Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One Dimensional Woman

Writing from a Marxist theoretical perspective about contemporary questions of women's liberation remains a comparative rarity, so it was good to read a review of Nina Power's new book One Dimensional Woman in the Guardian by Natalie Hanman (there is another review online here). As Hanman notes,

Debates around gender equality have reached a particularly paralysing state, with a number of issues – from veiling to sex work – caught in a reductive dichotomy of good v bad. Individual choice is repeatedly deployed, conveniently ignoring a structural analysis or collective and historical dimensions. It is all very well to say one has a right to choose – but what about the ways in which that choice impacts on others? There are endless hypocrisies too: note those libertarians who argue that women "choose" to lap dance but ­often fail to ascribe the same agency to women who wear the veil.

Power's analysis is brilliantly acute on all this, with a critique of capitalism running as a clear thread throughout her interrogation of muddled contemporary feminisms. Pro-war "feminists", for example, are taken to task over the veil. Drawing on Alain Badiou, Power writes: "On the one hand, any woman who wears the hijab must, by the logic of secular reason, be oppressed. On the other, if she makes too much of the rhetoric of choice to justify her wearing it, she misunderstands precisely what that rhetoric is for. The logic of choice, of the market, of the right to pick between competing products cannot be used to justify the decision to wear what one likes, if one chooses something that indicates a desire not to play the game."

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