Inflation Is the Cancer of Misogynist Consumerism

Emma Caterine
5 min readAug 27, 2022

One of the worst trends in feminist writing is “XYZ is a feminist issue” pieces. It is not difficult to portray something as a feminist issue because women are about half of our species, and so issues that affect people generally often affect women just as much if not more. Socialist feminism can sometimes fall into this trap generally, simply equating all working class issues as feminist and vica versa, blurring the real distinctions that exist in the political projects. So while it can be easy to declare something to be a feminist issue, I try to reach higher and ask a more exacting question — is this an issue that feminists should be prioritizing right now, and if so, how should they approach it?

Feminists have a lot on their plate right now, and the grim reality of the state of feminism in the United States today makes each issue feel more urgent. Anti-abortion trigger laws in Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas went into effect a few days ago. Traditionally gendered working class fields like nursing and teaching are facing enormous blowback from workers attempting to exercise their rights and survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns also precipitated an increase in domestic violence and an increase in sexual assault and harassment at college campuses.

But the day-to-day lives of women in the United States is as much about being consumers as it is about being mothers, workers, wives, and so on. And it is not a good time to be a consumer. While the overturn of Roe v. Wade has caused some shift, polling this year has consistently shown (12–3–4–5) that women are very concerned, if not most concerned, with rising prices as a political issue. Women are more likely to support government intervention on the issue:

This is not surprising since, even with major changes in household composition and labor in the U.S., women still generally take primary responsibility in their households for finances. While being a consumer is compulsory in the U.S., women are expected to take on more consumption, both for themselves and for their families. One 2008 study even estimated that women in the U.S. controlled $4.3 of the $5.9 trillion of consumer spending, making the decision in the purchases of 94% of home furnishings, 92% of vacations, 91% of homes, 60% of automobiles, and 51% of consumer electronics.

These figures are often given as a positive example of female advancement or empowerment, buying into myths of consumer “choice” providing power to individuals. And that is what is politically interesting about this moment. In a booming economy with cheap credit, a sexist compulsory consumerism can seem tolerable or even fun and rewarding. Retail therapy only becomes more appealing as your right to control your own body is thrown out by judges you have no control over. But when prices are going up, your control over household finances goes from respite to responsibility, from relief to stress.

We have all seen the human interest news stories about people suffering from inflation. It is not a coincidence that they are almost always focused on working class women. Because while households as a whole may be impacted by rising prices, the women as the de facto financial managers and shoppers are going to be the ones handling the daily stresses of running numbers in their heads at the grocery store, telling their children that they cannot afford that toy, and pleading with the credit card company to not send their account to collections.

Comrade and friend Marian Jones recently wrote that “There may be no ethical consumption under capitalism, but socialists still shouldn’t try to rationalize antisocial products and behaviors.” While she was specifically writing about cigarettes and meat, I think that principal could be extended to rationalizing the antisocial misogynist dynamics of consumerism itself. In other words, I do not think socialist feminists should accept or encourage the social designation of women as household consumers. But the reality is that women are often household consumers, that inflation thus has a particularly severe psychological as well as financial impact on them, and thus that inflation is a political issue women deeply care about.

So how can we advocate for women on this issue without reinforcing the misogynist consumerism? Price controls. The very mention of price controls is enough to send capitalists, mainstream economists, and their politician friends into temper tantrums. But as Meg Jacobs and Isabella M. Weber recently wrote, we know price controls can work from the example of how they were used by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration during World War II. And the price controls were so effective because they were enforced on the front lines by the women who bought goods for their households.

It is currently unclear whether the recent increase in inflation is dissipating or if we are heading to another recession or stagflation. But under capitalism, inflation will always rear its ugly head when the government spends even a fraction of what it should on working class people. Socialists can take advantage of the misogynist assignation of consumption to women and make fighting against inflation via price controls a feminist fight against corporations and economic planning that places the burden of downturns on women and the working class.

--

--

Emma Caterine

Feminist socialist writer fighting for econ justice. Views do not represent my firm, DSA, or my cats, who are sadly both ultra leftists.