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Since the start of the modern women’s liberation movement there have always been cautious voices from Marxist feminists, warning us of the risks of being ‘co-opted’ by capitalism. Hester Eisenstein was not one of those repressing voices.
So when she finds that mainstream feminism has become managerial feminism and now imperial feminism, we need to take notice. ‘Red alert! The globalisers are using our ideas to further their goals and to frustrate ours,’ she writes.
Eisenstein tracks a US women’s movement overtaken by corporate counter-revolution against unions and the poor, leading to a rock-bottom ‘feminisation of labour’ that campaigners never envisaged. Worse, warmongers of the right – who always opposed women’s equality – now smoothly use feminist voices to claim they are liberating women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
None of this is uncontested. Many thousands of women have joined ‘new social movement unionism’ in the US, and ideas of women’s freedom have penetrated deeply into every plan of international development and resistance. But Eisenstein avoids the usual celebratory tone of insider histories, taking a sharp look at where real power lies.
I disagree with her more as she draws towards the present, when her analysis sometimes moves backwards to praise more traditional forms of state-socialist ‘experiment’. Living in a world where corporations and even entertainers have greater net worth than whole state economies, I can never see ‘civil society’ simply as a global con or a substitute for economic sovereignty. To me the term carries heroic dissident connotations, as does the heritage of radical-feminist stroppy individualism.
But by keeping the personal and political together, this book opens up an exemplary conversation – and we can always talk back.