to do to improve women’s lives. Of course, the three of us aren’t alone, in this — there are other left-wing feminists who’ve been trying to develop an alternative.

This is, indeed, emerging in the huge marches and demonstrations around March 8 [International Women’s Day]: these protests have an anti-systemic character, for they protest austerity and the assault on social production. The movement to meet women’s needs can’t be focused only on women’s issues as traditionally defined, like abortion rights — though those are very important. It also has to think more broadly about the larger crisis of society and arti