Feminism Against Progress
By Mary Harrington
Regnery, 256 pages, $29.99

Even as new identities proliferate, the ancient identities of wife and mother are, if not close to extinction, certainly at some risk of it. Women are increasingly opting out of marriage and childbearing. A majority still become mothers in most countries, but the cultural, social, and economic environment within which they find themselves seems to be dampening their enthusiasm for children. As a result, the desired family size they report is ever-shrinking.

The problem is that motherhood isn’t just one of an array of identities to be chosen among. If the mother disappears, she extinguishes the human future along with her—and this prospect is looking less and less like science fiction these days. What is to be done? Mary Harrington’s polemical new book, Feminism Against Progress, is an original attempt at an answer.

Feminism Against Progress offers a sober assessment of the fruits of feminism and the sexual revolution. Women, Harrington argues, have had their sexuality freed from the restraints of patriarchy only to be captured by the deceptive “liberation” offered by the market. To respond effectively to what she sees as a systematic attack against the foundations of what it means to be human, Harrington writes, “​​we’ll need to reckon with some of feminism’s unpaid debts, and to take more of a realist stance on where the limits to individual freedom really are.”

The second and later waves of feminism, and the sexual revolution writ large, have in Harrington’s view yielded negative dividends for the majority of women. To be sure, upper-class women, with access to prestigious careers and the funds to outsource their domestic and caring labor, have enjoyed an enhancement of their freedoms, while shielding themselves from the negative consequences of market forces. But for working-class and poor women, today’s world isn’t one of equality with men, but “one where the market’s power to liquefy, to commodify, and to alienate has mobilized the ubiquity of digital communications to effect a final dissolution of the barrier Adam Smith carefully erected between ‘sympathy’ and the market.” Those with less money to buffer them from market pressures, in these conditions, are vulnerable to selling themselves or being sold for goods and services in the sexual marketplace.

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