The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 9      March 10, 2014

Book provides working-class view
of women’s 2nd-class status
(feature article)

Isabel Moya, a leader of the Federation of Cuban Women and director of its publishing house, Editorial de la Mujer, chaired the meeting launching Pathfinder Press’s new Spanish edition of Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women at the Havana International Book Fair. Reprinted below are remarks by Moya, made at a February 2011 meeting at that year’s book fair, launching the Cuban edition of the book. Her remarks are included in the new Pathfinder edition.


“Is the use of cosmetics worth the attention of a Marxist?”

“Naked or clothed, dressed in linen or polyester, shaved, plucked, tattooed, painted, adorned with pearls or ceramic beads, siliconed, liposuctioned, covered with visible or invisible scars, with piercings in the most unimaginable places, dyed, bleached, with gray hair, highlights, subjected to diets and sessions at the gym or abandoned to the reign of carbohydrates and fat, the human body is a representation, an expression of one’s self and of other men and women.”

I wrote these reflections for the article “This body trimmed in beautiful things,” which appears in a book [Sin contraseña: Género y trasgresión mediática —No password: Gender and media transgression— by Isabel Moya] that was also presented here a few days ago. However, the debate about the body and women, and in particular about the dictates and control exercised over them, which could very much seem to be something belonging to the third millennium, sparked a debate more than half a century ago in the New York workers paper, the Militant, and continued in a bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States.

This debate is available in the book we are presenting today, Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women, by Joseph Hansen, Evelyn Reed, and Mary-Alice Waters. Waters, who is with us this afternoon, wrote an enlightening preface that explains the context in which the debate occurred.

This book has several merits, in my opinion. First, it takes up the issue of the control of women’s bodies in the framework of the reproduction of patriarchal values during the explosive development of the consumerist phase of imperialism — a phase that today, paradoxically, has reached its highest expression and its deepest structural crisis.

Although we know that promises of youth and beauty go back to the origins of humanity, the exalted expression in advertising today — which promise youth and beauty not only from creams and all kinds of alchemy but also from surgery — emerged in its modern form in the 1950s.

In addition, the debate applies Marxist feminist analysis and a class perspective to the woman question. This is extremely useful in our context, where some men and women still see feminism as something foreign and of dubious origin and importance.

I must acknowledge that, unlike some of his contemporaries, I very much enjoyed the irony of the article by Joseph Hansen (alias Jack Bustelo). It hit a nerve, preparing the way for important essays, “Marxism and the Woman Question” by Evelyn Reed and “The Fetish of Cosmetics” by Hansen himself, which are printed in this book.

The inclusion of letters from women readers, not just those of theorists, offer a rich example of how the ruling powers get the exploited classes to internalize views about female beauty that the ruling powers themselves developed; and how, at the same time, obeying this cultural mandate is required for entering the labor market.

In the Cuban context, where there are more and more gender studies programs — we now have some thirty-three women’s or gender studies programs, various master’s degrees, and dozens of related theses — this book enables us to approach the issue from a Marxist perspective.

But the part of the debate that perhaps moved me the most, and that I think could be an inspiration for the Cuban people in general and for specialists in particular, are the speculations sketched in the pages of this book about what beauty will mean under socialism, about how women’s bodies will be valued in the new society.

In building our society, this type of debate should not be seen as something secondary or subordinate, Hansen wrote, and I quote: “What we have in cosmetics is a fetish, a particular fetish in the general fetishism that exists in the world of commodities. The special power that cosmetics have derives from the fact that in addition to economic relations, sexual relations attach to them. That is the real source of the ‘beauty’ both men and women see in cosmetics.”

Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women is a book that could be approached as work of philosophy, esthetics, economics, or gender studies — or perhaps as a bibliography. In my opinion, however, it is above all intended to provoke an ongoing debate in theory, in political practice, and in daily life —including its consequences in the community and in the media.

In the midst of the proliferation of so much garbage in the media, Evelyn Reed’s analysis seems as though it were written today. I quote: “Our task, therefore, is to expose both the capitalist system as the source of these evils and its massive propaganda machine which tells women that the road to a successful life and love is through the purchase of things. To condone or accept capitalist standards in any field — from politics to cosmetics — is to prop up and perpetuate this ruthless profit system and its continued victimization of women.”

In her own way, a Cuban woman with a universal outlook, Dulce María Loynaz, also demanded, as does Reed, the right of women to their diverse and multiple beings.

If you love me, love me whole,
not by zones of light or shadow …
If you love me, love me black and white,
and gray and green, and blonde and dark …
Love me by day,
love me by night …
And by morning in the open window!
If you love me, don’t break me in pieces:

Love me whole … or don’t love me at all!

Related articles:
‘Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women’ launched at Havana book fair with new Spanish edition
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