I like everything almost about this article by Eva Cox in The Saturday Paper, “Has feminism lost its way?”… except the title. Not just feminism, all social progress movements have been diluted, discredited or distracted by neoliberalism to some degree over the course of the last two decades. Yes, feminism needs to reorientate itself but let’s not let the discussion of individualism become one of feminism bashing pleeeease.
The shift to market models meant many women’s groups focused on raising the status of women via access to power in current macho terms. More women in male-defined areas of power – in politics or on boards – was erroneously claimed to be the route to feminist change. But we failed to see they were promoted because they posed no threat to the system that allowed them into the tent to share some of the power that men controlled. There are active women’s groups with current demands for remedies to violence and exclusion, access to childcare, improvements to bad media images and solutions to female poverty and lack of representation. But these are not radical demands and are defined as “women’s issues”, not general problems for society. The overall agenda creates protests but does not analyse why we make no progress in these areas or offer alternatives.
At the same time, there are signs of political discontent and distrust that signal a need for a rebalancing of the policy agendas to restore the focus on the contributions that make up our connected, collective lives outside the workplace and economy. New policy options need to be designed to target good social outcomes, which overlap with feminist interest areas. We need to increase trust, social capital, good feelings, care, generosity and other parts of the social glue that are a mostly feminised area. These are areas that cannot be commodified and therefore are not counted in gross domestic product.