Marxism is Feminism, and vice versa. Or at least these two strands have been coupled for so long that the difference between them, while not negligible, is still pretty minor. This can range from the second wave (the 1970s and 80s), with a range of thought and action from the university to the home to the picket line, and the almost atomic level betwixt genders. Feminism suffered the ignominy of quote unquote post feminism (along with the rest of post modern dreck of the 90s, the worst, most nothing decade of the 20th Century), but thankfully we’ve moved on. And Marxism/socialism, and its attendant targets, are back on the table.
This is where delightful books like Labor of Love fall into – a space that’s removed from the university, and still further removed removed from orthodox feminism, into a frank, engaging, but still essentially socialist take on dating. Dating, that most commonplace activity that the modern romantic comedy is built on, is taken through a historical lens, in a manner that’s intelligent, entertaining, and somehow almost grassroots in its’ Marxist feminist focus. Moira Weigel is not writing a dissertation here, and this topic isn’t some weighty piece on dialectics, but she isn’t writing a popcorn book either. This is a fascinating look at dating from a vantage point that’s largely left unspoken in pop culture.
Specifically, that vantage point is materialism – concrete money or resources. Weigel deftly looks at the industry of dating, from its beginnings at the end of the 19th Century – when police could and frequently did arrest daters and “Charity girls” for prostitution, up through its acceptance and the codification of the usual double standards that lie behind gender relations, and into the wide world of today, where things are even less clear than ever. Money and labor – the sheer costs involved in pursuing and maintaining a relationship – are what’s at stake, and misogyny, the patriarchy that buys and sells life as we know it is never far away.
Misogyny today is perhaps best embodied by the usual veiled threats of women getting pregnant before she’s forty (and with all that statement is based on – namely a genetic imperative that women are slaves to, no matter what those damn “libbers” say or do) and its that low view of women that is still deeply embedded in the dating conversation. And Weigel brings up that modern conversation, literally and figuratively, throughout Labor of Love. This makes the entire text approachable and engaging, to say nothing of the almost universal human aspect of dating itself.
This combination of intelligence, analytical clarity, and A SENSE OF HUMOR make the books’ hard truths easier to bear. Even as one reads the saga of how we ended up with an entire industry which is based on desire yet somehow manages to avoid being called prostitution, the reader is drawn in and hypnotized by her very human treatment of the subject.
The Marxist/Feminists excel at this sort of organic, unorthodox (but still resolutely Marxist/feminist) take on (often pop/cultural) subjects, subjects which are treated with far too much frivolity. This is a sweeping look at the process of dating and mating which revealed considerable truth while at the same time had me shouting “Yes! Exactly!” And honestly, Marxism, as it is entwined with radical feminism, needs to gain better, more concrete understanding of specific practices like the dating industry, beyond mere dialectical materialist theory. It needs to understand what materialism we’re facing. Labor of Love tackles this admirably.