An earlier version of my effort to conceptualize my academic project. I'm still convinced by a lot of the basic framework, although the draft doesn't approach the consolidation of white supremacy that occurs after the second world war. If I were to rewrite this, it would bring the structures of racialization that are at the center of the division of labor and the regimes of accumulation that define capitalist modernity.
I am interested in a complex knot of problems, which on the surface may look unconnected, but when one investigates further there is strong linkage. To begin with I am interested in provincializing the claims of the second wave feminist movement. I am not interested in this activity in order to show that the claims are wrong in a name of a feminism to come. Instead, my desire of provincialization is to understand second wave feminism as a particular response to a particular set of uneven relationships within a particular moment of capitalist modernity. That is to say, while the claim for a universal patriarchy may be problematic in a set of ways explicated in any number of ways, it might be useful in understanding certain concrete modes of resistance on the part of particular people. After all, it is important to remember the size and strength of the movement as well as the very important critiques.
So what do I mean by that? To begin with, we need to put the movement into a context of a broader history of the United States and its class struggles. The feminist movement comes after two particularly important events. The first is the labor peace. This implicit agreement operates on two axes and constitutes the terrain of post-War Fordist production. The first is an acceptance of capitalist management. That is to say, the most radical demands of the workers movement, workers’ control over the decision-making processes of production itself would be dropped. The second part of the agreement is more important for this conversation. This is the reciprocal promise on the part of management (in the name of the bourgeoisie) to offer much better pay for that work. The corollary to this element is 1.) suburbanization and 2.) the creation of a working class that can operate through the one paycheck family and the introduction of working class women into the household and domestic labor.
I want to understand that induction in a couple contexts. The first is the question of the commodification of the household. Broadly what I am pointing to here is the shift in the focus of economic production and the ways that Fordism tries to shore up capitalism by specific means of consumption. The common narrative of the Great Depression emphasizes the inability of workers to purchase the products they purchase. This also became an important rallying cry of the radical left of the period. This promise was met by dominant society, but not as a promise of a new society, but as a mode of pacification. The story of this linkage of the working classes to the economy of the commodity is told by a number of theorists from many perspectives, from Marcuse to Debord and Castoriadis, but they leave out the question of the role of gender within this economy.
The second frame I would like to understand this problem is within the framework of sexuality provided by Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 1. Foucault makes some interesting arguments abut class and the deployment of sexuality. Foucault argues against the traditional narrative of class and sexuality, the repressive hypothesis. This narrative reads sexuality as something that is repressed in order to make the working classes productive in one way or another. Foucault argues against this narrative, pointing out that the questions of sexuality pointed out by this narrative are primarily focused on the middle classes, and that the working class is left out of the narrative for some time. He argues that this deployment of sexuality instead becomes the way the bourgeoisie makes a claim to take the place of the aristocracy and its logic of blood. Foucault then argues that this analytic of sexuality then slowly permeates the rest of society in an uneven manner. My argument is that it is the Fordist economy that brings large sections of the white working class into this economy.
The vehicle that brings the question of the commodity and the question of the disciplining of sexuality together is the women’s magazine. The women’s magazines become an important site for the shifting economics structures of the United States. As the war ended, the United States government began to place articles in these magazines emphasizing the need for women to return to the domestic realm. These articles both offered a set of idealized disciplinary techniques for the household and linked this with a set of commodities containing the promise of a sort of domestic utopia. Betty Friedan becomes an interesting figure within this economy as she both played a role in the labor organizing of the earlier period and wrote for the Women’s magazines during the end of the war. She also plays out this shift, moving into married life, but eventually becoming disillusioned with this.
The feminist movement is simultaneously constituted by this moment and is unable to see the constitutive force that produced it, the backlash politics of the 1950’s. Feminism is in many ways the product of the neutralization of the political crisis of capital in the era before. The household becomes the center of this activity, both as the place to reproduce a willing citizenry, the place in which the political does not enter, etc. This also places women in the place of unvalorized, unpaid, repetitive labor with the only outlet to the public sphere through the purchase of commodities. Feminism then becomes a protest against this alienated, exploited position, but also reads history in a peculiar manner in which it finds itself everywhere….
However, it is important to simultaneously remember the power of the movement as well. It offered a savage critique of the normative structures of a society that had legitimated an extensive set of structures of domination through the modes of neutralization created through domestication. It also re-imagined the modes of labor and solidarity created within this sphere through as set of political practices ranging from conscious raising to collective child-care and more conventional modes of political activism. Within this context, it also offered ways of imagining different societies. This can be found in the work of any number of writers, including the work of Adrienne Rich and her notions of the lesbian continuum. For the sake of this piece however, the focus will be on the question of science fiction.
The 1960’s and 1970’s found a flurry of feminist utopias in the Science Fiction genre. It would be wrong to state that this is the origin of the genre. After all, one could point to the work of Cavendish, Gilman, and a few others. However, the amount and the quality of the production had increased a great deal. One got texts from LeGuin, Russ, Sargent, Piercy, etc. within this time period. The texts that I will focus on are those of Joanna Russ. Russ becomes an interesting author because of the emphasis on estrangement in her texts and the critical texts that she produced along side the novels. Those texts produce a set of arguments that intersect remarkably well with critic Darko Suvin’s conceptualization of science fiction. Both emphasize the element of cognitive estrangement, the ability of the science fiction text to allow for its reader to look at the world that she operates in through a new critical light. Suvin draws this concept from Brecht and the formalists. For Russ, science fiction can challenge structures of gender normativity that are naturalized in conventional texts as well as pointing to the possibilities of another world.
The text I intend to look at, The Female Man, tries to do precisely this. The premise of the text is a set of four women, who are in fact the same woman within four different worlds with considerably different social structures, “Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna a 1970’s feminist is trying to succeed in a man’s world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is from an earth in the not-so-distant future, with separate—and warring—female and make societies.” (Russ) This opens up two possibilities, 1. To examine the social constructedness of gendered subjectivity and denaturalize certain contemporary norms and 2. To point to alternative imaginations of what the world could be.
It is the second point that will be my emphasis in linking the book with the reimagination of the feminist project. It will be my ultimate argument that this utopian element appointment points to the critical anti-capitalist aspect of the project, the element that attacks the alienating structure of the commodity and the drudgery of household labor. It offers a radically different image of social relationship, that both destroys the commodity form, produces a new set of social relations around both labor and sexuality, and does away with men as both sign and enforcer of the old society. This places the project as one of many lines of flight against the domination of capital.