This is a short blog prompted by recent events in Brighton, as well as wider discussions I’ve been having about the (possible) relationship of austerity to gendered violence and oppression.
In terms of what’s been happening in Brighton, a ‘pro-life’ group (who I won’t name since they’re aiming at publicity) have been regularly harassing women at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic, importing tactics from the US where such actions are a lot more common. This made the front page of the local paper today after they intimidated a rape survivor (see lead pic). Even before it was front page news it had lead to a grassroots group Brighton Pro-Choice forming to counter the anti-choice campaign and defend women’s rights. Similar groups have formed elsewhere in the country (e.g. see the Red Rag Campaign on Twitter), which brings me onto the wider point.
Is it just a coincidence that anti-choice groups are gaining traction now, at a time of austerity and heightened attacks on previous working class gains on all fronts, from wages and welfare to pensions to healthcare? Or is there some connection between the wider attacks on the working class and the attacks on women’s control of their own bodies? And therefore while the body is clearly a site of struggle, could it be understood as a site of class struggle? Basically, I don’t know, and I mainly want to open a discussion. Also, in a sense it doesn’t matter, as I support the right to choose regardless of whether it’s part of the class struggle or not. But I think it is worth thinking about, so here’s a hypothesis.
"While one form which opposition to capitalism takes is in direct economic antagonism – resistance to exploitation whether as producer or consumer – another form is, exactly, resistance to capitalism’s innate tendency to reduce all human relationships to economic definitions. The two are inter-related, of course; but it is by no means certain which may prove to be, in the end, more revolutionary. (…) [People] desire, fitfully, not only direct economic satisfactions, but also to throw off this grotesque “economic” disguise which capitalism imposes upon them, and to resume a human shape.”
This could be paraphrased as saying that the class struggle is not just a matter of the terms of exploitation of ‘human resources’, but over the fact we are reduced to mere human resources at all. In terms of workers, this is pretty straightforward and familiar to most libcom readers: workers are dispossessed of any other means to survive, and thus have to sell their labour power on the market to make ends meet. But it seems that womens bodies are reduced to resources in another way too – as producers of children. RAG flag up this point:
While the site for this [struggle] has often been the work-place in traditional anarchist dialogue, it was noted that from a feminist perspective, the family and the body are additional sites of conflict (our literal “means of production” which we determined to seize!)
My gut feeling is to say the class struggle is about imposing our human needs on the inhuman diktats of capital. And there’s no reason for those needs to be purely economic. Even ‘bread and butter’ workplace struggles are often as much about dignity and respect as pay and working hours. And as human beings, we have needs far beyond the workplace which are similarly not limited to simple economic concerns. So I’m minded to say that the reimposition of a ‘traditional’ role of women as male-owned baby-making machines is part of the class struggle, and part of the current ruling class offensive against historic working class gains.
But I can’t really back that up beyond the above. Is anyone aware of any studies looking at advances/retreats of womens’ rights in relation to wider social/economic conditions? I know Silvia Federici has argued strongly that the body is a site of class struggle, and the disciplining of women as producers and carers of children has played a fundamental part in the rise of capitalism. And despite my criticisms of some of her specific historical claims, I still support that general thesis. But there must be loads more literature on this kind of thing, so does anyone have any recommendations, or any thoughts?