'If we are to build a mass movement we must recognize that no individual decision, like rejecting consumption, can liberate us.'
I always have problems with the 'what sort of feminist are you?' discussions. It pisses me off that the form these phrases take 'anarcha-feminism', 'socialist feminism' 'liberal feminism' implies that feminism needs help ('liberal' is the adjective modifying the noun 'feminism'). But more importantly the feminist writing that I agree the most with is from the women's liberation movement. I sometimes get a bit embarassed by this - there's been very complex bodies of theory developed since the late 1960s/early 1970s, surely it's simplistic to prefer the ecstatically written, rapidly mimeographed writing of women who were finding their voices 40 years ago? But the women of the women's liberation movement, with their background in radical politics, focus on organising, and their eyes on total change, make sense to me in a way that very little else does. I'm not really talking about individual issues, I think the analysis of lots of issues have developed a lot in the last 40 years, but a vision of what being a feminist means, and what a feminist movement should be.
But whenever I doubt that I'm all about women's liberation, I find another article from that time that sums exactly what I'm trying to say (this one thanks to Bitch|Lab. Ellen Willis wrote a fantastic article about the problems with consumerist politics. It starts:
If white radicals are serious about revolution, they are going to have to discard a lot of bullshit ideology created by and for educated white middle-class males. A good example of what has to go is the popular theory of consumerism.and it ends
As expounded by many leftist thinkers, notably Marcuse, this theory maintains that consumers are psychically manipulated by the mass media to crave more and more consumer goods, and thus power an economy that depends on constantly expanding sales. The theory is said to be particularly applicable to women, for women do most of the actual buying, their consumption is often directly related to their oppression (e.g. makeup, soap flakes), and they are a special target of advertisers. According to this view, the society defines women as consumers, and the purpose of the prevailing media image of women as passive sexual objects is to sell products. It follows that the beneficiaries of this depreciation of women are not men but the corporate power structure.
First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong with consumption. Shopping and consuming are enjoyable human activities and the marketplace has been a center of social life for thousands of years.
The locus of oppression resides in the production function: people have no control over which commodities are produced (or services performed), in what amounts, under what conditions, or how these commodities are distributed. Corporations make these decisions and base them solely on their profit potential.
As it is, the profusion of commodities is a genuine and powerful compensation for oppression. It is a bribe, but like all bribes it offers concrete benefits—in the average American’s case, a degree of physical comfort unparalleled in history. Under present conditions, people are preoccupied with consumer goods not because they are brainwashed but because buying is the one pleasurable activity not only permitted but actively encouraged by our rulers. The pleasure of eating an ice cream cone may be minor compared to the pleasure of meaningful, autonomous work, but the former is easily available and the latter is not. A poor family would undoubtedly rather have a decent apartment than a new TV, but since they are unlikely to get the apartment, what is to be gained by not getting the TV?
Furthermore, the consumerism line allows Movement men to avoid recognizing that they exploit women by attributing women’s oppression solely to capitalism. It fits neatly into already existing radical theory and concerns, saving the Movement the trouble of tackling the real problems of women’s liberation. And it retards the struggle against male supremacy by dividing women. Just as in the male movement, the belief in consumerism encourages radical women to patronize and put down other women for trying to survive as best they can, and maintains individualist illusions.
If we are to build a mass movement we must recognize that no individual decision, like rejecting consumption, can liberate us. We must stop arguing about whose life style is better (and secretly believing ours is) and tend to the task of collectively fighting our own oppression and the ways in which we oppress others. When we create a political alternative to sexism, racism, and capitalism, the consumer problem, if it is a problem, will take care of itself.