This article is concerned with the capacity of contemporary fiction to reveal and oppose the ubiquity of work in Western culture. I conduct a comparative literary analysis of two contemporary novels that expose how neoliberal rationality has transformed work into an all-encompassing project, endorsed by a corresponding manifestation of feminism. Rather than challenging gendered labor relations through collective action, this “neoliberal feminism” incites women to turn their critical gaze within and transform themselves into resilient citizens and workers. Its sensibility is disseminated through popular literature, from “chick-lit” to self-help books, via narratives of physical and psychological self-transformation. This article builds on feminist scholarship which has critiqued the popular cultural domination of neoliberal feminism, offering a new contribution by identifying a nascent genre of anti-neoliberal feminist fictional writing. I argue that Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) and Halle Butler’s The New Me (2019) constitute a literary resistance to neoliberal feminism where the trope of self-transformation is employed to expose and reject an endorsement of oppressive work culture. Depicting characters who obsessively work on themselves to survive the precarious neoliberal labor market, they reveal the hypocrisy of a feminism subdued by incessant labor and pressed into the service of neoliberalism, positioning literature as a potential site for resistance.

Author Biography

Isabel Sykes is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on the intersections of class, gender, and labor under neoliberal capitalism. She is currently in her second year of an AHRC-funded PhD at Brunel University London. Her thesis explores media representations and lived experiences of working-class women’s unpaid domestic labor in the UK.