Here is a paper I wrote last semester about the budget cuts where I argue that the budget cuts are inherently racist and gendered because the modern liberal nation-state is inherently gendered due to its private-public split and the way gender has been mapped onto that split.
Also, I argue that the budget cuts are raced because the state is inherently raced, but I don’t really elaborate too fully on that. My view is that capitalism, and U.S. capitalism in particular, has race woven into it, because capitalism has developed in a way that’s been structured along racial lines due to the racialized way labor has been used here.
This paper is pretty academic-ey but whatever. :) I have cut out a few sections, so it may seem choppy.
Rejecting Neoliberal Rationality: Towards a New Dialogue About Budget Cuts
California is experiencing a deep restructuring of its economy. Using the state’s massive budget deficit as a rationale, Californian politicians are making unprecedented cuts to the public sector. Public education, health care and a range of other social programs are being choked of their financial resources. I argue these budget cuts, properly named structural adjustments, are classed, raced, and gendered. However, politicians explain the political rationality behind these cuts in purely neutral economic terms.
Furthermore, I argue that the discourse of resistance to these cuts has largely continued to operate within the framework of this rationality. Within the discourse around budget cuts, there is frequent mention that these cuts affect raced, classed and gendered populations in a disproportionately negative way. However, this construes the negative raced, classed and gendered consequences of these cuts as coincidental and not as fundamental to the mechanisms of the neoliberal processes themselves.
The gendered/raced dimensions of Neoliberal Capitalism
Neoliberal rationality ideologically flattens identity, difference and inequality, and construes everyone as equal competitors for the same market shares. This has long been recognized by various feminists analyzing globalization, as Carla Freeman points out;
A gendered understanding of globalization is not one in which women’s stories or feminist movements can be tacked onto or even “stirred into” the macropicture; rather it challenges the very constitution of that macropicture such that producers, consumers, and bystanders of globalization are not generic bodies or invisible practitioners of labor and desire but are situated within social and economic processes and cultural meanings that are central to globalization itself. (1010)
Here Freeman alludes to a point which is often missed by those examining political economy and its relation to identity politics. Economic practices and policies are enacted through bodies whose social positioning is shaped by and constituted through discourses of race, gender and a myriad of other elements of identity. This makes identity central to the processes of political economy, not an addition to it.
Other feminists have pointed this out particularly clearly in the case of structural adjustments. Structural Adjustment policies (or SAPs) refer to a series of economic policies typically forced upon “developing” countries saddled with the rapidly rising debt stemming from loans taken out from IMF and World Bank. SAPs force countries to restructure their economy in a way that prioritizes the market and which maximizes its profitability. This translates to a reduction in social and infrastructure spending—seen as weights to the economy, and a redirection of those funds towards the development of industry needed to maximize the profitability of one commodity for the market. In addition, business and labor safety standards and trade protections are lowered or weakened (Desai 20).
The argument that SAPs do not just have gendered consequences but are actually gendered processes in and of themselves comes from an understanding of the gender and racial dimensions of the public/private sphere dichotomy. Carol Pateman’s groundbreaking analysis of the public/private sphere pointed out that “social contract theory, on which the constitutional democracies are based, hides a prior sexual ‘contract’ that legitimizes male dominance of women and divides public from private” (201 Jaquette).
The gendered division of public and private spheres has been imposed upon many colonized countries where western nation-states were established following decolonization (175 Pettman). Today these structural adjustments are being imposed upon the “periphery” within the “center”. Researchers of structural adjustment programs note that they affect women and children disproportionately in the following ways: first, they eliminate jobs in the public sector, where women are the majority of those employed thanks to the gendered division of labor. Secondly, it has been noted extensively that because women around the world are still primarily seen as responsible for reproductive labor, the destruction of public programs exerts a larger burden on women who are expected to pick up the slack of disappearing social and public works programs, due to gender roles which ascribe this kind of work to women (Sadasivam 636). This observation explains a primary mechanism of structural adjustment programs, the transfer of economic “burdens” from the paid economy to the unpaid economy, or the transfer of work from the public to the private sphere, where it is assumed women will pick up the slack (Sadasivam 636).
The public/private split is not just a gendered construction, as Park and Wald argue, “the public sphere is implicitly and explicitly racialized as well as gendered— that is, normatively defined as masculine and white, and accessed via a privileged relation to patriarchal and white supremacist discourses” (271). This holds true within California as it does within the “third world”, due to the extremely racialized nature of class structure in the U.S. The power of white masculinity is intimately bound up with the ability to move freely between the private and public spheres and to not be fettered by dependency in either (Pateman 119). This construction is dependent on the immobility of the Other, (often marked by racial, ethnic and class difference). Race and class never mapped neatly onto this formation however, as black women in the U.S. worked as slaves within the homes of white women, but were rendered invisible by this devalued work (Park and Wald 271). This is also visible in the way immigration has become a central issue within the budget cuts debate. As resources grow scarce and the class divide expands in California, racist rhetoric intensifies, stemming from an anxiety over the slipping economic status of middle-class whites.
Furthermore, one needs only compare the rhetoric that surrounded the bailouts of AIG and Goldman Sachs, to the rhetoric rationalizing cuts to vital social services, to see that constructions of independence, individual self-responsibility and rationality are racialized and classed constructs. The needy person begging Schwarzenegger not to cut social services and the AIG executives who traveled to Congress to ask for a bailout, both fail to fulfill their “responsibilities” as independent subjects in the public sphere. However, one is construed as undeserving and irresponsible (feminine) and one is seen as greedy, and overly ambitious (masculine). Race figures largely in how each is interpreted because the standard of independence they are judged by is based on a race, gender and class privilege that stretches and contracts to keep white hegemonic masculinity in tact.
Those who are opposed to California budget cuts must resist the neoliberal political rationality of a discourse that is gender, race and class neutral. As schools located in poorer neighborhoods across California receive the disproportionate share of budget cuts, high school dropout rates rise, after-school programs are eliminated and students are pushed into a job market wherein people of color already make up a disproportionate share of the unemployed. We must be frank about the increased burden this puts on families, and in particular one-parent woman-headed households, which are especially prevalent in low-income neighborhoods given the criminalization of men of color. Privatization and the destruction of social services dramatically transfer the cost of social reproduction to women of color. In addition, these are fundamentally gendered/raced processes aimed at maximizing profit; and we must be explicit about this.
As of now, those opposed to California’s budget cuts have been stuck in a neoliberal cost-benefit discourse, which reduces the issue to a singular focus on taxes and financial priorities. This atomized approach to the cuts are symptomatic of the larger trend of atomization analyzed by Lisa Duggan, who documents the way that prior to the 1980s, social movements were tied to a “motley collection of connected issues” which were expressed in a variety of practical expressions of resistance ranging from “reformist to radical”(xvii). After the 1980’s however, “these single-issue” organizations “began to appear as the parts that replaced the wholes” (xvii).
Acknowledging the budget cuts as being inherently gendered processes, operating along race and class lines, allows for greater unity amongst social justice formations and organizers. Duggan also notes that “categories of Liberalism produce false rhetorical separations between economic, political, social, cultural and personal life” (xxi), and argues that many within the progressive-left have reproduced these separations within their own political projects. I argue that if we are to produce broad based movements we must have a holistic critique of capitalism that is rooted in a recognition of the racist, sexist inequalities and class divisions which are woven into the very fabric of its cultural notions and political institutions, such as the private/public split.