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.

 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
· 38 rsvps

Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
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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. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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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. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
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Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
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Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.