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Reviewed by:
  • Gender Work: Feminism After Neoliberalism by Robin Truth Goodman
  • David B. Downing
Robin Truth Goodman. Gender Work: Feminism After Neoliberalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 236 pp.

Robin Truth Goodman’s most recent book, Gender Work, adds to her growing reputation as one of the leading feminists to integrate sophisticated theoretical understanding with practical political intervention into the escalating exploitation of women’s labor in the global economy. Goodman directly addresses the urgency of the current situation whereby free market fundamentalism, the privatization of many public spheres, the destruction of welfare state protections, and the financialization of everyday life have disproportionately affected women in all quarters of the globe. More than ever, gender needs to be theorized in the context of work, labor, and the mode of production. To this extent, Goodman works directly in the field of materialist feminism, and she clarifies the key issues with strikingly lucid prose, even when grappling with complex theoretical difficulties.

As she puts it “feminist theory needs to reconsider the relationship between labor and gender because labor has acquired a reemergent public relevance” (2). Goodman’s analysis directly confronts what many news reports have characterized as the current “war on women” that consists of a long list of policy changes affecting women’s lives from unequal pay, to healthcare reductions and restrictions, to welfare cuts, to childcare limitations, to abortion rights, etc. Despite these tangible threats to women, feminist theory has still often neglected economic, labor, and class considerations. Goodman offers a powerful corrective to the tendencies of many feminist critics to separate the private sphere from “paid production,” but as Goodman explains “Gender can be read as inside such divisions” (9). By attending to these very tensions, she can clearly articulate how and why the exploitable domains of private “‘women’s work’ creates surplus value for neoliberal capital” (9). Although Second Wave Feminism often focused on “women’s work,” Goodman provides a much needed integration of class, gender, and paid/unpaid labor in feminist theory, especially in these times “where ‘women’s work’ is producing new symbolic structures that enhance and multiply possibilities for profit within neoliberal economies” (11).

The book consists of five chapters beginning with Chapter 1 where she provides a critical overview of the Feminist/Marxist debates while offering new ways to overcome some of the recurring problems and blind spots that have troubled these respective critical traditions. In this wide-ranging chapter, Goodman draws deeply on the innovative work by David Harvey (as well as some of the key Marxist and feminist critics such as Louis Althusser, Etienne Balibar, Leopoldina Fortunati, Luce Irigaray, Juliet Mitchell, Christine Delphy, Lise Vogel, and many others) as she works through and clarifies many of Marx’s basic formulations, and re-situates the latter’s ideas in a contemporary framework attuned to gender differences. [End Page 531]

Chapters 2 through 4 offer more focused critical targets. The second chapter addresses one of the most widely known feminist writers, Julia Kristeva, who integrates psychoanalytic, Marxist, and feminist concerns. Goodman negotiates the difficulties of such a complex thinker by focusing on Kristeva’s three volume set of detective novels, Possession, rather than strictly theoretical work. This chapter therefore has the distinct advantage that the concrete representational work of a novel allows the reader to really see more vividly the theoretical dilemmas being engaged in specific contexts. Goodman demonstrates how Kristeva’s fiction exemplifies her provocative contentions that matricide configures key functions with respect to representation in the West: the killing of the mother/woman allows for identity and subjectivity in the symbolic order. Goodman’s key point is to illuminate how Kristeva has theorized the links between femininity, revolt, and economic transformation.

Chapter 3 directly confronts the historical situation when by the late 1990s feminist critical theory seemed to subside with the increasing rise of neoliberal economics. The many gains in understanding the social construction of gender, especially with respect to the linguistic and poststructuralist theories of representation and signification, were sometimes muted by the way this theory was incorporated into the global economy. Goodman herself represents a newer generation of feminist theorists who have refocused the study of sex and gender around...


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pp. 531-532
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