Feminisation: Halloumi, Souvlakis

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s ‘erratic Marxist’ Finance Minister, is being represented in line with a number of different stereotypes as part of the ideological response to, and sometimes even also defence of Syriza. Among these stereotypical representations is one briefly debated on a little Facebook thread, which is whether he is being ‘feminised’ by the media. This argument was kicked off by the objections to Varoufakis agreeing to a photo-shoot for Paris Match, which showed him posing with his wife in his lovely apartment in the shadow of the Parthenon while trying to sell a deal which would fool the Germans and mollify the Greeks.

The question seems to revolve around whether he is a tough guy standing up for Greece, a real man shoulder to shoulder with his comrades, or whether he is giving way and will be a passive partner with the Troika and so lead his country-folk to humiliating surrender. The stakes for Syriza are high, and the struggle inside the party (which Varoufakis has never actually been a member of) are still about buying time while enabling the Greek people to mobilise for the real showdown. That endgame has not yet arrived, and the choice between macho resistance or feminine submission is a distraction from the political-economic issues in the streets and strike-committees. But it is an ideological distraction that does show us something of the way that capitalism pits winners against losers and men and against women, and it draws attention to ‘feminisation’ as a significant process in which the work-force and then national identities are being reconfigured today.

This ‘feminisation’ should not be confused with feminism, and the only connection with the two is that the idea that women are more intuitive and caring of others – qualities that have historically been used to treat women as lesser than men while pretending to make them more lovely – which was mobilised by some feminists is now harnessed to the needs of contemporary capitalism. That is, some forms of feminism which emphasised the biological and ‘maternal’ character of women, sometimes tactically, have been recuperated, neutralised and absorbed by capitalism. This is the case most dramatically in the service-sector, which has rapidly expanded in the past fifty years in what is sometimes called ‘late capitalism’. The rise of the service-sector – including hotel, restaurant and shop-work, as well as all kinds of call-centre and consumer support – which now forms the highest proportion of the economy in most countries, including in the ‘developing’ world, saw the re-entry into the workforce of women on a massive scale. The early years of capitalism in Europe had actually involved women as workers – something lost to historical memory with the enclosure of women as home-makers in the nuclear family – and the globalisation of capitalism now calls upon women as workers world-wide.

Women in the service-sector are especially valuable employees because they bring stereotypical ‘feminine’ values to the work-place and to interaction with customers, and this involves more intense forms of exploitation and alienation. The feminist sociologist Arlie Hochschild described in her book ‘The Managed Heart’ how airline stewardesses, for example, have to be not only efficient workers but also super-attentive to the needs of travellers, and this ‘emotional labour’ is draining. All the more so because the stewardesses have to engage in what Hochschild called ‘deep acting’ in which they display their emotions to others so that they are not able easily to guard a private space away from the work-place. It is difficult to remember that this work, this interaction with the customer, is not all there is to life when emotional energy is poured into being very nice to them. This feminisation of interaction with customers then spins into a broader feminisation inside organisations, and now not only in the service-sector, as there are demands to comply and to mean it, to be very nice to managers and to show some depth of emotional commitment to the organisation. This is then the context in which managerial advice is given to help women (and men who must also learn from women in this process of feminisation) to cope and help workers present ‘a positive face’ to their customers and employers.

This feminisation of capitalism, the entry of women into the work-force, their exploitation and then the transformations of the process of capital accumulation which entail the management of emotion as well as behaviour, also has repercussions for the way the oppressed are treated and represented. Racism, for example, has drawn on a range of contradictory strategies to pathologise the oppressed, sometimes treating Black men as hyper-masculine, as an animalistic threat to civilization, which is assumed to be something closer to feminine sensibilities, sometimes feminising races and nations who are treated as if they are child-like, like women, and so not yet up to the standards of modern rational society. This is lose-lose for the oppressed as the game of stereotypical masculinity versus femininity and the trap of feminisation is set for them. Resistance to imperialism can then be characterised as macho protest, as refusing to comply with the rules of the game, or, at the very same time, the ‘other’ of the West can be rendered as less than masculine, feminised, which was the argument made by Edward Said in his depiction of strategies of ‘orientialism’, which is clearly relevant to the way that Greece is now being treated as traitor to the European ideal and, by implication, closer to the orient. It is in this sense that we might say that Varoufakis himself is being ‘feminised’.

One response to the recruitment of women’s stereotypical qualities and capacity for care in the service sector is to connect that care to solidarity and so to deliberately make the link once again between feminisation and feminism, though this time in such a way as to reframe those qualities as strengths rather than weaknesses. This has been the way for some Marxist traditions learning from feminism and re-defining their politics so that collective mobilisation connects with everyday life, so that ‘big politics’ connects with the everyday political tasks and with how men and women relate to each other. This is Marxist feminism that takes seriously the slogan ‘the personal is the political’, and it is in that context that there have been discussions inside Socialist Resistance, for example, about ‘feminising the organisation’.

Another response, which complements this attempt to revalue the contribution of women in radical politics, is to unravel masculine stereotypes and so open the space for a different, perhaps queerer way of working through questions of power. This unravelling of stereotypes in politics by exaggerating them and mocking them sometimes backfires but is still worth a go. This is the way in some of the interventions to support Syriza negotiating with the Troika, inside Greece and inside Germany. This unravelling applies to national and gender stereotypes. Rumours from Athens immediately after the election of Syriza in January included that a popular chant among some demonstrators in support of the new government was ‘Halloumi, Souvlakis, Yanis Varoufakis’, though the nearest slender evidence for this actually has ‘bread’ instead of halloumi (which is actually Cypriot). Meanwhile, German solidarity with Syriza has sometimes been more implicit, self-mocking and targeted the image of Varoufakis, not as feminised as such but rather as the other side of feminisation, as a hyper-masculine leather-jacketed motor-biking threat.

1 Comment

  1. Greece isn’t innocent. 1830s saw the dawn of its rural people entangled with the financiers Europe. Since Independence, she’s been loan sharks victim managed internally by a rising corrupt political class fawning over the idea of a utopian, European way of life. Plutocrats use her as a treasure plaything. Over 200 years, only the last 20 has the majority been able to live anything nearing a safe, fair standard of living. Illusion of flimsy default swap paper in Europe’s seraglios.

    Nowhere were the NAZI atrocities, mass starvation, rapes and summary executions, worse than Greece. Yet, St. Paul’s country had the decency to allow Germany to regain her composure. In post-war years the countryside further depopulated by out migration. For two decades émigrés remittances were greater than the country’s annual GDP. Remittances mitigated need to develop stable social safety net. Remittances opened space for the country to begin building modern infrastructure. From this view sees whether or not Greeks are lazy tax evaders. From here thinking people must judge the current dismantling of the modern, democratic Greek state by the unholy financial triumvirate.

    Tsipras not a crony. The OECD is on board to help begin internal reforms. OECD has made an extensive internal assessment of conditions proposing detailed reforms. Teams are ready to begin working. Changing social behavior will take time. Prosecutors are tracking down tax cheaters and off shore accounts. Tsipras has been straight with Euro leaders. He’s asked for debt conference: dismissed.

    Who made Germany boss? That Greece cooked the books prior to Euro entry isn’t proven. Stournaras, head Greek Central Bank a previous finance minister, published details in the British press. Yet, journalists continue to parrot exaggerations. Debt is unsustainable. People like Mark Carney have said so. The debt may be as low as 40B. Capital flow tracking shows the beneficiary of Greece’s participation in the EU is Germany. Financial capital tracking shows that the economic onslaught on Greece since 2010 has been Germany’s gain. Greece is a good member of NATO protecting Europe’s southeastern flank at a time of Eurasian instability. US ambassador went to see Tsipras earlier in the week. Orphanidis has explained how Cyprus came under attack for having a banking sector in competition with Luxembourg. I’m afraid European love-in empress has flimsy clothes.

    Only Germany is in a position to change the rules and resolve the…crisis. If a debtor country tried it, it would be punished… Only Germany can end the nightmare…. Soros 2014.

    Geithner tells since 2010 the plan is to crush Greece. The architect of debt is a man who was brought down shamefaced on New York pavement by a third world born chamber maid. Germany has forestalled addressing her war debts to Greece for seventy years. I’m amused by sophisticated ruses brought out of backrooms to counteract discussion of what’s really going on: separation of church and state, separation of public and private spheres, sudden popular taboo against talk of Germany’s war crimes. Mr. Schauble is the author of a book that sees religion as a tool to mollify the dispossessed. Will jihadists be convinced? Last week, he bordered hate crime coining: amputate Greece. Within hours unnamed sources from his department infect cyber sphere with this blood sacrifice imagery.Kahn’s ex-wife says, well what’s wrong with forcing a third world maid servicing the head of peripheral economies. It’s from this view that I judge Lagarde’s demands that Greece sell its strategic assets. German firms are notorious in kickback schemes.

    Obama and Merkel spoke yesterday:
    run the clock out. Strangle hold.

    To Alex’s David, I say, abort the stone strategy. Exit the squeeze. Let Germany deal with the consequences. Greek people have been squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. Riots across Europe.

    Didn’t anyone tell Athens that Merkle would talk, talk, while they ran out of cash, cash?
    Cash outflows of Greek banks, everything on plan. Oligarchs leave then capital controls imposed. Capital controls circularity trick timed just right: wealthy out before little people start for door. Few more weeks of talking a “solution”. Then triumvirate will force the best for the country! Assets cheap enough then capital comes back. Republicans did this in 1990s in the Savings and Loan crisis. Paul Myers commentary in the Financial Times.

    Dangerous. Greece is an important western ally. The Economist makes a mistake in not bringing Obama and Merkle to task. Explain why Juncker floats the idea of an EU military. If Greece is destabilized, I for one, rather see that come through her elect rather than German machinations. Madame Frau: come out of the bushes. You and Schuable cultivate fascists by asphyxiating the dispossessed. Greece was for truth in WWII. She is for truth now.

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