No Rebel Chambermaids
Meridel Le Sueur’s 1930s Labor Imaginary
Pages 449 - 458
The tribune of American proletarian writing in the “red” 1930s, Mike Gold, created editorials such as “Write for Us!” in the Communist Party’s literary organ, ‚The New Masses‘. In these allegedly gender-neutral manifestos, women were maids and men real workers. His colleague Meridel Le Sueur destabilized such stereotyping. Her ‚New Masses‘ sketches and pieces in other leftist periodicals recast her comrades’ commodification of female wage earners. At the same time, she dramatized the very Party forces denying agency to subaltern women. Attempting with some success to reconcile feminism and communism, she upended the association of red literature with manliness. Her coded subtexts critiqued the contradictions in Gold’s notion of “rebel chambermaids.” To that end, she generated a labor imaginary of women’s incarceration to interrogate the Communist Party’s promise of equality after the revolution. Redefining the conditions for emancipation, she disrupted male-defined social realism both stylistically and substantively.