Published by various authors on International Womens Day, 2011, to commemorate the international day of struggle for womens liberation.
A collection of essays on feminism and sexism in the anarchist movement
Towards an introduction: Why anarcha-feminism?
Isn’t anarchism essentially feminist, with its central aim of abolishing hierarchy and creating equality? While theoretically it should be, in reality anarchist organisations and people claiming to be anarchists consistently ignore (or worse, out right deny the existence of) gender oppression. The problem of gender is rarely an integral part of anti-capitalist and anti-racist discourse and struggle.
A look at history shows us that the anarchist movement has not considered feminism one of its major concerns. Although Bakunin, for example, advocated complete equality between women and men and denounced the contradiction in many male militants who fought for socio-economic equality and freedom while being tyrants at home, Proudhon, on the other hand, pillar of the libertarian movement, was a notorious misogynist. This author of sentences like ” the woman is a pretty animal but an animal nonetheless. She is as eager for kisses as a goat is for salt,” is still the master thinker for many. There have always been homophobic anarchists, as well; who argue that homosexuality represents a “bourgeois perversion.”
Emma Goldman described the obstacles against her when she raised this issue: “Censorship came from some of my own comrades because I was treating such ‘unnatural’ themes as homosexuality,” she related in 1912. The shell of the idea of sexual liberation has often been resuscitated but without its anti-patriarchy value. For most militants, in 1936 as in 1970, it has meant above all the sexual availability of women militants and feminists for meeting male desires.
The film and statement below by anarcha-feminist group “No Pretence” explains why a feminist analysis is as relevant to the anarchist movement today as it has ever been.
The following was presented to the Anarchist Conference in 2009:
MOVEMENT or why we aren’t one
No matter how much we aspire to be ‘self-critical’ there is a clear lack of theorising and concrete action around sexism, homophobia and racism in the anarchist movement. We do not feel that the content and structure of the conference deal with gender and we’re tired of asking for space – we’re taking it ourselves.
You want to talk about history? Let’s stop pretending that feminism is a short blip in the history of political struggles. The feminism you know may be the one that has been dominated by white middle-class liberal politics – NOT the struggles and pockets of revolutionary resistance missing from our political pamphlets and ‘independent’ media. The feminism of Comandanta Yolanda, of bell hooks, of Anzaldua, of Mbuya Nehanda, of Angela Davis, of Rote Zora, of Mujeres Libres…
CLASS or is anybody out there?
We are all oppressed by the class system, but there is nobody ‘out there’ who isn’t also oppressed by white supremacy, imperialism, hetero-sexism, patriarchy, ableism, ageism… Pretending these systems don’t exist or can be subsumed into capitalist oppression, doesn’t deal with the problem, it just silences those people most oppressed by them, and allows for the continuing domination of these systems over our lives.
We are tired of being told that anarchists don’t need to be feminists, because ‘anarchism has feminism covered’. This is just a convenient way of forgetting the reality of gender oppression, and so ignoring the specifics of the struggle against it.
RESISTANCE or are we futile?
If the anarchist movement doesn’t recognize the power structures it reproduces, its resistance will be futile. For as well as fighting sexism ‘out there’ we must fight sexism ‘in here’ and stop pretending that oppressive systems disappear at the door of the squat or the social centre. Only a movement that understands and fights its own contradictions can provide fertile ground for real and effective resistance.
Ask yourselves this – do you believe sexism exists within the movement? When a woman comrade says she’s experienced sexual abuse or assault from a male comrade – what do you think? That it’s an individual or an isolated case? Or that it can happen – and disproportionately to women – because there is a system which allows it to develop and gives it life? Can we honestly say that our own autonomous spaces do not play a part in upholding this system?
Ask yourselves this – Why do fewer women speak in meetings? Because they think less? What is the gender of the factory worker? Why do more women do the washing up and run crèches at meetings/events? What is the gender of the carer at home?
Now tell us if you believe sexism exists: tell us why men rape; why more women are battered than men; why more women are used by the state to do free and unwaged work. Tell us – are you a feminist?
We believe that in the anarchist movement, the strongest evidence of sexism lies in the choice we’re told to make between ‘unity’ and what-they-call ‘separatism’, between fighting the state and fighting sexism. Fuck that! We refuse to be seen as stereotypes of ‘feminists’ you can consume – like fucking merchandise in
the capitalist workplace.
IDEAS INTO REALITY and what’s in between?
There will be no future for the anarchist movement if it doesn’t also identify as an anarcha-feminist movement. Anarcha-feminist organisational structures must exist within the movement to make anarcha-feminism an integral part of it. And you don’t need to identify as a woman to be an anarcha-feminist – every anarchist should be able to participate in the struggle against sexism.
The state’s incursion into our private lives and the relationship between sexuality and productivity from which it profits affects people of all genders. The gender binary system violently allocates us roles on the basis of our anatomy. A refusal to accept even these basic precepts will be a great hindrance to the movement.
You ask, ‘Can we find common cause despite our differences?’. We will only find common cause if we recognize that our differences are structured by numerous oppressive systems, and together fight to end each of these systems, wherever we find them.
Our feminisms must be plural; they must be anti-capitalist, anti-racist, antihomophobic. Our inspiration must come from the actions of feminists who have helped self-identified women reach revolutionary consciousness.
Our feminisms must be revolutionary.
A man's heaven is a woman's hell
We all have heard women complain about subjugation while working in the civil rights movement in the 1960's and 70's. Women witnessed their participation in a movement that supposedly was based on freedom for all, yet women were relegated to secondary, submissive, objectified, and servitude status continually throughout this time of supposed "liberation" and "civil rights." Women from white suburb progressive activism, to Black Panthers, all complained of the same problem. Subjugation based on gender. So the fact that this is continuing on in the realm of anarchy today is not surprising. My assessment of anarchy in the current U.S. incarnation is a lot of white men want MORE freedoms, and those desired freedoms actually DO include sexually objectifying, and being served by, women. It is becoming more and more clear to me that just as Public Enemy correctly sings "A White Man's Heaven is a Black Man's Hell," that a "Man's Heaven is a Woman's Hell." We cannot meet both desires, it is a zero sum game the way men are playing it. If women in anarchy want to quit serving men and being reduced to our genitals and breasts, and men in anarchy really secretly want women to make their food, watch their kids, not attend school, and to be sexually available and made up in chemicals, lingerie, heels and diet aids to sexually titillate them at all times, while doing men's laundry and washing most of their dishes, we have a problem. A HUGE problem.
Men who claim to be anarchists or feminists should do their own cooking, cleaning, and childcare. That, for me, is rule # 1. Any man who claims to be an anarchist or feminist, while he has women making his food regularly, is a joke. Any male "feminist" who relegates dish washing, from pots and pans used in food preparation to dishes and utensils used in serving and eating food, to women, is a Manarchist, not an anarchist. And any man who does not do an equal share of his own childcare responsiblities cannot be an anarchist or feminist either. There is no way around it. Part of anarchy is picking up your own responsibilities. Men who leave cooking, cleaning, and childcare predominantly to women are oppressive. I hear adult men trying to justify their laziness, saying the women "want" to cook for them, or their mothers "like" to sew their buttons on for them when they are 30 years old, like one 30 year old guy I know who has a PhD in engineering, ironically. Buttons miff him, but he is an engineer. Hmmm.
This idea that women "like to" and "want to" clean up after, and serve, men is quite self-serving for men. If men only listen to or interact with women when they serve them food, for instance, then the women serve food. If most men were equally praising the women for working on their PhD.'s as they are women for serving men, we would be getting somewhere. It is just a sign of a woman who has low self-esteem most often, and nothing else, if she "wants" to serve men endlessly by doing their cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc. She, very often, was not given any other real options to earn respect or acceptance.
That reminds me of another guy I know who tried to relegate all diaper duties of his son onto the mom claiming he could not work velcro. He can tune his hammered dulcimer, but he can't work velcro. Hmmm. The wool diaper covers his son wore had little velcro strips to close the leg areas. I watched him try to claim he could not "work" velcro, so his wife had to do his kid's diaper one Thanksgiving. He wanted his wife to stop cooking, to change diapers, while he did nothing. So, I stepped in and taught this 30+ year old man how to "work" velcro, to empower him to be able to change his own son's diaper, for god's sake. I am sorry, but that is just plain pathetic nonsense. I took this idiot's hands, and put one side of the velcro in it, then put the other side of velcro in his other hand, then pushed his hands together. Wow! It was that easy. I had to deal with this guy in my performing circle for years, and now he is in some activist circles in Seattle, but I lost all respect for this guy years ago. Watching how he sits around being served by women, while his male child watches that behavior, cancels out anything "radical" he may have to say. A guy who dodged doing his own kid's diapers for a long time with some phoney selfish crap about not being able to work velcro is not a feminist, is not progressive, is not on my side. He is on the side I am working to abolish.
When I first returned to college, I was in a speech class with a woman who was in her 40's, and was in the same women's reentry program I was in, so I wanted to support her. She came to me freaked out, because we had to write a controversial speech for our speech class and she said she could not do that. I asked why not. She said she had done nothing but cook, clean and work for her husband and four sons for the last 20 years. She said she has no idea what is going on in the world, had not read a paper or watched TV news in years, and she simply felt incapable of writing something controversial. She could not think up one controversial topic to write about, was a complaint she had. This shocked me, as I am an endless fount of ideas for controversial speeches. But I watched her, and I was a mom of a 4 year old boy at that time, and I vowed to always keep a life going outside of serving men and my son, so that I would be whole and healthy 20 years down the road. It occurred to me that her dilemma really was not that she had not done anything or thought anything controversial in 20 years, it was that she had been beaten down to a point where she had no independence and confidence anymore. That, to me, seemed to be the issue. She was trying to learn how to think independently and that came BEFORE the speech, but the speech triggered the independent thinking. The woman finally did a speech on the controversial subject of flossing teeth. She made an argument that people did not take flossing seriously, and gave out little floss samples, and I just loved her for it. She was very brave and I say that with the utmost sincerity.
I feel when men say things like women want to clean up after them or do their dishes and cooking and childcare, that they are just oppressing the woman further, even if it is subtle, and that type of behavior does not empower her, but further beat her down, reinforcing servitude as her most prominent and useful talent. My mom was a concert pianist, then a stewardess who flew around the world to places like Russia, Cuba, Alaska, Greece, Hawaii, etc. Then, in 1959, she had to make a choice. Her career or marriage, because she was not allowed to have both. Northwest Orient Airlines, the company she worked for, made her choose one or the other. Since our society rewards women for becoming a wife and mother more than for independent careers, my mom chose wife and mother. But as she was locked up on a cul-de-sac in a suburb in Los Angeles, cooking, cleaning, doing endless childcare, chained to the house, with no intellectual stimulation, she literally went nuts. She complained that the other moms on the block wanted to talk about the latest TV show or a new store in town, when my mom wanted to talk politics and art. My dad was flying off to his exciting jobs in the aerospace program, all over the world, as a well-paid engineer, but my mom could fly no more. She had to sit at home with me getting more and more dark and depressed, dependent on my dad, who was gone a lot. My dad was still out in the world, participating in the world, yet had a home and wife and child waiting anytime he came home, to serve him. My mom was relegated to servitude and it killed a part of her soul most certainly. And it was due to her gender. Later women sued that airline for sex discrimination so women are not forced to make such devastating choices anymore. My mom knew she got the raw end of the deal, and tried to keep things like the "I Hate To Cookbook" and other things dissing housework and cooking as crappy women's work that should be simplified, not glorified, around to influence her daughter, me, to not follow in her steps of serving a man. I could see she wanted out, and it made me think I never wanted to step in to that mess of marriage, servitude of men, etc.
Holly Near wrote a song called "Old Time Woman," about an older woman helping a younger woman through some of her troubles:
"She told me she'd never had a man, till she was firmly wed,
Never understood her ma, until her pa was dead,
Still, her man came first, and then her 13 sons,
It wasn't until they had all gone away
That she started to have any kind of fun at all!
I wanted to make her young again but all I could do was cry
She took my swollen cheek in hand,
And made me look her in the eye,
She said, "If I had not suffered,
You wouldn't be wearing those jeans,
Bein' an old time woman,
Ain't as bad as it seems.""
Emma Goldman, an anarchist that male anarchists recognize and give props to, says this issue of domestic servitude by women is a serious matter that directly affects anarchy. Yet I see most male anarchists trying to pooh pooh this issue. Or they will validate the issue, even maybe publish the issue, but in real life, women still are doing their dishes and cooking! They want to be served like kings by women, while claiming to be sensitive to hierarchies and elitism! Just like men did in the civil rights era when I was a child. But I am not buying mere words this time, based on the experience my sisters had in the 60's. Males need to PROVE they are not using women for servitude as second class citizens by, um, NOT ALLOWING WOMEN TO SERVE THEM. This same idea was applied to feminism. Men complained of a double standard when women wanted equal rights but wanted to play dumb when it came to car mechanics and power tools. So, women learned how to do mechanics and to use power tools. It is the same thing that men need to do now. Work through the uncomfortableness to end sexist crap we inherited.
Pro-active anarchist men clean up dishes they dirty BEFORE they are asked and BEFORE A WOMAN CAN DO IT FOR THEM. (A common trick of lazy males is to wait until a woman does it for him, or to do the cleaning so ineptly that the woman takes over, or to simply feign absolute incompetence as the guy who could not "work" velcro on diapers.) Pro-active, pro-feminist men clean up more messes than they make, just like women have done forever. Pro-active anarchist men cook more food for others than they allow to be cooked for them, just like most women. Pro-active men schedule childcare in equal amounts with the mother of the child. Pro-active men participate as fully as women in childrearing, without being asked or prodded. Pro-active anarchist men try to support as many women as men in their work, like feminist activists try to. So, pro-active anarchist men SEEK OUT new and exciting projects about, by, and for women, like they have for male projects forever. Anarchist men really have to be pro-active at this point, and anything less really should be interpreted as a desire to maintain a gender hierarchy and male elitism.
I began to refuse to cook and clean for men in 2003, and it has drastically changed my life. I am dead serious. I have spent unbelievable amounts of my time on Earth serving men as a woman's duty that was taken for granted completely. And I have become a pro-active poverty and feminist activist, which means I do not silently sit by while sexism and classism occurs just because the men have power and to confront them is scary. Women who confront anarchist men about the issues of male elitism meet all kinds of comical defensive behavior from Manarchists. I am learning how to just laugh at them when they puff their alpha male chests at me, claiming anarchy as THEIR terrain, THEIR DOMAIN, so to speak, just like they said about houses we all lived in for generations. No, women are not here to serve men dinner, nor are we going to submit to them in an anarchy power struggle. If anarchy is some male elitist fiction, we do not need it. If anarchy is what Emma Goldman was talking about, where women are freed of discriminatory servitude, then the men of anarchy need to start LIVING that reality, not just talk about it. Or if anarchist men are waiting for women to FORCE them into treating women equally, that is pretty lame too. So don't complain, men, as women become more and more aggressive and militant in our assertion of our human rights over our servitude. And let it be known, the longer men make women wait for this equality, the more hostile we will naturally become.
I want to see anarchist men LEADING the childcare equity revolution with women. I want to see anarchist men NOT ALLOWING women to serve them, and to start giving back for years of female servitude they have already benefited from. I want to see anarchist men quit rationalizing their laziness, and to start seeing anarchist men as the first in the kitchen to do dishes always, just as women have done for years for most men. I want to see male culture quit treating women like a Playboy centerfold they can just jack off on, with or without our consent. I want men to quit acting so threatened by older women, by larger women, by smarter women, by athletic women, by feminist women. "I want men to be so disciplined, that they go crazy in the name of creation, not destruction." - Rob Brezsny.
Emma Goldman was right on target when she said the domestic situation was of utmost priority for the liberation of society. And I see men, more often than not, thwarting domestic duties upon women, still. And what is worse, men often then deny they are doing that, or deny knowledge of their own passing of the buck on cleaning, cooking, childcare, etc. As if denying they are using women for free labor makes it so. No, women are still doing this free labor, while the majority of men are using women for unpaid labor. Feminism says that women need to not allow men to abuse them as second class citizens like that. But the way I interpret anarchy, I think it says that men need to not allow themselves to oppress women, not that women need to patrol and police men into proper equity behavior.
Men treating women with equity is as much about men as it is about women. Men are benefiting from women's servitude. And it is men's job to figure out how to stop having an existence that is based upon the oppression of women as unpaid laborers for their lifestyle. Much of the male freedom in the world is based on women not being free, stuck at home, taking care of the man's children, which includes cleaning, cooking, etc. The majority of women I talk to want to work outside the home, and be economically independent of men, but someone has to do the childcare, cooking, cleaning, etc., and men are paid more in society, and are promoted more and get into grad school more, etc. And the men who create welfare moms walk free, faceless, while all the stigma is heaped on the moms, for the men not doing their part! It is painted as if men do important things so women just need to wave our pom-poms for them at home with the kids! I do not believe any man who says he is an anarchist, if a woman cooks for him more often than he does for women, if a woman cleans his dishes more often than he does others' dishes, and if someone else does more of his child's childcare than he does. Words are cheap. Action talks.
A message to "anarchist" men, and then some
Polemic about sexism amongst anarchist men.
So they say a women's work is never done, and here I am writing an article that a man should be writing, and I'm starting to believe it.
Women have been looked over, talked over, pushed back, laughed at, been shut up, used, abused, and raped all by our "brothers" self titled anarchist men and proclaimed revolutionaries. All the anti-sexist men quick to jump on someone else's sexist remark when around an anarchist crowd, but will let it slide when around his not so "P.C." friends. The men who vocalize their aggression against rapists, but when THEIR lovers say no, coercion is simple, and its not rape, because he's ANTI-SEXIST. There are men who use anti-sexist talk to pick up women. The men who challenge others to call them on their shit and when someone does, on goes the defense mode and he's appalled that someone could say HE was fucking up, instead of actually thinking about the situation and to start working on it.
We already know all men are sexist, just as all white people are racist because of our society, white people still having privilege over people of colour and men still have privilege over women, and once born into this process its incredibly hard to break it, especially when you forget to look at yourself. Once men slap "REVOLUTIONARY" on themselves, they think once they know a problem exists, that they are no longer a part of that problem, which they are.
As always before and now, sexism is a second hand term. It seems everything is being laid out in order of importance, made by who? Its like "first we'll fight racism, cos' we already know how to beat up nazis, then maybe we'll think about sexism, capitalism, or homophobia, whichever least affects our privilege. After that if there's time, and no more beer, we can read about speciesism, ageism, or ableism. if we're really cool we'll learn a little about it all to improve our social skills for the next gathering."
Whatever happened to fucking equality? How did some isms become more important than others you ask? Its called "How to be cool in the political scene, and keep as much privilege as possible" (look for it at your local corporate bookstore).
It's sad when it comes to the point where we don't want to think of anyone but ourselves or the P.C. status quo. Which brings me back to the conclusion of all these "feminist" men, who care so dearly about women (or at least fucking them), until it affects their privilege, they care. Which I challenge SELF-PROCLAIMED anti-sexist men to really think about, how far the words they speak so well, go maybe try asking your best friend or lover just how anti-sexist you are.
Has this article offended you yet? Do you use your knowledge of others oppression to make a change or to just make a good impression. Do you feel challenged when a women speaks? Ever assumed its ok to touch someone? Ever feel bothered when a women asks you to confront sexist bullshit? well fuck you, you choose the term revolutionary not me.
Unless we can start seeing ourselves as the problem, and until we can actually start talking and listening to each other about our problems and work on them, revolutionary change will always remain a distant dream.
So the last question being, how many articles does it take until men start working on their shit? Aren't you tired of hearing and reading about it (if they even took the time)?
Maybe Smith and Wesson do a better job??
At least stop considering yourselves revolutionaries, YOU'RE NOT MY COMRADE.
Activist scenes are no safe space for women: On abuse of activist women by activist men
Tamara K. Nopper on the abuse of women by male activists and its unacceptable toleration within activist circles. Trigger warning for abuse.
As a woman who has experienced physical and emotional abuse from men, some of whom I had long relationships with, it is always difficult to learn from other activist women that they are being abused by activist
The interrelated issues of sexism, misogyny and homophobia in activist circles is rampant, so it is unsurprising that women are abused physically and emotionally by activist men with whom they work with on
I am not speaking abstractedly here. Indeed, I know of various relationships between activist men and women in which the latter is being abused if not physically, emotionally. For example, a long time ago a friend of mine showed me bruises on her arm that she told me were from another male activist. This woman certainly struggles emotionally, which is somewhat expected given that she has experienced physical abuse. What was additionally heartbreaking to see is how the woman was shunned by activist circles when she tried to talk about her abuse or have it addressed. Some told her to get over it, or to focus on “real” male assholes such as prominent political figures. Others told her to not let her “personal problems” get in the way of “doing the work.”
I struggled with my friend’s recovery too. As a survivor of abuse, it was difficult to meet a woman who in some ways was a ghost of me. I would run into this woman, and she would randomly tell me about another fight that she and her boyfriend had gotten into. I would find myself avoiding this woman because frankly, it was hard to look at a woman who reminded me too much of who I was not too long ago: a scared, embarrassed and desperate person who would babble to anyone willing to listen about what was happening to her. In other words, I, like this woman, had gone through the desperation of trying to get out of an abusive relationship and needing to finally tell people what was happening to me. And similar to how this woman was treated, most people, even those I called friends, shied away from listening to me because they did not want to be bothered or were struggling with their own emotional struggles.
The embarrassment associated with telling people that you have been abused, and like myself, stayed in an abusive relationship, is made even worse by the responses you get from people. Rather than be sympathetic, many people were disappointed in me. Many times I was told by people that they were “surprised” to find out that I had “put up with that shit” because unlike “weak women,” I was a “strong” and “political” woman. This response is downright misogynist because it denies how dominant patriarchy and hatred of women and the “feminine” is, and instead tries to place the blame on women. That is, we are to ignore that women are being abused by men and instead emphasize the character of women as the definitive reason for why some are abused and others don’t “put up with that shit.”
I can’t help but think that other activist women who have been abused, whether by activist men or not, also face similar difficulties recovering from abuse. Regardless of one’s politics, women can be and do get abused. Anyone who refuses to believe this either just doesn’t listen to women or think about what women go through on the regular. And this is because they are just hostile to recognizing how pervasive and normalized patriarchy and misogyny are—both outside of and within activist circles.
More, a lot of us want to believe that activist men really are different from our fathers, brothers, old boyfriends, and male strangers we confront in our daily routines. We want to have some faith that the guy who writes a position paper on sexism and posts it on his website is not writing it just to make himself look good, get pussy, or cover up some of his dangerous practices towards women. We want to believe that women are being respected for their skills, energy and political commitment and are not being asked to do work because they are viewed as “exploitable” and “abuse-able” by activist men. We want to believe that if an activist male made an unwarranted advance or physically/sexually assaulted an activist woman that it would promptly and thoughtfully be dealt with by organizations and political communities—and with the input of the victim. We want to think that activist groups are not so easily enticed by the skills or “name-power” that an activist male brings to a project that they are willing to let a woman be abused or have her recovery go unaddressed in exchange. And we would like to think that “security culture” in activist circles does not only focus on issues of listserv protocol or using fake names at rallies but actually includes thinking proactively about how to deal with misogyny, patriarchy and heterosexism both outside of and within the activist scenes.
But all of these wishes, all of these dreams obviously tend to go unaddressed. Instead, I know of activist men who troll political spaces like predators looking for women that they can politically manipulate or fuck without accountability. Like abusive priests, some of these men literally move from city to city looking to recreate themselves and find fresh meat among those who are unfamiliar with their reputation. And I have seen activist women give their labor and skills to activist men (who often take the credit) in hopes that the abusive activist man will finally get his act right or appreciate her as a human being.
While romance between activists is fine, I think it is disgusting how activist men use romance to control women politically and keep women emotionally committed to helping the man out politically, even when his politics are corny or problematic. Or, in some cases, activist men get involved in politics to find women they can involve in abusive relationships and control. And given that abuse brings out the worst in the victim, I have seen where women interact with other activists (particularly women) in ways they might not normally if they were not being politically and emotionally manipulated by men. For example, I know of abused activist females who have spread rumors about other activist women or have gotten involved in political battles between her boyfriend and other activists.
What’s scary is that I know activist men who were abusing and manipulating female activist and at the same time, writing position papers on sexism and competition between women. Sometimes the activist male will pen the position paper with his activist girlfriend in order to gain more legitimacy. I know of activist men who quote bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, or other feminist writers one minute and are harassing or spreading lies and gossip about their activist girlfriend the next. And activist men will school activist women on how to be
less competitive with other women to conceal their abusive and manipulative behavior.
What is more heartbreaking is the level of support abusive activist men find from other activists, male and female but most usually other men. Not only do activist women have to confront and negotiate their abuser in activist circles, they must usually do so in a political community that talks a good game but in the end could give a shit about the victims’ emotional and physical safety. On many occasions I have listened to women’s stories of abuse be retold and recast by activist men in a hostile and sexist manner. And when they recast this
story, they often do in that voice, the voice that is snide, accusatory and mocking.
For example, when I was sharing with an activist male my concerns about how an activist female was being treated by an activist male who held a prominent position in a political group, the man “listening” to my story said in that voice, “Oh, she’s probably just mad ‘cause he started dating someone else” and went on to make fun of her. He continued to tell me that while he “acknowledges” the man is wrong, the woman needs to stand up to the man if she wants the treatment to stop. Unfortunately this man’s brand of misogyny disguised as male feminism is all too common in activist circles given that a lot of men in general believe that women are abused because they are weak or secretly want to be in relationships with abusive men. More, his comments revealed an attitude that assumes that if activist women take issue with activist men, they are “crying abuse” to cover up hidden sexual desires and anger over being rejected by men who “won’t fuck them.”
I find it disgusting that women’s physical and emotional safety is of little concern to activist men in general. While activist men will pay some lip service to how they need to keep their mouths shut when women are talking or how women only spaces are necessary, all too often “critical” and “political” people do not want to confront the fact that women are being abused by male activists in our circles. When the issue is “addressed,” more often than not attention will be given to “struggling with” the man (i.e., letting him stay and maybe just
gossiping about him). I have even seen some situations where abusive men become adopted, so to speak, by other activists, who see rehabilitating the man as part of their project and think little about what this means for the women who are trying to recover. In some cases, the male activist abuser was adopted while the woman was shunned as “unstable,” “crazy” or “too emotional.” Basically, these groups would rather help a cold, calculating guy who can “keep it together” while he abuses women rather than deal with the reality that
abuse can contribute to emotional and social difficulties among victims as they work to become survivors.
And in some cases, activist women will avoid going to the police because she is critical of the prison industrial complex but also because other activist men will tell her she is “contributing to the problem” by “bringing the state in.” But in most cases, the activist male is not chastised for the problems he has created. Thus, women are stuck having to figure out how to insure her safety without being labeled a “sell-out” by her activist peers.
While I am a strong believer that we need to try to work towards healing rather than punishment per se, I am painfully aware that we often put more emphasis on helping men stay in activist circles than supporting women through their recoveries, which might involve the need to have the man purged from the political group. Basically, the group will usually determine that the activist abuser must be allowed to heal without asking the woman what she needs from the group to heal and be supported in her process. I know of many examples of where women are forced to put up with the groups’ unwillingness to address abuse. Some will remain involved in organizations because they believe in the work and frankly, there are few spaces to go, if any, where she is not at risk of being abused by another activist or have her abuse unaddressed. Others will simply leave the organization. I have seen how these women get treated by other activists—men and women—who treat women coldly or gossip that they are selfish or sell-outs for letting the personal get in way of “the work.”
Or, if activist women who have been abused are “supported,” it is usually because she does “good work” or that not addressing the abuse will be “bad for the group.” In this sense, the physical, emotional and spiritual health of women is still sacrificed. Instead, the woman’s abuse must be addressed because if it is not, she might not continue doing “good work” for the organization or there might be too much tension in the group for it to run efficiently. Either way, women’s safety is not viewed as worthy of concern in and of itself.
Overall, activist scenes are no safe space for women because misogynists and abusive men exist within them. More, many of these abusers use the language, tools of activism and support by other activists as means to abuse women and conceal their behavior. And unfortunately, in a lot of political circles, regardless of how much we talk about patriarchy or misogyny, women are sacrificed in order to keep up “the work” or save the organization. Perhaps it is time we actually just care that activist women are vulnerable to being manipulated and abused by activist males and consider that proactively addressing this is an integral part of the “work” that activists must do.
Tamara K. Nopper is a writer, educator and activist living in Philadelphia. 2005.
Challenging patriarchy in political organizing
Examples of sexism in political organizing:
· Most political organizations and meetings are still dominated by men, and even more dominated by male speakers
· Women have to struggle a lot harder to prove their capabilities as political activists, their intelligence on political issues, and to be taken seriously as committed organizers
· Women often have to adopt socialized roles of authority and domination in order to be validated in political organizing
· Women are often sexually objectified in political circles
· Sexism is perceived as a “women’s issue” and not a collective issue
· Feminism is still not seen as central to revolutionary struggle; instead it is relegated to a “special-interest” issue
· Trivializing women’s issues, frequently by considering it as being secondary to “more important” political work
· Men are more readily perceived as experts on “hard” (versus “soft”) political issues such as war and economics
· Traditional gender roles such as secretarial work, clean up, and childcare still falls upon women
· Women are frequently tokenized by being asked to moderate or speak in public which (intentionally or not) invisiblizes the culture of male domination within the organization
· Women are more likely to challenge men on sexist comments rather than men challenging other men
· Women discussing sexism are often characterized as “divisive”
· Characterizing women, particularly when dealing with sexism, as “emotional” or “over-reactive”
· The general assumption (rather than the exception) is that women discussing sexism are “pulling the sex card” or are making false accusations, leaving women feeling guilty and/or unsafe in raising such issues
· Women often feel like they have to moderate what they (say) so that men (don't) feel attacked
· Disrespect for women’s voices in discussing their own oppression
· Women’s issues and concerns are belittled or invalidated until validated by other men
· Many men are more likely to shut down emotionally, stop listening, or get defensive when women want to discuss specific incidents of sexism instead of first listening and understanding what is being said
· Sexism within political organizations is seen as less trivial than sexism in wider society
· Working with progressive men can have its own frustrations as male comrades feel they are not guilty of sexism (often because of the lack of intention to be sexist) without truly analyzing their actions within a
framework of privilege
· Given the particular socialization of women under patriarchy, seemingly minor comments or incidents can make women feel humiliated, angry or upset; yet such comments are often dismissed as harmless and/or
· Share secretarial and clean-up work and make childcare a priority
· Honor women for un-glorified community organizing - for example childcare, cooking, note-taking, providing frequent emotional support
· Respect women as activists
· Be mindful of the language being used (i.e. girls)
· Use inclusive language. Besides the obvious examples (like saying ‘spokesperson’ or instead of ‘spokesman’ [say] ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman’), also be careful not to use ‘us’/‘them’ language
· Don’t place the sole responsibility for fighting oppression on the oppressed
· Take sexism on as your struggle
· Don't trivialize women's issues
· If it is obvious that the same few people are dominating a discussion, the facilitator should consider suggesting a go-around to get more people talking so that any decision made is truly inclusive
· The path to ensuring the full and equal participation of women in a political organization can be difficult and the process may feel tokenistic if it does not give equal consideration to women’s opinions, issues, and wants in a meaningful manner
· Recruiting women into the organization is not necessarily the solution. The fact that an organization is male-dominated might merely be a symptom and not the problem itself
· Being better than “mainstream” society does not absolve responsibility for taking even seemingly minor incidents seriously
· Believing in equality does not mean that men no longer experience male privilege
· Realize that there is a difference between listening & respectful questioning and invalidating or denying that an incident of gender oppression was experienced
· Realize that just because you might not find somebody’s behaviour offensive, women might have different boundaries that have been shaped by a history of socialization under patriarchy
· Realize that sexism, in various forms, runs really deep and always plays itself out
· Be proactive, not reactive
· Create an atmosphere that is dynamic, empowering, and open especially to new members
· Share skills and knowledge in a non-paternalistic manner to build the leadership of women
· Transforming gender roles and socialization is not about guilt or who is right or wrong
Harsha Walia is a Vancouver-based writer, activist and organizer in No One is Illegal-Vancouver.
Feminism and anarchism: Towards a politics of engagement
Thinking through the possible relationships between feminisms and anarchisms involves a commitment to analysing the similarities and differences between these two emancipatory political frameworks and identifying what insights each movement could offer the other. That task is, of course, beyond the scope of any article or book. It involves a dynamic series of dialogues where issues are debated and reformed depending upon different contexts, a process which recognises that "theory" and "practice" are not separate activities but interdependent and evolving forms of knowledge.
This paper is a contribution to that process and is specifically my response to the anarchist "Visions of Freedom" conference in Sydney 1995. That conference left me extremely angry and frustrated at the exclusion and ignorance of feminist knowledges within the general conference proceedings. This was particularly bewildering given that there were clearly many people attending the conference committed to critical political theory and feminist views. What this disparity highlights is that there is very much a dominant brand of anarchism which is never clearly articulated and which is hostile to the insights and challenges of (at least) feminist theory. During the conference's plenary session, I delivered a condemnatory feminist critique of this dominant form of anarchism. This paper is an attempt to articulate more clearly that critique and will hopefully serve to pry open spaces for a range of political debates, which anarchism so clearly lacks and so desperately needs.
A Sketch of Feminist Political Theory
Revolutionary feminism is an analytical framework and movement committed to dismantling the institutions which politically, economically, sexually and psychically oppress all women. Revolutionary feminism recognises that women are not all the same and that a uniform experience of women's oppression is illusory. Rather, oppression on the grounds of sex operates differently according to a woman's race, class and sexuality, and if the oppression of all women is to cease, then the interconnected structures of patriarchy, transnational capitalism and Western imperialism must be fought against equally. Feminism's most significant contribution to political theory is the recognition that political oppression does not only operate in the so-called "public sphere" of paid work and government, but thrives within the so-called "private" sphere of pleasure, personal life and family.
Politicising the "private" has had important implications for revolutionary political theory. Issues such as personal relations, sexual violence, housework, the preparation of food and childcare have become primary sites of political struggle rather than assumed supports for "real" political work. Consequentially, political theories which see the eradication of "real" social ills occurring primarily via the big-bang apocalypse of "the revolution" are revealed as anti-feminist. Although drastic social change through a a political and economic revolution is essential, it is only one moment in a continuum of political action aimed at changing the status quo. The need to ameliorate oppressive social structures now, by providing state funded women's refuges or community childcare for example, is not a poor relation to a revolutionary process but an essential part of that process. If microscopic and macroscopic social change do not develop equally, then most women will neither have the time, ability or even be alive to participate. Any subsequent revolutionary political structure will be steeped in sexism and the revolution against patriarchy will fail.
A Sketch of Anarchist Political Principles
Feminist interest in anarchism has been aroused by the traditional principles of anarchist political theory. Of most significance is that rather than focussing on one specific authoritarian structure (such as capitalism), anarchism identifies authoritarian structures in general as the key instrument of oppression. This allows the possibility that equal recognition can be granted to the different forms of oppression which specific authoritarian systems create. Equal recognition of different oppressions avoids socialism's premise that capitalist class relations are the ultimate form of oppression through which all other oppressive forces are filtered. It is impossible to understand, and therefore change, the complexities of women's oppression (or racial, homosexual oppression) if class and capitalism are ultimately seen as the origins of injustice. A feminist relationship to anarchism would mean exploring authoritarian structures as fundamental to women's oppression and an anarchist relationship to feminism would mean recognising that patriarchy is a paradigmatic example of authoritarian structures.
Anarchism's refusal to adopt authoritarian means to achieve non-authoritarian ends recognises that revolutionary change is a continuous process. Revolutionary society has to begin being forged today if it is to benefit the majority and not merely empower the minority in a vanguardist party. This parallels feminism's focus on politicising the "private" and "personal" spheres and opens up spaces for debate of the possibilities and limitations of both theories.
Finally, the principle of non-hierarchical organisation reflects the feminist insight that current social, political and economic hierarchies are gendered (as well as race and sexuality determined), in that they overtly and subtly reproduce patterns of domination which oppress women. Non-hierarchical and decentralised organisation creates the possibility of allowing differently oppressed social groups to engage in a productive manner. The form that an effective non-hierarchical organisation would take is extremely complex to think through. I will not attempt to do this here (Rob Sparrow's paper in this collection provides a model with which to begin working) except insofar as to say that anarchist theory should not aim to assimilate feminist political theory. Assimilation policies only ever reduce the specificities of different oppressions to the specificities of the dominant group.
Some General Thoughts on Prevalent Forms of Anarchism
Although the above sketch of the similarities between anarchism and feminism presents a very promising picture, my experiences in the past eight years have overwhelmingly been of anarchism trailing the baggage of an extremely limiting split personality. There are political activists who claim anarchism and who are very committed to their politics, political theory and political action. On the other hand there are many people who claim anarchism, or more simply the anarchist symbol A, as a fashionable adjunct to their oh-so-alternative "counter-cultural" life. This brand of anarchism eschews collective organisation and rigorous political analysis for more freewheeling, zany and individualistic social actions or events.
Well excuse me, but I am a little weary of people presenting "anarchist" fashion statements or dope driven "anarchist" dinner parties as incisive forms of political action. Although cultural expression is clearly enmeshed within political and social change, what I have seen continually occur is that this brand of anarchist lifestyle politics does not form part of a movement but becomes the movement. Difficult political discussions and organised political activism are thereby insidiously framed as somehow "non-anarchist" or just not groovy enough. By constantly privileging cultural expression, the revolutionary possibilities of anarchism are inevitably emptied out leaving only an individualistic and ultimately conservative lifestyle choice.
The "Visions of Freedom" Conference
From a feminist perspective I believe it is of the utmost importance to work through why anarchism seems to attract or produce this tendency towards individualistic lifestyle politics, as this tendency makes anarchism irrelevant to other organised social movements. At the "Visions of Freedom" conference, this tendency towards conservative individualism arose in a number of guises.
My central criticism is that within the dominant views expressed at the conference, there was web of resistance to serious political debate and engagement. This was of course not always present, but there seemed to be a dominant assumption that what anarchism "is" is somehow self-evident and does not require a great deal of explanation. There was little desire to work through what the defining concepts of traditional anarchism are and how effectively these concepts work towards lasting change in society, particularly when compared with other revolutionary theories. There was almost no discussion at all of how these concepts have been affected by the onslaught of diverse emancipatory movements such as feminism, anti-racism, environmentalism, and lesbian and gay movements.
My puzzlement over this lack of rigour was brought into sharp relief when at several points during the conference, some people seemed to be of the view that anarchism was not even a theory of larger structural change but merely a way of living one's individual life. During one paper, a group of people were staunchly opposed to the idea that an anarchist organisation would work towards changing people's views. The problem appeared to be that there was an inherent violence and curtailment of freedom of choice in trying to change opinions.
Teasing out this opposition is revealing. It is not a new argument that people's beliefs are socially or ideologically constructed. Therefore, if we disagree with current, dominant ideological systems (which as anarchists should be a given) then one should be working towards changing these structures and hence people's beliefs. What seems to have been the real difficulty is that many people believe that when one identifies as an anarchist, somehow all the shackles of ideological construction wither away and one becomes spontaneously free and equal. Hence any attempt to change this is to commit violence and to limit freedom.
It is extremely naive to view ideology as ever withering away. Values, belief systems and political theories are always determined by a particular ideological and material position and the ideology of anarchism is just as socially constructed as the ideology of capitalism. Otherwise we would see just as many anarchist men organising against violence against women ("girls stuff") as we do against police brutality ("real politics"). The ideology which drives the view that casting off the shackles of our dominant social beliefs somehow makes as "naturally free and equal" is the ideology of eighteenth century western liberal humanism, which tells the story that we are all born as equal individuals in control of our destiny. Wrong of course, and such anti-materialist, liberal individualism is supposed to be in opposition to traditional anarchist theory and action. Despite this, the fundamental tenets of this particular view of freedom, spontaneity and individualism continually frame much anarchist thought.
Excluding Visions of Freedom
The issue of "exclusion" provided a significant channel through which liberal ideology arose in conference discussions. During Rob Sparrow's paper on anarchist organisation, there was palpable horror from many people at the idea that part of defining what anarchism "is" is to define what values and principles are not anarchist and hence would be excluded from an anarchist organisation. Again, it is a banal and obvious point that if anarchism is opposed to authoritarian structures, it should not be many things: it should not be misogynist, fascist, homophobic etc. However, this point kept getting lost by many people beneath their fiery commitment to an abstract notion of "freedom". As I've said, ideology does not cease to operate by invoking the magic word "freedom". The ideology of a freedom which claims to exclude no-one and tolerate a plurality of conflicting viewpoints is merely liberal pluralism, the status quo. Liberal pluralism ostensibly gives everyone equal rights and freedom of speech, but in fact excludes all but the dominant point of view by failing to take critical perspectives seriously, if not overtly vilifying them.
True to the repressive tolerance of liberal pluralism, particular groups were consistently excluded from the conference. There was almost no sustained discussion of race issues, particularly indigenous peoples' issues, during the plenary sessions and very little during the seminars. In a society underpinned by blatant racism, that is appalling. Racism is not an optional extra for political analysis but must be continually woven within every single political discussion. And white groups should never expect indigenous speakers to bother interacting with them unless a real commitment to engage with the oppression indigenous people face is displayed.
As was so powerfully described during the final plenary session, queer theory was also effectively excluded during the conference, not least by the display of homophobic imagery. To defend the existence of such imagery by the ritual incantation of freedom of speech, the most fundamental of all liberal premises, fails to understand that images and speech are fundamental tools of oppression and that it makes a difference if a negative image is against an oppressed group or against a dominant social group.
Very few women spoke during plenary debates or seminars (except at the seminar on feminism). Women's lack of confidence in public speaking is not because women are somehow naturally more passive or acquiescent, but because patriarchy teaches women to feel less confident in taking up public space and putting forward ideas. This is not an individual problem but an institutional problem which has to be dealt with though institutional m|eans, such as affirmative action on the speaking list. On any conference panel, there should be at least one woman, if not an equal number or more women speaking. If few women are interested in presenting papers, than that simply raises the question again of why is anarchism failing to attract the feminist movement which is phenomenally more powerful, articulate and active in Australia than any anarchist movement has ever been.
Anarchism's Political Disengagement
But these overt forms of silencing aside, the most infuriating and extraordinary form of exclusion was the absolute refusal of the dominant voices at the conference to engage with critical perspectives. Failing to engage with critical ideas is a refusal by the person or group criticised to take responsibility for the implications of the critique on their position. It is the essence of repressive tolerance, in that a marginalised group may speak but will have no hope of changing the power structures of the dominant group for the dominant group are refusing to engage with their demands. To make it crystal clear to anyone who has missed the basic point, women, indigenous peoples, peoples from non-English speaking backgrounds, lesbian women and gay men are all oppressed social groups, whether it be in an anarchist organisation or within a capitalist bureaucracy. The word "anarchism" is not a magic wand that suddenly makes all people equal. If anarchism wishes to become relevant to those groups and flourish as a political movement, rather than basically remaining the province of white, heterosexual men, then self scrutiny and critical engagement with analyses presented by those groups is essential.
The seminar on "Violence, Militarism and the State", a seminar ostensibly on institutionalised violence, makes these points obvious. I really would have thought that surely by now it was no longer contentious that women are by far the greatest targets for institutionalised physical violence, either in their daily lives or during military actions, with violence against indigenous women being by far the worst. Violence against women is condoned by the huge percentage of men who commit it, by the law, by the police, by the media and by social norms. A 1995 survey reveals that 30% of people in Australia still think women "cry rape". That's one third of the country. That's pretty institutionalised. The fact that violence against women, which includes terrorism, beatings, kidnapping, false imprisonment, rape and murder, is not understood as the most prevalent form of torture is merely one sign of its institutionalised acceptance.
Despite this, however, there was almost no gender specific discussion at all during the "Violence, Militarism and the State" seminar (I didn't hear any in fact, but apparently one of the speakers said something in the ten minutes I missed). This extraordinary exclusion of violence against women renders the analysis during that seminar complicit with the perpetuation of such violence. Failing to speak about the most prevalent form of institutionalised violence in this society undermines and makes invisible the centrality of violence against women and renders it merely an optional extra to discuss after "real" violence (presumably by the "State" or the "military") has been considered. As one of the seminar participants so aptly snapped at me: "[T]hat woman spoke about domestic violence yesterday. I came to hear about anarchism".
Although my comments on these issues were acknowledged by some of the seminar speakers as true, there was no attempt at all to engage their analysis with what I had said. It was simply yet another interesting point about violence. But placing violence against women in the equation of violence, militarism and the State fundamentally changes any political analysis of these issues. For a start, one can no longer name the enemy only as a nebulous concept of the State or military institutions - one has to start pointing the finger at men. And that does not mean that men are not socially constructed and that the military industrial complex or the multifaceted State do not perpetuate the norms which permit violence against women. But it does mean that men as a group have to start taking responsibility for men's violence (including talking about it in seminars) and devising ways to stop it. Traditional anarchism's analysis of State power and the police will also be forced to shift if violence against women is seriously considered. Do anarchists support women turning to the police or State funded refuges when they are escaping violence by men? Some anarchist traditions are also committed to the principle of non-violence, within the analysis that violent means produce violent ends. Does that mean that self-defence by a woman against a violent man is "unanarchist"? All these issues could have and should have been teased out and considered for they will fundamentally affect definitions of anarchist political theory. They are not merely "interesting views" and if they continue to be seen as such, anarchism will remain basically irrelevant to half of society.
Anarchism without feminism is a partial, crippled and ultimately oppressive tradition. However, I still feel hopeful enough to say that there are many principles within both feminism and anarchism from which both theories could learn and develop. But any relationship between these two emancipatory frameworks cannot be assumed: it must be forged within concrete political struggle and rigorous political debate. Empty gestures towards nebulous concepts of individualistic freedom totally miss the point. I look forward, tentatively, to a politics of engagement.
What’s new under the black flag?: Some thoughts on anti-sexism in the libertarian movement
There's still a lot to do if we are really going to fight against patriarchy within libertarian groups. Klito, a women-only collective, sees some problems and wants to suggest some courses of action. We, as libertarian feminists, want to sound an alarm. We denounce the double workday of women workers who, once they get home, get stuck with household chores, but also among libertarians, there is the double struggle of women. The struggle against patriarchy requires two times as much energy as other battles because we must fight not only on the social front but also within the political groups in which we work as activists. Who puts the labels on the envelopes? Sweeps the meeting rooms? The women, usually. Who coordinates the demos? Who speaks louder at the meetings? The men, usually.
In the libertarian groups of France, women's issues are certainly taken into consideration but not in a very satisfactory way. When groups mobilize for International Women's Day or against the "right-to-lifers," we can ask ourselves what the real place is of the anti-patriarchy struggle in the practices and thought of libertarian groups in France. We have no false illusions about this—libertarians reproduce gender and sexual domination like everyone else. Since we claim to be fighting this domination, it would be a good idea to focus on its presence amongst ourselves. Ignoring this phenomenon is the best way to make it worse.
A little history
A look at history shows us that the anarchist movement has not considered feminism one of its major concerns. Although Bakunin, for example, advocated complete equality between woman and men and denounced the contradiction in many male militants who fought for socio-economic equality and freedom while being tyrants at home, Proudhon, on the other hand, pillar of the libertarian movement, was a notorious misogynist. This author of a sentences like " the woman is a pretty animal but an animal nonetheless. She is as eager for kisses as a goat is for salt," is still the master thinker for many. There have always been homophobic anarchists, as well, who argue that homosexuality represents a "bourgeois perversion." Emma Goldman described the obstacles against her when she raised this issue: "Censorship came from some of my own comrades because I was treating such 'unnatural' themes as homosexuality," she related in 1912. The shell of the idea of sexual liberation has often been resuscitated but without its anti-patriarchy value. For most militants, in 1936 as in 1970, it has meant above all the sexual availability of women militants and feminists for meeting male desires.
The problem of gender is rarely an integral part of anti-capitalist and anti-racist discourse and struggle. Starting with the good old sexist principle that the male supersedes the female, the unemployed are defended without their defenders realizing that they are WOMEN unemployed workers, above all, and that women are twice as exploited as men on the job. The same thing is true in the movement to defend undocumented immigrants (sans-papiers)—women are invisible despite the fact that their situation is always worse than men's. Sometimes this absence is justified by the fact that the issue of gender comes out of a bourgeois theory praising inter-classism. We need an exacting analytical method to comprehend the inequalities between men and women, between heterosexuals and others. The misunderstanding of this issue is produced in several ways. This invisibility of women's oppression, in particular, comes primarily from the fact that many libertarians (men and women) have a compartmentalized vision of struggles as if women's issues could be reduced to one area of struggle.
Although in the struggles against the bosses, against poverty and economic instability, or for freedom of movement and immigrant rights, women are the first effected, it is rarely mentioned in political literature, for example, to what they are subjected because of their sex. The issue of gender runs through ALL struggles! To believe as many do that gender issues are reserved for women only (while saying to women, at best, that they "support them in their struggle") allows them to clear themselves of any charges of not participating in the fight against patriarchy. The "women's commissions" of some libertarian groups, like the social-democrat parties, indeed reveal the implicit disengagement of men. The Mujeres Libres (Free Women) movement during the Spanish civil war was a unique example of massive struggle by anarchist women. But let's remember that this group of 20,000 proletarian feminists encountered resistance from their male counterparts, who thought that the women workers were stealing their place as men and did not accept, in particular, that the Free Women critiqued the glorification of motherhood. You say there's no hierarchy of struggle?
Patriarchy and capitalism
Paradoxically, another, more subtle way of excluding feminism from struggles in progress is to include the patriarchy theme as a "natural" part of the class struggle. For some, being an anarchist automatically makes you a feminist. To consider patriarchy an avatar or a consequence of capitalism alone is to refuse to see the specificity of this gender-based system. We must remember that when we struggle against the class system, we are struggling against ALL domination! Capitalism is not the sum total of oppression (our fight for a better world would much easier if it were). The struggle against patriarchy is a struggle in its own right. Although patriarchy and capitalism are interwoven and reinforced by each other, we must admit that they are two autonomous systems (some patriarchal systems are built on non-capitalist economies). There are thereby two struggles, at least, which we must carry out in parallel.
Few libertarian feminists denounce these weaknesses, without doubt because they have internalized the same invisibility all women have under patriarchy. There are certainly more men than women in anarchist groups, and while the fact that women investing little time in politics is a social phenomenon, the violent and warlike image associated with those who brandish the black flag comes from somewhere, no doubt. Does keeping this masculine "folklore" alive really make any sense? Besides, it is difficult for many women to see themselves as part of a group of women because they are persuaded that they are living a social reality identical to men's, which allows the building of cohesive militant groups. Women who attempt to point out these oppression issues within the group are labelled "feminist," which means for many "habitual pain- in-the-ass." This scorn for the issue of patriarchy illustrates how difficult it is to confront the myths upon which political groups depend, such as "power issues do not exist in this group," "there's no domination of some members by others," etc. It is time to recognize that a militant group is not immune from the ills of society.
Gender? Don't know...
It's a shame that the analysis of some libertarians is limited to the status of women without taking into account the social construction of gender. Most libertarians do not get beyond essentialist theories based on biological behavioural differences that seem to explain (without justifying, of course) male domination. However, nature alone could not have created the categories of men and women as they exist. We are not born as men or women; we become one or the other. From our infancy, family, school and society in general inculcate us with our roles according to our biological sex. Girls are taught the value of sweetness, understanding, submission and passivity and boys those of violence, bravery, self-affirmation. Taking this conditioning into account allows us to reject biological determinism and "natural" feminine and masculine qualities. The construction of gender that feminism has widely appropriated, including the reformists, has not been accepted by libertarians. It is easier to unite based on a common exterior enemy (religion, fascists who scoff at laws protecting women, and the bosses who exploit women) than challenge each other individually by grappling with the power relations that exist within libertarian organizations. Not only do most libertarian groups not challenge patriarchy—they feed it.
Sexuality is political
This deficiency in libertarian practice in regard to feminism produces, in addition to discrimination against women, a negation of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans-sexuals (LGBT). Do they even exist in libertarian circles? Of course they do, just like everywhere else in society. Nevertheless, we ask such a question because they are invisible. Under cover of respect for individual freedom, some people declare that the private is not political and impose a taboo on discussions about sexuality. They refuse to consider that sexuality is culturally constructed, an essential fact today thanks to the struggles of the Seventies. Refusing to talk about issues around some sexual behaviours reveals a prudishness sometimes bordering on puritanism. Some people decree that we can all do what we want in our own beds, but they'd rather not talk about it because it has nothing to do with politics.
However, raunchy songs, sexist jokes and lesbo-gay-bi-transphobia are still rampant among some anarchists, reinforcing the reigning hetero-centrism. They denigrate some sexual behaviours and keep alive the lesbo-gay-bi-transphobic atmosphere that depends on the idea that heterosexuality is the only model. Today, to declare oneself lesbian, trans, bi or gay in a libertarian organization has a risk (as much as at work or in our families) that many don't dare to take. This is nothing new in the history of libertarian struggles. Feminist movements, lesbian, homo and queer struggles have moved things forward a little, but it is necessary to keep fighting. Nothing will evolve without putting in place effective methods—in particular, the creation of non-mixed groups of women and men as spaces for political reflection on power over/under relations, in particular men/women and heteros/LGBT.
It is not enough to want to destroy capitalism and patriarchy as represented by the bosses and moral order, but we must change behaviours right her and now. In the libertarian movement and elsewhere, nothing will change without the mobilization of the interested parties: women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, the trans-gendered; and the involvement of men and heteros is imperative if the latter want to be consistent in their libertarian thought.
By Klito, a women-only feminist collective.
Alternative Libertaire, Paris
March 2005 issue