REVIEW: Feminism for the 99% – Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser

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Authors: Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya (website), Nancy Fraser

UK Publisher: Verso Books

Genre: Non-fiction, political discourse, manifestos

This is a manifesto for the 99 percent

Unaffordable housing, poverty wages, inadequate healthcare, border policing, climate change—these are not what you ordinarily hear feminists talking about. But aren’t they the biggest issues for the vast majority of women around the globe

Taking as its inspiration the new wave of feminist militancy that has erupted globally, this manifesto makes a simple but powerful case: feminism shouldn’t start—or stop—with the drive to have women represented at the top of their professions. It must focus on those at the bottom, and fight for the world they deserve. And that means targeting capitalism. Feminism must be anticapitalist, eco-socialist and antiracist.

I have regularly watched people around me (mainly my husband) fall foul of the Verso sale. “No more books!” he’ll cry, and then buy four in the next week. Verso are good. They are very convincing. Specialising in radical voices and political discourse, I’ve not really felt particularly comfortable buying from them. Their catalogue is immense and impressive, but it always felt somewhat beyond my comfort zone.

Possibly because I’m married to an academic, I regularly feel that I’m not well-read enough in terms of critical literature on social and political movements. I’ve not read formal commentary, or theoretical examinations. This is particularly the case in terms of my feminist beliefs. How can I argue my case for feminism if I only read conversational pieces? What citations can I make? I go through conversations in my head, like someone trawling a Wikipedia page and adding [citation needed] to any claims I can’t explicitly support, either because my memory fails me or because my academic grounding isn’t thorough enough.

And then this popped up, on sale, and with a beautiful pastel cover – I’m not ashamed to say that I fall directly within most marketing gimmick key markets and I am a-ok with that – and so finally I to fell to the Verso sale. Remember my struggle, you too shall fall in time…

Honestly, though, when Verso say they are a publisher of radical books, they fully mean it. Women and Power may have claimed to be a manifesto, Feminism for the 99% actually is a manifesto, complete with grounding theses on which it is based. I was naïve in thinking that at 85 pages I could probably read it in a couple of days around everything else I was doing and start getting ahead on my review list again, but it took me as long to read as a book three times its length. It’s a white dwarf of literature. I don’t regret buying it, but I had to work for every page of it – something which I don’t do enough, it seems.

From a reader’s perspective, this was a hard book. Written by three academics, it doesn’t shy away from using technical language and referencing concepts which I only understand in passing. It continually draws on Marxism and other important texts like Marx’s Capital which I have never read – it makes an assumption of a certain level of academic understanding which belies the claim that it is for the 99%. I am well educated, and I found myself constantly re-reading pages trying to parse and retain the content. Despite the pastel cover and its pocket-sized dimensions, this book isn’t a quick guide to modern feminism, it’s a series of thorough and radical socialist, environmentalist, and intersectional feminist theses on which the authors believe modern feminism should be built based on the world today.

And it is radical. The word ‘neo-liberal’ was used to rhyme with ‘misogyny’, and it took a bit of time for me to adjust to that, as – you may be surprised to hear – I consider myself liberal. The authors see the current socio-political world as in crisis, and see this as a turning point for ripping apart society as we know it, booting capitalism into touch, and starting again from the ground up into a socialist, feminism, eco-friendly utopia. It’s all a bit Herland but somewhat more militaristic.

I suppose the main messages I gleaned from it were that current feminism has been designed to try and progress women within a system of social and capitalist structures that have been built to accommodate men. Women are not making space for more women, or making the system work for women as a whole, but are instead clearing space for a particular type of woman to fit within a system either by moulding herself into a more masculine bent (as discussed by Mary Beard in Women and Power), or by making a false distinction between themselves and other women, and thus perpetuating a system which restricts others for their own benefit. This is the core of intersectionality in feminism – just because it’s fine for you, doesn’t mean it’s fine for everyone – and seems almost obvious when considered in that way. This is also feeds into the emphasis in the manifesto for globalism – just because things in the UK aren’t as bad for women as things in El Salvador doesn’t mean women in the UK should stop fighting. They should keep fighting in solidarity for women in El Salvador, in Saudi Arabia, in the USA where basic bodily autonomy is constantly being challenged.

Another point which particularly struck me was how sexual liberation seemed to have been allowed but only where it could be delineated and monetised in some way. Where people could fit into easily definable boxes and thus become commodified, there was value seen, but anyone who rejected that was still facing societal struggles. So gay couples were facing more acceptance because they could be fitted into a similar model used by heteronormative families now and could be sold, whilst trans and non-binary people could not be so easily labelled and marketed to, so there was resistance to their integration. Obviously I am simplifying this in my retelling, but certainly there were elements which rang true.

Mainly though the prevaling discussion was about the division between capitalist labour and social labour – money-making work and people-making work. The latter was integral to providing a workforce for the former, but the latter is also seen as lesser, as subordinate to capitalist labour, and falls onto women and the social networks they create as a way of supporting the workforce, without any support from the capitalist structures which require the workforce in the first place. Communities are being bled dry because capitalism sees no value in social labour, whilst still requiring the fruits of social labour in order to exist.

This is why the book took me a week to read. It blew my tiny mind. The concepts contained in it seemed vast to me, and I had to take some time to translate them into ones I understood and could wrap my brain around. It emphasises that feminism cannot exist in a vacuum, and that all the issues the world is facing are inherently feminist, but also in response to these issues there has been a rise of right wing extremism. The authors offer readers a choice – allow the right wing to gain a foothold, or reject them fully and entirely.

This book then is perhaps a chance to refine some of the guiding principles of 3rd and 4th wave feminism and knock off the edges. Intersectionality, yes! Leaning in, no! However, it is unlikely to be read by people who are not already somewhat inclined to this political bent. It’s not going to be convincing anyone to turn towards this political campaign – instead it’s going to preach to the choir.

Briefly:

  • If you are used to reading academic books, this will probably seem pretty accessible. If you’re not, you may find this a surprising struggle for its size.
  • Be prepared for this to be radical manifesto, wanting to strip away entirely the grounds for society as we know it and realign our communal priorities into something more equitable.
  • But also be prepared that this gives no advice on HOW this society should be achieved, or how to work to get things there. Aside from a discussion on women’s strikes around the world, instead this manifesto seems to want to wait for society to implode before we rebuild.

Rating: 4/5 – I am still trying to fully absorb everything I read, but this feels like an important book, and one I will likely re-read over the years to see what new parts I can understand, and what new things I personally bring to it.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Feminism for the 99% – Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser

  1. Lindsey says:

    It’s always good to come across books that are out of your normal comfort zone and make you fight for each page, isn’t it? This sounds like a really intense read but one that is satisfying and rewarding to ultimately get through. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

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