In the face of global economic crisis and the dismantling of social programs under austerity policies, many feminists are re-engaging Marx’s critique of capitalism. This return to Marx is necessary if we are effectively to overcome gender oppression, especially since the latest trends in feminism—or at least those “fit to print” and discussed in the popular press—place the onus of equal treatment squarely on women’s shoulders. Newfound feminists like Sheryl Sandberg advise women to “lean in” and adjust their behavior to suit the aggressively entrepreneurial norms rewarded in the real world that men lead. As Nancy Fraser aptly puts it, these tendencies within feminism serve as “capitalism’s handmaiden”: such identity-centered, cultural critiques have helped obscure capital’s dependency on gendered oppressions.… Fortunately, recent scholarship by Heather Brown as well as Federici herself provides useful insights for feminists on how to reconsider Marxist theory.
Since second wave feminism is the largest social movement in the history of the United States, it is surprising that there are fewer than a dozen autobiographies written by the activists of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Roberta Salper’s Domestic Subversive is a welcome addition, especially because it is well-written, often with humor, and promises an anti-imperialist feminist analysis.… Domestic Subversive is a feminist’s take on a range of organizations of the left from 1960 to 1976: the student movement in Spain, New Left movement in the United States, Marxist-Leninist Puerto Rican Socialist Party in the United States and Puerto Rico, and a prestigious liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., the Latin American Unit of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), where she worked as a Resident Fellow.
Marge Piercy is the author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 (Knopf, 2011). Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial, 2005) and she has just published her first collection of short stories, The Cost of Lunch, Etc. (PM Press, 2014).
In recent years, there has been little discussion of Marx’s writings on gender and the family, but in the 1970s and ’80s, these writings were subject to a great deal of debate. In a number of cases, elements of Marx’s overall theory were merged with psychoanalytic or other forms of feminist theory….These scholars viewed Marx’s theory as primarily gender-blind and in need of an additional theory to understand gender-relations as well. However, they retained Marx’s historical materialism as a starting point for understanding production. Moreover, a number of Marxist feminists also made their own contributions in the late 1960s to ’80s, particularly in the area of political economy [when they] tried to revalue housework. [Others] attempted to move beyond dual systems towards a unitary understanding of political economy and social reproduction [or show] that Marx can be used to understand the historical development of women’s nature.
In the past few years numerous authors have examined how the current economic crisis in Spain has differential impacts on women and men. While this is important to show, this article’s goal is to make the leap from a mere description of the gendered effects of the crisis, to an analysis of some of the very gendered processes that shape it at its core. In other words, the intent is to understand how both the crisis itself and the ways the state manages it are structurally shaped by gender.… [This article will argue] that the primitive accumulation, or accumulation by dispossession, currently taking place in Spain is deeply shaped by gender in the sense that one of the main strategies capital develops, and the state implements, is to push the responsibilities that the state formerly had for public welfare back onto women and households.
The astonishingly high number of women migrating is a new global trend. In the past it was mainly men who went to countries far away; women came as followers. In the last twenty years, however, this has changed so much that today over half of all migrants are women. Furthermore, female migrants have often become the main or single wage earners of their families. Saskia Sassen calls this the “feminization of survival”—societies, governments, and states more and more depend on the work of women in the labor force. Thus the necessary conditions of work and survival fall increasingly on the shoulders of low-waged, deprived, and exploited migrant women.
Nothing makes me more hopeful than discovering another human being to admire. My wonder at the life of Celia Sánchez, a revolutionary Cuban woman virtually unknown to Americans, has left me almost speechless. In hindsight, loving and admiring her was bound to happen, once I knew her story. Like Frida Kahlo, Zora Neale Hurston, Rosa Luxemburg, Agnes Smedley, Fannie Lou Hamer, Josephine Baker, Harriet Tubman, or Aung San Suu Kyi, Celia Sánchez was that extraordinary expression of life that can, every so often, give humanity a very good name.
In 1513, en route to Panama, Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa ordered forty Quaraca men to be ripped apart by his hunting dogs. Their offense? Being “dressed as women” and having sexual relations with each other. The homophobia and transphobia behind Balboa’s actions are far from arcane relics of the past, and violence against LGBTQ people continues to this day, both legally sanctioned and in the streets.… Queer (In)Justice examines the violence that LGBTQ people face regularly, from attacks on the street to institutionalized violence from police and prisons.… [The authors] center race, class, and gender/gender nonconformity in analyzing the myriad ways in which LGBTQ people have been policed, prosecuted, and punished from colonial times to the present day.
By any measure, Adrienne Rich lived an exemplary life. When she died last March 27, aged eighty-two, she was acknowledged by many critics as perhaps this country’s foremost poet.… Throughout her writing life, Adrienne Rich’s vision of a better world was clear. In her 2008 collection A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society Rich claimed Che Guevara, Karl Marx, and Rosa Luxemburg as defining heroes. It did not matter if she was speaking to a room full of undergraduates or, having made the long painful climb up the hill to the Women’s Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, to teach poetry to its inmates, Adrienne’s voice was trenchant. So it was not surprising that when the commercial media ran obituaries of her, they sanitized her life and work, giving more emphasis to her awards than her work, characterizing her as angry rather than radical. At MR however, we preferred to hear her words: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work” (from “Claiming an Education,” 1977).
Our senses are currently whip-driven by a feverish new pace of technological change. The activities that mark us as human, though, don’t begin, exist in, or end by such a calculus. They pulse, fade out, and pulse again in human tissue, human nerves, and in the elemental humus of memory, dreams, and art, where there are no bygone eras. They are in us, they can speak to us, they can teach us if we desire it.… In fact, for Westerners to look back on 1900 is to come full face upon ourselves in 2000, still trying to grapple with the hectic power of capitalism and technology, the displacement of the social will into the accumulation of money and things. “Thus” (Karl Marx in 1844) “all physical and intellectual senses (are) replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses, the sense of having.” We have been here all along.
Marxism and feminism are usually seen as divorced from each other today, following the breakup of what Heidi Hartmann famously called their “unhappy marriage.” Yet, some theorists still show the influence of both. In my view, Joan Acker is both one of the leading analysts of gender and class associated with the second wave of feminism, and one of the great contributors to what has been called “feminist historical materialism.” In the latter respect, I would place her next to such important proponents of feminist standpoint theory as Nancy Hartsock, Dorothy Smith, and Sandra Harding. These thinkers, as Fredric Jameson has rightly said, represent the “most authentic” heirs of Lukács’s critical Marxist view articulating the proletarian standpoint—giving this dialectical insight added meaning by applying it to gender relations.
Roger N. Lancaster, Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011), 328 pages, $24.95, paperback.