Newsletter #18: A Radical — and Popular — Feminism in Latin America and Around the World, with Verónica Gago

by Maia Silber

Left feminists in the Global North have long lamented the corporate cooptation of the movement’s mainstream, even as more radical visions of gender justice seem unable to reach beyond the academy. But in Argentina, an international feminist movement has emerged that is both massive in its popular reach and unabashed in its insistence on linking the struggle against patriarchy to struggles against colonialism and neoliberal capitalism. It offers a model for activists around the world who want to use feminist analysis and tactics not only to advance women’s status within the existing order, but to transform that order.

This week’s guest, Verónica Gago, is a political theorist, organizer, and member of Ni Una Menos (“Not One Less”), a Latin America–wide feminist collective that gained a global following in 2016 when it launched a women’s general strike following the rape and murder of sixteen-year-old Lucia Pérez. Gago’s work underscores the decades-old socialist-feminist argument that Ni Una Menos puts into practice: capitalism devalues “women’s work” by rendering it invisible aswork, and insisting on naming it as such can powerfully expand the horizons of labor organizing beyond the conventional setting of the shop floor.

Listen to The Dig’sinterview with Verónica Gago here.

Ni Una Menos also inspired the International Women’s Strike (IWS) in 2017, which dovetailed in the United States with the resurgence of mainstream feminist activism following Donald Trump’s election. But while in Latin America, the IWS fed a growing movement that has subsequently launched mass protests against debt-fueling international monetary policy and austerity, the IWS in the United States was an isolated event with a disappointing turnout and negligible consequences. The contrast suggests that by linking women’s oppression to the broader erosion of social support under neoliberalism — rather than a narrow partisan agenda or a liberal demand for professional representation — US feminists might actually broaden their mass appeal.

Listening to Gago, I wondered if the pandemic might provide such an opportunity. While liberal feminists in the United States have occasionally lamented the pandemic’s consequences for women’s career opportunities, left feminists here might take a cue from Ni Una Menos to link increased care burdens for women to the state’s ongoing efforts to make private households responsible for collective health risks in the form of climate hazards, chronic disease, and occuupational dangers. Rather than simply attributing women’s pandemic woes to inequitable distributions of labor within the household, feminists taking aim at the neoliberal state might find common cause with existing pandemic campaigns against evictions, unsafe workplaces, and incarceration.

The feminist strike, as Gago envisions it, is a means of uniting community members in a shared process of both hardship and care. In Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America, that strike has been used to connect violence against women to the seizure of indigenous land and the imposition of household debt; elsewhere, that could mean connecting the demands of waged workers to those of welfare recipients or the victims of climate disasters. The key to building a feminism of the masses might be identifying gender as a cornerstone of today’s capitalist order.

Further Reading

Gago discusses these subjects and more at length in her two books Feminist International: How to Change Everything and Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics and Baroque Economics.Other excellent works using feminist analysis to examine the nature of labor and value under neoliberalism include Kathi Weeks’s The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries and Melinda Cooper’s Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (you can also listen to her discuss it on The Dig).

Check out previous episodes of The Dig,as well, for a discussion of feminism and labor in Chile with Alondra Carrillo and Pablo Abufom, and a conversation with Silvia Federici on her classic work Caliban and the Witch.