In the midst of a global hysteria, there is an invariable concomitance that is established between productivity (understood conventionally as economic efficiency) and self-worth. The capitalist society is such that it reduces one to rethink their contribution to the society in terms of the value of their output (rather material output). It forms a space which one has access to only through absolute combustion of their energies, their individuality and an eye for rampant economic growth regardless of the collateral damage. We have become what, Byung-Chul Han, a South Korean-born German philosopher, calls a Burnout Society.
Feminism and Productivity
A contemplative discussion and rejection of equating self worth and productivity isn’t a simple method for keeping humanity above monetary gains, but is also a decimation of certain oppressive attitudes that sustain power gaps and verticals. Given the normative cis-heteropatriarchal nature of capitalism, women are excluded from its functioning due to the conditions which qualify your membership to it.
It commercialises and turns feminism into a brand that you buy your way into, where only women who achieve the Big Capitalist Dream are seen as praiseworthy (of anything at all). It sells the tale of how you can “werk” your way out of patriarchy.
We all have been repeatedly told, “Don’t Stop”, “Grind Till You Make It” or “Hustle Hard”. There are Tumblr and Pinterest posts that glorify and show you what a gleaming life you could lead, only if you were to maximise efficiency and minimise wastage of time and effort. Thus, the anxieties and apprehensions you have now as a woman, would all go poof in the air, once you have the money chinking in your pocket. External factors are assumed to be the ultimate source of validation, wherein you become an empowered woman solely through a promotion in your socio-economic class.
It confuses feminism for individual productivity-projects, as it fails to address the larger questions of equalising power structures and systemic gender-based violence. The empowered woman ‘who fits the bill’ (quite literally) is seen as the only one who deserves dignity, who deserves agency as she has achieved masculine superiority through struggle. It commercialises and turns feminism into a brand that you buy your way into, where only women who achieve the Big Capitalist Dream are seen as praiseworthy (of anything at all). It sells the tale of how you can “werk” your way out of patriarchy.
Also read: Struggles In Sweatshops: The Irony Of Your ‘Feminist’ Graphic Tee
It eventually pans out to be a form of exclusionary politics, which advocates individual successes as opposed to the collective ones, and adheres to settling and adopting the current power binaries. It is simply a grave assumption (and a classist stance) that all women would possess equal opportunities, not just in relation to men, but with other women as well. There is a complete denial of how intersectionality figures into deciding and determining the limited resources of different communities, bound by the structural disadvantages due to their caste, class, race and socio-economic status. Thus, this formula of liberation and freedom is never made available to women who possess different marginalised identities, and are left at the level of women who “will never have it all”, or who “will never grind their way to the top”.
To understand the brutality behind breathless work isn’t to say that it hasn’t helped many women to pursue and achieve their dreams. But what is essential is not just an appreciation of choice, but acknowledging how choice is a privilege not extended to many. Moreover, a universalisation of this mantra of economic efficiency and individual value legitimises the claims of men, who identify worth with pay checks and bank balance. It leads to an adoption of the narrative of the oppressor, where workaholism is seen as the final source of a liberating experience. Hustle and Grind arise from a place of dude-bro (often a gym) culture. Therefore, the language game sustains the venomous nature of masculinity in the professional sphere, which eventually has effects that spill over to the the personal.
To understand the brutality behind breathless work isn’t to say that it hasn’t helped many women to pursue and achieve their dreams. But what is essential is not just an appreciation of choice, but acknowledging how choice is a privilege not extended to many.
Productivity, Body and Mental Health
While there is a dissonance between productivity and feminism, it simultaneously perpetuates violence on bodies and the mind (whose victims are majorly women). The labour conditions and laws (eg- in the case of sweatshop labour) place material production over values for human bodies. The final aims of efficiency and perfection override consideration for human rights. Moreover, mental health nowhere figures in the blueprints of the company, wherein it is believed that one could drop their mind outside the office gate. Emotional and spiritual well-being are seen as peripheral to successes and accomplishments. Diminished self-esteem and anxiety, both by-products of relentless productivity, are shunned as one is assumed to be a cog in the machine (and machines don’t feel!)
Also read: Yoga-tta Be Kidding Me: Capitalism and Gaslighting in Modi’s India
Therefore, it is imperative that we change the narrative of productivity by allowing it to be defined in multiple hues, given the context (negating the universality claims of capitalist societies). We need to reconfigure our conception of it, to ensure that the question of who is productive and how are they productive becomes wider in its scope and in congruence with feminism. One should not be made to feel inadequate or miserable for procrastination. Procrastination is only an exercise of prioritisation, where one chooses a value higher than the one capitalism reinforces. Anyway, who said perfection and efficiency are the goals of humanity (probably men)?
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