Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

The Labour Feminism Takes: Tracing Intersectional Politics in 1980s Canadian Feminist Periodicals

Document type Thesis
Author McKenna, Emma
Degree Ph.D, English and Cultural Studies
Publisher McMaster University; Hamilton, Ont.
Date 2019
Pages vii, 297 pages


This dissertation turns to recent feminist history of the 1980s to consider feminism’s relationship to class, economics, and labour. Challenging the idea that feminism is an inclusive project, I look at how feminist ideology produces commonsense forms of racism, classism, and sexual normativity. To demonstrate this argument, I evaluate two important moments in 1980s Canadian feminism: the development of feminist political economy and the debates of the feminist sex wars. In tracing the ways in which these histories unfold to value some feminist subjects more than others, I show how feminist narratives appear cohesive through quotidian practices of exclusion. I claim that the resistance of marginalized subjects is integral to these narratives, particularly when this resistance has been made to appear invisible or absent. I first turn to feminist political economy to show how a white feminist discourse about gendered domestic labour emerged while simultaneously omitting analyses of the experiences of women of colour and migrant domestic labourers. This white feminist discourse is imbued with commonsense racism, and imagines migrant domestic workers as located elsewhere to feminism. Subsequently, I examine how the feminist sex wars pursued a line of inquiry into sexuality that privileged a framework of danger. Feminist theorizing of violence against women as intrinsic to prostitution and pornography had dire consequences for understanding sex work and the diverse women employed in the industry. In promoting a white, middle-class perspective on sexuality, feminists appropriated sex workers’ experiences of violence and sought state support for abolishing commercial sexuality, in turn contributing to the heightened state surveillance of sexual minorities. In looking to and for marginalized women’s experiences within an archive of women’s publishing, this project insists on the integral place of sex workers and migrant domestic workers within Canadian feminist labour histories.