Feminism has come back into vogue, echoing the good old days of radical chic in the seventies. Women everywhere, across the universe of digital media and mainstream “celebrity” circles, are once again taking up the torch against a patriarchy which has unsurprisingly grown stronger after the “post-feminist” wave of the last century. Feminism is no longer a historical phenomenon, AND THIS IS A GOOD THING. Modern discourse needs to include as many feminist voices as possible, and we are blessed that writers and analysts like Judith Orr still have plenty to say. And more wonderful than anything else, socialism is back on the table after the frightful “Me Decade” of the 90s. Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism.
Marxism and Women’s Liberation comes at an acute time, a moment in history when the basically democratic ethos of the digital/social media has been brought to the fore; the concept of united, mass action is most definitely one of the options available to activists, if not the only choice. This is in stark contrast with the so-called “third wave” of 90s post-feminism, wherein socialist ideals were opposed by the self-appointed leaders of the movement, where postmodernism and its’ intellectually fraudulent notions worked to isolate and alienate women. Judith Orr is absolutely against such navel-gazing pap, and her conclusions, drawing in historical and theoretical examples, are devoted to the idea that the main enemy is capitalism; patriarchy is a side dish to the crushing power of capital. The supposedly unchanging, static roles for traditional women are a falsehood created by capitalism relatively recently (post-1840s); patriarchy is a tool in the hands of the elite.
Socialism and feminism have gone hand in hand since the very concept of oppression was identified as such. Capitalism crushes all, and the specific crushing of women is a part of the divide and conquer method that the world’s elites have been practicing since the beginning of time. Orr refers heavily to Engels’ classic, Origin of the Family, and while she recognizes that there are dated aspects to Origin of the Family, Engels’ basic theory of domination and hegemony over the unpaid house-slaves of the world (and the somewhat better paid working women) remains powerful.
Orr explores the waves of feminism that have taken place since the French Revolution, citing inferences of proto or unconscious Marxist rebellion as it appeared throughout the 19th Century. With the dawn of the 20th Century, and with the dawn of actual, realistic revolutions that were meant to include EVERYONE, Marxism and Women’s Liberation truly hits its stride. It is not a hagiography; Orr is well aware of the mistakes made by feminists throughout the century, and she is able to discuss them rationally, seeing where solutions to problems can be found.
Marxism and Women’s Liberation is truly revolutionary in and of itself, arguing that mass action by a genuine united front of women AND men is the best method of fighting patriarchy and its’ big brother, capitalism. It is the first feminist book that I have encountered that has placed such an emphasis on group action, a method that is far more achievable in the social media age and with the practitioners of digital revolution. Twitter can be used for other purposes other than making fun of celebrities.
Judith Orr is part of a new wave of feminist-Marxists, a group which includes Lise Vogel, Heather Brown, and Caitlin Moran (to name just a few). They are just as interested in genuine Neo-Marxism (i.e. the abandonment of traditional “socialist states” like Russia or China) as they are in abandoning the utterly unhelpful advice of elders from the 90s, such as Camille Paglia (a woman that once stated that female sexual assault survivors were somehow asking for it with their air of weakness). The new school is also beyond the ivory tower of higher education, where post-modernism fled. These feminists are completely integrated into the actual physical struggle, and they have no time for the hermeneutics of language and symbols.
If you want a taste of this fourth wave, if you are interested to see what the collision of feminism and Marxism looks like, Marxism and Women’s Liberation is a sweeping, totalistic introduction to resurgence of feminist-socialism. It was printed in 2015, and that fact alone should tell you how cutting edge this analysis is.