A fully neoliberalized world would radiate disaster triumphant, but a fully neoliberalized world is impossible. Your staunchest neoliberal—say, Margaret Thatcher—does not want the entirety of the social to fall under a biopolitical calculus, to become priced or monetized. Rather, the neoliberal order requires the proliferation and production of common socialities capable of maintaining life in a world instituted to be indifferent to life’s maintenance. After having pulverized society in that famous quote, for example, Thatcher tells us that the family remains as the site upon which “individual men and women” should “cast…their problems.” Without positive externalities like the family, the neoliberalized world would simply collapse (as Polanyi argued of classical liberalism years ago) and many lives with it. The neoliberal state relies upon common socialities—everyday ways of organizing our worlds—to surrogate for the services (which we think) the state used to provide. We who resist neoliberal capitalism want to think of these common socialities as maintaining a certain relation of exteriority to the neoliberal order, and, indeed, as offering a grounds of resistance to it. The commons is, after all, the new rallying cry of a left that doesn’t want to say communist. And, sure, some of these modalities of being-in-common do bear traces of utopian possibilities. But many don’t. The neoliberal order grounds itself in such to-hand modes of social organization and sets them to work to absorb the shock of the state’s abdication of responsibility for performing basic social upkeep.
All of this is to say that we, in our everyday lives, engender the conditions of possibility for the continuance of the neoliberal normal. We saw this, ironically and horribly, in a too-common response to Thatcher’s death. “Cunt,” “bitch,” “ding dong the witch is dead”—it was a veritable festival of misogynistic name-slinging. Believe me, I have no sympathy for the devil, and I think Thatcher lived about 40 years too long. But exorcising Thatcher with a misogynistic curse is the best way of ensuring that she will continue to haunt us.
This is because neoliberalism thrives on structural misogyny. Gender is one powerful mechanism by which the neoliberal order converts our potentially resistant common worlds into positive externalities, into social formations functional for the maintenance of life in an unlivable world. After all, the state’s abdication of its responsibility for social care does not mean that care disappears. (Well, for some it does.) The burden of care, rather, is displaced (in part) to the family, as Thatcher made clear, which means that this burden is displaced disproportionately (if not entirely) onto women caught up within patriarchal family structures. For poor women of color in particular, neoliberal structural adjustments create conditions in which the routinized hyper-exploitation of unsalaried care labor intensifies. To take an example geographically proximate to me, consider Rahm Emmanuel’s impending shutdown of over 50 Chicago public schools. Kids slated to travel to out-of-neighborhood schools will have to get up earlier. Maybe they’ll have to be dropped off or picked up. Maybe they’ll have to travel through inhospitable neighborhoods or feel sad and isolated in their new worlds. Maybe they won’t learn as well and so require extra hours of tutoring. Maybe available social services (one or two meals a day, say, or after-school care) will be cut. Negotiating these transformations will require new investments of time, affective energy, attention, and (if it is available, and even if it is not) money. Someone is going to surrogate for the dismantled structure of care. It’s not hard to guess at the demographic profile of this someone.
There is, of course, no transcendental historical principle mandating that women’s care labor should surrogate for the state’s instituted carelessness. The neoliberal order simply uses—and, true, reproduces through legislative and fiscal programs—the structural misogyny of the North Atlantic patriarchal family. It found this patriarchal structure to-hand, and it continues to find it to-hand. It found this structure reproduced every time an anti-austerity radical called Thatcher a “cunt.” Meanwhile, Fox News was going gaga over Thatcher as an exemplar of a good kind of feminism. We might have taken the moment to demonstrate how Thatcherite policies disproportionately and negatively impact women. Instead, manarchists called her a “witch.” (Which doesn’t even make sense, people. The figuration of the witch still cited by our social imaginary emerges from the symbolics developed by capitalist dudes enclosing commons who had to deal with various forms of feminine subjectivity that haunted the outskirts of the proper. Thatcher began life as a commoner, sure, but I don’t think she was that kind of commoner. Only structural misogyny, sedimented in our very language, can account for the bizarre inversion whereby the Dissolver of the Commons can don the symbolic garb accorded to the victims of such dissolution.)
Getting beyond neoliberal capitalism requires the production of social forms of care that are defective for capitalism—not reinscribing a hierarchical social fabric that, by diminishing the value of women as women, allows them to be positioned as the proper subjects to take up non-valued, non-monetized, unremunerated, but utterly necessary care labor. Contesting neoliberalism is great and totally important, but it’s not some Great Abstract Thing that exists in a relation of pure exteriority to us. Neoliberalism works because it gloms onto existent socialities and transforms them into positive externalities. We make it work. Acting as if the world will be aces once Keynes makes a triumphant return is to ignore the sad fact that we inhabit and reproduce common worlds utterly functional for neoliberal accumulation tactics. The violence that inheres in these common worlds is irreducible to the neoliberal order; structural misogyny preceded this order and, at the rate we’re going, will survive it, too.
Every meaningful resistance to neoliberalism must be a feminism.