What is liberation?  (and is Herbert Marcuse the father of cultural feminism?)

Yikes this issue begins with a pretty heavy theoretical discussion of materialism, alienation, and dialectic thought!

“The words which movements use to describe themselves often suggests the terms of their struggle” (1). The editorial continues to misidentify women who fought for the vote as self described “suffragettes” or “abolitionists” and rather disparagingly notes that these two names reflect their “limited goals” (vote and ending slavery).  In contrast ” ‘liberation’ … implies a deep consciousness of the significance of our struggle” Women are asking for nothing less than the transformation of the world.”

In order to do so, however, liberation must grapple with “material conditions” including “technology, scientific discoveries, industrialization, and the economic system.”   This is a historical materialism they reference here, noting that “the oppression of women began in primitive times when the biological nature of women severely limited their mobility.  Now that women have a choice about reproduction in advanced industrial countries, one of the crucial fetters to our liberation has been removed.”

However, more that material reality must be at stake, “we are not blaming women’s oppression only on material conditions.  Something more … must explain the kind of myths and attitudes which have devalued women” getting us closer to cultural understandings.  Thus a need to address alienation, from work, from one another, and from nature.  Again this is a historicist argument labor under capitalism causes people to not only become alienated from their labor (qua Marx) but to compete with one another and hence become alienated from other people, which leads to “alienation between the sexes.”  Finally nature is “ravaged” [yikes gendered metaphor there ladies?]

So the dialectic, which leads to change “history has progressed because humans have acquired new knowledge and technology  which contradicts earlier formulations and the struggle between the old and the new result in different understandings of the world.” [holy teleology historical dialectic]

thus liberation, which “implies that we must know both the oppressed and liberated state. Within the word is the understanding that one is struggling again some oppression in order to do something else  When applied to women’s oppression liberation is the struggle against the limitations of our function which minimizes or personal potential .. but the word also suggests that we want liberation in order to define new social relationships, in order to find meaningful work, reproductive in order to discover to new self concepts.”  Not sure how much closer you could get the Kellener’s description of Marcuse’s Marxism “dialectical and historical: it describes the changes and transitions in  the social-historical world” (297) (n.b. use of social as in pre-historical human period)

 I’m interested in the ways that the idea of alienation links back to Marcuse, via whom the NL came to understand the Frankfurt school.  Marcuse of course wrote a great deal about art and culture in the aesthetic sense of the word.  In March of ’67 Marcuse delivered “Art in a One-Dimensional Society” which argued extensively for the revolutionary power of art, and significantly, for the importance of “aesthetic” forms of protest as opposed to political protests that relied on ” ‘metalanguage’ of total negation” a historically-specific discourse that ignored “the experience of the thirties, forties, and sixties” (114).

That the “father of the new left” embraced both aesthetic forms of protest as well women’s liberation in general seems central to my argument, although I’m still sorting how.  In Marxism and Feminism (1974) pretty late in the game for WL, Marcuse claims “the Women’s Liberation Movement today is, perhaps the most important and potentially  the most radical political movement  that we have.”  In this essay, Marcuse argued that the “change of consciousness” that emerges from “feminist socialism” offers transcendence of the “reality principle” which he associated with patriarchy.  This process will, of necessity, entail new “values” (a “subversion of values”) expressed in the “new social institutions” based on that “consciousness.”  What will lead to this “consciousness?”  “The liberation and ascendance of specifically feminine characteristics on a social scale?  [holy cow, is Marcuse arguing for sort of inversion of the hierarchy cultural feminism?]

so capitalism and its values (productivity, assertiveness, competitiveness, rationality) = alienation = virility (=masculine and all the crap that comes with it, following Freud)

antitheses and subversion (dialectic much anyone?) currently in process due to economic and social transformations means that “the ascent, at least  as a transitory phase in  the reconstruction of society, of  characteristics which, in the long history of patriarchal civilization, have been attributed to the female” (emphasis added) … This process has history of thousands of years” based in reproduction, but then spread to “other social and political institutions.”

Marcuse traces the beginning of the end, so to speak, to “the very beginning of the modern period”(c.  12th and 13th centuries) and the idea of “Romantic Love” right on through the crisis of industrialized capitalism going on around them as he speaks.  Thus women are now positions “beyond equality” (umm I think we missed that step) to bring about “a subversion of  values and norms  which would make  for the emergence of a society  governed by a new Reality Principle.” et voila, “socialist feminism” emerges as the lynchpin of ALL revolution.

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other notable inclusions in this issue come from Linda Gordon, whose piece “functions of the family” contains kernals of her later Woman’s Bodies, Woman’s Rights, which relies on the same historical materialism used by Marcuse (as well as fun filled links like usage of “reify” and psychological language of “fulfillment” and “love.”

interestingly in a periodical that largely roots women’s oppression in reproduction, “raising our children to be revolutionaries” points to the positives of this role

in news from “women across the country” announcement of the formation of the CWLU and the request via Meredith Tax for submissions to a “women’s liberation songbook” (65) “Janie Alpert” charged with bombings (66) which will eventually lead to huge schism in the movement around her piece “Mother Right,” (67) Bread and Roses does a “WITCH” activity, blending socialist feminism with radical feminism (67), useful Guide to the Movement, which reveals depth outside NY, Chicago and other “movement” cities (70-71).

Bread and Roses (probably these most significant group of future feminist scholars) offers another editorial, akin to one written by Ellen DuBois ( a former BR member before moving to Chicago).  Again the question is what should the WLM do about the larger NL, in this case, again those pesky Weathermen.  This four page article makes a good contrast to the Fourth World Manifesto as it essentially seeks to answer the same question, what is the relationship of WL to anti-imperialism. However while BR reaches a similar conclusion, no dice on collaboration with the anti-imperialist movement because they are chauvinists, they do not agree with the conclusion reached by the authors of the Fourth World Manifesto, that women are themselves victims of (male) imperialism.  Instead they follow Juliet Mitchell’s very early Women: The Longest Revolution (1966) as well as Margaret Benston in which women’s oppression is awful, but women have to “make revolutions for themselves” while joining with others to”fight racism and imperialism as pert of the fist for our own liberation”

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