Women and Economics in Fiction

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By Isabel Anreus, Fatou Camara, Chris Riddiough, Peg Strobel

We asked members of the DSA feminist list to tell us about their favorite fiction that illustrates the impact of economic policies on women. Here are their choices:

Emile Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise is a close examination of the department store phenomenon rising in mid-nineteenth-century Paris. Zola’s usual social critiques can be found in this novel, but with a stronger focus on women and the transformative role they play in Europe’s industrial shift. Readers follow heroine Denise Baudu and her attempts to make a life for herself, as she ends up working at the newly founded department store dubbed “The Ladies’ Paradise.” Zola’s detailed prose captures the birth of the consumer society and the story of the hard work behind it. —Isabel Anreus

In God’s Bits of Wood (1960), Senegalese novelist and film director Ousmane Sembene tells a story of a railroad strike in which railroad workers and their families oppose their French masters in order to fight for better living conditions. As the strike goes on, men’s ability to provide for their families becomes impossible. Women find themselves in the role of providers. Despite living in a society where women are not involved in any decision-making process, they become conscious of the need for their involvement in the strike and begin taking matters into their own hands. They form a solid women’s revolutionary group that rapidly gains strength. Women’s involvement influences their children to join the strike using their own tactics. The women organize a historic march from Thies to Dakar. Early in the march, they come face to face with the white policemen, with no fear. They keep going despite confrontations with the police that lead to the death of three of the marchers. The white masters begin feeling the decrease of their power and the need to reconsider the workers’ rights. What started as a male-dominated strike ends up being the women’s own fight, as their voices make a huge difference in the victory. —Fatou Camara

String Theory: The Parents Ashkenazi, by Dara Horn, starts out in 1980 and follows Jacqueline Luria from her physics doctoral program to her marriage to Roger Ashkenazi, a mathematician at the same university, to her abandonment by him ten years later. The short story describes the ordeals faced by a woman in a “man’s field”—she is ostracized and isolated by her follow students who are “openly arrogant young men.” When she drops out of her doctoral program, “no one objected. In fact her male colleagues seemed to exhale with relief.” When Roger leaves her to find himself, she is left to raise two daughters with few prospects for work that will provide an adequate income. The story, a prequel to A Guide for the Perplexed, effectively describes the limitations faced by women in science and hints at the problems that single mothers confront. —Chris Riddiough 

In Americanah (2013), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores the experiences of Nigerian women and men in the United States, Britain, and Nigeria. In the course of trenchant observations about race in the United States, Adichie reveals the tensions of class as well, as in the interaction between immigrant hair stylists and the female protagonist, who has won a Princeton University fellowship after enduring poverty. Another immigrant survives as a mistress. Adichie is equally powerful in examining her characters’ strategies in Nigeria, as they operate under military dictatorship and gendered expectations. —Peg Strobel

This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 13 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.