Sarah Leonard and Marian Jones met at the Democratic Socialists of America’s socialist-feminist reading group (held in The Nation’s conference room!) in 2017, after Donald Trump’s election prompted a surge in membership in the 40-year-old organization. Now, along with several other editors and an art director, they are members of the Lux collective, named for the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. The first issue of its print magazine hits mailboxes this month. I spoke with Leonard and Jones about the future of left feminism, solidarity versus sisterhood, and why Lux is a glossy.
ED: Your mission statement argues that “girlboss” ideology has failed. Why did feminists let go of girlboss ideology?
SL: The girlboss model just doesn’t work for most people. The way American inequality looks now, there are a few people at the top, then those people’s lawyers and doctors, and then there’s a massive gap, and then there’s everybody else. The aspirational character of girlboss-ism is not as true to people’s lives at this point, if it ever was.
ED: Is Lux trying to elevate women’s class consciousness?
MJ: There were periods within the feminist movement when people would try to adopt the slogan “Sisterhood is powerful” and [the idea that] we’re all in this together, but Black women and other women of color felt like their own needs were getting erased. One of the ways that Black feminists have historically pushed back on “sisterhood” is the idea that we’re all victims of the same thing. If you’re a white woman, solidarity calls on you to be aware of the way that you’re victimized by white supremacy, but also of the way that you’re complicit in it.
SL: As feminists, we think in terms of solidarity rather than sisterhood, because we don’t necessarily think there’s anything organic about all women coming together. You have to build solidarity with intent and build relationships. We refer often in our editorial note to the Combahee River Collective Statement, and one of the reasons we refer to it constantly is that they were—and remain, for that matter—very serious about building points of solidarity with different groups who they had political goals in common with but were different from.
This magazine is designed to be part of that project. We imagine a particular kind of constituency that’s made up of all of these solidarities that are feminist, abolitionist, queer, and socialist. And to us, that creates an extremely big world, a very big constituency [with] lots of alliances. Different pieces of identity [act] as bridges to other groups rather than barriers.
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Women—and I’m going to say women, but I’m always anxious about hammering too hard on women because we have a very queer and expansive definition of our constituency—are an under-organized constituency. You see that in the fact that this country has an absolute childcare and eldercare crisis. Basically, all of that work is done by women. Everybody knows this as a crisis, and it’s not a priority anywhere.
ED: For the past decade or more, progressives and leftists have been repositioning issues like abortion, child care, and reproductive health as economic issues. What is still missing from that conversation?
SL: Whenever the Koch brothers put money behind an opponent of abortion and get that person elected, they get a tax cut, because that’s what Republicans do. And we pay for that with our bodies and our lives. And to be clear, obviously, the people whose bodies are being sacrificed are poor and working-class women and, disproportionately, women of color.
Ideas about morality in the family serve capital in very specific ways. All of the things that politicians don’t want to pay for, they say, “It’s a family problem.” So, unless we push back against the idea that the nuclear family is the home of all morality, we’re never going to win on economics.
Why did Sandra Fluke get called a slut? It was to defeat a universal health care program.
ED: The family is always the prop that has to stand in when social policy fails.
SL: Socialist feminists have always been big on problematizing labors of love. [The feminist campaign] Wages for Housework is all about trying to provoke people into thinking: What is love? What is work? When does one disguise the other?
We have this incredible piece in the first issue that’s a new translation of a manifesto about abortion from one of the founders of Wages for Housework, Maria Rosa de la Costa. It is just dripping with contempt for the state and its institutions that are so neglectful and unable to support the society and, especially, women and children. And they say things like, “We will put as many children on this earth if we want to, but only when we want to. And we want to raise them in beautiful, comfortable circumstances.”
So, they’re making a demand, which is that it’s sort of pathetic to run a society on bare survival. And, in fact, there should be a level of abundance and pleasure and the ability to raise a family however you want. It has a lot in common in with some language of the reproductive justice movement in the States, some years later.
Wages for Housework is pointing out that if women, in their case, in the household were not doing the reproductive labor of cooking, cleaning, having children, the capitalist system would cease to function. It would end. Capitalism owes a debt to all these unwaged workers who are half the population.
ED: You write that Lux’s vision of feminism is fighting for a world in which “everyone has access to food and shelter, to beauty and pleasure.” What excites you about launching a feminist magazine at this moment?
SL: We’ve gotten very good at criticizing the inadequacies of the right and certain forms of liberal feminism. We also want to be constructing a vision of what we want. The pieces we’re working on are all addressing questions that we have about the world we want to live in and the organizing that we are doing. We are very interested in putting forward the idea that the purpose of politics is for people to have a good life. And we should think about what that good life would consist of.
MJ: There isn’t a Lux that already exists. Lux is going to be a really pretty magazine—it has to be.
ED: Why is it important to you that Lux looks good?
SL: To me, it was important [that Lux be a glossy] because I grew up reading glossy women’s magazines. I wanted to build this thing that I had always enjoyed reading, but fill it with socialism.
Publications on the left often take the form of journals that suggest in their tone or their style that you should already be in the know. I want the opposite of that. I want it to be a gate flung open that people feel free to walk through.
There’s something radical in the strategic pursuit of pleasure. We’ve spent decades talking about whether women can have it all, which is actually this kind of depressing idea of working all the time but also doing domestic work all the time. In a sense, it is very unambitious: Can you contort yourself to conform to the unreasonable expectations of this society? One of our taglines is “We want it all,” with the idea being, if we really want a good life, fundamental things about how our society is structured would have to be transformed.
ED: It sounds like your approach is not just about the look; it’s also about the kinds of features and content you’ll be running.
MJ: I’ve always been really excited to be involved in a project where the goal is to convert people. Our magazine is definitely for someone who hasn’t read Marx yet—or any kind of leftist or feminist theorists.
ED: Lux was born out of the connections you made doing political organizing. Do you see it going the other way? Do you intend to use Lux as an organizing tool?
MJ: I really hope for it to be both an organizing and consciousness-raising tool. I think a lot of organizing can come out of reading groups. After you read about all this stuff, you’re energized to organize around it. We’re all organizers. We’re all really connected to the movement. So I definitely hope that we do more political stuff.
SL: We’re all volunteering to do Lux as a political project.
MJ: I don’t want to use the term labor of love, because we talked about this—I view it as an organizing project.