How capitalism degrades women

June 14, 2012

I WANTED to say thanks for Elizabeth Schulte's article, "Why is it still 77 cents?", about women's inequality.

While sexism clearly has enormous and devastating economic and political impacts on women's daily lives, something else that is less often attributed to capitalism as a whole is the way in which women are additionally affected emotionally and psychologically from being constant targets of a system driven by the market and the profit motive.

Capitalism--a system where production is based on profit as opposed to meeting human need--means that manufacturers are constantly on the hunt to find new ways to sell new products, and new consumers to sell them to. Since the early 1900s, one strategy that U.S. industries found was to use marketing to manufacture various "problems" (insecurities, anxieties or fears) for which they could offer the perfect "solution" for sale.

Tragically, all too often these "problems" that advertisers pinpoint come down to a woman's physical appearance. TV and web commercials, not to mention the increasingly unavoidable billboards across cities and highways offer the golden ticket to better skin, better hair and less belly flab, each of which is supposed to simply lead to a "better you." Meanwhile, no part of the body is safe from the adman's scavenging eye as marketers look to further existing insecurities as well as wholly create new ones.

In light of this, as U.S. advertising spending totaled a monstrous $144 billion in 2011 alone, it's no wonder that such messaging might affect how women come to see themselves and their own personal sense of worth.

Numerous recent studies have pointed to an alarming correlation between negative body image and increasing rates of suicide and depressionamong young girls, much of which is attributed at least in part to the media's bombardment of an unrealistic ideal of "beauty."

When the common message coming out of mainstream America (although now, thanks to the Occupy movement, more and more people are beginning to challenge it) is that unemployed, struggling workers have only themselves to blame for their situation, add in the constant factor of manufactured self-scrutiny, questioning, and hatred, and the result can potentially be a dangerous sense of immobility, despair and the idea that things could never change.

During the Russian Revolution, as the struggle picked up, mental patients checked themselves out of psychiatric wards in droves as they began to feel human again. They realized it was not that they themselves were "insane," but that life under the tsar had simply driven them "mad."

Through struggle, more and more women will come to see that they aren't "ugly" or "flawed," but that it was simply capitalism that made them think they were so. In such a way, organizing can help instill positive self-value in young women (and everyone!) as they come to understand their own power in their ability to affect change and begin to truly believe that their own value is more than just skin deep.

In addition to economic struggles, a movement that will truly empower and liberate women should include fighting for better health and sex education that empowers young girls, and challenging the abusive advertising that attempts to ingrain a sense of intrinsic female/body shame. Standing up to these sexist messages must be a part of the struggle for a just and more humane society.

Just imagine for a second what it could be like to live in a world where no one is told they are "wrong" or "ugly" solely for the selfish desires of corporations to sell more products. Instead, society could be based on the power, beauty and importance of everyone.

It's worth fighting for, because we truly have a world to win.
Sarah Levy, Portland, Ore.

Further Reading

From the archives