Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: A girlboss won’t save you: how capitalism oppresses women

Capitalism, like most things men create, is deeply sexist. 

Historically, capitalism has been hostile to women, more than men. Only through government intervention has progress been made. Complete gender equality under capitalism is impossible and can only be realized through socialism.

In the fight for equality among men and women, modern industrial capitalism has allowed women to reclaim much of the power robbed from them in earlier periods. Socialist writer Frederick Engles argued technological advances made under capitalism have allowed women to leave domestic life and perform tasks that were previously the exclusive domain of men. 

Despite advancements, this economic system can never take us toward complete equality. 

Capitalism has been dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way toward gender equality. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that many women could even own “property,” but white women gaining the right to own slaves was hardly progress. 

Biology, like property laws, was also not on the side of women. Women must carry children, which isn’t profitable for the capitalist. Sure, he needs the human race to continue, but he doesn’t need a worker who can’t work due to pregnancy. 

The capitalist, until 1978, had incentive to fire his pregnant employees. Government intervention put an end to that with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided pregnant women with “temporarily disabled” status, making it against the law to fire them. 

If the language of this law bothers you, the problems don’t stop there. First, the law excludes trans men and nonbinary individuals who can become pregnant. Second, pregnant women are only entitled to the same protections as disabled people. This means an employer doesn’t  necessarily have to provide paid maternity leave. As it stands, only about 55% of employers provide paid maternity leave.

Yesterday’s capitalists would fire a pregnant woman before surrendering profits, and even now they still try. In 2015, United Parcel Service refused to offer a pregnant woman a reduced workload that is typically offered to injured or disabled workers, instead opting to send her home until after her pregnancy. Ultimately, UPS changed their policy regarding pregnant workers after  their employee took her case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Additionally, many of today’s legislators who work to preserve capitalism want to deny women access to abortions. Women simply can’t win. 

The issue of pregnancy can also help explain the pay gap between men and women. Women in the U.S. make 84 cents for every dollar a man makes. Why? One reason is that many women are forced to work less in order to take care of children. This may cause them to be passed up for promotions that are given to men instead.

Women consistently have higher rates of poverty than men, regardless of age. Indiana women have one of the highest poverty rates for women in the country at 27% as of 2020. 

To solve these issues, some liberal feminists say we need more women CEOs and billionaires. After all, only 41 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Though perhaps some good can come from leveling the playing field at CEO, this is hardly a solution.

The fact is the hierarchies inherent in capitalism would mean the majority of women — the workers — would now be exploited by women instead of men. Hurrah! The fact billionaires exist while people starve is, at the very least, a very inefficient way to allocate resources. 

Instead of simply advocating for more women CEOs, women should be empowered as workers, which will improve the lives of the majority.

In the short term, the U.S. should guarantee paid maternity leave. Comparable nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development already do this, such as Canada and Australia. Democrats in Congress are also working to provide childcare for working mothers in their $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. This would go a long way toward allowing women to no longer be forced to make the choice between their job and their children. 

We should also uphold a woman’s right to an abortion. Anti-abortion rights legislators should be condemned and every effort should be made to prevent abortion restrictions. 

In the short term, these actions would counter many of capitalism's uncaring tendencies. But only when the means of production are owned in common and democracy is introduced to the workplace will all workers be equal regardless of gender.

Jared Quigg (he/him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.

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