Nature and civilization are the foundational themes that ground the highly acclaimed work by Patel and Moore (p. 24). The text focuses on how capitalism has orchestrated a global ecological crisis and traces it way back from its origins in the 16th century. They posit that it is inadequate, if not misleading, to describe the current age we live in as the Anthropocene – we are rather living in the Capitolocence (pg. 1). The former would have implied that the dangers of climate change that we face today are a product of humans just being themselves.
This is not true as our current planetary crisis is weaved on capitalism- a system that only benefits the minority and harms the planet in the process. The root of capitalism in the text is the distinction between Nature and society. It is argued that without this distinction, it is impossible to rationalize a world where profit is the driving force. The current assignment requires a discussion of the statement that woman is to Nature as man is to civilization. This implies that women are deemed as outsiders to civilization and subjected to exploitation synonymous with that of the natural world by the capitalist establishment. Men on the other hand are the upper class, in the driving seat of capitalism and thus forming civilization, or what Patel and Moore (24) describe as “society” in the emerging dichotomy in the world. This seems to be a correct observation. Patel and Moore show that women, alongside indigenous people and people of color are outsiders of society, not in any natural sense, but as a capitalist fiction necessary to facilitate its ends. Men are on the other hand part of civilization, forming the minority that profits from capitalism.
Patel and Moore (23) correctly observe that the emerging split between Nature and society places women on the side of the former. In the absence of capitalism, there exists no dichotomy between Nature and society/civilization. They are all part of the web of life. Everything that human beings produce and consume is co-created with the natural world. However, for capitalism to thrive and cement profit as the driving force of human life; there is need to manufacture an otherwise non-existent difference between the natural world and society. Patel and Moore (23) argue that through this contrived dichotomy, capitalists only view the ocean as a storage facility for fish that is yet to be captured for our use and a rubbish bin for our wastes. More importantly, this dichotomy is the basis of inclusion for women, people of color and indigenous societies. They are viewed as less human or barely so, and thus more of part of the natural world. The difference between nature and society cheapens them, making them outcast and at the same level with non-human components of the world like forests and animals. Therefore, women are not part of Nature by design or any reality sense, but due to capitalism that not only creates the dichotomy but sustains the oppression of such groups in order to pursue profits. This foundational split of Nature and society forms the basis of other forms of “cheapening” under the capitalist system (p. 25). It is for this reason the author terms it as the “original sin” upon which the rest of the capitalist establishment is anchored.
Further, Patel and Moore (p. 31) show that care has been cheapened by devaluing the contribution of women to support capitalist ends, which firmly places them on the side of Nature. The split between Nature and society acts as a basis of determining whose work matters and whose does not (p. 23). This has been largely manifested in the devaluation of the labor contribution of women in society, which goes on to support cheap labor in the capitalist industries. The family is an important entity in society, providing the means of reproduction and continuity. In order to entrench capitalism, the labor of women was initially less valued and later cheapened into no dollar value at all. Patel and Moore (p. 31) explain how this manifested in the early days in the Brazilian Sugar industry where women slaves were 20% cheaper than men. Pay cuts in 16th and 17th century Europe saw women disproportionately affected, receiving only a third of the already reduced male wage rates. Women were confined to domestic roles, which received no pay eventually, with those who insisted of taking part in the public sphere burnt as “witches”. The authors argue that patriarchy was not just a by-product of capitalism but a fundamental element to it. It was for this reason that by the end of the 17th century, the work of women was dismissed as “non work”. This devaluation of domestic activities has rendered work of great value by women in the economy invisible. Patel and Moore (p. 32) for instance highlight studies that show reproductive work to be of higher value than London’s highly noted financial services industry in the UK. Thus, the devaluation of women’s work and categorizing it as “non-work” effectively support the proposition that women are Nature while men form the civilization in modern capitalist societies.
There is economic and political evidence in support for the argument put forth by Patel and Moore. The thesis that women are Nature and men part of civilization is highly supported contemporary observations in the labor market and gender relations. The former is economic while the latter is political. Nemoto (p. 98) observes that women in the Japanese labor market are severely disadvantaged when compared to their male counterparts. Most traditional companies pay household benefits to men, which contributes to a pay gap. Women are also less mobile, and are barely capable of getting work outside their places of work, let alone secure greener pastures. Japanese companies have three major customs that segregate women. These are seniority pay, career-track hiring and the aforementioned household benefits. This reinforces the point made by Patel and Moore (p. 31) on the devaluation of women’s work. It is not that they do less work or cannot rise up the ladder to earn as much as those on top, but rather that the capitalist establishment is designed against them. Radhakrishnan and Solari (p. 784) show that the idea that capitalism has liberated women by making them part of the workforce and led to men being “disadvantaged” is far-fetched. The idea that work is a form of empowerment to women fails to acknowledge that such women only take part in the global capitalist economy as “cheap labor”. There are thus no “empowered women and failed patriarchs” as it is commonly suggested. Women firmly remain as part of Nature, with their labor highly devalued, while men form the minority that profits from the capitalist establishment. Ramazanoglu (p. 341) on the other hand shows that studies critically appraising masculinity are a good step to the extent that they agree that male gender is socially constructed. However, there is a problem in claiming that masculine patriarchy has also oppressed men. The evidence points out that women, in as far as gender relations are concerned are the ones that have been subject of oppression, and the notion that men are equally victimized still lacks empirical support. Thus, the capitalism system still rears the same economic and political consequences observed by Patel and Moore.
Ideologically, Patel and Moore are on firm grounds that capitalism contrived the distinction between Nature and society, using it as a basis of oppression. Contrary to popular myths, there is no evidence that women and men are fundamentally different to the extent that the latter become superior and dominant as a natural consequence. Reed (p. 58) shows that the claim of men being superior to women as a natural law is misleading. The inequality in the world can be traced from three successive structures: chattel slavery, feudalism and capitalism. While it is assumed that women are naturally inferior because of their reproductive duties, evidence points to a different past where primitive societies were matriarchal in nature. Women were both leaders and organizers, with their reproductive capabilities conferring them both power and prestige (p. 59). The idea that labor in the pre-modern period was strictly divided into men doing productive work on the outside and women doing reproductive and household chores is also farfetched. Flather (p. 344) shows that household work strategies were diverse as a matter of necessity. Thus, men and women were not only similar naturally but also in terms of the roles they played in the labor market. To place one on the side of Nature and the other civilization is an act that cannot survive outside capitalism. Women have suffered both slave labor and reproductive labor, which have the common characteristic of being unwaged (Fuchs, 682). This has slowly entrenched the capitalist categorization of women as Nature, and effectively promoted their oppression.
Woman is to Nature as Man is to civilization is a plausible statement in the context of capitalism. The survival of capitalist ideology relies on creating the dichotomy between Nature and society, through which a patriarchal tyranny is sustained. Patel and Moore show two ways through which this is attained. First, by categorizing women as Nature, they are positioned for exploitation together with other non-human resources like Forests. They are generally excluded from society, which leads to the devaluation of their labor and eventually treatment of it as non-work. Contemporary experiences in the labor market support these observations and show that indeed, women are paid less than men, with their increased labor participation far from embodying real liberation. Politically, men are still in control with the labor market favoring them, while attempts to suggest that they are equally oppressed by patriarchy devoid of empirical evidence. On the ideological front, it is also evident that the dichotomy between Nature and society is purely a capitalist creation, with men and women having no differences per se in their natural reality. Women were not only the superior gender in pre-modern societies, but also enjoyed diverse roles and were not necessarily confined to household duties. The emerging capitalism, as noted by Patel and Moore, is thus entirely to blame for gender inequality.
Flather, Amanda J. “3. space, place, and gender: The sexual and spatial division of labor in the early modern household.” History and Theory 52, no. 3 (2013): 344-360.
Fuchs, Christian. “Capitalism, patriarchy, slavery, and racism in the age of digital capitalism and digital labour.” Critical Sociology 44, no. 4-5 (2018): 677-702.
Nemoto, Kumiko. Too few women at the top: The persistence of inequality in Japan. Cornell University Press, 2016.
Patel, Raj, and Jason W. Moore. A history of the world in seven cheap things: A guide to capitalism, nature, and the future of the planet. Univ of California Press, 2017.
Radhakrishnan, Smitha, and CinziaSolari. “Empowered women, failed patriarchs: Neoliberalism and global gender anxieties.” Sociology Compass 9, no. 9 (2015): 784-802.
Ramazanoglu, Caroline. “What can you do with a man?: Feminism and the critical appraisal of masculinity.” In Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 339-350. Pergamon, 1992.
Reed, Evelyn. “The Myth of Women’s Inferiority” Fourth International 15, no. 2 (1954): 58-66