Women in the meat market

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Eleanor Davies reviews Meat Market by Laurie Penny

Meat Market, Laurie Penny’s recent feminist manifesto, wants to answer the questions posed to radical women faced with the credit crunch, Con-Dem cuts and general sexist raunch culture. A journalist, blogger and activist who rose to prominence for her active reporting during the student demos against the hike in tuition fees at the end of 2010, Penny did not shy away from putting herself at the forefront of the action. Her involvement in the protests and kettling by police showed her to be a journalist who wears her heart on her sleeve and does not restrict herself to “objective” reporting. Unlike those writers who are dull, aloof and indifferent to the progress of the struggle, Penny knows which side she’s on. She wants justice and is prepared to fight for it.

In Meat Market she describes how modern capitalism has a contempt, even hatred, for women’s bodies and has created a culture in which women are told to look sexy whilst at the same time calling them sluts if they are open about their sexual desires.

She represents a new generation of women who, while they may admire second generation feminists like Germaine Greer and Andrea Dworkin, ultimately feel let down by the fact that the fight was abandoned; women who recognise that capitalism has appropriated many of the terms and ideas of feminism, such as empowerment and liberation, and used them to sell a new brand of femininity which seeks to create consumers and commodities out of women. She is justifiably angry about the way women are treated and portrayed in capitalist society. Much of her anger comes from her own personal experiences which she talks about throughout her book. The personal is political and Laurie Penny uses her personal experiences as a starting point. One of the better chapters is where she describes and analyses the reasons for her eating disorder. Whilst her personal stories are compelling there are too many of them and there is too little orientation to class or the labour movement, forces which, if organised, could actually change society. Her book is littered with anecdotes and generalisations. It’s no surprise in a sense, after all Laurie Penny at 25 has lived through a period of low class /struggle and weak trade unions: a period where left Marxist groups are so marginalised that they have no influence on the world, a period which has left us with a generation of young people who are suspicious of Marxist and communist ideas and any group which espouses them.

She has criticisms of feminism “The absolute limit of what bourgeois feminism can offer us is terminal exhaustion and a cupboard full of beautiful shoes. I think that’s massively unambitious.” She is describing what has always been the limitation of feminism as a movement, it does not challenge the very system of exploitation, capitalism, in which family and women are oppressed.

In the end, despite her articulate, sharp observations, her answers for the way forward are also limited as she too, does not explore the material roots of oppression in any depth. What is her answer? To refuse to do what capitalism tells us, to refuse to wear the shoes we are encouraged to wear, “most of all we refuse to be beautiful and good”. These are individual acts which leave the basis of the oppression of all women untouched.

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2 Comments

  1. Rachel
    May 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm · Reply

    Interesting review. I found that Penny’s interview with the NLP (http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/meat_market_part_one) made me more sympathetic towards her. She made some very just criticisms of liberal feminism. Basically, the likes of Object make similar arguments to Teresa May, in the end.

  2. Pham Binh
    May 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm · Reply

    ACI seems like it fits with Penny’s perspective on the old versus “new” left:
    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2010/12/deregulating-resistance
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/24/student-protests-young-politics-voices

    I think the political content of feminism is contested territory and that it would be a mistake to write it off as “bourgeois” or as inherently not “challeng[ing] the very system of exploitation, capitalism, in which family and women are oppressed.” There are also interesting differences in similarities in the evolution of feminism in the U.S. and the U.K.; in the U.S., it began with radical feminists leading the way and ended with the formation of liberal groups like the National Organization of Women, while in the U.K. I think the reverse happened with the radical feminists becoming dominant in the 1980s.

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