In spring 2018 , Facebook billionaire Sheryl Sandberg was counselling women that toughness and success in the business world was the royal road to gender equality.footnote1 If only ‘half of all countries and companies were run by women, and half of all homes were run by men’, the world would be a better place and we shouldn’t be satisfied until we reach that goal. A leading exponent of corporate feminism, Sandberg had made her name by urging women managers to ‘lean in’ at the company boardroom, at the summit of a career that had led from Harvard via the Treasury Secretary’s office to data-harvesting and ad-targeting at Google and Facebook, with the help of mentor Lawrence Summers, chief deregulator of Wall Street.
That same spring, on 8 March 2018, a countrywide feminist strike brought Spain to a halt. Joined by five million marchers, the organizers of la huelga feminista called for ‘a society free of sexist oppression, exploitation and violence’—‘for rebellion and struggle against the alliance of the patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be obedient, submissive and quiet.’ As the sun set over Madrid and Barcelona and crowds of cheering women filled the streets, feminist strikers announced: ‘On March 8 we cross our arms and interrupt all productive and reproductive activity.’ They refused to accept worse working conditions than men or less pay for the same work.
These two calls represent opposing paths for the feminist movement. Sandberg and her ilk see feminism as a handmaiden of capitalism. They want a world in which the benefits of exploitation in the workplace and oppression in the social order are equally shared between ruling-class men and women—a form of ‘equal-opportunity domination’. In sharp contrast, the organizers of the feminist strike are calling for an end to capitalist—and patriarchal—domination.
Faced with these two visions of feminism, we find ourselves at a fork in the road. One path leads to a scorched planet where human life is immiserated, if it remains possible at all. The other points to the sort of world that has always figured in humanity’s dreams: one whose wealth and natural resources are shared by all, where equality and freedom are premises, not aspirations. What makes the choice so pressing is the disappearance of any middle way, due to the predatory form of financialized neoliberal capitalism that has held sway for the last forty years—raising the stakes for every social struggle and turning efforts to win modest reforms into pitched battles for survival. In these conditions feminists, like everyone else, must take a stand. Will we continue to pursue ‘equal-opportunity domination’ while the planet burns? Or will we reimagine gender justice in an anti-capitalist form, which leads beyond the present carnage to a new society?
Our Manifesto is a brief for the second path. What makes an anti-capitalist feminism thinkable today is the political dimension of the present crisis: the erosion of elite credibility throughout the world, affecting not only the centrist neoliberal parties but also their Sandberg-style corporate-feminist allies. This was the feminism that foundered in the us presidential election of 2016, when the ‘historic’ candidacy of Hillary Clinton failed to elicit the enthusiasm of women voters. For good reason: Clinton personified the disconnect between elite women’s ascension to high office and improvements in the lives of the vast majority.