One-Dimensional Woman, by Nina Power- a philosophy professor and blogger- is an incisive work of feminist cultural critique. Power’s book makes important connections between mainstream trends in feminism and contemporary capitalism and raises important questions. It also reminds me of The Baffler with its compelling use of academic theory for compact, lucid, trenchant and hilarious screeds against mass culture, ideology and contemporary capitalism.
An example of these elements can be seen in the way Power frames the underlying issues of the book:
“Did the desires of 20th century woman’s liberation achieve their fullfilment in the shopper’s paradise of ‘naughty’ self-pampering, playboy bunny pendant and bikini waxes? That the height of supposed female emancipation coincides so perfectly with consumerism is a miserable index of a politically desolate time. Much contemporary feminism, however, particularly in its American formulation, doesn’t seem too concerned about this coincidence and this short book is partly an attack on the apparent abdication of any systematic political thought on the part of today’s positive, up-beat feminists. It suggests alternative ways of thinking about transformations in work, sexuality and culture that, while seemingly far-fetched in the current ideological climate, may provide more serious material for a feminism of the future.”
Power moves to examine these issues from the perspective of two stated contentions: (1) “I contend that much of the rhetoric of both consumerism and contemporary feminism is a barrier to any genuine thinking of work, sex and politics…what looks like emancipation is nothing but a tightening of the shackles” (2) One-Dimensional Woman starts from the premise that we cannot understand anything about what contemporary feminism might be if we neglect to pay attention to specific changes in work and the way in which ‘feminism’ as a term has come to be used by those who would traditionally have been regarded as the enemies of feminism.” Both reflect the underlying viewpoint and methodology Power utilizes through out her work; post-humanist Marxism. (what I mean by this will become clear below)
The first few sections provide evidence of Power’s first contention. Her chapters on Sarah Palin and the Hawkish and Mawkish use of feminism to condone the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, show how this appropriation of feminism unites the “imperialist language of liberation with the techniques of war.
Her later chapters on labour puts forward a compelling counter-argument: rather then work liberating women, neo-liberal labour has turned the male and female workforce into behaving according to traditionally feminine character traits by annihilating the division between work and free time and forcing you to function in your every waking hour like a pliant, flexible, constantly networking constantly advertising, perky resume for your occupation.
Power further argues that this type of work has extensive consequences for how women relate to their body as well as feminist critiques based on the idea of objectification. Since, Power argues, your body has become has become a cv, “Girls Gone Wild” is paradigmatic of neo-liberal labour which has pernicious and insidious consequences for subjectivity. In work, then, you;
“give up something obviously crap in exchange for a kind of performance that reveals that there is nothing subjective, nothing left, hidden behind the appearance, that you simply are commensurate with your comportment in the world. You are your breasts.”
Consequently, Power argues that many contemporary women always already objectify parts of their body, viewing them as wholly separate entities. This causes here to raise the question “whether the language of objectification is still useful because it depends on a minimal subjective dimension which may no longer exist in the modern world with no separation between the private world and the job” So, that “if feminism is to have a future, it has to recognize the new ways in which life and existence are colonized by new forms of domination that go far beyond objectification as it used to be understood.” (here is the post-humanism, questioning whether a substance known as human nature exists below this colonization)
Power offers some of her own suggestions for the future of feminism through film. She proposes identifying candidates by offering the following grounds: does it have at least 2 women in it? who at some point talk to each other ? about something besides a man, marriage or babies? Which leads her to compare Sex and the City, which she characterizes as a sort of consumerist quasi-religious film about searching for “The One”, with Daises, which is of course amazing. She also advocates revisiting the potential of early pornography with its liberatory notions of bodies, sexuality and possibility as a contrast with the modern porn industry and the sexuality of hyper-capitalism.
She concludes, by restating the importance of feminism has for showing the connection between household labour, reproductive labour and paid labour and argues that contemporary feminism should re-invision how the three relate along the lines of Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex.
In all, I found One-Dimensional Woman to be entertaining, provocative and illuminating. While it is true that the critique’s Power offers are far more fully fledged then her proposals (although to be fair this is a defect of the school of philosophy she is working in) and her targets only focus on what are perhaps the most egregious easy targets, I still find myself in full agreement with her contentions and premises and intrigued by her proposals. As Power uses a wealth of other scholarship, One-Dimension Woman is also a good resource for further reading.