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Feminism, nature and the myth of progress

Léon Bazille Perrault’s Mother with Child, 1894

Throughout her twenties, Mary Harrington “liberalled about as hard as it’s possible to liberal”, says Janice Turner in The New Statesman. She adopted a “louche persona” online called Sebastian and experimented with drugs, communes and “genderqueer” cliques. Fast-forward a decade, and she’s a happily married stay-at-home mum. She describes holding her first child and realising that her female body was not something to “transcend or deconstruct” – it was real. It’s no surprise, then, that Harrington’s new book is written with the “fiery zeal of the convert”.

Her central thesis is that the idea of progress as a “perpetual up-escalator” benefiting women is a lie. It has turned our bodies, she argues, into “meat Lego”, exploited through commercial surrogacy, porn culture and plastic surgery. And it relies on the damaging myth that “men and women are the same, with identical needs and desires”. And maybe she’s right. We’ve lived through a “decade of postmodern sophistry, with the female body unnameable and womanhood handed to any male who claims it”. Now it seems those like Harrington – who believe, in Horace’s words, that “you may drive Nature out with a pitchfork, but she keeps on coming back” – are gathering momentum.

Feminism Against Progress by Mary Harrington is available to buy here.