Exit, language, community

It is not surprising, then, that during the last few years the focus of women’s struggle has “shifted” from mobilization for the right to equality to less visible but no less significant and effective forms of struggle. Relationals dynamics, and hence language, are the crucial elements in the new struggles. This shift only seems to mark a defeat with regard to male-female equality on the labor market. Of course, the inequality in compensation has not diminished; it has actually increased where other factors (conjunctural, ethnic, migratory) have intervened. Women were the first to be affected by the recession; they were pushed back from the point they had obtained during the phase of economic expansion. Nevertheless, it needs to be pointed out that the “exodus” from wage labor—that is, from the very site of wage discrimination—often began before the recession, as has been demonstrated by research conducted in the United States during the 1980s. According to some researchers, the increase in the average number of children per woman can be partially explained in terms of the “retreat” into the private sphere that took place when the “long march” across the labor market didn’t fulfill its promises. It is certainly very difficult to establish causal relations in such a complex universe. Nonetheless, the hypothesis can be advanced that, faced with an aggravation of wage inequalities between men and women, or in any case with their persistence (constitutional rights notwithstanding), the shift to the relational and communicative terrain reveals not so much a defeat as a genuine innovation in the tools of feminist struggle. If domestic labor is indeed increasingly of a relational and communicative nature, then perhaps the choice of language as the place for defining female identity and difference originates in this mutation. In any case, the persistence of domestic labor explains why women preceded men in developing forms of antagonism proper to the field of linguistic and relational communication.

Language, the ability to communicate, is in fact far more universal than the rights inscribed in the constitution. The difference consists in the fact that the universality of rights such as the right to parity is purely formal. As such, it has to contend with the reality of power relations in everyday life, be it at work or in the home. Formal rights are quickly detached from people when we enter the universe of work and the immediate private relationships between men and women. Language, on the other hand, displays a peculiar feature that distinguishes it from formal rights: while it is also public and universal in nature (like constitutional rights), language is never detached from people. It always “transcends” the reality of personal power relations; it is an immanent resource that can be tapped into every time one needs to redefine one’s identity and difference with respect to the other who gives orders. Language is the “place” where we can best conjugate the I and the We, the singular and the collective, the private and the public. In the case of feminine language and communication, what is genuinely new compared to more traditional forms of struggle is the fact that the public sphere immediately constitutes a political community.

From “Rules for the Incommensurable,” (pdf) Christian Marazzi, written in 1996. Posted mainly as a placeholder and reminder, as I think it’d be interesting to compare this with what’s happening in the current crisis.

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