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Manifest(o)ing Feminism: Occupy Patriarchy!

November 4, 2011

author: Kathy Miriam


The New Now-Moment of Occupy Wall Street

The whole world was erupting as we U.S Americans were watching.  Our noses pressed to the screen-monitors of history we watched as waves of mass rebellion rippled from Greece and Spain to Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria in the Arab Spring where dictatorship after dictatorship was toppled.  And then, who knew? I for one never expected that the waves of protest would find our own shores.  As we watched, only occasionally would a plaintive or angry question pop up: When will we get out on the streets?  Yet when pushed to the brink and over of desperation at the beginnings of the economic onslaught on this country, people were still echoing the noxious nostrums of the new president who preached “no more excuses” and “individual responsibility” to a people suffering the brunt of a crisis put in motion by a financial system that–contrary to the delusions of the left–had put Obama in office.

When the nation began to crash in the first month of the new president’s first term, we did not rush to the streets when Obama appointed for fixing the crisis the same miscreants culpable for creating it. Nor did we riot upon word that while record numbers of people were plunged into joblessness, homelessness, and health crises, corporations were making record rates of profits. Yet Obama called for self-sacrifice and personal responsibility, instructing us that “everyone” had to pitch in in hard times. That we are all one family. Our uncles presumably are not then the thirty major corporations who paid no income tax in the last three years, while making 160 billion dollars?

And there was no revolt among people of color despite the fact that for these communities recession is depression and even “economic holocaust.” Nor did women surge into the streets when sold out by the State’s sudden bequeathing of decision-making power over health-care to Catholic bishops during the non-debates over Obama-care, thus ensuring an outcome that made hash out of reproductive justice for women. The state gambled with women’s bodies and all we got was one lousy rally staged by the same mainstream women’s organizations who had, even prior to taking their phantom seat at the “negotiations,” had abandoned their right to ask for anything more than no-change to the abortion status-quo. Yet the status-quo was already defined by racial injustice to women for example under the Hyde Amendment which denies public funding for abortions.  (See here for my critique of the role of women’s organizations in the health-care debates and the Obama election)

As the new regime commenced year 1, 2 and 3 with its procedural pillaging (making it continuous with predecessor regimes), major left-liberal venues like The Nation were and are still issuing their piteous calls for a real and Liberal Obama to come out of hiding and “do the right thing.”   The sycophantic relation between state and corporate pirates, pimps and priests is reiterated by the established liberal-left in the latter’s long record of genuflection to electoral politics and Democrat Party. In the same vein, as shown by the role of Feminist Majority and Planned Parenthood in the health-care deform, mainstreaming feminism has meant establishing feminism as ancillary to the Party.  Although there are shining exceptions, whatever else remains of the public face of feminism is a brand-feminism of sound-bites and slut-walks; primarily an identity-politics of I am a feminist because I’m empowered by doing anything I choose as long as it’s a choice kind of politics and especially if it’s a choice of my sexual subordination (except I call it empowerment).

Thus in the context of a deracinated, branded Left, Occupy Wall Street has seemed like a miracle. It seemed to have come from nowhere and yet it has come. And it has come as a welcome, indeed essential rupture with the dominant molds of leftist/feminist politics to date.

Taking (to) The Streets

If nothing else Occupy Wall Street has proved that the sanctity of the neoliberal-hyper-individualized-(“no more excuses”)-self-unit is not recession-proof after all. The Occupy movements have sprung free collective outrage from the ideological snare of neo-individualism and its seemingly impenetrable fortress of personal shame and self-blame as a response to economic violence. Through its action, the movement has re-directed resentment outwards from the self to the real cause of wide-shared suffering, namely a System that stops short of nothing in its predatory imperatives to feed on any living substance—from seeds and medicinal herbs to human bodies and whole populations—for its means of extracting surplus-value (profit).  The choke-hold of personal blame and shame—or on the flip-side, the lock-down of positive-think faiths in individual empowerment—gives way as the sense of a human faculty we thought extinct begins to rouse, namely the capacity to act with others for co-determining the conditions of our individual and collective fates.   This capacity to act is the essence of politics itself which means according to philosopher Hannah Arendt, acting in concert with others for goals and objectives, and this essence has been released from hibernation by force of activity itself, the action of the new Occupy movements.

So perhaps the carrying capacity of The Streets has not yet been exhausted? Once teeming with the spirit of rebellion, for decades now (with some exceptions) The Street has been under lock-down, zoned by police-escorted, permit-ted arenas of civilized obedience. Thus public space has been re-privatized, shrink-wrapped to sound-bite-sized feel-good moments of unity whose shelf-life never survives beyond its moment of orchestrated “self-expression.”  “Having a voice” has for so many years become the raison d’etre of protest.  The beauty of Occupy Wall Street is that in its seizure of The Streets, i.e. of material space, it surpasses the merely expressive while retaining symbolic power as “occupation.” But more verb than noun, its dynamism pushes the movement beyond spatial location into a time-zone called the now-moment of history.


Occupy Imperialism, Occupy Patriarchy

Very early on in this very nascent movement, people of color organized themselves to push Occupy Wall Street towards new intellectual syntheses that account for the racial structure of capitalism. These groups with their blogs and working groups continue to remind us that capitalism is based on still-living legacies of racialized conquest, colonization, and slave-systems—or in short empire building.  In contrast to the working-groups and blogs of people of color, no comparable development has emerged from women pushing forward a feminist analysis—thus the reason for this blog. is founded to invite feminists to jump into the political opening created by the Occupy movement and forge new analyses and networks of action that show how capitalism is organized around the exploitation of women. We dare to utter that hoary term, “patriarchy” which might stick in the craw given decades of vilification relegating the term to the historical bumper-sticker crop of slogan-kitsch.  Yet patriarchy is a term emphasizing the systemic and structural nature of women’s oppression and exploitation. Patriarchy is a term which makes sense of the fact that “Capitalism kills women” as I read off the Halloween-painted cheek of one young woman activist. For the concept of patriarchy goes farther than capitalism in explaining why it is that capitalism depends for its sustainability on the extraction of surplus value from women’s unpaid work—women’s unpaid and unvalued work is equal to 50% of the world’s GDP  and yet  women only control 1 per cent of the means of production. (See here for a short-list of statistics). This “women’s work” (i.e. work naturalized/normalized as women’s work) consists in care-taking, emotion-tending, sexual servicing, as well as in reproductive labor. The word “patriarchy” explains that it is women’s position as subordinates of men for example as wives, girlfriends, daughters, prostitutes that allows for capitalism to profit off of the services provided by these subordinates. Patriarchy allows capitalism as well as all social classes of men, albeit differently according to race and economic status, to profit off of the appropriation of women’s bodies, sexuality, and minds/emotions as well as labor.

Consider a few examples of how capitalism is really capitalist patriarchy: Consider that it is due to women’s position as an unpaid tender of children and men that austerity cuts slash most brutally at women, specifically impoverished women of color who are forced to take up the slack of all the care-work no longer provided minimally the State. Consider the case of Latina mothers of young children in Hartford, Connecticut. When their state subsidies were slashed under welfare deforms, they were forced to sell food-stamps in exchange for cash for purchasing school supplies  for their children!

Consider too the role played by the U.S sponsored military in a capitalist and imperialist world-order: the military exists in large part to protect corporate interests, and is fueled by and fuels a turbo-masculinity. With the spread of U.S military bases around the world, so spreads the brothels at these bases for sexual appropriation of local women. These populations of women are targeted for the express purpose of servicing military men and their ejaculatory racial fantasies of the colonized women at their disposal.  The sex industry, primarily fueled by demands of men to put women on the market for sale, sustains neoliberal capitalism in other ways. In the most basic sense, as Eve Ensler has pointed out, the poorer women become, the more women become sexually commodified. She reminds us that women can be sold cheaper than a cell phone the world over.   Consider then that developing nations under the yoke of austerity policies imposed by the World Bank and IMF in the service of the corporate interests have turned to the sex industry for a percentage of their GDP. Women’s non-sexual trafficked labor as migrants is also part of this percentage and another pattern in neoliberal capitalist patriarchy.  The systemic appropriation of racialized and colonized women specifically is at a dense nodal point of intersecting systems of exploitation.

I am talking about patriarchy here as a world-order, and feminism as the movement which contests and opposes this world-order. While this understanding of feminism was common twenty or thirty years ago, it has been eclipsed by an identity-politics-view of “women’s issues” smugly ratified by the male white dominant left.   Slavoj Zizek is consummate mansplainer when he grants his celebrity-intellectual imprimatur to Occupy Wall Street in the following narrative of the Occupy Movement genesis: :

“In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called “class struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, and other struggles, capitalism is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.”

Talk about master-narratives, Zizek would position himself with mastery over history, assuming a god’s-eye-view and assuring us that feminism and anti-racism alike are only phases before passing away into the great synthesis that absorbs their partial-perspectives into the One Unity that counts.  The ugly (to the master) truth is that historical struggles against the race of capitalism, and against patriarchy are very much in process, and will be determined not by the masters of discourse, whether left or right, but by those who are the primary subjects of this struggle. Angela Davis is far more attuned to the historicity of the moment when, in her speech to  Occupy Wall Street she encourages the movement to see that the unity it embraces as “the 99%” is a “complex” unity, i.e. a unity accounting for multiple systems of exploitation including race and gender.

Feminism Now?

Our job is to wake our people up, so that we don’t sleep through this moment.”  Black Agenda Report

Bruce Dixon and Glenn Ford, editors of Black Agenda Report are reminding African-American political activists to determine the outcome of the movement themselves rather than strain to read the minds of the young, white constituency at the core of the present Occupy movement. Feminists need to remind ourselves of a similar task. The need for a feminist presence to develop itself in the space of the Occupy movements shows up painfully within present efforts by women to confront an atmosphere of sexual harassment at the Occupation sites. The stories are filing in, and we do not yet have a clear picture of what is really going on. We do know that working groups like “safer spaces” in New York city have organized to confront the problem yet there is no sign that the groups have drawn political and analytical connections between on-the-ground male dominance and the systems of exploitation that Occupy Wall Street as a movement are contesting.

Davis and Ensler are the exceptions the norms at Occupy Wall Street; at present I have no doubt that resistance to feminism outweighs any signs of a feminist perspective coming to Occupy movements. And yet I remain optimistic. The dynamics of radical protest released by the movement surpasses the particular ways that it has thus far framed and defined itself.  Due to its creation of public space as a space of action, and its rupture with calcified forms of political action, Occupy Wall Street has created a political space where already on a daily basis new groups, unhinged from ties to long-standing institutions and established organizations, are spontaneously creating themselves. (Listen here for brilliant and encouraging interviews with scholar-activist perspectives on Occupy as a historical social movement). Can feminist solidarity reap the whirlwind and reinvent itself within new forms of social association too? My optimism in response to the question derives from the fact that the dynamism released by Occupy Wall Street involves women–lots and lots of young women–who, like their male counter-parts are caught up in the momentum of movement-creating.  This means that women are agitating, aroused anew as political actors on the stage of history.  If there is any situation then, in which feminist ideas might stick and take root, this is it. Will Occupy Wall Street be open to re-orientation through the lens of feminist action and vision? Will feminism re-invent itself as a movement within the new political situation and its force-field of political possibilities? I have no answer; the moment is undetermined, fluid and dynamic in terms of any known outcomes. All I know is that our job– to paraphrase Black Agenda Report– is to wake our people—women—up so that we feminists do not sleep through the moment.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2011 3:34 pm


  2. November 4, 2011 6:48 pm


    I love this! Very useful analysis for combating the problem that has no name. Thank you.

    (By the way, the link to statistics Re: Women’s Labor Vs. Means of Production is broken.)

  3. Kim Rivers permalink
    November 4, 2011 8:48 pm

    Another brilliant article Kathy! You really know how to pull it all together and also put out the call for us to wake-up, think and do something1 I am continually inspired and heartened by your analysis.

    I am ready to do my part and more!

  4. Mocha Erinys permalink
    November 4, 2011 10:11 pm

    It’s very disenchanting whenever I watch a news correspondent seek out and only interview male protestors (and more often then not they’re white). There was a mock trial of Goldman Sachs the other day, and the judges and “expert” witnesses were men. There was a veteran’s march and the cameras only seemed to focus on the male veterans. It’s time the young women of the movement to take a page out of the Second Wave’s marches and collaborations. We need to stop hoping and waiting for the guys to be “generous” enough to give us mic time, or wait for the news to come and interview us. We need to seize this moment, put out our own press releases, have camera crews of own, produce our own viral videos, have our own general assemblies, and most importantly *stop* waiting on the men to have some pro-feminist epiphany and take down their “no girls allowed” and “women, keep silent” signs. We can’t let feminism– not brand or pop feminism– be left out of the narrative, again.

    • kmiriam permalink
      November 5, 2011 11:05 am

      that’s what i’m sayin’ Mocha.

  5. November 5, 2011 2:38 am

    Again, thanks for the article. I’d love to see a comparison of misogyny in the 60’s New Left groups and Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I’m sure the picture will be more complicated than it was back then.

    Many progressive groups now have women leaders. But as Zillah Eisenstein has said, they’re called to be sexual decoys. These women are not tokens. They have real decision-making power. But they’re also called to mask and contribute in active and passive ways to the sexism in their organization. If they’re allowed to be out-of-the-closet feminists, they can only address issues that the men feels comfortable with.

    So it means that the Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s, the Amy Goodman’s, the Katha Pollitt’s, the Rachel Maddow’s and the Naomi Klein’s of the world probably won’t confront misogyny in OWS until a strong, emerging feminist movement confronts them.

    Indeed, I noticed that the Occupy Dallas website says nothing about the rape accusation at its site. However, the mass media has several reports about it (and it dutifully says that Occupy Dallas is cooperating with the police in the investigation.) And you can bet your bottom dollar that the website will remain silent until a strong emergent feminist movement demands responsibility.

    • kmiriam permalink
      November 5, 2011 11:10 am

      I agree that these liberal-left- in V. Heuvel and Maddow- Liberal– Klein left- women won’t confront misogyny until feminism is revived as a movement.
      I like your use of “sexual decoys” in this context!
      I do think that history of sexism in the left should be circulated. and all revolutionary movements in history thus far- in modern history –has sold women out.
      I agree that we’re dealing with different conditions- in some ways– far more difficult to confront, since there is wide-spread belief that feminism has already arrived, and that women are basically equal. The women who are organizing at all at OWS do not do so in the name of feminism –although feminism is credited for playing some role in the fact that women are fighting back. It’s an interesting time, as it were.

  6. Jan permalink
    November 5, 2011 6:43 pm

    I’m pleased to see mention of NAOMI KLIEN here – her prominence within the movement suggests the analysis offered by the scholars who write this blog may be somewhat flawed. Having just returned from an excellent speech at OLSX London by – among many other women speakers – Britain’s first Green Party MP CAROLINE LUCAS, to be honest the fundamental assumptions that underlie this blog come across as misinformed. Likewise, while making valid criticisms, the fact is everyone’s a critic, and in terms of SOLUTIONS, overall this blog seems more interested in scoring ideological points against men than in discussing practical solutions that may HELP women at Occupy protests to defend and empower themselves. Equally it does not detract one iota from the seriousness of the issues this blog does address to point out that attacks on MEN at Occupations in the USA and UK are also very serious.

    • kmiriam permalink
      November 5, 2011 9:51 pm

      Jan, hmmm… Everyone is a critic: i’m not sure what that means, since the capacity to critically reflect on what one is doing seems rather dormant among self-defined activists. Meanwhile.. You tar this blog with “scoring ideological points” but you yourself do nothing but name drop. How does the mention of female leftists like Klein weaken the argument here which is not primarily about the gender of the intellectuals etc in the Occupy movement but about the lack of feminist analysis. If Klein, who i admire greatly, has offered any analysis of women’s position, the impact on women, in her take on Occupy I surely would like to hear it. Do you know the difference between critique and attacks by the way? and if we’re or I am scoring points– in what game? what would we win? with whom?

  7. SheilaG permalink
    November 5, 2011 8:08 pm

    “Sexual decoys” is an excellent term for women like Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” which is a show about men almost 24/7 it seems. It’s traditional leftish male pleasing stuff, and rarely does a radical feminist perspective see the light of day there.

    So women today need to push hard at the “sexual decoys” when they adore Julian Assange, but ignore the hard charges against him. Or the Katha Pollit’s or even the Rachel Maddows. The presure always comes from the streets, from ordinary women fed up with everything. Any position of power or influence in the news media makes the women in those positions male pleasing. They want to keep their jobs, and women don’t control their paychecks.

    Large groups of feminists could indeed occupy wall street… 200-300 women camped together, with women in guard positions. Women police officers in force holding the males in check. Women controlling the speaker’s corners and providing the huge echo chamber for women speaking would change the dynamics too. But Amy Goodman makes me really mad of late, because she interviews MEN all the time, and seems to ignore radical feminist critiques of the left and radical feminists in particular. Leftist men and their woman sexual decoy supporters are nothing new. This all happened before in the 60s, and it never changes without a huge woman’s revolution that is woman led and controlled, and women who can do work without depending on men for money or power or air time.

    We know this, and the numbers will prove useful. It’s about the numbers of women massed together in solidarity, it is about women controlled space in ocuppy areas…10,000 women in a camp… well Greenham Common was a woman only occupy movement in England… I have yet to hear Amy Goodman report on that as a comparison to the present situation.

    Come on Amy, stop being an HOP and get some guts for once!

    • kmiriam permalink
      November 5, 2011 9:53 pm

      SheilaG.. forget about the female leftists who lack feminist analysis. It’s time for others of us to step up and do the work that Amy Goodman doesn’t do. We’re the ones who have to have the guts right now and the imagination.

  8. conilynch permalink
    November 7, 2011 4:03 am

    Good article Kathy–You have really put a lot together in this. You have insisted on a feminist perspective from the start and kept me informed Thank-you.– @SheilaG I agree with you -good ideas.

  9. KathyS permalink
    November 7, 2011 1:27 pm

    I am glad to see these comments and agree that a strong feminist presence is necessary at OWS. I can almost guess your age because of the radical feminist literature you don’t seem to know (or don’t reference, anyway). Have you read Feminist Revolution (1979) by Redstockings where they lay out exactly how the liberal takeover of the movement created by radical feminists happened? You can read the core paper, “the liberal takeover of women’s liberation” on Carol Hanisch’s website: The whole book is still available from Hanisch or from Redstockings ( I was heartened to see you taking on the liberal “women’s groups” willing to sell us out for a seat at the table with the big boys.

    Radical feminists like me still prefer the term male supremacy to patriarchy but it looks like we’ve lost that battle. The point is that all men receive the benefits of privilege no matter what age they are, just as all whites do. And patriarchy always makes me feel like you are letting men your own age off the hook.

    OWS appears to have some consciousness of multiple oppressions. The GA’s are facilitated with an eye towards sex and race equality. The economic crash hurts women as workers in many of the same ways as it hurts male workers. So some discussions of economic realities might not require a specifically feminist demand. The real feminist issue that I don’t hear discussed is the one you raise, that is, the unpaid care work that is often thrust on the shoulders of women. The way to raise it is as you suggest, this is one pillar of oppression that capitalism is built on.

    Men don’t worry much about how they are going to balance work and family. But is the answer a demand for more government run childcare, for better parental leave policies, more eldercare programs and the like, or is it better to demand that men really pitch in as a full partner in the care work that life demands and “full time” work be redefined to accommodate that? I would suggest that the latter is a better feminist demand and directly challenges capitalism.

    I hope everyone is attending the Women Occupy Wall St meetings as often as possible. There is a real need for clear feminist consciousness there. Next meeting in NYC is Wed Nov 9, 5-7 pm at 60 Wall St. I’m an hour and half away from NYC but I try to go in on weekends and have been getting regular updates from friends who live in the city.

    • kmiriam permalink
      November 7, 2011 1:43 pm

      thanks for your comments Kathy S . I am 52 thus very grounded in radical feminist literature. I honor the Red Stockings’ contributions but do not think that unpaid care work is THE central issue to galvanize feminists/women around, though it is central. I have named a number of key issues that include the sexualization/sexual subordination of women–commercial sex exploitation such as pimping/the sex trade, and on the ground everyday sexual exploitation. Women are organizing against everyday exploitation at OWS but have not analyzed it as such at this point, nor at this point connected it as a hub of multiple forms of oppression.

      re; the demand for men to pitch in: How can we demand that men do anything when they benefit off of women’s unpaid work? What forms would this demand take? the oppressor needs to be forced to give up power as Frederic Douglas cautioned- he will not give it up by his own free-will. I like “patriarchy” because it refers to a world-system. I like male supremacy as well.

      • KathyS permalink
        November 10, 2011 12:14 pm

        Oh, I agree with you on the sexual subordination and commercialization of sex but I think that is a harder argument to make in the context of OWS. But getting rid of women’s unpaid care work is easy to integrate into the movement right at this moment. The point is that if men did an equal share of care work (for their children, for their elders) it would require a complete reorganization of paid work for everyone.

  10. November 10, 2011 1:10 pm

    Do you have any ideas about how to “get” men to do this?

    • KathyS permalink
      November 11, 2011 10:06 pm

      Make it into a demand, organize people around it. I actually think a number of men will “get it” immediately. How did feminists “get” men to take them seriously, share the housework or do anything? We demanded it collectively and individually. This is probably easier than getting men to wear a condom or share the housework.

  11. November 11, 2011 8:20 pm

    Hi, I’m from the italian blog
    Can we translate the article in Italian?
    Thank you very much!

    • kmiriam permalink
      November 11, 2011 9:33 pm

      that would be awesome. I’ll be in touch soon too to ask if you have any content to send our way as well. thanks!


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