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Lisa Sitoh


Does capitalism entrench patriarchy?

March 19, 2016

When The Hunger Games lead actress Jennifer Lawrence was named as Forbe's highest-paid actress from June 2014 to June 2015, Lawrence voiced her displeasure publicly. She was honoured to have won this prestigious accolade, but she was also indignant that she had earned a whopping $28 million less than Robert Downey Junior, the highest-paid actor. We are in the 21st century when there has been a huge advancement of human rights compared to the past, yet the Hollywood industry evidently presents traces of male chauvinism. The Hollywood industry is just one of the industries under the capitalist system, which continues to perpetuate patriarchal notions. While capitalism has indeed provided a platform for women to prove their capability in the working world, capitalism entrenches the gender-wage inequality. Furthermore, capitalism profits off women’s unpaid domestic labour, thus neglecting women’s contribution to the economy.

In the cut-throat capitalist economy, everyone has to rely on their individual abilities to climb up the ladder of wealth and status. While females have to put in even more effort to debunk the stereotype that women are weak and incompetent, successful career women have earned even greater societal respect in the end because they have fought long and hard to attain that status. Rather than seeing capitalism as a glass ceiling for the "weaker" gender, capitalism is the driving force for women to claim the recognition they deserve. After all, the capitalist system does not employ workers based on gender, but on their talent and hard work. Thus, capitalism,at least in more liberal countries, provides a relatively equal playing field for both men and women to fight for success.

However, capitalism has also reiterated men's social position as the superior gender. In the past, men were the main breadwinners due to the traditional views that women should only be relegated to domestic roles. Until today, this belief is still largely prevalent in the economy and is most viscerally shown through the income gap between men and women. Capitalism  is driven by reward for hard work, yet men and women receive unequal recognition for the same amount of work put in. Women are still being discriminated in male-dominated industries such as science and technology and are thus not given equal job opportunities as men. Just as how economists argue that capitalism only benefits the rich and privileged in society due to their economic influence over the proletariat, capitalism allows men to have an economic advantage over women. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, women on average earns 78 cents to a man’s dollar. The second-wave feminist movement has rallied for income parity since the 1960s, but this problem is still deep-rooted even today despite the major improvement in women’s economic status around the world. Hence, men ultimately benefit the most from capitalism as they are still seen as being more capable at work.
Lastly, capitalism has always exploited women’s oppression in the family as women are not paid for doing household chores. Many people belittle and undermine women’s domestic role in the family without realising that women’s family contributions are essential for men to even be able to seek a job. In the past, men enjoyed the liberty of working solely because they were assured that their wives could take care of the family. Thus, women’s labour at home in fact lays the foundation for a capitalist economy to even function. Meanwhile, Marxism believes in paid domestic labour. Under this system, women are no longer seen as second-class citizens, but are acknowledged and rewarded for their domestic work. As society evolves, a role reversal occurs now as more men are starting to quit their jobs and become househusbands. Thus, the oppression of women as housewives under the capitalist system is perhaps only applicable in the past.
The capitalist system is often criticised for widening the income disparity between the rich and the poor, but many often fail to see that capitalism also has undercurrents of patriarchal and chauvinistic notions. Perhaps, it is not the system that poses an obstacle to achieving gender equality, but the people who run the system. We wonder when women can ever be on par with men on the podium of success. 


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