The headline read, “Women lead Biden’s cabinet.” Like many articles in the past few weeks, it spoke to the naming of a “breakthrough” number of women, particularly Black and Latina, to possibly serve in the Biden-Harris administration. The more articles and headlines I read, the more annoyed I became. Almost every article labeled the incorporation of women as a sign of “progress,” adding “more representation is needed.”
I am not against progress or representation. I became annoyed because a very essential question was never raised: In whose interest is progress being made and representation being guaranteed?
In the inherently racist and patriarchal society we live in, communities historically impacted by systems of oppression rightly push for diversification and representation. But within the confines of the capitalist system, does representation means that the “more of us” there are in positions of power, the bigger our chance to “change the system from the inside?” Does “progress” give us hope that we can provide “our children and youth” a vision of what is possible and what they should aim to achieve?
We are bombarded with the images of those who “made it,” we learn about their journeys and “success” stories. We are told, “They are like us.” We often find ourselves rooting for them because they have overcome discrimination, personal struggles and have broken very real barriers. I mean, we are all women living in a white man’s world. We know it is tough out here. We must support each other. Right?
Well, not exactly.
White supremacy and patriarchy translate to racist gender-based violence, and all women are impacted at some point in their lives. But, the experience of ruling-class women is not at all that of working class women. The fundamental difference is that working women live every day focused on surviving a system that profits from exploiting our roles as workers, caregivers and reproducers. Ruling class women, on the other hand, struggle for equality and power with their capitalist counterparts.
We have been told that making this distinction among women is divisive in the process of building a women’s movement. Ruling class narratives that span a spectrum from liberal to conservative will tell us that women’s liberation is contingent on capitalist women renouncing their privilege, “stepping back” and providing space or platforms to working women in “sisterhood.” But, none of these acts change working women’s relationships to production. These acts don’t fundamentally change the economic, political or social landscape. Those changes are made when working class women and oppressed people organize, take action and challenge the status quo itself.
We know that capitalists seek to accumulate wealth through exploitation and oppression regardless of their gender, skin color, race or sexual orientation. Therefore, the interests of the capitalist class, whatever their identity, cannot be reconciled with the interests of the working class. The two are historically and materially in opposition to each other.
The current health crisis has deepened and accelerated the pre-existing economic, social and political crisis on a global scale. It has exposed the contradictions and brutality of the capitalist system, and it has reaffirmed that the capitalist system exploits and oppresses with criminal intent.
Historically, low wages connected to gendered occupations have contributed to the high rates of poverty among women and reflect how the capitalist economy functions against working-class women. Now, work that has been devalued, underfunded and underpaid for decades, most of which has been assigned to women, is considered “essential.” Working women are the majority on the frontlines of care systems and essential work. They are the least compensated with the least amount of protections.
Working mothers who already disproportionally assumed caregiving responsibilities now face the reality of a failed and almost nonexistent child care system. Working mothers have, more than any other group, reduced their hours or left work entirely to take care of their children. The widespread shuttering of school buildings and the capitalist government’s neglect of working people’s needs has had its deepest impact on women’s participation in the workforce.
Before COVID, millions of women were supporting themselves and their families on miserable wages. Now, the massive loss of jobs, the lack of affordable and quality childcare, the lack of socio-economic support systems, present a major challenge for women who were already struggling to live.
Working class women have and continue to shoulder the weight of a world in crisis, and are on the frontlines of all struggles. And yet, we are made invisible, because visibility would require the ruling class to deal with the inconvenient truth that the oppression and exploitation of working class women are intentionally entrenched in the operations of the capitalist system.
The problems that working class women face in the labor market and at home are not new, and they are impossible to address unless we address the source that produces such inequality and violence – capitalism.
Rather than dealing with the illness at its root and endangering their positions, the ruling class offers us “visibility “and “representation.” Biden’s cabinet picks include women who have a long history of participating in the system, and whose class agendas are fundamentally in opposition to ours.
If we study the political careers of Kamala Harris and Avril Haines we find that these women have consistently made decisions that harm workers, particularly nationally oppressed workers, in the United States and across the globe.
Kamala Harris has built a political career at the expense of Black, Latino and poor communities. Harris is committed to the death penalty which has executed hundreds of innocent people, and has a record of “being tough on crime.” Tough on crime in the context of the capitalist political system is code for repressing oppressed communities, contributing to the mass incarceration of primarily young working-class Black men.
Avril Haines, the National Intelligence Director, was part of the Democrats’ imperialist warmongering agenda in the Obama administration. She is directly responsible for covering up torture when she served as deputy director at the CIA.
What have these women continuously supported? The imperialist wars and occupation of the Middle East by U.S. military forces and the strengthening of criminal sanctions amid a global health crisis. They, like the Biden administration itself, represent a continuation of previous Democrat administrations that carried out war and sanctions across the globe and repression and budget cuts here at home.
These women and others in powerful positions within the capitalist system have undeniably contributed to the oppression of working class women across the world. Are they our sisters? I don’t think so!
There is no arguing that these women deserve a seat at the capitalist table, and that they face obstacles in obtaining that seat. They have proven that they can, indeed, do the job same as the men who preceded them. The problem is that job is to maintain and sustain a system that breeds and profits from racism, sexism, bigotry and exploitation. And, I would argue they constitute an insidious danger to the movement for women’s liberation. Because they reflect the diversity of the country’s demographics, they are literally the sheep’s clothing masking a very dangerous wolf. Again, our emotions and identities are weaponized!
The working class and our social movements must take this moment to rethink the many ways in which the ruling class is representing itself, and why. What are their economic, political, and ideological instruments in the class struggle? How do these instruments manufacture the consent necessary to advance the ruling class agenda?
It is equally important that we revisit the question of women’s liberation from a class perspective. The roots of women’s oppression are intertwined with the origin of class society itself. The capitalist system was baptized in racist and sexist oppression and in brutal exploitation. Nothing less than a revolution can truly change the deplorable conditions of working-class women, and the working class as a whole.
Women are playing significant and visible roles on both sides of an escalating class war. In this juncture, the words of revolutionary Nadezhda Krupskaya are more relevant than ever:
“The woman worker is a member of the working class and all her interests are closely tied to the interests of that class. When the working class wins a better lot, then the position of the worker woman will change. If it remains in beggarly ignorance and without rights, then the worker woman will continue to drag out the same miserable existence she has today. Therefore, the woman worker cannot be indifferent to whether the working class wins a better fate.”
The path to working class women’s liberation will not be found in the capitalist logic of representation and diversification. It is in the struggle to build the unity of the working class, the process of building a politically independent movement outside of the bourgeoisie two party system, to advance our class interests, and ultimately, gaining social, political and economic power to build socialism.