As the planet burns and freezes and earth becomes gradually uninhabitable, a handful of men continue to extract large surpluses from both labour and the natural environment
We live in a world created in man’s image—Cisgender heterosexual man to be exact. Jeff Bezos’ launch into space in a phallic rocket perfectly elucidates this reality and so does his astronomical fortune. Bezos and his rich boys’ club including the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg in fact added billions of dollars to their wealth during the COVID-19 pandemic when poverty was on the rise globally with millions falling into extreme poverty in the same period. Illustrating the dysfunctional nature of this capitalist system we are trapped in. As the planet burns and freezes and earth becomes gradually uninhabitable, a handful of men continue to extract large surpluses from both labour and the natural environment while creating adverse externalities for the rest of us to deal with. These men don’t make any attempts to counter the impact of their wealth generating schemes, they simply take as though the world somehow owed them something and even get celebrated for the taking and amassing of such immoral amounts of money. And when they wish it, they get into rockets and shoot off into space, likely in search of more resources to plunder and exploit- it is now called space tourism.
How did we get here?
Everything we know about the world right now is shrouded in a Eurocentric male gaze. This gaze permeates the entire fabric of our present reality. The knowledge systems we consider valuable and the truth we seek from the world are all influenced by this worldview. Which states that competition and inequality are the natural order and must be accepted. That cooperation and community are unnatural and that the individual and their needs are all that matter. This reality has taken centuries to make. Today, it is accepted as universal. Any alternative we create must begin by dismantling this philosophical hegemony.
To create feminist alternatives, we have to step outside of the western patriarchal capitalist logic, no efforts at inclusion of the marginalized into this system or its alteration can lead to any version of a sustainable future because at its core, this system relies on dispossession and destruction to create wealth for a few men and their side kicks. We must envision a world shaped by a different logic, different laws, and different values in order to answer the questions of production, distribution, and consumption in a way that serves the majority.
A feminist alternative is about production that doesn’t leave the soil barren, the air unbreathable, and the rivers toxic only to produce goods that most cannot afford.
The capitalist mode of production is centred around the profit motive, in which profit is generated by unequal terms of extractive exchange: be it between people or between people and the natural environment. The profit motive dictates that those responsible for the production should be paid the lowest wages necessary to reproduce themselves and sustain production.
A feminist alternative is about production that doesn’t leave the soil barren, the air unbreathable, and the rivers toxic only to produce goods that most cannot afford. It is about building societies in which contribution or failure to contribute doesn’t automatically lead to starvation and death. A sustainable alternative demands collectivism actualized through creating communities of love and care in which all can contribute and thrive according to their abilities. A feminist alternative doesn’t simply strive for equal opportunity to plunder by having more female or queer producers while leaving the exploitative character of the production in place. It interrogates the mode of production and the power relations inherent in them. It seeks to provide humane answers to the questions of what is being produced, how it is being produced, for whom, and by whom. It questions the prevailing value systems and seeks to replace them with people centred alternatives.
Furthermore, the capitalist mode of production relies on unsustainable levels of consumption to maintain profits. While the few with the means to do so consume excessively, many exist on the margins of this consumption. Such consumption also presents adverse externalities on the environment through pollution and environmental degradation. An alternative future cannot depend on this status quo no matter how equal it is across genders and sexualities. Economies that rely on growth to create employment are based on this unsustainable cycle of consumption and production. The entire logic of capitalist economies requires us to destroy the planet in order to eat.
Marx argues that for capitalism to succeed, a redistribution of assets must occur which leaves one group with nothing and another group with the means of production. He maintains that once this redistribution happens, the system doesn’t only launch but perpetuates itself. Thus, the above-mentioned cycles of production and consumption rely heavily on a dispossessed labour force—the proletariat who have now morphed into the precariat— a class attempting to sell its labour in an even more volatile world. Often, separation from the land is at the root of dispossession. And so, any alternative that ignores the importance of land in creating an egalitarian and equitable future is flawed from the get-go. Equitable distribution of land is the only answer to shifting and transforming the current problematic production and consumption cycles. Land makes it possible to be truly sovereign and self-reliant. It allows for the possibility of returning to nature, of reinventing ourselves and thus, of altering the status quo.
Perhaps the future lies in small social groupings rather than the state?
In this system of exploitation, care is the preserve of women. This is not a benign calculation, women in essence subsidise the low wages earned by households and, in this way, lower the cost of production and reproduction. Care has to be acknowledged as the central most important aspect of an alternative future. Those who nurture and create space for thriving and growth sustain life itself. The marginalisation of care comes down to the value system within which capitalism exists, which is currently premised on one’s ability to sell their labour for a wage – making the earning of a wage the most value affirming contribution. How do we measure worth when the capacity to earn a wage is not the scale? How do we measure contribution when raising future generations and caring for the old and young doesn’t feature in GDP calculations? We create new instruments and new scales of measurement. We measure wellbeing, mental health, environmental health, social cohesion, and social wellness.
Egalitarianism requires us all to be accountable to each other and to listen to as many voices as possible. The capitalist mode of production creates artificial class hierarchies due to the intrinsically flawed logic on which it is founded whereby one’s position in society is determined by their ability to consume excessively. In order to actualize a people centred economy, one of the most fundamental questions to answer is that of leadership. What leadership structures will take us into this future? The status quo under which democracy relies on capitalists for funding is not the answer since the political system is captured by the economic elite. One of the biggest challenges we face in creating alternatives is that contemporary societies have become too big and too complex and thus, the centres of power are further away from the ordinary person. Perhaps the future lies in small social groupings rather than the state?
A feminist alternative is not simply about equality. The main goal cannot be to have equal opportunity to destroy, plunder, and extract. It is not about having more women on the Fortune 500 list of corporations or Forbes list of the 100 wealthiest people. It is not about placing more women in unaltered patriarchal power structures and institutions to lobby for equal opportunity to wreck the world. The focus on equality without interrogating what we are equal to is unlikely to alter the world fundamentally or radically.
In the same way, feminism should not solely be about choice, an autonomous individual is able to make decisions for themselves, but the presence of choice is not proof of autonomy. What options exist is a better indicator of true capability. If the choices we make serve to reinforce patriarchal capitalist structures then they are not choices but survival strategies. While one’s ability to survive is legitimate, it should not be construed as the presence of freedom or sovereignty. A feminist alternative creates an environment in which the choices we make truly serve and empower us.
Umoja in Samburu, Northern Kenya is perhaps a glimpse of the future. Created three decades ago by Rebecca Lolosoli – an anti-FGM activist, this community of women is a refuge for those escaping patriarchal violence. The village supports women and girls escaping various socio-cultural-economic difficulties such as poverty, rape, forced marriage, early pregnancy, FGM, and physical violence of which Lolosoli was also a victim due to her activism. The village welcomes all women and their children, not simply those from Samburu. It offers them a chance to start again, regain their dignity and humanity in a world that tends to strip them bare of these. The women depend on tourism and trade in jewellery and honey for income. They share the little they have. They have built a school and through savings and donations, acquired grazing land, a first for women in Samburu as land matters are generally left to the men. Lolosoli’s village is a beacon of hope for the future for various reasons, least of which is the role it plays in shifting minds in the larger community. The village offers women battered by the patriarchy healing and support for them and their children while equipping them with political education and other training. The male children are also taught to respect and value women, they are allowed to stay until adulthood.
Replicas of her village throughout the continent could offer opportunities for creating feminist alternatives. At the very least, it would offer insights into what is possible and how it can be replicated in the mainstream. Perhaps in these separatist communities we can glean new ways of organizing, leading, collaboration, and development. While they also rely on external funding and donations, their model of consumption, production and distribution teaches us something. In Umoja, communalism doesn’t come at the expense of individual freedom but rather enhances it. The women of the village are able to run their businesses, sell their goods, and raise their children, but when it matters, they pool resources for the good of the community.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1975). Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected works. International Publishers. P.706