Family, nostalgia and the failure of formal-equality feminism
What follows is a interview with an agitator, revolutionary, philosopher, sometime playwright, feminist, mother, legal, and ethical thinker, Drucilla Cornell. Fighting for bread and roses, going beyond the well-weathered opposition between “formal equality” and “difference” in feminism, she has proposed the radical significance of imaginary domains to the never-ending process of becoming a person.
Cornell has decisively contributed to opening up new revolutionary paradigms in the field of constitutionalism and is the author of myriad texts, notably Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice (1992); Philosophy of the Limit (1993); The Imaginary Domain (1995); At the Heart of Freedom (1998) and Beyond Accommodation (1999).
She has been a life-long organizer (union and non-union) who co-founded “Take Back the Future,” a leftist direct action group led by women, after 9/11. For five years Cornell was also a Professor at Cardozo Law School where Jacques Derrida is known to have made his philosophical turn towards ethical thought. More recently she began the Ubuntu Project in South Africa (a political initiative inspired by that concept’s freight of radical communalism and dignity) and became, herself, the subject of a collected volume, namely Imagining Law: On Drucilla Cornell. There, Heberle and Playor note how “traditional demands” such as rights, dignity and equality “become radicalized in her hands.”
Cornell teaches at Rutgers and anywhere else she lights up a room — pressing attention to such questions as “Are women persons?” (potentially) and “Should a Marxist believe in rights?” (yes).
DC: I think the question of the fear of the woman’s body runs very deep, and from the beginning of my work in Beyond Accommodation, I spoke to what I considered to be a fundamental insight of Jacques Lacan which is that there is a deep underlying fantasy of the female body—as that which can give life and that which can give death—that makes the whole projection of feminine sexual difference extremely scary. The media, of course, produces endless attention to losing weight; endless attention to youth. In many ways, what this is, is an attempt to deny powerful images of the feminine body. Right? No hips, no boobs, nothing that shows this life-giving, death-giving power.
What Lacan shows is that the maternal body, the ageing figure, is obviously one who takes life away. You see this in all the Disney cartoons. You see this in every woman represented over forty. These become the evil figures involved in only one thing, which is the destruction of (usually) the imagined younger woman who has yet to become a mother.
So, on the one hand you have this underlying fantasy that never gets addressed — precisely because it’s a fantasy — that Woman’s body is so incredibly fearsome. I mean, we’ve never really looked at the idea; what does it mean? Women carry babies, give birth to babies, they have the capacity to end life! That feeling, at the level of fantasy, is overriding. It’s like any woman at any time can castrate a man by taking away his indirect relationship to parenting that no man can claim.
Now, how do I think this plays out in politics? I think this fantasy is so pervasive in the United States. It infiltrates all of the visions of the female body which we’re supposed to be mimicking, which are basically: endless adolescence before maternity.
The right-wing plays off this fantasy, but it plays off it now with a deep nostalgia. It plays off it with a deep nostalgia for a world that never existed, but which is part of the “American Dream” of the 1950s, where you get married, and the man stays married to you, stays faithful, and there’s no “decadent sexuality.” And why is “decadent sexuality” so scary? Men obviously enjoy their gender privilege, but as long as they can control women’s bodies, then there’s no retaliation on the part of women. For those who identify as men, in this fantasy, abortion and birth control are forms of vengeance against them.
Now that doesn’t make any sense on the level of rationality but it makes perfect sense on the level of this fantasy: that if a woman owns her own body, if a woman claims what I’ve called the imaginary domain, if a woman says “my body is something I imagine, and I will do with it as I will,” then all of a sudden men are completely cut off from life-producing power. We’re that scary, we scare the shit out of them.
Why would women get involved in this? You’d think, well, women would want their imaginary domain.
We live in a world of enormous gender privilege, obviously. We live in a world of overwhelming sexual and gender privilege. So what do women think they’re going to gain, if they outlaw divorce, and they outlaw Planned Parenthood, and they outlaw abortion? What did the Father’s Movement say? They were going to literally have recruitment of men into marriage: there would be men, vigilantes, who would go around, find men who had children out of wedlock and force those man to marry. There’d be militarization of parenthood!
Now what do women gain by that? They gain the sense that your husband can’t leave you. You know what happens when your husband leaves you, in this country, in 2012? Your income, on average, goes down considerably Oh yeah, there’s a couple of wealthy women who actually managed to make it at the highest level, who survive divorce, but the vast majority of women don’t. And, now, so-called equality: what has it brought women? You used to know that you didn’t have to fight for custody, now you get dragged into ugly custody battles, and what happens? Your ex-husband has married a 23-year-old, who’s going to stay home.
This is happening to a beloved friend of mine. She’s in a custody battle because she works, and he’s re-married, and that woman isn’t going to work. So who’s the better wife and mother? The one who doesn’t work. So the logic goes: given the reality of how formal equality has done nothing but make everything in women’s lives much worse, let’s have forced recruitment into marriage. Let’s make divorce illegal! Let’s make abortion illegal! Let everyone who was ever given a blowjob by a teenager in the bathroom lose his dick immediately at the hands of the vigilantes. And then we would, supposedly, go back—right?—to where men can’t use their gender privilege against women sexually.
That’s the real story that no one wants to talk about. That the vast majority of women in this country—even middle-class women—die alone and broke. So the mayor of Tokyo says “What’s the solution to that? Women over 60 should kill themselves!” and … he wins his re-election! He’s the mayor, still the mayor, of Tokyo, after making that very helpful suggestion, that all women over 60 should be dead, because they’re sexually worthless, because they’re old, and because they don’t reproduce children any more.
Now, given this, is it surprising that women seem to talk against their own interest, when everything in formal equality feminism has made their lives hell? And nobody wants to talk about it? So in that light, I get the women in the Tea Party movement. I don’t want to do internet dating either. I don’t want to be barraged by diet pills and told that I’m sexually worthless because I’m 62 and every man really wants to fuck a 20-year-old (why? Because he’s afraid of death! That’s absolutely right, that’s Jacques Lacan’s point).
So the fantasy is so overwhelming. I mean, when I did Republicans for John Kerry I was involved in water rights, so I ended up being a Republican. I got a lot of women to vote for John Kerry but every time I went out in Hackensack, New Jersey, I was with women for three hours: divorced three times, working three jobs. Do you know what the life of a single mother is like in this country? It’s awful! I’m a single mother: I know how awful it is. So, I would go, and I’d hear these stories: the man, you know, did this, they left, they get divorced, the women were working three jobs, you can’t keep your kid from giving blowjobs in the bathroom. So, when somebody suggests that we have vigilantes that castrate every man who asks a high-school woman for a blowjob, you’re thinking … yeah, that’s a good idea: a lot less dicks, a lot less blowjobs, a lot less Fordist language for sexuality; yeah, I can go with it!
I get it. And you know what, nobody on the Left ever talks like this. That’s why we can’t speak to people. We have to say, “You know, I think it’s perfectly great that a 78-year-old man married a 21-year-old because anybody can fuck anybody they want, and as for children? Boy-man love or whatever? Oh, of COURSE a four-year-old can seduce you.”
It’s a lot of crap! And this is the neoliberal language that the Left often leaves people with. And it’s this neoliberal language which gets conflated with the so-called decadence associated with gays and lesbians. It’s not about the actual lives of gays and lesbians, it’s about fantasies. But it’s also a lot about a certain kind of queer theory that seems to advocate neoliberal license as freedom. So, in that way, until feminists address this conflation—I wrote a piece called The Solace of Resonance—and I mean actually address it! — we are left with inadequate language. The second wave of feminism, with which I identified, did try to address the so-called politics of private life.
We started out saying we were going to have a collective living situation, we started out saying we were against monogamous marriage, we started out saying coupledom is the way into hell. We started out by saying that the attack against patriarchy isn’t enough; we need to have collective living and meaningful ways of raising our children that are completely different. But many of us gave it all up to return to heterosexual marriage, which is a disaster. For the majority of women it is a complete disaster.
This is why I was recently asked for my opinion on monogamous marriage. Well, WHERE is monogamous marriage? I’ve rarely seen it. I just see men fucking around, I mean, where’s the monogamy? I believe that some women are forced to practice it, probably not very willingly. I think that if feminists really spoke to the emotive force behind the fantasy and the nostalgia, and spoke to the devastation, we would actually be able to make an intervention. As long as we keep saying “Well, if women want equality they just have to live with it,” then what are we talking about? Really? Women are going to have to fight for custody? Because they work?!
It’s terrifying what has happened to women under formal equality feminism. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote At the Heart of Freedom, you know: this is not freedom for women. I don’t think you can find freedom for women in coupled heterosexuality given the pervasiveness of this Jacques Lacan fantasy. The only way for women to move forward is through very inventive collective living arrangements. And why don’t men want that? Because they’re terrified of (getting back to the fantasy, now) women. You know, as in all these science fictions that say you have to kill off all the men and leave just six and then simply get the sperm because, well, how many men do you really need? A couple? And if boys are born you can just knock them out, too, right? You can get all their sperm and women can just go on producing babies and kill all the boys, I mean you know, these fantasies are very deep and it has to do with women’s reproductive power, which nobody wants to talk about.
So I think feminists have got to stop pretending that freedom and neoliberalism and license are the same thing. A very unpopular position.
SL: I’m sensing that there is a fresh feminist critique to be made of monogamy.
DC: Or phony monogamy! There’s a study in the New York Times, and in this study of 1,500 people, only two men out of 1,500 had not cheated on their wives at the end of the first ten years. 30% of the women also cheated, you know, which is now more women, too. Everybody’s cheating and lying. Now you can see that a certain kind of right-wing and conservative woman doesn’t want to live in a world where everybody’s cheating and lying. I actually don’t really want to live in a world where everybody’s cheating and lying.
SL: So, then, the question is, what kind of world? In the world that you do want to live in, Drucilla, what is a family?
DC: Well I actually tried to define that in At the Heart of Freedom. Unlike Matha Feinmann, I don’t think we have to exclude sexuality from marriage. But, you know, I did this wonderful marriage when I was in South Africa: five Zulu individuals, and one was spiritually possessed so she was a man. So four women married another man; they had nine children between them, and about five grandchildren and one about ready to come into being. So they’ve got six grandchildren. The marriage was between women 41-78 years old. The 78-year-old was the ancestral wife of the 56-year-old. The ancestor wife is the wife that’s chosen for you by your ancestors. She’s the one who has most of the grandchildren. The other two fell in love in the most secular way: one is spiritually possessed as a man, is the ancestral husband of woman #4.
Now I married all these people. I love this idea of the family. I mean, you know, they’ve got a lot of kids: that’s nine, but you’ve got five mothers, and five mothers are five mothers and a husband, father (I mean spiritual possession makes you a man. That’s great!) I mean, and then you’re 78 and you’re not going to be thrown into some crappy old age home, because younger people are going to take care of you, and you’re going to give them your wisdom, and then you know you’ll get a sangoma and be taken over to the ancestors when the time comes.
I’ve seen deaths in South Africa where I didn’t even know the person died! I was just the water girl, so I was just delivering the water, but a 98-year-old woman came home, and everybody was there — there were about 100 people in the room — and I kept bringing the sangoma water, she was doing all sorts of things with the water. And, about 15 minutes before she died, she sang this song and then everything got quiet and the sangoma kept chanting and I was outside getting some more water, and the sangoma said she’s now passed over to the ancestors. She died in this environment of love and care and no fear, with no needles being shoved in her face. She just went over.
And that’s when I found out that the phrase “passed away” really made sense, you know, because she just passed from this life after singing this song 15 minutes before. She sang a whole song, you know, “God save Africa,” and then she was gone. And then you go into a 3-day funeral, and there’s a big feast, and lots of wonderful things … marriages in South Africa are three days too, traditionally. You have to bring all the ancestors in, slaughter all the cattle: big thing! So, you know, I think of all the ridiculous little lives we have here, right, where old people are in old age homes because nobody wants them, and young children aren’t allowed into restaurants because they make noise … We live in this kind of fantasy world, believing that there’s a period of health which lasts about 10 minutes between the ages of 20 and 45, particularly for women, and they’re old hags after that, who go around killing men. And by looking at them our dicks drop off: that’s in all the Disney fairytales.
You know: one look; dick gone! Which explains why men don’t want to be around older women. What I came up with in At the Heart of Freedom, and I’ve now seen it, is collective living. I don’t see why men can’t be part of it. So I disagree with those who say the family is the mother and her biological children. That’s ridiculous to me, because I’m a co-mother in South Africa. In South Africa; biology isn’t the only way you get families together. Sure, at some point you have to say “OK, this is our family for purposes of collective benefits and sharing of resources,” but that could be much bigger. So then, you don’t exclude the generations. So even though this marriage system that I described to you goes over generations, it’s not like one in which you’re going to be excluded or seen as not having an important purpose in the marriage simply because you’re the 78-year-old. With them, there was a much more complex notion of intimacy than marriage implies in the U.S.
This is what I think Foucault was getting at. We think intimacy is only sex, so that’s the biggest-selling drug in the US? Viagra. But what is intimacy? It is much more than that: it’s holding hands, it’s taking people over to the ancestors. Delivering babies, you know, hugging. It’s being physically in contact with people. And none of it has to do with weighing two pounds! That’s the beauty of it. I open my AOL account only to be bombarded by diet pills. “You too can look 20.” I can’t look 20! Why should I look 20? How could I look 20, I’m 62! How could I be even talking about these things if I were 20? But I get bombarded with age hatred as soon as I open my e-mail.
SL: You often describe this family, and you performed the relevant marriages tying them together. They will be together, you believe, until they all die. Now, if one of them did want to leave, do you think they would, and could?
DC: Interestingly enough, I don’t think the “need to leave” even comes up. It might not be seen as necessary. What does leaving mean, really?
HC: One must first accept the notion of the dissolution of the family.
DC: You know, maybe if somebody got a job in Johannesburg and wanted to live in Johannesburg part of the year I’m sure that would be fine, because there are four other people! It’s kind of a capabilities approach to sexuality. Why do people need to break up? We break up with people, because, in a way, we rely on them to be something that’s some kind of weird wacko fantasy. I have a friend that I’ve known since I was four. I’d never “break up” with Annie, it would never even occur to me. And do Annie and I disagree on a lot of things? You bet. I think we have this view that there is a couple, and then there’s not a couple, and then you break up. Once you have many more partners, including intimate friends who are not sexual partners, you introduce a kind of fluidity.
SL: A kind of open horizon?
DC: I think people might be much more inclined to think of adding on than breaking up.
SL: So, what is then the political content of the western monogamous ‘couple’? There are people in New York, a whole sub-population of people trying to, you know, consciously or in interconnected ‘intentional’ ways, found different families, or develop different “tribes” (in the western-appropriated New Age inflected sense). I’m talking about these so-called polyamorous or non-monogamous families. I’m really interested in whether people still feel that ultimately they contract something that could then also be dissolved. Because of that view that a family can in fact be destroyed. And the Republicans are big on the woefulness of the destroyed family, the broken down home.
DC: Well, because the family is destroyed in this country; they’re right about that, and the people mainly suffer on that front are women. So, clearly, in this country, with regard to Sophie’s point, we do need to defend a woman’s right to exit marriage, and her right to divorce.
HC: But the family they’re trying to preserve is then the family they’re trying to escape.
DC: I — as opposed to some sort of extreme “socialist” solution where there’s no intimacy — I’m with Hegel. People need different levels of intimacy in their lives, and we don’t have them. That’s why the Tea Party has been so inventive, because they provide isolated lonely individuals with an entire social network. So Hegel said you need the family, and then you need what he called corporations, the guilds. We need different places where you go and you are seen as an individual person. You have collectivities and you have shared interests and bodies. In that way I’m very Hegelian. In the family I describe they didn’t marry 100 people, they married five. I think maybe you could get up to nine, or 10 — you might be pushing your limit then, because then you’d be moving into some kind of other grouping. But kinship is very expansive in Africa generally, so you could easily have 100 relatives. They didn’t even understand when I was talking about being a single mother, because most African children have or find co-mothers. It’s almost incoherent.
HC: This expanded and more fluid notion of the family you’re talking about, is a political threat in a country like the U.S., right?
DC: Yes, but you know what’s interesting? Nobody talks about it. That’s not the acknowledged threat. The threat is (what they identify with this kind of relationship) sexual decadence. But in fact, the sexual decadence is all about so-called heterosexual monogamy and the fantasies they rightly identify as neoliberal license. When I used to buy Glamor magazine when I was a kid, it was about whether to wear pink or orange lipstick. Now you go and get Glamor magazine and it’s all “31 ways to give a blowjob.” Now, I don’t think there are 31 ways to give a blowjob [laughter]. But people are being taught to be sexual performers. I identify with the women who are horrified that their daughters are being taught to be sexual performers as the only way in which they evaluate themselves. I am equally as horrified as the women in New Jersey.
We can’t just skip to the solution of the collective, more expansive family. We have to go through what they’re experiencing, which is the complete shattering of people’s chance for happiness. That’s what they’re unhappy about! I mean, who wants to be 71 and sitting in front of your television living in a suburban community and never seeing another human being? And then you get involved with the Tea Party-ers. Why? Because every night of the week, you’ll have an activity. And you don’t have to do Internet dating. Because they do dating the old-fashioned way. Jim has Virginia over to meet Susan. You know. Old-fashioned. Now, I hate internet dating too. I understand where these people are coming from. And of course women and internet dating after the age of 40 are pretty much a dead lot anyway, because no one wants to date somebody old, even if you’re old. So the feminist Left has to go and say ‘We get it’. This nostalgia is something that never existed. It’s not the solution. And until people resonate with you as getting it, you’re just talking in bad-Hegelian abstract terms, and lecturing at then.
HC: It’s also a reaction to the failure of the community or the failure of the broader notion of the family.
SL: There has been a confused response to queer theory and trans issues as part of an inability on the Left to articulate this suffering you’re talking about.
DC: This was Michel Foucault’s point. It was also Adorno’s point and also Marcuse’s point. That sexual license — everybody going round saying ‘OH! LET’S TALK ABOUT FUCKING!’ — is not liberatory. It’s just this compete capitulation to the latest capitalist markets. That needs to be said! Sexuality is just brutally exploited, and therefore there has to be another way of thinking about intimacy which challenges the immediate reduction of every aspect to commodities.
SL: What about gender itself, as distinct from sexuality? What about the issues around identifying as ‘women’?
DC: Many women who have succeeded professionally want to say “My life has not been determined by gender.” And I would have to say that MY ENTIRE LIFE has been determined by gender. That gets to the core of the difference between identification, identity, and position. I am positioned in this society as ageing white woman and nothing I can do is going to take me out of that position. And if you look at my life just as a professor, I was an affirmative action appointment, I was hired as a woman, undoubtedly fired as a woman, an out-of-the-box woman, but as a woman.
I do not identify my life primarily through being female, but in all aspects of my life I have projected onto me the identity ‘woman,’ because they see me as female. It’s not just how you identify, and this is my disagreement with Judy Butler, at least on a reading of her; we have to have identification, identity and position. And our positions, because we do live in a symbolic order that materializes itself, are not that fluid (would that they be, but they are not). That’s why you need collective movements. There’s no individual solution, it’s got to be collective.
HC: It seems like there exists a romanticization of the dissolution of the familial. In Hegel, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the idea is that you only gain identity as an individual once you leave the family, once there’s the destruction of the family. Sittlichkeit brings the notion — or rather the divine law — that threatens the political order. With this fetishization of decadence itself, any split in the family itself becomes the freedom to identify as an individual, as something within the political order: the community. It seems like this atrophy of the notion of the family into this very narrow spectrum is something which functions to reinforce the fantasy of heroic isolation achieved through competition.
The only way out of the failure of this ‘virtue of selfishness’ is to fall back onto the old, supposedly Christian idea of the family that the Tea Party is promoting, where you know, we can go back to our traditional values because those are what is being threatened and this is the way to save the community.
DC: That is why there has to be a feminist response which goes through the fantasy, goes through the emotive, deep experience of devastation, and looks at the hard economic realities. And then says: The only way forward is for us to look at a different form of familial intimacy. To say, not even ‘you’re right’ but ‘I get it, I feel it too’. If you can go through step one and step two you can get to step three. You have to say ‘I get it’.
HC: There’s a certain truth in this reactivity.
DC: A deep truth!
SL: There’s something messed up about the situation we’re in with regard to children, isn’t there? There’s a commonplace pseudo-leftist form of disgust for people with children. Perhaps at times not entirely misplaced, if one thinks of neighborhoods overrun by bourgeois ‘moms’ with buggies… but on the other hand I was watching the Republican National Convention on TV and there were about seventeen Mormon kids swarming over the stage chasing balloons that had been dropped from the ceiling. All the big sisters are looking after the little boys, and so on and so forth. And it’s the illusion that here everyone is looking after one another. And it’s a lie, or even if it’s not a lie, it can be projected in this form purely because it goes together with the Romneys being millionaires.
DC: The appeal of the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon has to do interestingly enough with the truth and perhaps non-truth of the fact that the Mormons represent a tighter-knit community where people support each other — that’s actually part of his appeal. He seems to stand against a kind of decadent licentiousness. If the Left is going to move forward, you can’t not address these issues. You can’t call these issues “false consciousness.”
SL: On the question of who takes responsibility for children: how might one then take responsibility for a child not biologically one’s own, not formally “a relative”?
DC: I would immediately say: layers. I have an adopted daughter, she’s not my biological child. And if I had my way I would open up adoption and allow people to adopt much more inexpensively. And we would do away with the foster care system which is a disaster in this country. Secondly I would say that we are all responsible for the next generation. Against a certain thing in queer theory that any generational thinking is heteronormative, reproductive and so on. Thirdly, we all have as a society a commitment — through what South Africans would call ubuntu — to the survival and life chances of every single human being, older or younger. So this way my responsibility to pay my taxes and see to it that there is an excellent public school system has exactly to do with the kind of world that I’m trying to build, in which every human being who is born has the maximum capability freedom that they are capable of.
SL: Legally speaking only two people can have custody of a child in the United States: we conceive of only two parents.
DC: I have argued that the birth mother should not have to give up custody. In South Africa there are all kinds of informal arrangements. I am the co-mother of a daughter, which I take very seriously. I have a second daughter, and I don’t have any paperwork on her, but I consider myself responsible for her education. So, in South Africa, and in Africa generally, that’s why they don’t understand the word ‘single mother,’ because you don’t have aunts and uncles, you have ‘second mothers’ and ‘second fathers,’ ‘fourth mothers’ and so on. This wiping out of interconnectedness in the U.S. is a complete disaster. That’s why I defend public education. Why are you responsible for someone else’s children? Because we are inherently interconnected.
That doesn’t deny intimacy. Lenin didn’t deny intimacy either, but he often gets accused of it. I’m not for collectivizing houses where there is no intimate space. But I am for layering them, and I am for complexity, and I am for no one living alone. I’m against professionalization of care for the elderly. If you need a nurse you need a nurse. But only the wealthy can afford nurses.
We need to completely re-think intergenerational living-together, think it very differently. And capitalism has no interest in those who are not immediately exploitable. That’s why we don’t need to train every child, through a good education. That’s why we can just suggest to women that they jump off the bridge because they’re no longer reproductive. We have huge numbers of people who are just seen as dispensable. We have arguments that maybe we should just allow billions of people to starve to death because they’re never going to be productive. Capitalism views people for what they can be exploited for, period. And all of this can be said, but only if we speak to people. We don’t speak to people! We don’t talk! We come up with empty platitudes. “United States” is an abstraction. The notion of “states’ rights” was meant to be part of people being part of smaller communities. There is no such thing as being an American, it’s a geographic location. People can understand this. But only once you have them with you.
When I was a union organizer, I learned that if you go around talking about “fights for hegemony” you can’t even get a duck to enter water! You have to talk! — about why people are so scared! I’m scared! You know, there was a surgery I should have had five years ago, for fibroid tumors, but I didn’t have it because I was a single mother. I may now have to have it, years and years later. But I didn’t have it because there was no way I could take any time off work. There was no one to take care of me. Now, I’m saying this as a relatively privileged woman! But I in fact should have had it years ago when the fibroids were relatively small. But I didn’t have it and I didn’t feel I had the option to have it. And I was a full-time professor at the time. And you would think … “if anybody could have this surgery it would be someone like Drucilla Cornell.” But no! Because I knew I would be laid up and there would be no one to look after me.
HC: Nobody’s there.
DC: This is awful. This is the way a lot of women live. We have one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world. It’s not just diet, it’s because women can’t afford the mammogram, or if they can get the mammogram, they can’t afford the surgery, and they can’t afford the time off work. So women just let themselves die in this country because it’s the only way for them to go. And these are the brutal realities that we act as if don’t exist!
SL: Isn’t it odd how many young people are getting married even today? Why do we lack the imagination to do things differently?
DC: They’re panicked. Feminism in my generation really believed we were going to live differently. And that’s what I wrote in The Solace of Resonance. In a world where there is a form of truth to the diagnosis of individualism, which is that nobody stands by anyone else, there’s no forms of collective living people experience or participate in, people desperately fall back into what they think is going to be their security. And then you get into the downward spiral because (it’s what I said in The Heart of Freedom), though it might seem wildly utopian, in fact it’s the only realistic way to go. Unless we have collective families living together… I mean, why does each one of us have to have our own individualized kitchens with their own pots and pans? It’s just wasteful!
SL: There are legal disincentives for co-habiting unmarried adults.
DC: There’s disincentives but you can save so much money if you think about it. You don’t have to have your own cooking utensils, you’ve already saved a lot of money. Five people buy a washing machine, you’ve already saved a lot of money.
HC: It’s a huge threat to capitalism.
DC: Collective living is so much more economically effective. Nobody really thinks about it. Because we’re scared. The Left as well as the right. I am just as scared as the right-wing. I was just talking to two of my Japanese translators the other night. We were all agreeing, and I thought about it afterwards, how sad this conversation was: three of us talked about how we might have to end our lives by suicide if we didn’t find collective living situations, so we don’t have to be a bother to anybody.
SL: My granny said that, as well.
DC: My mother did exercise her right to die. We don’t have any infrastructure where anybody is going to be there to take care of you, and you decide you don’t want to be lying in a bath-tub at the age of 91 unable to get out of the bath-tub. So you decide at a certain point, “I’m out of here.” If the Left stopped being in denial, and if feminism stopped being in denial, we would be able to face these issues together. The secret hope is that you can escape through marriage, through wealth, and exit the vulnerabilities. You would think anybody who can exit … I can’t exit the vulnerabilities! The only way you can exit the vulnerabilities is through collective support. And that needs to be said. And that’s the alternative. And not formal equality feminism, which has made things much worse for women.
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