Labour Women are calling for a ’Yes’ vote in the Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum. Women, they say, have something of a duty to vote in favour of the Treaty because the Treaty speaks to concerns and values peculiar to women, and important to our sense of identity as good women:
- Women are ‘good housekeepers’. (The national economy is like a household or a family)
- Women are good mothers. We care about providing a safe future for our children.
- Women are committed to the social protection agenda. We feel a sense of solidarity with poor women, who depend on the state for significant portions of their income.
- Women know that the state is committed to gender equality programmes, and that without a rich state, meaningful gender equality is impossible.
- Women are responsible. We are not risk takers and so we will not want to throw away the ‘insurance policy’ of the ESM.
- Women avoid conflict and will identify with the message of collaboration central to the Treaty.
This gendered presentation of the pro-Treaty agenda is of more than passing interest. I only have time to say one quick thing about it, which is that it might be worth reading Labour Women’s pro-Treaty materials alongside some of Lauren Berlant’s writing. She talks about the ways in which we become attached to abstractions in which the state is invested, like ’equalities’ , capitalism, the currency or the European Union. Women are bound to these things by feeling ’feminist’/responsible/co-operative/prudent/European together. But these attachments are sometimes sources of great suffering. We may cling to fantasies of the state which clash violently with the actual conditions of being in society. In recent work Berlant has written about the notion of ‘cruel optimism’. She says that a relation of cruel optimism exists “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing”. The Austerity state we are invested in may not be for us.
In the course of the economic crisis, it has become clear that the state is no longer sovereign; that, as Berlant says, it is ‘ in the same abject and contingent relation to private capital that ordinary people are‘. Elsewhere, she says that the the ‘Euro-American state is a cowardly lion, a weeping bully, a plaintive lover to finance capital. It cannot bear to admit that, having grown its own administrative limbs to serve at the pleasure of the new sovereign of privatized wealth, that the wealthy feel no obligation to feed the state.’
Berlant argues that, in order to ensure its own survival, the state must reattach our collective fantasy to essential abstractions. But it must orchestrate that process of reattachment in ways which do not require that the state admits its fundmental weaknesses and failures. So we are told that our previous attachments – to a version of the equalities agenda, to ‘social protection’, to decent wages – are (temporarily?) too expensive and must be revised. The state demands that women find satisfaction and pleasure in the austerity agenda. Berlant writes: ‘[a]usterity sounds good, clean, ascetic: the lines of austerity are drawn round a polis to incite it toward askesis, toward managing its appetites and taking satisfaction in a self-management in whose mirror of performance it can feel proud and superior. In capitalist logics of askesis, the workers’ obligation is to be more rational than the system, and their recompense is to be held in a sense of pride at surviving the scene of their own attrition.’
That’s what Labour Women’s rhetoric of the prudent, risk-averse, hard-working Irish wife and mother is about.