Sexual harassment was simply the price women would have to pay to work or attend university.The rise of mass incarceration under the War on Drugs, along with the funneling of crack cocaine into impoverished Black and Latino neighborhoods, meant that these austerity measures were suffered manifold by these populations, particularly Black women and Latinas, all the while the rhetoric of “welfare queens”, “bootstraps”, and “model minorities,” served to justify this persecution.Women’s solidarity is worker solidarity Taken together, these measures—austerity, a reactionary ideological backlash against feminism and racial equality, criminalization of poverty, and the crippling of labor power—served to create an easily exploited, feminised, racialised underclass on unprecedented scale.
The ensuing poverty and precarity was dealt in double measure upon women, who were increasingly excluded from the guilds and most professions, their ability to survive independently of men being severely curtailed by the privatization of the commons (In Caliban, Federici terms this the “patriarchy of the wage.”).
This, along with rising prices of food and other necessities, led to the appearance of a largely female underclass.
The resurgence of reactionary attitudes served as the ideological underpinnings of this new “erasure of the commons,” resulting in the further deprivation and persecution of impoverished women.
In 2017, the infamous “Shitty Media Men” list was made public, and women around the world publically shared stories of harassment and assault by supervisors, mentors, agents, bosses, managers, professors- men in positions of power.
Those familiar with it will perhaps not encounter anything too earth-shattering in her new essay collection, Witches, Witch Hunting and Women, but is an extremely timely and useful distillation of her most important texts, with great significance for working-class feminist movements today.
During the late Middle Ages, the development of market-oriented agriculture required a continually replenished, easily exploitable labor pool (a need compounded by the depopulation caused by the Black Death).This was one of the least brutal measures by far, women charged with witchcraft were often imprisoned, tortured, raped, and hung or beheaded or drowned.Subservience to the patriarchal order went hand in hand with subservience to the new capitalist state, and a transgression against one was tantamount to a transgression against to the other.From a benignly positive term denoting a woman’s female friends, gossip took on the meaning we know today—idle, wicked, bitchy women frittering away the hours in idle, wicked, bitchy talk.Women were discouraged from having female friends, for fear that this would undermine the husband’s authority in the family; and obedience to the husband was paramount.The neoliberal project of the Reagan years displays marked parallels with the early capitalist period of European history that concerns Federici.Along with the dismantling of the social safety net, government-funded infrastructure, and labor’s organizing power, came a fierce backlash against feminism and the rights won by feminist and anti-racist movements.As Federici argues in Caliban: “Class revolt, together with sexual transgression, was a central element in the descriptions of the Sabbat, which was portrayed both as a monstrous sexual orgy and as a subversive political gathering..the devil instructing the witches to rebel against their masters (177).” Womanhood was essentialized as a capricious, demonic, destructive force visited upon society by Eve, and by women, her descendants; and it was incumbent on men to restrain it and channel it towards childbirth, child-rearing, and social reproduction generally.This involved a number of ideological, political, and religious interventions.THE GOSSIP Federici richly describes a number of these interventions—taken together, they form the basis of “patriarchy” as we understand it today.In her essay “On the Meaning of Gossip,” Federci traces the history of the highly gendered concept of “gossip”, arguing that originally, the word was a neutral-leaning-positive term for a woman’s female companions: “In early modern England the word gossip referred to companions in childbirth not limited to the midwife.