Book review: “La Commune” – Do not iron as long as the strike is hot

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By Nicole Veneto

As an example of historical revisionism, The Municipality offers a valuable representation of the cultural, political and class dynamics that have animated the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Municipality by Erica Abeel. Adelaide Books, 329 pages, $ 27.70.

It’s a bit of a dirty secret, but social justice movements, no matter how selfless and well-intentioned, can (and often do) turn into a weight game for those in the upper echelons of leadership. and media visibility. I’m an activist feminist, but I’ll be the first to admit that the movement itself has been plagued with its fair share of bad faith crooks, selfish gatekeepers and, even worse, co-optation by the rich / class. superior. elites for whom a #GirlBoss CEO is the pinnacle of gender equity. The worst of these impulses has been accelerated by the panopticon of social media: every interaction is a marketing opportunity for the accumulation of social capital. Opportunism, however, is by no means a recent phenomenon confined to the Internet age. Behind every past explosion of community solidarity and collective activism lie hesitant links between different political and social factions ready to be severed. Feminism, in particular, presents a history laden with internal schisms along racial, gender and classified lines. The result was less of a unified movement than a seasonal story arc for Succession.

As a result, nearly 51 years have passed since the Women’s Strike for Equality brought second wave feminism to the forefront of the international stage, but the frenzied clash of egos, gender politics and women cultural agendas in Erica Abeel’s satirical novel The Municipality sheds considerable light on current dysfunctions. There is little here of the idealized past in which Women’s Lib flourished from a perfectly uniform sense of brotherhood.

Combining the romantic intrigues of Jane Austen with a Gatsby-the inspired caricature of New York’s wealthy donor class, The Municipality fictitious months of organizing that led to the monumental women’s strike in the summer of 1970, transporting action to the titular commune in Olde Islesfordd, a fictional Long Island town where old money and the new rich spend their time. are. In this bourgeois context, Abeel forges a critique of the interior of the feminist matrix, highlighting the contradictions and interpersonal discords in gestation within the movement, mainly those of class, sexual identity and political control. There is nothing particularly revolutionary or scathing criticism about this farce but, as an example of historical revisionism, it is a valuable representation of the cultural, political and class dynamics that animated the Movement for the Liberation of Nations. women.

One of the most persistent criticisms of liberal feminism is that it has historically been led by (and benefited) middle and upper class women, carefully sidestepping issues of class inequality with empty talk. on “women’s empowerment” which allows capitalism to pull out of the woods and dig. his heels in the necks of men and women. Abeel (who writes on film for the Artistic fuse) traces the collusion between liberal feminism and the mechanisms of corporate capitalism to exclusive banquets and big dinners where the rich “big cats” write “big checks” in exchange for a “nice tax deduction”[s]And a coveted place on the right side of history.

A lot of The Municipality follows freelance writer Leora Voss, a newly estranged mother of two who dreams of writing for Gotham, and her attempts to break through the township’s circle of influence while rekindling a romance with the seemingly Gatsby-esque Kaz Gabowski. As Leora bluntly points out, freelance writing doesn’t provide a living wage or the luxury of health benefits, especially when you have young children to raise. Although she lives the life of “total autonomy and fend for herself” espoused by the rhetoric of Women’s Lib, Leora desperately seeks some sort of stability: “[S]he had already made autonomy and would now become happy to prostitute himself…. Where had all this autonomy led her? In a bitter struggle for survival. Hoping to find a way out of much needed poverty and envisioning the commune as a “gateway to a better class of potential partners” than her ex (as well as a source of creative inspiration), she goes to the city. Islefordd commune only to find it more of a pretentious ‘kindergarten’ class than a bunch of sexual revolutionaries ready to offer it any sort of broad solidarity.

Abeel makes it perfectly clear that the Communards are not that different from the wealthy Islesfordd bourgeoisie, and the level of snobbish guarding Leora experiences from the politically enlightened (most of whom treat her as if she isn’t even the) speaks more of the degradations inflicted by class prejudices than of gender. She shares more with the “invisible ones, the little gamblers and the waiters” – “the missing baymen, the natives, the Wilfredo house boys and the black maids who used the service entrance” – than with the blind women common ambition taken in their own high sense of self-importance.

Author Erica Abeel

Corn The Municipality it is also the story of Edwina Scahill, a photographer of Islefordd’s jet-setters and socialites whose love affair with radical lesbian feminist JoBeth Mankiller scandalizes her fellow Communards; it is Nadine Kusnetz, the commune’s second in command, and her love struggles after reaching menopause and coming to the “controversial” opinion that feminism must be “more empathetic towards men and their plight well-deserved “to accumulate significant political power; and the selfish motives that fuel Gilda Gladstone, the self-proclaimed mother of the movement who, like her historic counterpart Betty Friedan, engages in paranoid homophobic tirades about how the ‘lavender threat’ is a CIA operation and spits out jealous antipathies against the uprising. star of the movement, Monica Fairley. The latter is a marginal character replacing the icon of the second wave – and the true ghost of the CIA, in case you didn’t know – Gloria Steinem. One way or another, all of these women bring to light a group neglected by mainstream separatist and radical currents of feminism: queer women, women over 50, blue collar workers and even the younger generations who can clearly see how deadly conflicts are. interest has undermined the movement (Gilda’s own daughter, Becca, is arguably her fiercest critic: “If you weren’t My Feminism, the family court would have placed me in foster care for gross negligence. ”)

Unfortunately, mainstream history mistakenly attributes the successes of the feminist movement to a small, yet socially and economically privileged group of liberal feminists and their associated organizations. From this perspective, Women’s Lib was led by Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and the National Organization for Women (NOW). The truth is that the foundation was laid by women in the New Left, anti-war, and civil rights movements. That’s not to say that Friedan, Steinem or NOW didn’t make significant contributions to feminist history – as class blind and homophobic as Freidan was, I still have a copy of The feminine mystique on my library. (My second-wave mother gave it to me as a passing of the generational torch.) But their willingness to ally their gender policy with the forces of corporate capitalism and the military-industrial complex calls for skepticism, it is the least we can say. When these types of alliances are excused as efforts to “co-opt” – the commune’s “favorite word” – oppressive institutions and change them for the better (take the CIA’s “awakened” recruiting campaign), our first reflex as feminists should be determined who or what such efforts really help. Chances are it isn’t poor women, single mothers, southerners, underpaid caretakers and servants, or one of the millions of young women struggling with crushing student debt.

Despite its doses of ridicule, the story ends with a moving look at the monumental Women’s Strike of August 26, 1970, which gives readers the comfort of knowing that real and meaningful actions, via demonstrations of mass solidarity between women, are possible. Granted, it takes a lot of internal wrangling and behind-the-scenes drama to make this happen. Still, there’s a real sense of triumph at the end of the book, when participation in the strike floods Fifth Avenue with women (and men) from all walks of life. We know the course the story took after that, but participating in the walk – without the help of social media hashtags or the allure of pink hats – is still mind-blowing. As the 21st anniversary of the strike approaches, The Municipality offers an entertaining way to revisit a pivotal moment in feminist history.


Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, focusing on Feminist Media Studies. His writing has been featured in MAY Feminism & Visual Culture, Cinematographic Questions Magazine, and Boston University Reader Hoochie.


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