Academic Book Review – Feminism For The 99%: A Manifesto

Re-envisioning Feminism

In the book, Feminism For The 99%: A Manifesto, the authors Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser discuss an intersectional, radical, anti-capitalist, decolonial, and anti-imperialist feminism that is inclusive of all, especially marginalised women called ‘Feminism for the 99%’. With organising principles and action strategies that ensure no group is sacrificed over another and that “anti-racists, environmentalists, and labour and migrant right activists” (Arruzza et al. 5) work together, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ protects the powerless and provides hope for effective change. Hence, re-envisioning feminism and the way it has been practised. This is further evident from the theses the authors discussed in the Manifesto, particularly theses 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8. 

Thesis 1 of the Manifesto states, “A new feminist wave is reinventing the strike” (Arruzza et al. 6). This refers to how ‘Feminism for the 99%’ reformed strikes, which were a form of protest only in the context of waged work, into a state of protest that withdraws labour along with housework, smiles, and sex (8). This form of protest is much more accessible to everyone from all sectors and regions. It allows for a global movement that requires little effort but has a significant impact primarily because we live in a capitalist world where labour is key to survival. By including actions related to unpaid emotional labour – housework, smiles, and sex, “the indispensable role played by gendered, unpaid work” (8) in a capitalist society, for which the system benefits but does not pay, is brought to light consequently. This deliberate attack against all types of exploitative labour is significant as it highlights that ‘Feminism for the 99%’ is radical and anti-capitalist. 

Thesis 3 of the Manifesto states, “We need an anti-capitalist feminism – a feminism for the 99%” (13). This statement is linked to how feminism today, rooted in capitalism, sacrifices the well-being of the many for the freedom of the few. For example, there has been an increased push for women to get into powerful positions, obtain a high income and establish wealth to be on the same playing fields as their male counterparts. However, this sort of feminism emphasises the individual. It assumes that a woman in power would be able to change the systemic problems that affect the lives of marginalised women worldwide. Unfortunately, that assumption is untrue as those systemic problems result from ill-capitalism. ‘Feminism for the 99%’ instead aims to work with “every movement that fights for the 99 per cent”, be it for environmental justice, “free high-quality education, generous public services, low-cost housing, labour rights, free universal health care”, anti-racism or world peace (15) to dismantle capitalism and thus tackle social justice issues from their root. Hence, once against presenting how ‘Feminism for the 99%’ is anti-capitalist. 

Thesis 4 of the Manifesto states, “What we are living through is a crisis of society as a whole – and its root cause is capitalism” (16). This means capitalism destroys anything it uses, such as nature, public goods, and human beings. As such, the political, economic, ecological, and social justice issues the world is facing are caused by capitalism. One example is the refugee crisis – marginalised folks are displaced daily due to war, violent conflicts, and environmental disasters. These circumstances that result in the displacement of marginalised folks are rooted in ill-capitalism, such as how companies pollute the air and water sources at the expense of people for profit, and similarly, how countries export arms to volatile regions for the sack of profit. Canada is one country that profits from the violent conflicts that cause displacement. Yet, Canada believes itself to be a country that practices “humanitarian exceptionalism” because it presents itself as a haven for displaced people and is more benevolent than the United States regarding accepting refugees. However, Canada predominately takes exceptional refugees, such as community organisers and activists. Furthermore, it employs immigration laws that discriminate against refugees based on race, sexuality, and ability (Phu et al. 29). Unfortunately, Canada’s performative action is also rooted in ill-capitalism, as the nation is driven by its desire to push an international and local political narrative of an “international leader in human rights and democratic freedom” (29) at the expense of vulnerable human beings. Hence, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ argues that by eliminating capitalism based on exploiting others, we can efficiently work on putting an end to the problems facing our Earth.

Thesis 6 of the manifesto states, “Gender violence takes many forms, all of them entangle with capitalist social relations. We vow to fight them all.” (Arruzza et al. 25). Capitalist social relations refer to the social links that occur under capitalism, between an employee and an employer or between intimate partners. In addition, due to the different aspects of private and work life, women are subjected to violations both at the hands of family and personal intimates and at the hands of “capital’s enforcers and enablers” (28). One example of a capitalist social relationship where gender violence is present and common is between women migrant workers and their employers. Although borders are not fixed and thoroughly ideological, they produce “hard workers” (Anderson et al. 7). This is because immigrants must work hard to keep their status in the country, which their employers have over them as citizens. The power that citizens have over migrants puts these female migrant workers in vulnerable and dangerous situations, such as when their bosses or managers in factories, for example, “use serial rape, verbal abuse, and humiliating body searches to increase productively and discourage labour organising” (Arruzza et al. 32) because they endure the mistreatment for fear of being deported. Borders, and consequentially, nationalised identities, which are colonial as most settlers do not have rights to the land they claim, are “a key strategy in dividing and subordinating labour” (Anderson et al. 13). Thus, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ which aims to fight all forms of gender violence, such as those that occur due to the construction of borders, is anti-colonial. 

Thesis 8 of the manifesto states, “Capitalism was born from racist and colonial violence. Feminism for the 99 per cent is anti-racist and anti-imperialist” (Arruzza et al. 40). This means that the foundation of capitalism is racism and colonialism. Thus any feminism that does not actively dismantles capitalism would be enabling racism and colonialism. Unfortunately, this failure was present in the first, second, and third wave feminisms. First-wave feminism was liberal feminism and focused on getting women the vote. However, Black women and their needs were excluded in the process. White chosen stead choose to dissociate themselves from white men and argued that racism was “endemic to white male patriarchy” and that they could not be “held responsible for racist oppression” (“Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability”). Consequentially, this ignorance from white women during the first wave of feminism birthed Black Feminism, a philosophy that “motivated black feminists to work against their multilayered oppression” and to challenge “white feminists to acknowledge their exclusion of women of colour and working-class women in the feminist movement” (“The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)”). This effort to include racialised and working-class women is also present in ‘Feminism for the 99%’. On the other hand, second-wave feminism, which was radical and concerned about racism, failed to include transgender and non-binary people in the conversation. Lastly, third-wave feminism, which is post-modern feminism, was focused on social media, digital space, and the representation of women. Although it began being more inclusive, it supported ill-capitalism by encouraging women to obtain high positions,

Overall, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ attempts to re-envision feminism. It is intersectional, radical, anti-capitalist, decolonial, anti-imperialist, and inclusive, especially for marginalised women. It challenges all that we have been accustomed to when we discuss and engage with feminism by enforcing organising principles and action strategies that emphasise no group is sacrificed over another, that all activist and community organisers need to work together, and that capitalism has to be dismantled for long-standing effective change to happen. While this is one way to re-envision feminism and its movements, as a manifesto, it oversimplifies the severe hostility against feminists and feminism, especially today.

Work Cited

Arruzza, Cinzia, et al. Feminism for The 99%: A Manifesto. Verso, 2019. 

Anderson, Bridget, et al. “Editorial: Why No Borders?” Refuge, vol. 26, no. 2, 1 Jan. 2009, pp. 5–18., doi: https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.32074. 

“Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability.” Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, by Bell Hooks, Routledge, 2015, pp. 119–158. 

Phu, Thy, Vinh Nguyen, et al. “STATES OF REFUGE: KEYWORDS FOR CRITICAL REFUGEE STUDIES.” Sept. 2019. “The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977).” Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s), by Joy S. Ritchie and Kate Ronald, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, pp. 291–300.

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