Creating a feminism for the 99 percent

-Every visit has been different, but very enjoyable and stimulating. I learned a lot about a different kind of academic and institutional culture, says Nancy Fraser on her last visit as a Professor II at the Centre for Gender Research

Picture of Nancy Fraser

Photo: Nancy Fraser is Professor of Political & Social Science at the New School for Social Research

Nancy Fraser is a prominent American philosopher, professor and feminist well-known for her critique of capitalism and contribution to feminist theory. From 2014 to 2017 she was a professor II at the Centre for Gender. In May she paid her final visit to the Centre.

– One of the highpoints during my stays was the seminar I had with the PhD students. There was a huge spectrum of topics and great discussions. I also have a lot of fond memories from the social events with the Centre, says Fraser.

Community and freedom

Fraser´s impression of Gender Research in Norway is that the field is characterized with a strong community and a lot of academic freedom to do different kinds of research instead of just one orthodoxy. 

Also, the Nordic model is extremely interesting to me. For a long time, I thought of it as a huge advance over where we are in the USA and as a model to emulate, but after being here I learned that it´s a bit more complicated. Today it seems to be partially dismantled. It hasn´t been politically sustained and developed the way I had hoped, says Fraser.

Pressing questions of our time

Fraser explains how the ecological problem has become more important to her over the last years. She calls for more gender critical perspectives both on the ecological crisis and on right-wing populism.

– There is a question on how we can develop a feminist perspective on ecological questions that would not fall into that romantic essentialism, says Fraser.

The other pressing question right now is how to develop a feminist perspective on the right-wing and reactionary populism. The standard opposition, rejection, resistance perspective is not sufficient. Feminists need to address, not just the right-wing populist movement in itself, but the conditions which gave rise to it, Fraser continues.

Conditions for right-wing populism

In Fraser´s opinion progressive neoliberalism created the conditions for right-wing populism. She describes the shift from the state managed and social form of capitalism to a neoliberal financial global form of capitalism, which has brought immense changes in the class structure of society and in the gender order.

In the US, we have had an assault on unions, a big push to lower wages, push to cut back on social spending and public provision. This means that more of the burden of sustaining community and family life falls on women who are forced to work longer hours, take several jobs with low wages, often insecure jobs where they don’t have retirement benefits or health insurance, says Fraser when explaining how progressive neoliberalism has effected American’s everyday life.

fagbevegelsen protesterer i USA
Photo: Workers demonstrating in the USA, Fibonacci Blue, Minnesota rally in solidarity with Wisconsin union protesters, CC BY 2.0

Leaving women in the basement

Fraser also criticises the dominant current of feminism in the US, which she describes as a liberal individualized meritocratic feminism which has been allied with the neoliberal political economy.

According to Fraser all social movements tend to absorb the influences and some of the characteristics of the time. This has also happened to the hegemonic feminism in the US – it has become more like an interest group within politics as usual. 

Liberal feminism is a feminism for a small elite of women focusing on getting women of the upper classes into the same positions as men of the upper class. But if you focus primarily on cracking the glass ceiling you will leave most women in the basement, says Fraser.

Fraser underlines that there have always been other feminisms in the US, but left-wing feminism has become marginalized as the American individualism has reinserted itself during the last decades.

New opportunities for feminism

Fraser believes that progressive neoliberal hegemony is shaken now and hopes this will bring new opportunities to other feminisms in the US.

To me it’s a question mark today, and I think it´s too soon to know: are we are the brink of seeing a new wave of feminism? Is it likely that the current situation will generate a mass public presence of feminism in the sense that the first and second wave of feminism did? Fraser replies when asked if we are facing a new feminist wave.

Fraser sees the Women’s March, after Trump`s inauguration, as a straw in the wind, and an indication on that something could be happening.

– I also see that young people are more open to radical thinking than people in my generation. Just look at the support for Occupy Wall Street and the support for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Many young people are living in debt and don’t see a future in the US, says Fraser.

fra samtale på litteraturhuset
Photo: Conversation with Nancy Fraser and Hannah Helseth about "Feminism after Hillary" at Litteraturhuset May 31.

Feminism for the 99 percent

So, if there is a new wave of feminism, let’s try to create a left wing of it and define what left feminism should be, says Fraser.

Fraser is personally involved, with other activists and feminist colleges, trying to develop the idea of a feminism for the 99 percent. She explains that there is a lot of gender awareness among those engaged in community activism and attempts to organize labour unions, in which women take the lead.

– We want to develop the idea of a feminism for the 99 percent in order to give a name to, and increase the visibility of, all these left-wing initiatives that already exist. Some of the organizational infrastructure for such a left-wing movement is being created now in the United States, but it hasn’t yet achieved a national profile, says Fraser.

Fraser describes the new feminist wave, for the 99 percent, as a feminism that cares for gender and women but also the well-being of the majority of the population, the families and the children. This is a feminism that breaks away from liberal feminism and sees itself as a part of a broader left.

Emphasis on fundamental structures

I understand this feminism for the 99 percent as the counterpart of left-wing strands of other progressive social movements. We need, for example, an anti-racism for the 99%, LHBTQ for the 99 percent and environmentalism for the 99 percent. Just as the feminism for the 99% aims to supplant “Lean in” feminism, these currents would aim to replace liberal-meritocratic anti-racism and sexuality struggles, as well as “green capitalism.” And all of these left-wing currents must understand themselves as close allies, who share common aims and common visions, even as their emphases may sometimes differ, says Fraser.

Fraser explains that a feminism for the 99% must take the issues liberal feminists are interested but expand them in a way that addresses the situation for women of colour, LHBTQ women, immigrant women, and working-class women. This means putting more emphasis on the social and material conditions for exercising rights.

We need to put more emphasis on the fundamental structures of society that generate racism, sexism and class inequality. These injustices can’t be corrected simply by giving people legal rights on paper. It requires some much deeper structural changes, adds Fraser.

How can gender research and the development of gender theory contribute?

-We need to understand how this society works, including how it organizes the relationship between production and reproduction. We also need to develop a feminist critique of it, and define what kind of feminism we want, Fraser concludes.


By Malin Lenita Vik
Published June 22, 2017 10:48 AM - Last modified June 23, 2017 12:59 PM