Skip to content

Marching Backwards

Mary Harrington’s proposed solution to the excesses of modern feminism is an overcorrection.

· 13 min read
Marching Backwards
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

A review of Feminism Against Progress by Mary Harrington, 224 pages (Forum, March 2022)

The biggest misogynists, the ones who really hate women, are contemporary progressive feminists. That idea alone might be enough to summarize Mary Harrington’s new book, Feminism Against Progress. It is difficult to disagree. Harrington persuasively argues that much contemporary feminism has a hatred of women’s bodies and of motherhood in particular. The goal of feminist politics, activism, and propaganda has been to defeminize women and emasculate men. The result of this reprogramming of the human is a dreary androgyny that is infinitely malleable by corporate and market demands.

Women’s issues are not being addressed by either market policies or by sex-positive feminism, Harrington contends. We have erased ourselves, becoming workers instead of women. Feminism’s hostility to anything that is particularly feminine, she argues, has resulted in what she terms “Meat Lego Gnosticism,” a posthuman world in which individuals are separated from their bodies and invited to rebuild and reconstruct them at will—with the help, of course, of heavy pharmaceuticals and medical technologies.

In response, Harrington recommends a return to nature, a “rewilding” of women. Like the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park to enable the entire ecosystem to flourish again, we should reintroduce women to their natural instincts and bodies so that she-wolves can run free in our modern landscape. This includes renouncing birth control and reorienting ourselves to domestic life and to what Harrington calls radical solidarity in marriage: you get married, and you stay that way. Harrington’s book has much to recommend it. Her discussion of how posthumanism is likely to create new forms of exploitation is especially important.

But Harrington’s solution moves too far in the other direction, becoming regressive rather than reactionary. Her call to rewild women’s bodies is a pill I can try to swallow, but it only goes half of the way down.

On Instagram @quillette