Johanna Oksala-Femme Fatale of Neoliberalism
Since humans invented our civilization, the desperate struggle for power has been going on. Many different divisions and alliances were made, along the kinship lines, tribal, national, racial, religious and recently- class lines. And of course, at last, but not at least along the gender divide- this one literally started from Adam and Eve.
Michel Foucault, a historian, a sociologist and a philosopher of the second half of 20th century, analyses forces of the government and discipline in a society mixing phenomenological and postmodernist stances. He sees the members of society as experiencing their subjectivity in Husserlian way, but the society changes for him in an impersonal, mechanistic and post-modernistic way. The phenomenological intentional arc leads him to “biosociality”- the societal forces influencing and disciplining human bodies, trying to subdue them into “docile” bodies.
The early feminist movement uses Foucault to point to the exploitation of women by the male dominating capitalism. Partly for the economic reasons, and partly as the response to feminism and the general human rights movement, the capitalism, late in 20th century, morphed into seemingly gentler, kinder and more enlightened form- neoliberalism. It was also supposed to be an antidote to the powerful ideas involving class relationships- as in socialism, marxism and communism. Many feminists, like Eisenstein and Walby, oppose neoliberalism as leading to more economic and social inequalities. They want to improve neoliberalism by helping women ( and other social groups with limited power-minorities, children, gays, handicapped people) by giving them more equal rights, better pay, better social status.
Johanna Oksala sees deeper problems with the neoliberalism, she uses Foucault arguments to point into neoliberalism as a creator of a new feminine subject. “This implies that women are now also governed and subjected through new mechanisms, namely through the harnessing of their economic interests. It is significant that normative femininity has become firmly attached to economic gains in a new way. Women are increasingly rationalizing their participation in the normative habits of femininity in terms of their own economic interests, not in terms of men’s interests”
Oksala believes the mechanism of power has been transformed from “the subtle mechanisms of discipline described by Bartky — a system of social sanctions and rewards such as shame and sexual admiration”.And she explains: ”We must recognize that the personal freedom and choice that neoliberal governmentality entails is an integral aspect of this technique of power. The idea of personal choice effectively masks the systemic aspects of power — domination, social hierarchies, economic exploitation — by relegating to subjects the freedom to choose between different options whilst denying them any real possibility for defining or shaping those options. This excessive focus on free choice has been perhaps the most insidious aspect of neoliberal governmentality for the subject of feminism.” J. Oksala, Feminism and Neoliberal Governmentality.(2013) Foucault Studies.,(p? This is from the online version of this article)
The choices this system gives to a woman are not liberating , they are pushing her deeper and deeper into “docile”- (again!) member of the economic system, a cog in the well-lubricated machine. It is why Oksala calls for the revolution: “we have to transform not only our political or economic institutions but more fundamentally, our way of life and even ourselves. We need a politics of ourselves that acknowledges that it is through us, through the reshaping of our subjectivity, that neoliberal governmentality is able to function”. ibid.,p. 135.
I couldn’t find any clear answer as to what exactly this new way of life should look like. Is it a meditation in the modern “mindfulness” monastery? A matriarchal, Amazons- like system?
Personally, I am afraid, there is not enough time for these posturings of our civilization. I am afraid that the ecological crisis, with all well-known evils, will limit our women and men choices to simple survival mode. And I doubt the technological miracle ( or any other miracle, for this matter) will hack it.
We’ll have to stop fighting and be really, really good….. or die.