Temple Stream Bakery in Maine, where interviewee, Jabari Jones is now the head baker. Looks like paradise to me.
One of the joys of getting older is thinking back through the people you knew at pivotal moments in your life. Recently, an old colleague and student from Rutgers, Jabari Jones wrote some very smart feedback about class, capital and feminism on my Facebook page in response to a Gender Assignment post. Both of us have a long time interest in art and its intersection with politics. After we graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts, I left for New York, and he fell in love with Bread and Puppet Theater. This summer, he moved to Maine to take a job at a bakery—which looks a bit like heaven on earth. Just like homemade bread and a great political discussion.
Regarding your comments on my blog post about sex work as work, how did you find out about the Wages for Housework movement? How does it fit into your personal politics?
I found out about Wages for Housework (WfH) when I heard Selma James speak on KPFA, a radio station in the SF bay area and part of the Pacifica Network, on my favorite program called Letters and Politics. I picked up her book, Sex, Race, and Class, to read about this movement and theory more in-depth. I also met James in person in Oakland at the Free School and listened to her talk about many things, including intersectionality and sustainable activism (I think she’s in her 70s or 80s, and still fighting!) I heard Silvia Federici speak separately on the same program. Besides wanting an end to white capitalist imperialist patriarchy in general, I align with the revolutionary perspective of WfH because I want to confront those gender roles that capital has assigned to me, and make conscious the unconscious consent that I give to capital. To make oppression conscious and vulnerable to critique through the lens of feminism, one of many lenses. To determine for myself who I am and my role in the world and in relations with other people. To unveil, address, analyse and attack the devaluation of my/our work and my/our lives.
I understand Federici’s groundbreaking essay, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle was taken from the book title, Woman at Point Zero, by Nawal El Saadawi. This is a complicated story of female oppression, labor, and freedom. What do you see as the connection between these two important texts?
I haven’t read Woman at Point Zero, yet. From the description, and what little I’ve read so far of Revolution at Point Zero, I see common attack on the official definition of work and the wage that legitimizes it, the connection between money-power and oppression, the gendered violence of capitalism, and the power of radical refusal to play by the rules of a system in which one cannot possibly win. This last point reminds me of a text which I have read thoroughly, the graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (way better than the movie, by the way.)
In V for Vendetta, the character named Evey, a young woman in post-nuclear war England under a fascist dictatorship, turns to prostitution to make ends meet. On her first night out, she propositions an undercover agent of the secret police and is busted. The agent’s cohorts come from the shadows and let her know that she’s going to be gang raped and made to disappear, and that they’ll get away with it. She is rescued by V, the anti-hero protagonist, who kills several agents in the process. Later on, because she abhors V’s violent tactics, she decides to leave his hideout and try to survive in the world again. She finds a flat with a sympathetic male friend, they fall in love. He is killed by criminals and she’s on the run for her life when she’s seemingly arrested by the police and blacks out. When she regains consciousness, she’s in what appears to be a prison. The authorities tell her she’s being charged with crimes and must sign a confession. Her head is shaved, she is dressed in rags, interrogated again and again, made to sleep on the bare concrete floor, barely fed enough to live, head dunked in a bucket of water, everything to break her spirit. A prisoner who used to be in her cell hid notes written on toilet paper in a secret crevice, a woman who was arrested by the fascists for being a lesbian.
Evey discovers the note, reading it when the guards aren’t watching. The note tells the woman’s life story, a story of resistance, of saying ‘no’ even if it means certain death and facing death with dignity. This memoir touches Evey’s heart in the depths of despair. After what seems like months of solitary confinement, Evey’s given one last chance to sign the confession, and her answer is ‘no’. She’s told she will be executed, and is led out of the room. Then she’s suddenly alone, the guard has disappeared. The door to the prison is open and she walks through it. To her astonishment, she’s back in V’s hideout. It was all a ruse. V leads her to the roof. She’s overwhelmed with emotions of relief, rage, shame, betrayal… and something else that feels like a part of her (the slave) is dying. She has an epiphany in the open air and cool rain, her social conditioning has been irrevocably broken. She is free. When faced with what she thought was certain death, she found something more important than survival, something that her oppressors had no power to take from her or make her give up against her will.
This story had a big effect on me. At a younger age, I could feel society press on me from all sides (and from within) like an oppressive air, and even if I couldn’t identify and name that oppression I read this story and felt that my oppression was bound up with the oppression of women. I’ve also felt that my liberation is largely bound up with the liberation of women. It’s for this reason that I’ve sought out texts like Revolution at Point Zero and Woman at Point Zero to help me articulate these feelings. To detonate the internalized heterosexist, racist, classist
There is an incredible line in Federici’s text, Wages Against Housework that women are “housemaids, prostitutes, muses, shrinks.” What are your thoughts on the way these unpaid labors and the exploitation of female sexuality uphold the capital system?Woman at Point Zero, a “creative non-fiction” novel by Nawal El Saadawi, a native Egyptian and psychiatrist, is the retelling of the life story of Firdaus, a woman imprisoned and condemned to death in Egypt. Explicitly, Firdaus was found guilty of the crime of murder. Implicitly, she was condemned to death for the crime of knowing the truth about society and the men who run it, a crime more terrible in its implications than murder. For it is the power of her self-identification, of her fearlessness, of her unbreaking condemnation of and infernal contempt for men, of her ability to look them in the eye with the full knowledge of the secret of their power, it is this which strikes terror into the hearts of men. Her whole life, Firdaus was neglected, brutalized, exploited, defined, objectified, and underestimated by men. Finding marriage (at the age of nineteen, as arranged by her uncle) to an old, violent man unbearable, and with jobs difficult to find, she found shelter with a woman who turne her to prostitution, and taught her many things about herself.
As a prostitute, she learned that men would pay a high price if she thought she was worth it. When she said no, they wanted her more and would pay anything. After a while she left to escape a man who wanted to take her away and be her pimp. She became a prostitute on her own, demanding her own price and became very successful and sought after. She asked herself: ”How many were the years of my life that went by before my body, and my self became really mine, to do with them as I wished?” She had her own money and place to live for the first time in her life, and time to read and spend as she wished. An experience with a client shook her confidence, and she redoubled her efforts to find a ‘respectable’ job.
Firdaus found a job as a low-level official, earning alot less than she did as a prostitute. In the company, she confronted another form of prostitution in the way female employees are treated by male executives and higher officials. She explained: ”Every time one of the directors made me a proposition, I would say to him, ‘It’s not that I value my honour and my reputation more than the other girls, but my price is much higher than theirs.’… I came to realize that a female employee is more afraid of losing her job than a prostitute is of losing her life… I now knew that all of us were prostitutes who sold themselves at varying prices, and that an expensive prostitute was better than a cheap one.” She fell in love with a man, a revolutionary workers’ leader, who eventually left her to marry the boss’ daughter. Her world was shattered, and the last bits of wool were pulled from her eyes, more of the dangerous truth was revealed: ”The time had come for me to shed the last grain of virtue… Now I was aware of the reality, of the truth…. A successful prostitute was better than a misled saint. All women are victims of deception. Men impose deception on women and punish them for being deceived…. Now I realized that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute. That marriage was the system built on the most cruel suffering for women.” She has reached a point of full self-realization, of self-empowerment, of self-identification: “I hope for nothing… I want for nothing…. I fear nothing… I am free.” She had no illusions left to lose, and held her head higher than ever. She became a woman at point zero.
And she now understood the terrific truth of why men would pay any price for her services: ”A man cannot stand being rejected by a woman, because deep down inside he feels a rejection of himself. No one can stand this double rejection.” And why women undervalued themselves: ”I knew that my profession had been invented by men… That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife.” Federici, through a feminist Marxist lens, applies this truth to reality through the Wages for Housework campaign which asks houseworkers (who by cultural default are women) and asks women (who by cultural default are houseworkers) to self-identify as houseworkers, even if they’re not married or explicitly performing that function, but rather to recognize that it is the function that patriarchical capitalist society expects and demands of women; to demystify the wage so that housework can be classified as unwaged work; to demand wages for unwaged work done largely by women; then to refuse to work. In essence, Federici wants women to realize what Firdaus understood about the power of self-identification, self-value, and the refusal to work to reshape how we define and value our own lives, and to challenge the terms of daily life that are dictated by capitalist demands and needs. Firdaus was of ‘low’ birth, yet she harnessed the power of self-identification and had princes and top officials at her feet. I think that Federici felt a solidarity with Firdaus, and saw a great lesson for revolutionary struggle in how she chose to live her life on her terms up until the very moment of her death.
I’m haunted that she talks about the relationship between the need for workers and contraception wars. It’s a bit different today, but I wrote on Gender Assignment http://genderassignment.tumblr.com/post/79762643761/gender-assignment-does-your-homework-the-gender-gap about the Gender Gap World Economic Forum. It was so obvious to me the study and movement is not about feminism, or female liberation, rather assuring a capital labor force. What are your thoughts on that?
I think there’s no question that it’s about assuring a capital labor force through the control of women’s reproductive capacity. The World Economic Forum’s Our Members description makes it pretty clear where they’re coming from: “The World Economic Forum is a membership organization. Our Members comprise 1,000 of the world’s top corporations, global enterprises usually with more than US$ 5 billion in turnover. These enterprises rank among the top companies within their industry and play a leading role in shaping the future of their industry and region. Some of our Member companies join the Forum’s Strategic and Industry Partnership communities, which are designed to deepen their engagement with the Forum’s events, project and initiatives. The Forum’s Members are at the heart of all our activities.” The primary objective of these multi-billion dollar corporations is to make more and more money, quarter after quarter. At the global scale, capitalism isn’t merely concerned with production and consumption, but re-production. And it’s not just about securing a healthy stock of breeders and caregivers, but also reliable ‘leadership’- meaning, women in elite circles who exercise power. Federici: “…wages for housework will be much more educational than trying to prove that we can work as well as [men], that we can do the same jobs. We leave this worthwhile effort to the “career woman,” the woman who escapes from her oppression not through the power of unity and struggle, but through the power of the master, the power to oppress- usually other women.” ‘Closing the gender gap,’ from the mouth of Capital, isn’t about how to liberate women but how to further naturalize, modernize and systematize their exploitation in the service of bosses and stockholders. Their social mission is focused on how to bring society more in line with capitalist demands. Not content to control the education, nutrition and means of exploitation of labor, the world’s top corporations want to control labor at the point of re-production: women. On the regional level, this imperative manifests as the war over gender roles, reproductive health rights, voting rights, and even civil rights when it comes to gender-based violence. This is because the State, unlike Capital, is territorial in nature. Capital utilizes the State in order to extract what ever resources it needs from territories and to legitimize that extraction.
The whole neocolonial program of ‘free trade’ agreements and IMF structural adjustment programs is dedicated to the unfettered freedom of capital to flow where it pleases, like a tsunami, which means vulnerability and disaster for whole populations. The program depends on the colonization of women’s reproductive power (and politics!) to daily underpin and reproduce the conditions of our collective servitude in a permanent survival economy. The function of the State is to control and deploy women to do their patriotic duty and produce (or not) children on demand ‘for the Fatherland’. This is why when the WEF says it wants to promote reproductive freedom, it really means it wants to control reproductive work. ‘Freedom’ is ‘work’. “Arbeit macht frei.” This is why women are under attack globally, to keep them off balance, terrorized, and exhausted lest they realize their revolutionary potential.
I was also haunted by this quote: “We want and have to say that we are all housewives, we are all prostitutes and we are all gay, because until we recognise our slavery we cannot recognise our struggle against it, because as long as we think we are something better, something different than a housewife, we accept the logic of the master, which is a logic of division, and for us the logic of slavery. We are all housewives because no matter where we are they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less pressure on them for money, since hopefully our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us”. What do you think she’s implying about queer culture? About slavery? Are these valuable positions or nomenclatures, or has the debate shifted?
In The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem asked, ” What are roles? Stereotypes are the dominant images of a period, the images of the dominant spectacle….The role is a model form of behavior…. Skill in playing and handling roles determines rank in the spectacular hierarchy… Access to the role occurs by means of identification… The need to identify is more important to Power’s stability than the models identified with.” I think that Federici is implying that queer culture, prostitutes, housewives are ‘the other’ which ‘the master’ uses to divide women against each other, making it easier to impose roles and exploit women in those roles. She’s implying that the social safety of acceptance represented by “that man in our present or our future”, as opposed to “the possible price of isolation and exclusion” paid by “gay relations”, and the pressure to have children, are all pressed upon women, particularly single women, who are “afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife… This is precisely our weakness, as our enslavement is maintained and perpetuated through this lack of self-identification.” When people self-identify, it acts as a buffer against attempts by others to impose identities. I think that Federici is encouraging women to self-identify with ‘the other’, the housewife, that most powerless of social positions, the position in society that is tied most strongly to femininity and women’s oppression. One cannot be free if one is a slave yet doesn’t recognize it. The abolitionist Harriet Tubman once said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” To not identify with ‘the other’ is to identify with ‘the master’ or according to roles that are defined by ‘the master’, the definition of slavery. The slave, the immigrant, the housewife, the queer and the housewife have a common enemy, so it is a key tactic of ‘the master’ to divide and conquer these potential allies.
I think the debate is always shifting, because capital is always shifting and hegemonic. It all depends on which identities and roles are under capital’s growing influence. When talk show hosts can be openly gay and sell clothes and cosmetics for major retailers and manufacturers, you know the jig is up. When NFL football players can be openly gay, and then the NFL threatens to pull business out of states that threaten to pass discriminatory legislation, and the state rescinds its process, you know that “equality” is now big business. I think when transgender people are glamorized on the cover of TIME, it signifies that the eye of capital has turned toward a new, exploitable market. This glamorization is meant to turn our attention towards something that is being accepted and brought into the fold of exploitable objects, and away from other things or people that are targeted for demonization. I think today Federici might say “we are all Mexicans, we are all muslims, we are all Afghanis and Iraqis and Syrians, we are all Brazilians and Ukranians.” To turn away from these persecuted peoples, these potential allies with a common enemy, our enemy, is to be a slave and a tacit supporter of their persecution, immiseration, and destruction. We may survive today, but what happens to them today will happen to us tomorrow.
And finally, what do you think are the most pressing issues today for female liberation?
The same issues as yesterday: white capitalist imperialist patriarchy. Except today it takes the form of and ‘Hillary 2016’ (it also looks like #BringBackOurGirls’, but much has already been said about how public outrage and call for action in Nigeria will only legitimize U.S. military presence already in the region by giving it a ‘feminist’ disguise). Most people of color, and white liberals/progressives who voted for Obama really wanted him to be something other than what he actually is: a Clintonian neoliberal. And what has been done for the people who voted for him or hoped for change? Under his watch, they have been deported and incarcerated in record numbers. They have quietly slipped off of the official unemployment numbers because they’ve given up searching for jobs that don’t exist or don’t provide a living wage. They have watched him do the bidding of Wall Street while selling out Main Street. They have watched him sign a new health care insurance system into law, only to leave a public option for universal health care off the table, effectively delivering more people into the greasy hands of powerful insurance companies who will no doubt use their cash to dismantle barriers to future profits. They have witnessed Bush-era torture, indefinite detention, and extra-judicial killing continue. They have watched him hunt whistle-blowers and classify government documents on an unprecedented scale. They’ve pressed their ears to the walls while he has negotiated the TPP behind closed doors with representatives of global capital. The remnants of the working and middle class have listened to the great sucking sound as jobs, credit, the future have been extracted from the economy by transnational capital and parked off-shore in tax havens. They’ve watched him accept the Nobel Peace Prize, and then escalate the war in Afghanistan. And on an on. Is this what people hoped for in 2008 and 2012? And what do people, particularly feminists, hope for with a Hillary Clinton presidency?
In 2008, I voted for Green Party candidates Cynthia McKinney for President, Rosa Clemente for Vice President. In 2012, I voted for Green Party candidates Jill Stein for President, Cheri Honkala for VP. When I could have voted for the first (and possibly last) black President in American history, I voted for women instead. They stood for things I really wanted to see change in this country, and I knew that, unlike the Democratic and Republican parties, the Greens were not in the pocket of the 1%. Eugene V. Debs (who once ran as a Socialist party candidate for President, from prison!) once said, “You can vote for what you want and not get it, or vote for what you don’t want and get it.” Given the history of this country, and given the power of the bankers and Fortune 500, given that our country is governed not by ‘majoritarian electoral democracy’ and ‘majoritarian pluralism’ but rather by ‘economic elite domination’ and ‘biased pluralism’ (see paper “Testing Theories of American Politics” by Gilens and Page), I could not believe that a black man could be endorsed for the top seat of the Executive Branch in America, and NOT be a tool of the 1%. Only ‘hope’ could convince intelligent people otherwise. I recognize that there are many reasons why people voted for Obama in either contest, not least of which was to vote someone in who would swing the pendulum back to the left after 8 disasterous years of Bush/Cheney and Co. (preceded by years of Clinton deregulation and pandering to big business.) But Obama’s 2008 campaign (which won top marketing awards), its “hope” slogan, its iconic almost Socialist Realist imagery, set off red flags for me. It was Nietzsche who explained that “hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” Barack Obama, firmly back by Wall Street, has prolonged the torments of people of color, the working class, women, the poor. Hillary Clinton, also firmly backed by the 1%, will prolong the torments further. The beatings will continue until morale improves, as the old saying goes. Adjacently, we see the Federal Reserve’s Board of Directors chaired by a woman for the first time, Janet Yellen, who rose through the ranks to do ‘the master’s’ bidding in ‘the master’s’ house. Is this any surprise?
While I voted against Obama in both elections, I am nevertheless glad that he ran. Not for the symbolic and historical value of his presence in the White House, but for the way in which his presence has acted as an explosive catalyst or bait for racists and institutionalized racism to come out in the light of day like never before in recent memory. Before the advent of Obama, the national discourse surrounding race seemed to me to slouch into academic distance or minstrelsy in sensationalized mass media. Today, race and economic inequality are taken more seriously at the forefront of national consciousness. Sexism and misogyny are catching up and converging, making a visibility of ‘intersectionality’ almost inevitable. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton, but I do hope she runs. It will draw out the misogynists and gynocidal parasites from the woodwork in all their crazy glory. Master Sun-Tzu says, in The Art of War: “The warrior skilled at stirring the enemy provides a visible form, and the enemy is sure to come. He proffers the bait, and the enemy is sure to take it. He causes the enemy to make a move and awaits him with full force.” Should we feel sorry for Obama, taking the brunt of relentless racist attacks? No. He ran for this office. He was supported by Wall Street, one of the most racist institutions in America. President Obama represents not the collapse or transcendence of racism, but on the contrary racism in its most advanced form. A President Hillary Clinton will represent no less than the most advanced and sophisticated attack against women. The temptation, as it was for progressives with Obama, will be to leave the streets and wait to see what Hillary will do once in office. Feminists must not wait, they must own the streets and fight on their terms.
I think that feminists must abandon all “hope”, advance revolutionary perspectives such as WfH, attack on all fronts, and fight to win by any means necessary. We must fight for more than survival, we must win our lives back. We must seize and use the frameworks of language that define the world, which the Right has been using very effectively, and hit them hard. We must not cooperate in our own destruction. We are all the woman at point zero.
I’m going to finish reading Federici’s book, then read Woman at Point Zero. Other books on my reading list in this vein:
Sex, Race, and Class by Selma James
Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
The Next American Revolution by Grace Lee Boggs
Feminism Without Borders by Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici
In Letters of Blood and Fire by George Caffentzis (who happens to be Federici’s partner and collaborator)
The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner
King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes (worth a re-read)
Baise-Moi by Virginie Despentes
The Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg
On Lies, Secrets, and Silence by Adrienne Rich
Pornography and Silence by Susan Griffin
Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette
The Art of War by Sun-Tzu
Jabari S. Jones (b. 1975 in New Jersey) is kind of a jack-of-all-trades. He graduated from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts with a BFA in Printmaking. He’s been a substitute teacher, door-to-door canvasser, art teacher, boy scout camp counselor, barista poet, radical puppeteer, worker-cooperative business owner, massage therapist and letterpress artist. From 2008-2013, he lived in Oakland, CA, and was a baker and worker-coop owner at Arizmendi Bakery & Pizzeria in Emeryville, CA. In May of 2014, he moved cross-country to small-town Temple, ME, to be head baker at a yet-to-be-named bakery with a wood-fired oven. He writes and posts at templestreambakery.blogspot.com.