To emphasize that whilst the movements of feminism are of different ideals, views, values, I think there is an essence to feminism which underpins the overall status of women in general (even whilst women as individuals vary in status).
The essence is that of women's labour acquiring equal value which has been based in the shift of women's labour from outside the market and into it as commodified and indirectly social.https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/help/lib.htm
Putting it slightly differently, women transformed their labour from labour which took place outside of the exchange of commodities into labour which, like that of other workers — had value. It is no wonder then that this movement soon gave rise to the demand for Equal Pay and more fundamentally given the gender segmentation of the labour process, for “Equal Pay for work of Equal Value” and the struggle to prove in practice that women's work had value equal to men's work.
This struggle over the value of women's work, over the value of women — their lives, their words, their bodies, their values and their thoughts — demanded a fundamental critique of the philosophical foundations of knowledge in a patriarchal society, and I put it that the essence of the Women's Liberation movement (its Essence, not the most, or only, “important thing” — the Essence) is the valorisation of women's labour.
And I believe this exemplifies the way in which any demographic acquires a status and recognition as equals, at least in the abstract equality of liberal laws.
This emphasizes as point that trying to return those parts of life that have since been commodified into their previous existence outside the market would only be to the detriment of women's (on average) status.
The goal is not to return women to labouring outside of the work force as much as the issue is that we need to get beyond value.
The post-war period and the upsurge of the national liberation movement and the socialisation of women's labour particularly in the industrialised countries has had the result of extending the value relationship, the commodity relation, into every pore of human life and into every corner of the globe, the destruction of all forms of public enterprise, the elaboration of the division of labour to its highest level alongside the reduction of labour to its most abstract form, the drawing into the world economy of every last refuge of feudal or tribal society, the penetration of trade into the family by the actual destruction of the family and of all relations of kinship, the substitution of recourse to litigation for all forms of moral obligation or state and judicial regulation, the provision via the market of sex, love, friendship, pleasure, comfort, revenge, parenthood and child-care, education and religion.
How do we react to these phenomena of the final stage of development of capitalism marking its complete maturity while threatening to plunge humanity into unspeakable global poverty? One can hardly resist the argument that we must defend the public sector (education, health, transport, etc.), family life and ordinary human relationships, the environment, the right of nations to manage their own affairs - all in the process of being eradicated by capitalism — in other words to defend those enclaves from which the value relation was formerly excluded. [c.f. Communist Manifesto]
However, would it not be more rational to aim to go “beyond value”? To supercede the exchange of labour altogether in favour of world-wide cooperative labour?
Which speaks to a point that liberalism once it has done away with the formal discriminations against women in law after the struggle of women to have their labour valued, it can not go any further for the limits of capital.
To which the idea of women identifying as feminists, it should be noted that most women historically never identified with the movement even as they were able to access things based on it's success. And the partial objectification of feminist ideals in society based on a struggle for women to enter the workforce has also become normative to the extent that people who wish to oppose as much can no longer rely on the naturalization of the status quo and may even inadvertently replicate feminist values due to their inoculation of modern societal values reflected in the current relations of labor.https://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/beaton/2013/feminism.htm
But while that was the case, even when the movement was most visibly active, women were taking on the gains. For example in Australia one of our early gains was to have a state pension for single mothers. Almost instantly statistics revealed that what was happening was that women were quick to accept the gain. More women were keeping children born outside of relationships rather than giving them up for adoption, and large numbers of women took their children and left unsatisfactory relationships because there was at least minimal financial support available.
On another level women were gaining access to areas that were previously unknown and many of those women were oppositional to the aims and objectives of feminism, yet that didn’t stop them utilizing the gains. Two well-known examples of this were Maggie Thatcher, the British Prime Minister and Ita Buttrose, a magazine editor in Australia. Interestingly, while the very existence of the first woman Prime Minister of the UK was clearly a feminist gain, it’s occupant was antagonistic to the feminist movement, but most of her opponents, including active feminists, not only denied her status as a role model for the movement, but many denied her womanhood – ‘oh but Thatcher’s not really a woman’. Buttrose is now celebrated as a feminist icon, but at the time was seen as a woman who had become prominent as a defender of the status quo. Nevertheless she herself set precedents for women in the Australian newspaper industry, had a strong sense of herself as a career woman and a sense that women wanted more than housekeeping, child rearing, cooking and beauty tips.
From my standpoint there are at least as many, and possibly more young women who identify as feminists than there ever were and this has been consistent through the decades of the eighties, nineties and naughties. What is also true is that there are many more young men who identify as feminist and support the movement. For some reason we expect that because nearly all young women in the developed capitalist world have benefitted from the gains of feminism, they should identify with the movement. Yet there never seems to have been a parallel between numbers of women who utilize gains with those who identify. Although I would argue that the proportion of women who identify has been growing consistently.
The ideology of the women’s movement has conquered the dominant ideology so now it is generally accepted that women have the potential to develop capabilities with men in almost all areas of life. Those who still say that women are lesser beings than men or are unable to take on equal responsibilities, or aren’t entitled to equal shares of the wealth now speak outside of the dominant ideology. The impact of this ideological change lies underneath the massive changes to social organization that have been taking place ever since. In every workplace, in every home in the advanced capitalist world attitudes to women and their capabilities have changed. These changes in attitude have not been limited to the ideas of women, but to men as well, who have been dragged, often kicking and spluttering, along behind the women. The changes have not been confined to the developed capitalist world but have clearly impacted everywhere. It is also evident that those who want to maintain the old values of men’s superiority have to assert their ideas with ever increasing force and violence.
Which continues my point of industrialization being the precipitating force of feminism as a political project across the decades, where women's struggle against discrimination becomes possible based on the value of their labour taking on the indirectly social form of commodities.
So the existence of many women who don't identify with feminism or even disavow it isn't so much of an issue when struggles for certain rights are achieved and it shows itself appealing to women in general.
And so it should be that women regardless of their participation in feminist struggles, shouldn't scoff at opportunities that become available to women due to the success of those struggles.
-For Ethical Politics