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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not terrible, but too sloppy to really recommend., 12 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (Paperback)
First things first. I'm a man who's fairly sympathetic to the feminist cause. There are a few polemics in the genre which I wouldn't hesitate to give rave reviews to. This isn't one of them though.

I appreciate that this book isn't intended to be the final word on the subject. I'm fine with that. There are many modest little books that are effective precisely because of their focus and directness. With all of that having been said, there's still no getting around the fact that the rhetoric in this book is consistently sloppy. Sometimes this carelessness reaches the point where even sympathetic readers will have trouble taking the author seriously.

Things don't get off to a great start when the author declares, on the very first page, that:

"...one in five women in Britain and America is a victim of rape"
(Penny, Laurie (2011); Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism; Zero Books; Winchester, UK and Washington, USA; P1)

I've heard this dubious (and in this case unsourced) claim before. It's been doing the rounds since at least the late 80's. It doesn't strike me as being any more credible now than it was then. My guess is that the word "rape" is being used in a particularly loose sense. I would also like to know how large the samples for this study/survey were and where they were found. I'm guessing that there's an interesting back-story to this shibboleth. Still, I will have to concede that in the absence of an actual source to look up my suspicions will have to remain precisely that. Suspicions, and nothing more.

This wouldn't be the last time that Penny set off my warning alarms though. In one of her most dumbfounding chapters she addresses the unjust division of household labour:

"There is a word for what happens when you trap someone within the confines of a house and make them work for no reward for generations and tell them they they're good for nothing else. There's a word for what happens when generations of children of both sexes are raised in environments underpinned by resentment and the control dynamics essential to getting women's work done for nothing. There's a word for what happens when home and work in the home becomes indelibly associated with self-negation, abuse and stifled rage, and the word is trauma. The entirety of Western society is still traumatized by our complex relationship to the economics of domestic labour. No family truly escapes."
(Ibid. P50)

Well, that's a bit much but it's not entirely off the mark. If she toned down the melodrama a tad and included a few substantial qualifiers then we'd be close to agreeing. Unfortunately, she goes on to further muddy the water by bringing in the issue of immigrant labour:

"...nearly all cleaners, childminders and nannies are female, and a large proportion are foreign-born, either legal or illegal migrants. Western women's despair at the very point of asking our male relatives to do their bit, our unwillingness to challenge the system at its root, is such that an entire generation has been willing to simply hand down their oppression to poor, migrant and ethnic minority women."
(ibid. P61)

Firstly, one might wonder in what sense these jobs could be legitimately called "oppression", considering that the alternative is unemployment or any number of even shadier and less legal occupations. What, pray tell, does Penny think these workers would be doing if they were liberated from their oppressive employment..? One cannot broach the topic of immigration without also grappling with the issue of global poverty. What, precisely, does Penny have in mind as a solution to this perennial challenge, and how would we realistically go about implementing her plan?

But wait a tick - she isn't finished yet. Having seamlessly segued into the issue of immigrant workers and the horrors of human trafficking, she launches into this bizarre rant:

"It would be soothing to think that the wealthy men and women employing these unfortunate women are largely ignorant of their plight, but this is not the case. In Westernised areas of the Middle East such as Dubai, the burning of domestics' passports is routine - and illegal residence in the country is punishable by death. In 2007, a wealthy couple from Muttontown, New York, were convicted of enslaving and torturing two Indonesian women who were brought to their mansion to work as housekeepers, and similar cases have come to light across the United States since federal anti-trafficking laws were brought into force in the year 2000. Across the world, disgusting damage is inflicted by our unwillingness to confront our terror of gender-specified drudgery."
(ibid.)

Oh boy. Read that last line again. Is that really the first thing that springs to mind when you read everything that preceded it? And what's this about Dubai being "Westernised"? Is she seriously claiming that this is the reason for the atrocities that occur there (y'know, because passport burning and capital punishment for illegal immigrants is so common over here!) And as for people murdering their housekeepers... Just, wow. How on earth did we get here? We started off with men being criticised for not doing their fair share of the housework, and now they're being blamed for seemingly everything under the sun. Men won't do the housework, and that's why Dubai's ruling family and police are so ruthless, and why those guys in New York were psychopaths. If only men would wash the dishes then everything would be fine. Sure.

Need I mention that implicit in the notion of a division of labour is the acknowledgement that it is, indeed, labour? People (especially single people) with money, no matter how progressive and egalitarian, might still decide to invest in workers to deal with these unpleasant tasks. This will be the case even if there's no pressure on women to shoulder the burden alone.

Penny presents us with plenty of other wild claims to gawp at (did you know that a sizeable number of men are terrified of women with large breasts? -p32) but in all fairness I should admit that I did nonetheless find many parts that I roughly agreed with too. It's just that it's all been argued more persuasively elsewhere.

Even if you're sympathetic to the feminist cause and have an interest in the topic of women under capitalism, it's still safe to give this book a miss.
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