A reply to Eli Zaretsky
We are living through dark times. Many lament the decline of a vibrant Left in American politics; why the right has been ascendant for the past quarter century is a matter worth extensive exploration. Zaretsky’s “Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left,” however, both underestimates the deep roots of the American right and overestimates the power of feminism (Perlstein, Lowndes). In doing so, Zaretsky makes it difficult to rethink the possibilities and obstacles for the Left now. Zaretsky’s account of feminist politics runs amuck because of the ways in which he links feminism with madness and distances it from radicalism and race. Let us untangle the ways in which Zaretsky puts these elements in play in ways that distort past, present, and future.
Let us begin at the beginning — with madness. Zaretsky starts with a fine recognition of Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), and her work as a radical feminist thinker (The Dialectic of Sex) and activist. …
In response to Nancy Fraser
Anarchism is often dismissed as incoherent, naïve, and ineffective. This is Nancy Fraser’s position in a recent article called “Against Anarchism.” Fraser’s criticisms are worth engaging not because they’re particularly perceptive or unique, but because they’re exceedingly common: these are some of the reasons that people dismiss anarchism all the time. What is it about anarchism that’s so threatening to people like Nancy Fraser? I think Fraser (and many others) are actually threatened by what I’ll call “autonomous politics,” which is both narrower and broader than anarchism, encompassing currents of Marxism, indigenism, queer politics, feminism, and anarchism. My suspicion is that Fraser hates autonomous politics not because it’s ineffective or undemocratic, but because it undermines her whole worldview and political project. Autonomous politics destabilizes liberalism, opening up more productive ways of thinking and relating. …
The recent death of Shulamith Firestone marks a milestone in the history of second wave feminism, and encourages an historical perspective. Firestone was one of the most inspired and original political intellectuals of the sixties, and a founder of the modern feminist movement. I can speak personally here of the impact of Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex (1970) on my own life. When I first read the book, upon its publication, I immediately recognized that its portrait of a universal system of male domination rooted in the family was both the most important challenge to the Marxism that had shaped my worldview, and an equally important corrective to its blind spots. My 1972 book, Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life began as a review of Firestone’s work and proposed both to answer and to learn from it.
In a recent New Yorker (April 15, 2013) Susan Faludi provided a powerful and moving account of Firestone’s brief, brilliant career and its tragic aftermath.Firestone was only twenty-five years old when she published Dialectic of Sex.