Discover more from Other Feminisms
Two Books that Begin with the Body
(Plus, a possible Other Feminisms summer book club)
I had the pleasure of reading and responding to two books that I think are of definite interest to Other Feminisms readers. Jennifer Banks’s Natality is a heartfelt, curious work on different ways women thinkers have centered natality in their account of human life and human purpose.
For nearly a year, I think, Jennifer has been leading a reading group on women and birth, which I’ve really enjoyed. It’s partially the topic, and partially that I love any regular gathering where I get together with thoughtful people for a deliberately chosen matter for thought.
Social media algorithms often direct my attention to places that interest me less, or are even actively bad for me, but it’s harder to turn away from a lively conversation without something else to turn to.
Jennifer Banks’s Natality opens with a stark fact: There is no such thing as a lone individual. As she writes in her introduction,” We may die alone, but we were never born alone . . . Our births were made possible by other people and were conditioned by the material world we arrive in, a world that is materially altered by our births.”
We begin our lives in a vertical, asymmetrical relationship. When we place natality at the heart of what it means to be human, we can begin to discern how to approach the many relationships, chosen and unchosen, that will develop throughout our lives. It can be tempting to deny our dependence on others or to reframe our relationships to all be equal and symmetrical. But the asymmetry of natality persists throughout our lives—we never stand alone, and our relationships are rarely exactly equal.
Mary Harrington’s Feminism Against Progress is a more combative salvo that, for all it’s provocative framings, has a simple plea at the center of it: don’t frame women’s liberation through the denial of our bodies.
I was part of a panel responding to her book at DC’s Catholic Information Center, and my daughter was intent on underscoring my points on children contradicting our belief we can control everything. (She spent much of the panel on my lap, rather than with friend who was sitting).
Our culture is distrustful of distinctiveness. It is easiest to guarantee that we can be fair to one another when we are all flatly equal. Any asymmetry, particularly the asymmetry between men and women, or between parents and paid care workers, is suspect.
As Harrington lays out, our culture responds with a frantic pursuit of modularity. Whatever is distinctive to us should be severable and shareable. The capacities of our bodies should be swappable with technological substitutes or paid assistants. The ties of our hearts should be disclaimed as merely chosen, held for as long as they make us happy and no longer.
Finally, I wanted to gauge readers interest in having a summer Other Feminisms book club. I keep finding that thinkers I love tend to cite The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul. It’s something I’d love to read with friends.
I’ve got The Autonomy Myth: A Theory Of Dependency by Martha Albertson Fineman and Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick on my “to-read-in-2023 list” (though I don’t yet know how I’ll like them).
I also keep having the impulse to return to A Wizard of Earthsea, which I’ll admit is less obviously an Other Feminisms book than Left Hand of Darkness, but… I like it better. And LeGuin resolves her plot in a way that cuts against many of our assumptions about how difference and asymmetry must be handled.