Feminism in the US and the Biden Era

5 January, 2021

Women’s March, Washington DC, Oct. 17, 2020.

Racialism is not the only identitarian barrage being suffered by workers in the United States. In fact, the Democratic Party’s campaign adopted feminism before it. And today both movements compete for their consecration as state ideology under the imminent Biden presidency, presenting themselves sometimes as complementary to each other and sometimes as being alternative to each other, leaving in their wake a national press full of headlines typical of university students’ newsletters such as White supremacy is a guy thing.

However this is more serious than it may seem. feminism has regained political ground, arguing that during the pandemic, female-owned businesses, being concentrated in the service industry as well as black-owned businesses, have been more affected than those owned by white men. They also talk about how the pandemic led businesses to reduce risk by hiring more experienced CEOs… which has reduced the hiring of female managers.

The result: after the passing of the second stimulus bill, workers ended up receiving half of what we received last time, but businesses owned by racial minorities and women have received special consideration. Feminists now denounce the injustice of prioritizing the 20 million sick and 350,000 dead by Covid over the so-called rape epidemic on college campuses, recalling Biden’s promise to end rape culture. Is it just a marketing-like, misplaced struggle to assert its agenda in the midst of the fear, anguish, and misery that goes along with the Covid massacre?

At first sight, given its arguments about the inequality of business and management positions, it seems obvious that feminism is just another identitarianism: it tries to make fundamental equality, which is a progressive general social aspiration, equivalent to the achievement of particular privileges for a sector of the petty bourgeoisie in business and in large companies. The difference would only be the social subject: racialism is directed at groups defined by race, feminism – depending on the case – is directed towards groups defined by sex or gender.

But why is American feminism so impudent in its classism? Why is it so obsessed with turning all relationships into commodity exchanges? Why do all its arguments now talk about small businesses, boards of directors and universities? We cannot answer these questions without examining the history of the American feminist movement after World War II, when it did not yet supply scripts and ideological guidelines to feminists in the rest of the world.

The feminist second wave

WW2 propaganda, today feminist symbol

Feminism writes its own history as a succession of waves. The first wave would be the suffragist movement, an era marked by the demand for the extension of suffrage to women property owners –excluding female workers from suffrage– and the battles against the left of the Second International. Battles that we remember today because of the replies of Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Sylvia Pankhurst or Alexandra Kollontai, despite the counterfeit citations which are already a routine move of feminism. If the first wave ends in Europe with the First World War, in the United States it ended with the Second. To this day, American feminism, lagging behind the rest of the world, continues to turn female recruitment posters for both world wars into its banner, presented then and now by feminist mythology as a liberating moment for women.

This warmongering impulse, this direct relationship with imperialism and the ideology of war did not disappear nor did it fade in the following decades. The first feminist organization of the second wave, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was born from the impulse of a presidential commission created by President Kennedy aimed at incorporating women into the Cold War. The Kennedy Presidential Commission sought to harmonize the demands of two types of organizations:

  1. Those who defended labor regulations such as certain limitations on the types of employment that women could hold or restrictions on the maximum number of hours of work, on the weight of objects carried by women on them, etc. The most representative group of this trend was the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee, an amalgamation of several labor organizations and women’s groups dedicated to electoral activism that encouraged women’s voting and supported candidates who took their demands on board.
  2. Organizations such as the National Woman’s Party (NWP) that fought for an equal rights amendment to eliminate these same protections. The NWP was a splinter of the American branch of British Suffragism, and its founding members had worked with the suffragettes of the British WSPU (the Pankhurst group).

Finally, the commission decided to expand the protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to protect women from sex discrimination instead of an amendment that was very controversial even for many feminists and especially for the unions, which were also Democrat allies. The ban on sex discrimination was less problematic because it left the courts – and with little choice – to judge when there was discrimination in the workplace based on prejudice and when it was based on objective grounds such as lack of physical strength. The formula’s success in building consensus within the state led to its addition to the employment section of the Civil Rights Act.

But many of the feminists who had worked on the commission were dissatisfied. They came from groups that wanted to abolish labor restrictions protecting women. So in 1966 they formed NOW. Their model was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the organization that began to articulate the petty black bourgeoisie throughout the United States. Only a year later they took up the banner of the Equal Rights Amendment and the right to abortion.

NOW was openly seeking an equalization of the conditions of exploitation – which was detrimental to women – and at the same time greater access for women of the petty bourgeoisie to the most lucrative professions. Their demand for the right to abortion cannot be separated from these goals: the ban on abortion was seen by NOW as a barrier to social mobility, that is, to access to managerial positions. And although many of the feminist groups that emerged in the 1970s called themselves socialists, they shared that perspective as a fundamental affinity.

In the end, the feminists who supported the Equal Rights Amendment were trained in the NWP, so it is entirely logical that the so-called radical feminists and socialists of the second wave, such as Shulamith Firestone, claimed to be the continuity of the WSPU and suffragism … with all the classism and anti-worker warmongering that this implied. The immediate question is why they could afford the honesty to acknowledge it. The answer: because historical internationalist movements remained far away in the United States, attempts to create a class party were unable to maintain their most basic internationalist positions during World War II, and because the organizations that sought to defend the interests of working women in the debate of the 1960s and 1970s were linked to the same trade unions… which had been the spearhead of the framing and discipline of war. The great discovery of the Kennedy era for the petty bourgeoisie was the political non-appearance of workers as a class and therefore the possibility of rewriting history and creating political narratives and state ideologies tailored to the petty bourgeoisie’s own interests, as if workers simply did not exist. Second wave feminism, like black racialism, will first and foremost, aggressively invisibilize the class, denying workers and their existence as a class.

The sexual revolution of the 60

Second-wave feminism cannot be separated from the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s, which marked a significant change for petty bourgeois families. For the petty bourgeoisie in particular, the nuclear family served to increase wealth and protect it against proletarianization. The personality of the individual petty bourgeois was linked to his family and to the membership of the family as a whole in certain social circles proper to his class. That is why, before the second wave, birth control was acceptable to feminists, but abortion was not.

Campaign according to which access to work, university or books by women is to be credited to the feminist movement… a movement which was marginal when such things happened. We could as well thank them for the 8-hour day and for the fact that the weather is warm in summer.

But those in NOW were no longer the feminists of the first wave who spoke of voluntary motherhood but opposed abortion because of its ability to unbind men from their duties of marriage and family. NOW represented a sector of the female petty bourgeoisie that was not satisfied with the limits that the nuclear family model imposed on their individual social advancement.

That is why the stories of the second wave always start from the figure of the petty-bourgeois housewife… as if women had not joined the workforce until the appearance of a supposedly heroic feminist movement. On this denial of the female proletariat, they could claim that all women needed the feminist movement in order to emancipate themselves and still pretend today that the incorporation of women into the work force is a result of feminism.

But what the NOW militants understood by work was limited to the positions of command to which they aspired, not to the salaried work of the factory workers, the cleaners, the day laborers, the teachers or the waitresses… but rather that of the men of their class: judges, liberal professionals at that time not yet proletarianized as doctors, scientists and lawyers, religious leaders, business managers, politicians or union bureaucrats.

In all professions considered important to society, and in the executive ranks of industry and government, women are losing ground. Moreover, there is only a symbolic handful wherever they are present. Women make up less than 1% of federal judges, less than 4% of lawyers, and 7% of doctors. Yet women make up 51% of the U.S. population. […] We organize in order to initiate or support action, nationally or in any part of this nation, by individuals or organizations, to break the silk screen of prejudice and discrimination against women in government, industry, the professions, churches, political parties, the judiciary, labor unions, education, science, medicine, law, religion, and all other fields of importance in American society.

NOW, Statement of Purpose

The New Left and the The personal is political slogan

All this ended up promoting a massive shift in the culture and vital expectations of the petty bourgeoisie and in its social environment, exacerbating with a renewed strength the individualism that was already present in the dominant ideology.

In 1969 the slogan the personal is political appeared for the first time among groups of radical feminists linked to the university. They came from the New Left of the 60’s. In that environment, university women, overwhelmingly daughters of the petty bourgeoisie and the ruling class, denounce that they find it difficult to fit in and move up. As in so many things, the university left is a simulacrum of the tasks that the new petty bourgeois generation is doing in the managerial and political apparatus. They begin to organize awareness-raising groups. Young women spoke of their personal lives and frustrations. As a result, they report being oppressed by men, who interrupt them when they speak at meetings, and do not let them lead activist organizations. The political conclusions: Legal equality is not enough; the macho culture must be fought against.

Consequence: the behaviors that men kept in their private lives – the personal– came to be considered a legitimate political argument to remove or deprive competing men from leadership positions. As in the Puritan revolution, denouncing the private morality of men became fair play in the struggle to assert the new social consensus representing the new interests of the petty bourgeoisie. The result strengthened the belonging and importance of women in the spheres of power in which they tried to enter with an unquestionable weapon: every accusation had to be believed, otherwise one would be under suspicion of complicity with the accused, a typical mechanism of totalitarian repression. The new rules of the game, in principle applicable within the petty bourgeoisie, also allowed feminists to play the role of defenders of women in companies, thus gaining an easily bureaucratized and stable role that could later be generalized through curricula and gender equality plans, corporate culture projects and specialized positions.

From now on, everything would be subject to feminist criticism: film, psychology, literature… but above all the sexual life of individuals. While the family, and therefore the private sphere, had been sacred to the feminists of the first wave, the feminists of the second wave prioritized the needs of the individual.

Rape culture

Feminist theorization of rape culture began shortly after Roe v. Wade (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the right to abortion.

In 1974, the New York Radical Feminists (NYRF) published a book called Rape: The first sourcebook for women. It was a compilation of personal stories of rape and conversations about it. The stories ranged from very violent rapes committed at gunpoint to stories of women who consented to have sex with their boyfriends without really wanting it. One testimony in the book tells how she never refused her boyfriends’ requests for sex and claims that it should be considered rape because she intimately never wanted to have sex with them. One of the political conclusions that the book draws from the testimonies it collects is that:

[Man] has made [the woman] helpless and dependent, forcing her to work when she needed her job, isolating her, mistreating her (physically or psychologically), and as final proof of his power and her degradation as a possession, a thing, a piece of flesh, he has raped her. The act of rape is the logical expression of the essential relationship that currently exists between men and women. It is an issue that must be addressed in feminist terms for women’s liberation.

Rape: the first sourcebook for women. New York Radical Feminists, 1974

Feminists, by redefining rape in this way and presenting it as a widespread social problem that needs to be solved by feminists, were creating another tool of power under the banner of their struggle to abolish the so-called sexist culture.

These same radical feminists, who also called themselves socialists, claimed that women constituted a class in itself and therefore needed feminism. The feminist theory of patriarchy is being born. In response to Rosa Luxemburg who characterizes bourgeois women as parasites of parasites, Catharine Mackinnon, one of the famous radical feminists, argues that:

Women as women, over and above class differences and apart from nature, were simply unthinkable for Luxemburg, as for most Marxists […] Luxemburg sees that the bourgeois woman of her time is a parasite of a parasite, but she does not consider what she has in common with the proletarian woman who is the slave of a slave.

Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory, Catharine Mackinnon

For them, men are an exploitative class while women are an exploited class. Women are exploited by men in an economic, psychological, sexual, and political way, and so on. The idea led many feminists to advocate political lesbianism, that is, avoiding sexual intercourse or even basic social interaction with men for political reasons.

Prostitution and pornography

Since the birth of NOW, a growing faction emerged in favor of decriminalizing rather than abolishing prostitution. The individualistic program of the petty bourgeoisie was discovering that its moral basis was commodification up to the last consequences. At the same time, a series of administrative changes, also a product of the so-called sexual revolution, led to the Golden Age of porn and the extension of home video during the 80s multiplied it until it became an industry. The debates in university feminist circles end up in the so-called Feminist sex wars, completely unknown to the vast majority of their contemporaries but important insofar as they shaped the arguments of the so-called third wave of feminism.

The two opposing poles of the debate, anticipate those that now, where as in Spain feminism becomes a state ideology, end up in a byzantine and violent confrontation between feminist tendencies. For those who advocated censorship and the abolition of pornography, the argument was twofold: Pornography contributes to a sexist culture and to rape; and prostitution is the main cause of women’s second-class status. Its opponents sought to redefine prostitution as sex work and therefore into a perfectly fine and moral exchange of equivalents extending the religion of the commodity to sexual relationships.

Although feminists fighting against prostitution were right to condemn it, they were unable to eradicate it or even imagine how to do it effectively. They could not denounce the supposed exchange of equivalents as the specifically capitalist way of organizing the exploitation of labor. They were petty-bourgeois women, and their whole supposedly socialist approach was based on the denial of the very idea of a working class and therefore could not even think of the basis for overcoming a mercantile society. Its entire perspective was based on presenting all men of all classes as oppressors of women. They were the feminists who came from the socialism of the New Left, from student groups like Students for a Democratic Society/SDS. That is, the socialists who defended black nationalism and stalinism. According to one of its theorists, Andrea Dworkin, for example, men of all classes see women as sexual objects and, therefore, sexual harassment is widespread in almost all work environments. Just as men have a material interest in oppressing and raping women, they also would have an interest in protecting the porn industry and prostitution in general.

So what could they do? Some responded by taking a term from the worst of Chinese stalinism, the cultural revolution, which described it as a purification of socialist circles. Others sought legal changes… from the very state that exists to secure the exploitative relationships that produce prostitution and pornography. The results of the anti-pornography feminists were temporary ordinances in two U.S. cities and a Canadian law that ended up censoring not only pornography itself, but also obscene literature. Canadian customs officials ended up confiscating even the books of Andrea Dworkin, the leader of the radical feminist anti-pornography campaign. To top it off, the radical feminists ended up working on this campaign with the leaders of the same Christian right wing which had made the abortion ban the centerpiece of its conservative moral majority program. And as time passed, anti-prostitution feminists became more delusional and their theories and groups more sectarian. Dworkin concluded that even consensual sex with penetration was oppressive to women.

Being as impotent as the class from which they were born to gain a perspective of real social transformation, the only alternatives they repeatedly arrived at were puritanism -with its inevitable consequence of sexual repression and totalitarian moral control – or the extreme commodification of people and their relationships. Often both at the same time.

Rape culture and the third wave of feminism

The current denunciation of an alleged and ubiquitous culture of rape, particularly on university campuses, was established in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of the largest, most widespread, and most cited studies of sexual assault on university campuses is that conducted by Mary Koss. This study was requested by the Campus Project of the Ms journal, a feminist journal created during the second wave by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.

Koss stated that her findings showed that 27% of college women had been victims of rape or attempted rape on average twice between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one, and that in the previous academic year alone 16.6% of college women were victims of rape or attempted rape, and more than half of these victims were assaulted twice. […] A close examination of the Ms study reveals several problems: Nearly three-quarters of the students Koss defined as rape victims did not think they had been raped; 42 percent of these women had sex again with the men Koss says raped them. In addition, the study asked questions such as: Did a man ever attempt to have sex with you when you did not want to, by giving you alcohol or drugs, but intercourse did not take place?

Fraud and Fallible Judgement, Nathaniel J. Pallone y James J. Hennessy

This study is the basis for the continuously quoted statistic that 1 out of 4 women is sexually assaulted on university campuses. This study was extremely important for feminists because it was a way to legitimize the panic they had been trying to create since the 1970s. Female fear was instrumental not only to the expansion of their discourse but to the establishment of a counter-power that would allow feminist student leaders to establish a principle of guilt beyond innocence that would pave the way for them to earn their place in the university. A kind of blood cleansing gained only through identity as woman and feminist.

Recently several male Vassar students were falsely accused of date rape. After their innocence was established, the students’ assistant dean, Catherine Comins, said of their experience: “They have suffered a lot, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. [They may ask themselves] How do I see women? If I had raped her, could I have done it? Do I have the potential to do what I am told I did? These are good questions”.

Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women, Christina Hoff Sommers

Thus, during the years of the second wave, feminists moved up the academic hierarchy using their own political arguments -and building them- to gain spaces of power in the quintessential state ideology-making machinery. As a result, they not only succeeded in imposing feminist narratives, including the idea of a rape culture, on university campuses and winning places among the faculty, but also in reproducing and increasing their social base by professionalizing it through degrees, masters and doctorates.

Meanwhile, the so-called third wave of feminism was on the rise. They did not deviate from the central principles of the second wave: men would be privileged with an interest in oppressing women; and of course the personal is political . Only this time, the criteria were much lower. Whatever a woman chooses is empowering and even culturally subversive. Opposing the anti-prostitution position of radical feminists, their only condition for determining whether something was feminist or not was whether a woman gave her consent or whether she considered it empowering. And for something to be empowering, all it needed was to generate an income necessary for survival. Pure bourgeois morality that begins by denying the social conditions that make the most destructive forms of exploitation possible.

In the end what were they selling: fear of men in general, social segregation and commodification of human relations. It is not surprising that this feminism has become hegemonic… it had a much greater capacity to capture interest groups ranging from the racialists and their intersectionality to pimps and other beneficiaries of prostitution, all united by the most basic level of bourgeois ideology: the religion of the commodity.

The rape epidemic on campuses and Joe Biden’s tolls

In 2011, during the Obama presidency, the administration launched a campaign against unwanted behavior of a sexual nature on university campuses. A title that would open the field to a wide and ambiguous world of behavior that far surpasses sexual violence of any kind. The campaign began with a letter, titled Dear Fellow that established an end to the need for clear evidence, denied even in some cases the right of the accused to know who was accusing them, and established a new category of counselors – Harvard has 55, Princeton 41of them – dedicated to promoting complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior. These new regulations have been in effect until this year, when the Trump government withdrew them by restricting the scope to the Supreme Court’s definition of harassment and reintroducing the presumption of innocence, legal aid, and the right of the accused to be provided with evidence collected against him.

Biden, who was co-responsible for that system with Obama, promised in his campaign to reinstate the now repealed rules. What is telling is that his policy against sexual assault is limited to university campuses without apparently causing alarm over the defenselessness of irregular day laborers or slaughterhouse workers. Biden, like feminists when they talk about the rape epidemic, is singling out expensive, private universities… to reintroduce a judicial code that is practically terrorist because of its lack of even formal guarantees. Why?

The answer is sadly simple. The regulations made possible by the discourse on the rape culture place male rivals under permanent threat, thus generally allowing to settle scores fairly easily with almost any rival. The Democratic elite media themselves are aware that an accusation of sexual assault, no matter how ridiculous, is enough to wipe out a competitor. And that’s what it’s all about. As with second-wave feminists, the goal of third-wave feminists is to move up the social ladder by making the lives of their male competitors more precarious.

The coming feminism

As we said above, the class nature of feminism becomes evident. In the end, like all identitarianisms, its battle is a fight within the state and businesses to obtain advantages and privileges for a part of the petty bourgeoisie in the name of really existing social problems that it neither can, nor knows, nor wants to solve because to confront them it is necessary to confront the capitalist social relations as a whole.

But this does not mean that feminism is something innocuous that will not affect workers. On the contrary, it will be used against us again and again. We have already seen this with the back-to-school operation which caused the current pandemic peak: teachers – many of them women – were asked to return to work in solidarity with women because school closures increased gender inequalities.This will not be the last helping hand feminists give to the most genocidal demands of the system. It was after all the ideology championing recruitment during two world wars. Among other things, because under state capitalism, the more workers you control, the more you are worth, and the petty bourgeoisies of the whole world, suffocated by the crisis, are not going to stop using any excuse to gain a privileged place within the state apparatus.