Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”
“Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
Review of Radical Political Economics Vol 17(3):86-108, 1985. [PDF]
The failure of the feminist movement to address the concerns of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American women is currently engendering widespread discussion in white women’s organizations. Paralleling this discussion is a growing interest among racial ethnic women  in articulating aspects of their experiences that have been ignored in feminist analyses of women’s oppression (e.g. oral histories by Sterling 1979; Elessar, MacKenzie and Tixier y Vigil 1980; Kim 1983; and social and historical studies by Dill 1979; Mirande and Enriquez 1979; Davis 1981; Hooks 1981; Jones 1984). 
As an initial corrective, racial ethnic scholars have begun research on racial ethnic women in relation to employment, the family and the ethnic community, both historically and contemporarily (e.g. Acosta-Belen 1979; Mora and Del Castillo 1980; Melville 1980; Rodgers-Rose 1980; Tsuchida 1982). The most interesting of these studies describe the social world and day-to-day struggles of racial ethnic women, making visible what has up to now been invisible in the social sciences and humanities. These concrete data constitute the first step toward understanding the effects of race and gender oppression in the lives of racial ethnic women. Read more…
“Human Capital or Toxic Asset: After the Wage”
Reartikulacija, 2010. [link]
This is a sequence of reflections on affirmation and negation, on identification and severance: determinate negation as strategic affirmation, the identification of concrete universals and severance from a defunct relation. These lines will be explored with reference to the current situation of the waged and unwaged working class, most proximately in Britain, as “debt” becomes the ideological white noise and the practical horizon of all social and political imagination. Household indebtedness is confused with the state deficit in the spontaneous ideology of the Conservative austerity agenda, as what remains of the crisis-riddled economy is sacrificed to the “debt” – as poor people to loan sharks, so Britain to the bond investors. The nationalist narrative of “we’re all in this together” eliminates any space for discussion as to who might bear greater responsibility for the crisis, and who should be paying for it. The announced cuts make it all too clear – it’s the bloated public sector and welfare payments which are responsible, and those that have the least shall have even that taken away, as the Biblical parable goes. Yet a fatalistic consensus prevails for now, transfixed by a menace beyond dispute: the “debt.” Read more…
“Just Do It! Bodies and Images of Women in the New Division of Labor”
“Representation needs to be contextualized from several points. The representation of texts and images does not reflect the world as a mirror, mere translation of its sources, but is rather remodeled, coded in rhetorical terms. (…) Representation may be understood as a visible formal ‘articulation’ of social order “.
Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference, 1994
WORK> NON WORK: REDEFINITIONS FROM FEMINISM
“What do you do? What is your occupation?” Although every day we all reply quite easily to this apparently simple question, if we stop and carefully think what is our interlocutor demanding, we conclude that, in fact, what he/she really wants to know is the job we have or the activity or activities we make for a living and does not expect us at all to enumerate the wide range of actions, relations and productions that we unfold throughout the day.
Defining work and its limits in abstract terms at the present time, where the times and locations of production became blurred and extended, is not an easy task. However, experiencing its consequences on our bodies seems to be less complicated, especially if we consider a definition of work that goes beyond the economistic view (whether neoclassical or Marxist) and, especially, if we understand our sustainment of a daily life and our daily incorporation of personalities and social actions as spaces and (re)productive efforts. Everything that tires, that occupies, that disciplines and stresses our body, but also everything that constructs it, that takes care of it, that gives it pleasure and maintains it, is work. Read more…
“On the Woman Question: An Orientation”
Source: An SWP discussion held on 3rd September 1951, opened by CLR James. [Link]
A new stage has been reached. We are finished with endless discussions on male chauvinism. We have no more time for individual attacks against individual men who are backward or against individual women who do not want to be “emancipated.” These people will reorient themselves and will be drawn into their own struggles.
Now for the first time we know where we are going. We did not develop accidentally. The ideas explicit in this document are the concrete manifestations of the movement of capitalism and the reaction of the masses of women today. It is this reaction that we shall attempt to concretize in this document. Read more…
Precarias a la Deriva, “Close encounters in the second phase: The communication continuum: care-sex-attention”
“Close encounters in the second phase: The communication continuum: care-sex-attention”
Precarias a la Deriva
Nov. 2003 [link]
Ya, desde el famoso 11 de setiembre
Ya, en una guerra global permanente
Yo, que vivo en guerra cotidianamente
Yo salgo a las calles y digo que NO!
(to strike in A major, to the tune of “Yo te amo con la fuerza de los mares”)
POINT OF DEPARTURE
In the months that followed the “Grand Show” of December of 2002, we began to give shape to what all of us understood as a second phase in our exploration of women’s precarious work. Some moved to other places and no longer shared the day to day of Precarias in Madrid, others joined the group or proposed particular initiatives: the publication of a text in a book or a web page, participation in a conference, collaboration in a video, or else accompanied us in organizing processes or in a mobilization. This coming and going makes room for a mode of networked cooperation which is not so much about belonging, in this case to the group of Precarias, as it is about opening a field of communication and fluid action – sometimes perhaps too diffuse – which we hope will become a means of constructing a new space of aggregation: the Laboratory of Women Workers. Read more…
“First Stutterings of ‘Precarias a la Deriva’”
Precarias a la Deriva
April, 2003 [Link]
Trabajo flexible ¿Es que somos invisibles?
Trabajo inmaterial ¡Ay que estrés mental!
Trabajo de jornalera ¡Eso es la repera!
(Little song by Precarias a la Deriva in the General Strike of 20 June 2002)
Precarias a la deriva (Precarious women workers adrift) is a collective project of investigation and action. The concerns of the participants in this open project converged the 20th of June 2002, the day of the general strike called by the major unions in Spain. Some of us had already initiated a trajectory of reflection and intervention in questions of the transformations of labor (in groups such as ‘ZeroWork’ and Sex, Lies and Precariousness, or individually), others wished to begin to think through these themes. In the days before the strike we came together to brainstorm an intervention which would reflect our times, aware that the labor strike, as the culminating expression of a process of struggle, was unsatisfactory for us for three reasons: (1) for not taking up –and this is no novelty- the experience and the unjust division of domestic work and care, almost entirely done by women in the ‘non-productive’ sphere, (2) for the marginalization to which both the forms of action and the proposals of the strike condemn those in types of work –ever more common- which are generally lumped together as ‘precarious’ and (3) for not taking into consideration precarious, flexible, invisible or undervalued work, specifically that of women and/or migrants (sexual, domestic, assistance, etc.). As a friend recently pointed out in the context of the more recent ‘political’ strike against the war (April 10, 2003), “How do we invent new forms of striking when production fragments and dislocates itself, when it is organized in such a way that to stop working for a few hours (or even 24) does not necessarily effect the production process, and when our contract situation is so fragile that striking today means risking the possibility of working tomorrow?” Read more…
“Patriarchy, Domestic Mode of Production, Gender, and Class”
Translated by Diana Leonard
The analysis of patriarchy in our society that I have been developing for the last fifteen years has a history I would like to detail. I came to my use of the concept and to the model growing out of it by way of two projects whose theoretical concerns might seem unrelated. One project was to study the transmission of family property (patrimony), and the other was to reply to criticisms of the women’s liberation movement that come from the Left.
As it happened, when I started to do research on these two topics, I found that lack of relatedness was only apparent. This might have been predictable from the coherent commitment that had led me to these topics: I had wanted to work “on women,” which is to say, for me, on women’s oppression. Yet my director of studies at the time told me this was not possible, so I chose to study the inheritance of property instead, eventually to get back to my initial interest by an indirect route. In my research I first discovered what a great quantity of goods change hands without passing through the market; instead, these goods were passed through the family, as gifts or “inheritance.” I also discovered that the science of economics, which purports to concern itself with everything related to the exchange of goods in society, is in fact concerned with only one of the of systems of production, circulation, and consumption of goods: the market. Read more…
“Precarious Changes: Gender and Generational Politics in Contemporary Italy”
Feminist Review 87 (5–20), 2007. [PDF]
The issue of a generational exchange in Italian feminism has been crucial over the last decade. Current struggles over precariousness have revived issues previously raised by feminists of the 1970s, recalling how old forms of instability and precarious employment are still present in Italy. This essay starts from the assumption that precariousness is a constitutive aspect of many young Italian women’s lives. Young Italian feminist scholars have been discussing the effects of such precarity on their generation. This article analyses the literature produced by political groups of young scholars interested in gender and feminism connected to debates on labour and power in contemporary Italy. One of the most successful strategies that younger feminists have used to gain visibility has involved entering current debates on precariousness, thus forcing a connection with the larger Italian labour movement. In doing so, this new wave of feminism has destabilized the universalism assumed by the 1970s generation. By pointing to a necessary generational change, younger feminists have been able to mark their own specificity and point to exploitative power dynamics within feminist groups, as well as in the family and in the workplace without being dismissed. In such a layered context, many young feminists argue that precariousness is a life condition, not just the effect of job market flexibility and not solely negative. The literature produced by young feminists addresses the current strategies engineered to make ‘their’ precarious life more sustainable. This essay analyses such strategies in the light of contemporary Italian politics. The main conclusion is that younger Italian women’s experience requires new strategies and tools for struggle, considering that the visibility of women as political subjects is still quite minimal. Female precariousness can be seen as a fruitful starting point for a dialogue across differences, addressing gender and reproduction, immigration, work and social welfare at the same time. Read more…
Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning, “Political Work with Women and as Women in the Present Conditions: Interview with Silvia Federici”
“Political Work with Women and as Women in the Present Conditions: Interview with Silvia Federici”
Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning
Reclamations #3, Dec. 2010. [link]
Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning: You have written about university struggles in the context of neo-liberal restructuring. Those struggles responded to attempts to enclose the knowledge commons. Do you see the university struggles of the last years as a continuation of the struggles against the enclosure of knowledge? Or as something new? Has the economic crisis altered in some fundamental way the context of university struggles?
Silvia Federici: I see the students’ mobilization that has been mounting on the North American campuses, especially in California, as part of a long cycle of struggle against the neo-liberal restructuring of the global economy and the dismantling of public education that began in the mid-1980s in Africa and Latin America, and is now spreading to Europe—as the recent student revolt in London demonstrated. At stake, in each case, has been more than resistance to the “enclosure of knowledge.” The struggles of African students in the 1980s and 1990s were particularly intense because students realized that the drastic university budget cuts the World Bank demanded signaled the end of the “social contract” that had shaped their relation with the state in the post-independence period, making education the key to social advancement and participatory citizenship. They also realized, especially on hearing World Bankers argue that “Africa has no need for universities,” that behind the cuts a new international division of work was rearticulated that re-colonized African economies and devalued African workers’ labor.
In the US as well, the gutting of public higher education over the last decade must be placed in a social context where in the aftermath of globalization companies can draw workers from across the world, instituting precarity as a permanent condition of employment, and enforcing constant re-qualifications. The financial crisis compounds the university crisis, projecting economic trends in the accumulation process and the organization of work that confront students with a state of permanent subordination and continuous destruction of the knowledge acquired as the only prospect for the future. In this sense, today’s students’ struggles are less aimed at defending public education than at changing the power relations with capital and the state and re-appropriating their lives. Read more…
Canadian Woman Studies, Vol 1, No 2, 1978. [PDF]
Women in unions? Yes, Virginia, there are women in unions but … sixty-five per cent of women in the labour force are not unionized. Most unions ignore or discriminate against part-time workers; an elite, removed from the membership, dominates many unions; members often have no direct say in decision-making and it goes without saying that the labour-union movement is overwhelmingly male-oriented and male-dominated.
SORWUC (the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada) is doing something about all those things. The now six-year-old union grew out of the Vancouver Working Women’s Association. Its purpose is to organize workers in retail stores, banks, restaurants, and the other service trades-those predominantly female occupations which have always been ignored by the traditional trade unions. Because SORWUC’S twenty-four founders were tired of insensitive hierarchies and were aware that women need to learn about the workings of unions, they designed the SORWUC constitution specifically to prevent the growth of a highly paid professional bureaucracy.
All important decisions are voted on by the entire membership through referendum ballots mailed to the members’ houses. All officers are elected annually, and there is a limit to the length of time any person may hold office. And all local bargaining units are autonomous: each unit retains control over every aspect of negotiations, and the members of each unit write and negotiate their own contracts.
For the first year after certification by the B.C. Labour Relations Board, SORWUC’S one bargaining unit consisted of the employees of a small legal office. Since 1974, Local 1 has come to represent several social-service agencies, other offices, restaurants, and day-care centres. In addition to the usual provisions concerning job security, promotions, and wages, the SORWUC contracts have included several provisions designed to meet the needs of working people who must also function as members of families and of their communities. These include work weeks as short as 32 hours; full pay for maternity leave; two weeks’ paid paternity leave; an extra hour at lunch-time, paid, once a month to allow women with families to participate in union meetings; protection and prorated benefits for part-time workers; and personal rights clauses prohibiting dress regulations, performance of personal chores for employers, and that most familiar function of the ‘office wife’, getting coffee.
SORWUC is working to evolve policies to improve the quality of the life of working people. One area of study is child care: ‘We want to explore the possibilities of unions having more control of day-care centres and child-care facilities. A union of parents/working people will care for its children as industry/government never will.’ Policy proposals presented to the SORWUC National Convention in February 1978 included free 24-hour child care; centres which the child can reach by her/himself and, when necessary, free transportation for both parent and child; nonsexist, nonracist training for childcare workers and salaries at parity with those of school teachers and the funding of these facilities from corporation profits. Underlying these policy proposals, which contain a statement of the rights of children, is SORWUC’s view that children are part of society and, as such, are the responsibility of society as a whole. Read more…
Dorothy Sue Cobble, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”
“‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”
Dorothy Sue Cobble
International Labor and Working-Class History No. 56, Fall 1999, pp. 23-44 [PDF]
In 1972, a group of tired stewardesses tried to explain their concerns to the incredulous male transit union officials who led their union. No, the primary issues were not wages and benefits, they insisted, but the particular cut of their uniforms and the sexual insinuations made about their occupation in the new airline advertisements. Their words fell on deaf ears. Despite their commonalities as transportation workers, the gender gap separating the two groups was simply too wide to cross. Indeed, male subway drivers could not understand why the stewardesses would object to their glamorous sex-object image. Deeply held gendered notions of unionism and politics also stood in the way of communication.
For even if the complaints of stewardesses were accepted as “real,” to many male union leaders they seemed petty: matters not deserving of serious attention, let alone concerted activity. The gender gap in labor history may not be quite as wide as that between female flight attendants and male subway drivers. But many of the same processes have blocked productive communication and hindered the intellectual development of the field. Labor history scholarship still rests upon gendered definitions of work, politics, and unionism. Just as significantly, the overall narratives that dominate the field incorporate neither the history of female-dominated occupations and industries nor that of women’s particular forms of collective action. Read more…
Erik S. McDuffie, “Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front”
“Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front“
Erik S. McDuffie
American Communist History, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008 [PDF]
Esther V. Cooper’s brilliant 120-page 1940 M.A. thesis, ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism,” still stands as the most thorough sociological and historical study written on the working conditions and status of black women household workers and their efforts to unionize during the Depression.1 The ”Negro Woman Domestic Worker” was a crucial part of her early intellectual foundation, helping to set the stage for her staunch support for civil rights, social justice, internationalism, and radical democracy with special concern for African-American women that were trade marks of her life’s work. It also stands as a marker for what could have been a significantly different life journey for her.2
The thesis, above all, contains broad significance for understanding black women’s activism and black radicalism during the Popular Front. It reveals an emergent black left feminism, a politics that centers working-class women by combining Communist Party positions on race, gender, and class with black nationalism and black radical women’s lived experiences, embedded in their writings and activism. Black left feminism paid special attention to the intersectional, transnational nature of African-American women’s oppression and viewed them as key agents for transformative change. Committed to the Popular Front agenda of civil rights, trade unionism, anti-fascism, internationalism, and concern for women’s equality, their work anticipating conclusions drawn by ”second wave” black feminism decades later.3 Read more…
Chapter 13, Feminism is for Everybody, South End Press, 2000. [PDF]
Feminist focus on children was a central component of contemporary radical feminist movement. By raising children without sexism women hoped to create a future world where there would be no need for an anti-sexist movement. Initially the focus on children primarily highlighted sexist sex roles and the way in which they were imposed on children from birth on. Feminist attention to children almost always focused on girl children, on attacking sexist biases and promoting alternative images. Now and then feminists would call attention to the need to raise boys in an anti-sexist manner but for the most part the critique of male patriarchy, the insistence that all men had it better than all women, trickled down. The assumption that boys always had more privilege and power than girls fueled feminists prioritizing a focus on girls.
One of the primary difficulties feminist thinkers faced when confronting sexism within families was that more often than not female parents were the transmitters of sexist thinking. Even in households where no adult male parental caregiver was present, women taught and teach children sexist thinking. Ironically, many people assume that any female-headed household is automatically matriarchal. In actuality women who head households in patriarchal society often feel guilty about the absence of a male figure and are hypervigilant about imparting sexist values to children, especially males. In recent times mainstream conservative pundits have responded to a wellspring of violent acts by young males of all classes and races by suggesting that single women cannot possible raise a healthy male child. This is just simply not true. The facts show that some of the most loving and powerful men in our society were raised by single mothers. Again it must be reiterated that most people assume that a woman raising children alone, especially sons, will fail to teach a male child how to become a patriarchal male. This is simply not the case. Read more…
“Spain: 2002 General Strike – Feminist Perspectives”
Amaia Pérez Orozco
November 2002 [link]
On 20th June the fifth general strike in Spain since the restoration of democracy in 1977 took place. It was organised by the two main Spanish trade unions (CCOO and UGT) and other minor ones, in response to the approved governmental decree RD-L 5/2002 “Reform of the protection of unemployment and the basic law on employment”, approved in the 27th May with the only favourable votes of the governing People’s Party . This strike led to the reversal of some of the most criticised points of the new law and in that sense was quite successful. But diverse and seemingly contradictory positions within feminism arose in the debate. For some feminist groups one of the major impacts of the general strike was highlighting the lack of a unitary and coherent discourse and thus the need to start a process of reflection and discussion.
The evolution of economic policy in Spain has not differed from the global trend towards freer markets, progressive privatisation and decreasing Welfare State provisions. Among those increasingly deregulated markets is the labour market (national labour markets, but not international ones, where more restrictive migration rules are being established; Spain is relentlessly playing its role of gatekeeper of the “nearest to Africa European door”!). So more precarious and unsafe forms of contracting have emerged, dismissals have been facilitated and became cheaper, unemployment protection has been weakened, and general social protection has been damage. Through this long ongoing process five general strikes have been organised: 20th June 1985, 14th December 1988, 28th May 1992, 27th January 1994 and 20th June 2002. Only the second of the first four strikes achieved its goals, namely reversing the Plan for Youth Employment, the defining features of which were nevertheless approved some years later The last one was the first against a conservative government, while the others occurred under a socialist one. It occurred in a context of progressive erosion of remunerated workers’ rights, some of them sanctified by the agreements reached between the Government and the two largest unions. Thus, although the decree was what triggered the protests, other events such as unpopular changes of the educational system and financial scandals within state agencies meant that the climate was already created for popular unrest. Read more…
“Flexible girls. A position paper on academic genderational politics” 
María Puig de la Bellacasa
Luisa Passerini, Dawn Lyon, Liana Borghi (eds.) 2002, Gender studies in Europe/Studi di genere in Europa, European University Institute, Universita di Firenze, in association with ATHENA [PDF]
This paper is based on my intervention during the roundtable Transitions and Transmissions: two-way traffic at the conference Gender Studies in Europe the 2nd April 2001 at the European Institut, Firenze. I would first like to comment on this title, chosen for the discussion by one of the organisers, Dawn Lyon. These preliminary notes mark the paper thoroughly.
The idea of a “two way traffic” going on between generations responds to a certain kind of time trade familiar to the feminist genderational  politics I have had the occasion to experiment. The conference gave good examples of this: on the one hand, ‘baby-boomers’ foot-note with humour their re-affirmation of personal-political engagement as ‘maybe old-fashioned’; on the other hand, ‘twenty-thirty somethings’ supposedly less politicised or at least politically different, paradoxically also claim this engagement, driving back in a two-way traffic flow. I will come back to this (mis)understandings and (un)coincidences between genderations’ engagements.
Secondly, the title could also signify our times, specially the assumption that we live in a back and forth flowing world, where boundaries are difficult to draw, and power relationships (too?) complex to be tracked. We live in the middle of a process, struggling to build meanings for extremely fast changing realities. As a white western privileged city woman, fast ongoing traffic appears to me as a recognizable image for this accelerated and fluid existence, constantly needing ‘stress management’ and ‘adaptability’. Madonna’s ‘material girl’ better be today a ‘flexible girl’. This contribution will address critically this ‘flexible paradigm’. Read more…
“Women on the Market”
Chapter Eight, This Sex Which Is Not One [PDF], 1985.
This text was originally published as “Le marche des femmes,” in Sessualita
e politica, (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1978).
The society we know, our own culture, is based upon the exchange of women. Without the exchange of women, we are told, we would fall back into the anarchy (?) of the natural world, the randomness (?) of the animal kingdom. The passage into the social order, into the symbolic order, into order as such, is assured by the fact that men, or groups of men, circulate women among themselves, according to a rule known as the incest taboo.
Whatever familial form this prohibition may take in a given state of society, its signification has a much broader impact. It assures the foundation of the economic, social, and cultural order that has been ours for centuries.
Why exchange women? Because they are “scarce [commodities] . . . essential to the life of the group,” the anthropologist tells us.1 Why this characteristic of scarcity, given the biological equilibrium between male and female births? Because the “deep polygamous tendency, which exists among all men, always makes the number of available women seem insufficient. Let us add that even if there were as many women as men, these women would not be equally desirable … and that, by definition. . ., the most desirable women must form a minority. “2
Are men all equally desirable? Do women have no tendency toward polygamy? The good anthropologist does not raise such questions. A fortiori: why are men not objects of exchange among women? It is because women’s bodies-through their use, consumption, and circulation-provide for the condition making social life and culture possible, although they remain an unknown “infrastructure” of the elaboration of that social life and culture. The exploitation of the matter that has been sexualized female is so integral a part of our sociocultural horizon that there is no way to interpret it except within this horizon.
In still other words: all the systems of exchange that organize patriarchal societies and all the modalities of productive work that are recognized, valued, and rewarded in these societies are men’s business. The production of women, signs, and commodities is always referred back to men (when a man buys a girl, he “pays” the father or the brother, not the mother … ), and they always pass from one man to another, from one group of men to another. The work force is thus always assumed to be masculine, and “products” are objects to be used, objects of transaction among men alone. Read more…
Gwendolyn Mink, “The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”
“The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”
Feminist Studies, Vol. 24 No. 1 (Spring, 1998). pp. 55-64.
I have worked in various political venues on welfare issues for ten years-for about as long as I have been researching and writing about women and U.S. social policy.’ Most recently, I worked as a Steering Committee member and cochair of the Women’s Committee of 100, a feminist mobilization against punitive welfare reform. I signed up with the Women’s Committee of 100 in March or April of 1995-roughly a year after completing a book on welfare policy history and around the same time as the book’s publication.2
I have always done both politics and scholarship, so directing my activism toward my field of professional expertise at first did not seem especially odd or problematic. However, I had just published a book critical of experts like me-a book which, among other things, faulted solipsistic women welfare innovators of the early twentieth century for building a welfare state harmful to women and to gender equality. The book was barely between covers, and I had already embarked on a path of policy advocacy that veered disturbingly close to the reformers I had criticized. There I was, consorting with a group of supereducated, do-good feminists, most of whom would never need a welfare check. And there we were, using our social and professional positions to gain entry into congressional offices, where we spoke against reforms that would affect not us but poor women. It seemed to me that maybe I hadn’t really internalized the lessons I had drawn from early-twentieth-century welfare history. Read more…
“Women at Work”
Chapter Nine, Feminism is for Everybody, South End Press, 2000. [PDF]
More than half of all women in the United States are in the workforce. When contemporary feminist movement first began the workforce was already more than one-third female. Coming from a working-class, African-American background where most women I knew were in the workforce, I was among the harshest critics of the vision of feminism put forth by reformist thinkers when the movement began, which suggested that work would liberate women from male domination. More than 10 years ago I wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, “The emphasis on work as the key to women’s liberation led many white feminist activists to suggest women who worked were ‘already liberated.’ They were in effect saying to the majority of working women, ‘Feminist movement is not for you. ” Most importantly I knew firsthand that working for low wages did not liberate poor and working-class women from male domination. Read more…
“Women and Welfare: Where Is Jocasta?”
Alisa Del Re
Chapter Seven, Radical Thought in Italy. Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, eds.
In the Oedipus myth, Oedipus’s body and his desires significantly contribute to
the making of the individual’s free will, his autonomy as well as the relationship
between knowledge and will. Yet the other body at stake, that of his mother, Jocasta,
is hardly visible. We know nothing about her, neither her desires, nor her guilt,
nor whether she is self-aware.1 She is the Mother, unself-conscious and loving, and
nothing is said about her concerns, her aspirations, and her needs. She has no desire:
in Oedipus’s drama she endures and disappears. Not even Freud is interested in
Jocasta, and in his interpretation of the Oedipus myth he disingenuously disregards
the mother, who must have certainly suffered, as well as felt emotions and
desires. The relationship between mother and son is so asymmetrical, and the interpretation
of their desires so incommensurable, that in both the myth and contemporary
psychoanalytic interpretations of it, we are presented with a mutilated reading
of the situation. The Oedipus myth thus stands as the most blatant emblem of
the phallocentric bias of an interpretation that claims to be “scientific.” This type
of reading denies the question of sexual difference as it is inscribed in the story and
refuses to acknowledge Jocasta as a constitutive element of both reality and the formation
As of today, things have not really changed. In a recent issue of
the French journal Sciences Humaines, a long series of articles proposed that the
human sciences are founded on a few constantly reformulated themes, questions,
and myths that continue to fuel research in the humanities.2 The articles do not
take into account, as a crucial fact, the question of sexual difference. None of the
pieces in the collection acknowledges that the object of analysis, the human being,
is gendered, that gender is instrumental for the human being’s social constitution,
or that gender concerns and informs the categories of race, class, and ethnicity. The
fact that sexual difference does not invest only one minority, to which fundamental
issues can be referred, but rather is per se a fundamental issue is never mentioned
at all. The question of sexual difference is thus emptied of meaning in the name of
a subject who, in the symbolic order of the researcher, is imagined as masculine
and in the name of a society whose power and organizational structures are founded
on this subject. To think the difference between man and woman as incommensurable
and asymmetrical implies an interpretation of reality and of the production
of discourse that acknowledges sexual difference as the foundation of social reality.
This difference constitutes a necessary value, capable of producing change; as such,
it represents a tool of analysis superior to the current paradigms of research. It is
worth stressing that we are not dealing with the mere task of “adding” women here
and there in our studies; such a move would only have the effect of assimilating a
new element within an unchanging symbolic order. Feminist discourse in the social
sciences has already offered suggestions and pointed to new directions for an analysis
that could confer meaning and human value upon the real.3 Read more…
“Sonogram of a Potential” [echographie d'une puissance]
Tiqqun #2 [PDF]
What hinges on something defends it.
When I was born, my mother still didn’t know what gender her child was.
A nurse came into the room she was lying in, half asleep after a long labor, and said to her:
“Madam, you have suffered a disgrace. It’s a girl.”
That’s how she was told of my birth.
F., born in Naples, 1975 Read more…