A Reader’s Perspective: Silvia Federici’s Beyond the Periphery of the Skin

Silvia Federici is an Italian and American scholar, teacher, and activist from the radical autonomist feminist Marxist tradition. I have reviewed Wages for Housework: Revolution at Point Zero previously, but you should give a shot to the latest insights Federici offers in Beyond the Periphery of the Skin. Here’s a glimpse of what you will find.

My encounter with Federici was quite enlightening in the first place. Her writing provided me with a complete eye-opening perspective on the gender dynamics, labor, housework, sexuality, and the way societies have been using women’s bodies for their own benefit, for such a long time now.

Through Beyond the Periphery of the Skin: Rethinking, Remaking and Reclaiming the Body in Contemporary Capitalism Federici brings everyone’s attention back to what she calls the main source of exploitation — the female body.

As Federici herself acknowledges, Beyond the Periphery of the Skin was originally devised as a response to the questions she generated in the three lectures she gave at the California Institute of Integral Studies in the winter of 2015, on the meaning of the body and body politics in the feminist movement of the 1970s.

These lectures, as she notes, strived to stress the contribution that the feminism of the 1970s has given to a theory of the body, to acknowledge, at the same time, its incapacity to devise strategies capable of significantly changing the material conditions of women’s lives and to examine the roots of the forms of exploitation to which women have been subjected in the history of capitalist society.

However, the book turned out to ask some questions and provide some responses to other topics as well.

While reading, you will see that Federici tries to discuss some very important aspects of being a woman in a capitalist era through deconstructing myths about the ‘natural’ more vulnerable state of being of women and de-romanticizing the idea that women are only here to reproduce.

More specifically, in the first part, you will be able to read about the ways our bodies are being replaced with machinery, and the insights related to this topic, from a feminist perspective. In this part, the body is elaborated as a political subject, as it already is at the center of worldwide politics. You will walk through the history of the women’s movement, while Federici explains how concepts of womanhood have shifted, and now have a different meaning than one in the 70s, all thanks to the feminists who deconstructed the painful femininity requirements that were being expected from all women.

Part two provides some outstanding perspectives on the consistent society’s determination to remake and change women’s bodies, focusing on plastic surgery, surrogacy, and gender re-assignment. Whereas Part three discusses the role of psychology in gender dynamics as well as labor dynamics focusing on theories that have contributed negatively to keeping women inside the housework role and enforcing the idea that they should remain faithful to their ‘natural’, ‘altruistic’ reproductive role within the family.

As if this wasn’t enough, Federici also tackles the bizarre human focus on extraterrestrial experiences, calling it the capitalist dream, and drawing questions on why this odd need to occupy extraterrestrial worlds exist, and why aren’t we taking care of our planet, in the first place, while we’re here?

I’ll leave here a paragraph, of part three, hoping it brings you enough curiosity to go ahead and read the book itself: “How to explain capital’s urge to leave the earth? To simultaneously destroy it and transcend it? Why all this dreaming, of space shuttles, space colonies, travels to Mars, mixed with the militarization of space? Does capitalism want to destroy this messy earth as it wants to rewire our bodies? Is this capitalism’s nasty secret: the final destruction of the earth and of our recalcitrant bodies—both residues of a billion years of noncapitalist formation?”


Photo: sivilla/Shutterstock


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