The purpose of human existence, as set by capitalism, is to maximize profit. In essence, the everyday person is to make money to yield financial gains and ultimately make the rich richer. Using this framework, it is important to understand that what society considers “normal” are tools of oppression. We see how essential items — housing, food, electricity and water — are commodified. There are also other human needs that are exploited. Female identity is a money-making machine. In particular, the construction of women’s gender expression has been manufactured for profit and is upheld by capitalism’s patriarchal logic.
The patriarchy seeks to uphold male supremacy socially and economically, and within the private and public spheres. The patriarchy is a foundational tool of capitalism. Therefore it is essential to analyze how capitalism perceives gender and responds to it to understand it as a tool of exploitation.
One defining reason that the patriarchy is related to capitalism is that the subordination of women benefits the male worker. Under capitalism, a person's worth is attributed to what they can contribute economically to society through labor. Under the patriarchy, a woman’s role is to serve her male counterparts and submit to their desires. The intersection of these two systems means that women have the job of providing free labor for the man — cooking, house care, childcare — while also producing offspring who eventually become part of the workforce, and hence contribute to generating profit. The woman is considered the vessel of “culture,” a word used synonymously with “traditional values.” In this sense, women must be controlled to ensure the comfort and ease of male supremacy.
, European colonization has accelerated this trend as the colonizers violently reacted to countries that differed from the values of European Christian culture. Both state feminists and liberal feminists often ignore the complex intertwined history of capitalism, patriarchy and colonization, and suggest that women can be empowered through economic participation. A common joke from these feminisms is the term “Girl Boss,” which portrays women as liberated as long as they have the same opportunities as men.
But this narrative is misguided. By encouraging participation of women economically, the capitalist system makes workers believe they can obtain power and influence. The everyday woman, with the same opportunities as men, now thinks that she has free will and a choice in society. But giving women the same opportunities as men alone will not allow for liberation. An oppressed group cannot work within the system that is oppressing them and obtain autonomy when this system fundamentally oppresses these groups to ensure its own success. These systems — capitalism and the patriarchy — must be entirely dismantled for any progress to occur, and for women to be truly liberated
By delegating gender roles, capitalism ensures that society is regulated and controlled. This structure creates a strict binary for gender and gender expression, mandating how we are treated. This translates into our internal understanding of how we relate to our body in society. Anyone who refutes the binary will be systematically and systemically violated. Capitalism’s description of gender trickles down to the everyday person, where anyone who is not cisgender and heterosexual is perceived as an alien who needs to be abolished.
The gendered market is one capitalist tool that benefits men and oppresses women. This market creates an impossible standard of female beauty and a threat of violence if it is not achieved. This is where the social discrimination against women meets the economic oppression of women. As a result, women are constantly chasing and changing to fulfill a visual aesthetic that changes frequently to create demand and ultimately profit the rich. These standards are defined by men and tailored to their sexual and aesthetic benefits and desires.
Capitalism is so successful in its exploitation and control of gender that the majority are not aware that their bodies are being used as a political tool to gain capital and increase profits for the one percent. The way this works is through the market “empowerment” tactic where individuals believe that they have autonomy over their bodies and choices. Capitalism presses the narrative that if you work hard, you deserve to buy nice things. Consumerism is a prime example of this veil, encouraging women to dress and consume products that make them feel good about their body. This is pressed by the patriarchy, which demands that women are visually objects to be consumed by men. In this manner, a woman’s worth is associated with how attractive she is, by the standards of men; therefore, her gender expression is constantly scrutinized.
The male gaze influences the way women “choose” to create their appearance. Women are told they can be liberated by expressing themselves through what they adorn their body with. But consumerism thrives as these products become more trendy and more in demand for women to convey their sexuality, personality and gender. The rich get richer and the poor are further exploited as consumerism thrives. The factories in which these lavish and beautiful items are being produced are directly abusing women who are laboring to make these items in what would be “developing nations” from the standard of Western supremacy. The women in these factories work in order to survive, under the threat of violence. The responsibility is shifted from the exploiters to the masses as these women are hurt by imperialism and globalization.
We cannot think about liberating marginalized bodies without dismantling the systems that oppress them. These systems, the patriarchy and capitalism, work hand-in-hand to benefit each other and profit from the women they control. There is no possible way to actively oppose these systems while contributing to them — the body in its participatory form is inherently political.
Ellie Allan is a Gender Columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.