Revolutionary Feminisms: Conversations on Collective Action and Radical Thought (Edited by Brenna Bhandar and Rafeef Ziadah) – Book Review
Date Posted: Thursday 25th March 2021
Publisher: Verso Books (2020)
Review by Anabel Butler
In this era of digital feminist activism, where terms like ‘intersectionality’ are commonly heard but divorced from their radical origins, Revolutionary Feminisms helps us to situate ourselves within a collective and historical struggle that is unfinished.
In this interview book, Brenna Bhandar and Rafeef Ziadah have conversations with 10 feminist scholars and activists about their experiences of birthing and living within radical social movements. Their testimonials serve as a wide and varied archive of feminist thinking and activism that is anti-racist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist. The interviewees range from black feminists engaged in communist politics in the UK, feminists engaged with Marxism in Italy and India, queer feminists and indigenous feminists.
Brenna Bhandar and Rafeef Ziadah emphasise the contact points of the different feminisms covered by gathering testimonials under key themes: Diaspora, Migration and Empire in interviews with Avtar Brah, Gail Lewis and Vron Ware; Colonialism, Capitalism, and Resistance in interviews with Himani Bannerji, Gary Kinsman, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Silvia Federici; and Abolition Feminism in interviews with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Avery F. Gordon and Angela Y. Davis.
In the introduction, Bhandar and Ziadah explain that they want to expand our understanding of “political inheritance” to include the stories we grow up listening to and our ways of surviving the oppression that structures of our everyday life. Allowing the interviewed scholars, a space to elaborate on their backstory in this way, gives the book an intimate feel, with the reader being welcomed into an intergenerational and intercultural knowledge sharing space.
For the reader unfamiliar with the interviewee, more could be done at the start of each interview to explain why they should engage with it. We normally read interviews of people we are interested in, so in the absence of this notoriety, summarising what the reader is going to learn or pointing out which movement the interviewee is connected to and their relevance to it, might be more a beneficial introduction than a list of the academic positions they have held, or books published.
The introduction to the book does helpfully map out some the feminist lineages that appear in it, but it isn’t structured clearly by movement or individual, so for example when I came to read the interview with Himani Bannerji (whom I was unfamiliar with until reading this book), I struggled to find where she might have been mentioned in the 26-page introduction, so it was hard to use the introduction as a background to the interview.
I imagine most readers will be familiar with Silvia Federici’s Wages for Housework campaign. An interesting aspect of this interview is where Federici considers what a WFH campaign would look like now. Federici suggests not just asking for money for domestic work, but material resources, and reorganising reproductive work beyond the nuclear family. She notes that we still haven’t recognised housework as a productive value producing labour which both capital and the state rely upon to function. I found these comments really relevant when we look at civil society’s response to how COVID has affected women and their care burden. We are still mainly asking for men to do a bigger share of the housework or take a bigger role in childcare and as Federici says, “this is necessary but not enough, it is still unpaid labour that we give to capital”.
I agree with her comments that some younger feminists look at reproduction work as a lower form of activity. Mainstream feminist campaigns are designed to benefit and speak to professional women with a strong emphasis on the gender pay gap, and I don’t see any place in them for elderly women or women who are full time parents.
Angela Davis makes a similar criticism of mainstream liberal feminism to Federici, that feels relevant to today saying that “feminists that do not also address racism and capitalism will always misapprehend the meaning of gender equality.” The excitement amongst many feminists about the appointment of Kamela Harris as Vice President in the USA is a good example of how “glass ceiling feminists” are still celebrating rather than breaking the system.
Revolutionary Feminisms definitely serves its purpose as an archive of feminist thinking. Where the book might fall short maybe is in the contribution it hopes to make to contemporary struggles. In the introduction, the editors explain that through the contact points they have shared with us of the varied interviewees, the reader will be better able to understand the ingredients for a contemporary political movement. Maybe this is for the reader to go away and reflect on more deeply.
In the Verso book launch Brenna Bhandar and Rafeef Ziadah described this book as fitting in with an abundance of books published, as well as older texts republished that seek to shed light on revolutionary feminisms, for example Yamahtta Taylor’s book ‘How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.’
I would say this book is definitely not for the novice feminist like myself, with academic language throughout and a presumed certain level of theoretical knowledge. However, it felt very reassuring to read about the lives of other women who see the world the way I do.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Women’s Budget Group.