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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anarcha-Feminism (early 2000s)

by Laure Akai


Anarchism. It is not only an ideology which holds that society would function in a more equitable manner in the absence of the state and the implementation of direct democracy, but also the ideal of a more harmonious society in which people, freed of all mechanisms which order the human race into hierarchical categories, may enjoy more equal opportunities, social rights and treatment and be better able to realize their will and desires. For most anarchists, it is precisely this vision of society which attracts us and motivates us to fight for its creation. This vision of society is also one which is highly attractive to a wider group of people who share a similar dream, regardless of whether or not they share our faith that it can actually be created. It is in this world where there is no room, nor tolerance for the ideas of hatred and social hierarchy that plague the modern world: nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism... How on earth can we have an equal chance for happiness and fulfillment in any society which seeks to castigate certain segments of its members?
Words like anarchism or feminism are loaded with different connotations and indeed many anarchists who might agree with the above vision may argue that it is senseless to use a separate label, anarcha-feminism, to describe something which is so explicit in anarchism. Further, some might argue that 'feminism' implies some sort of feminine order of things, with a feminine hierarchy of values; they could then point to the ideas of some radical separatists and claim that because of them, the word 'feminism' can spread false notions of what we are about. Although these arguments may have some legitimate basis, anarcha-feminism, like any other hyphenated anarchism, should serve as a focal point for those who feel motivated to accent some particular aspect of anarchism and show its special relation to that issue. Thus, we can understand anarcha-feminism not so much as the only type of anarchism which espouses truly equal rights, participation and treatment of women, but as an identity label for those who are especially inclined to emphasise work with women or in the area of fighting sexism.
Is a special emphasis on sexism really necessary?
Sexism is only one of a vast myriad of discriminations and socially divisive factors which we must fight against. With this in mind, many anarchists would argue that any emphasis on sexism being especially onerous would be at the expense of attention to other problems.
I would be inclined to agree that, to be consistent, we should view all discrimination negatively. However, in terms of our practice, we can see that individuals and groups tend to focus on problems which are current, which have special meaning for them or related to some special knowledge, experience, campaign or plan. There is certainly logic in focusing on a particular issue in order to dedicate more time to it, to develop it more fully. In any case, where people feel particularly mobilized around an issue, they might as well use this motivation, harness their energy and try to do something about it. With this in mind, I would be particularly sympathetic to any group which, finding sexism a problem, felt motivated to focus on it and to raise consciousness on the issue. In any society where the position of women is particularly weak, or the inclusion of women in the movement is non-representative, or in any scene where women have been unfairly treated or excluded by sexist social mechanisms, I would be more concerned if people did not feel they needed to pay some special attention to these matters.
There is perhaps a special symbiosis between the need to place a special emphasism on sexism and the actual attention paid to this issue during the normal course of events. In the event that an anarchist group incorporates ideas such as anti-sexism as an important, integral part of their everyday work and ideas, and in the event that it is given time in accordance with its real importance, as a burning issue for women in many places around the world where women are underpaid, disenfranchised, made to wear chadors, treated as the property of men or just plain discriminated against - and, perhaps most importantly, in the event that the anarchist group actually has eliminated sexist practices in its own midst, then probably in that case, few people would feel the need for any 'special' emphasis on the topic. On the other hand, the appearance of special feminist groups, in particular women-only groups, are not so much the direct result of a separatist ideology, but the failure of people to pay adequate attention to these issues; this failure tends to push women in the direction of feminist-particular groups and, in the worst case, where anti-sexism has been a problem people have refused to deal with, women may feel more attracted to separatism. But a separate world for women is not what we want to create.
The necessity for this special emphasis has to be decided by those who are directly effected most negatively by sexism. For many women in the world, fighting sexism must preclude all else as they may not even be included in society - and how would we fight for a just society without half its people?
The strain of anarcha-feminism which would be closest to me would not however see its only issue as being feminism, nor would it limit people to only that issue. The problem with many of the hyphenated anarchisms is that, perhaps despite best intentions, it may seem to exclude other issues, at least in its presentation to outsiders. Single-issue politics is a complete dead end. Anarcha-feminism which propagates anti-sexism but forgets to tell people about the rest is as bad as anti-capitalism that forgets sexism, anti-racism which forgets about nationalism, anti-nationalism that forgets about capitalism, etc.
Anarcha-feminists and bourgeois feminists
One of the traps of single-issue reformism is that it tries to convince people that all people working around the issue have common interests. According to this logic, all women must fight together under a single political aim: feminism. What this feminism has to offer women though may be thoroughly different. For some, it means having equal representation of women in the boardroom and the state. That a women capitalist may be equally scummy as a man, that a female Secretary of State may order as much killing as a man - these issues are simply not important to a certain section of the feminist population.
In working together under a single banner, we have seen how time after time, the issues and concerns of the more radical people have been undermined, coopted or taken control of (and then dismissed) by those who ultimately have more power and have gained the most from the movement: the upholders of power.
In the feminist movement, those with connections to the media, money and power often seek to define the limits of the movement and, due to their greater authority, they largely accomplish it. This does not mean that there are not feminists who have a more sympathetic set of values. I would venture to guess that they could even be the majority - but you might not know this from the movement's self-appointed spokespeople. This does not mean that there is no chance of cooperating successfully with feminist groups on a wide variety of issues. Not all groups are the same.
What I am saying is that one should not go into single-issue movements with any illusions as to their potential. If you are at an abortion rights rally, you may be able to achieve something concrete in this particular area. But you cannot build a wider anti-authoritarian social movement on a single common issue of feminism with people who would uphold capital and the state.
It is very rare that anarcha-feminists work with bourgeois feminists and then start taking up their demands but I can clearly recall a number of incidents where this has happened. When this happens, it generally means that in reality the 'feminist' demand, (as dictated by the statists), has taken precedence over any notions of anarchism. In fact, when this happens, when a women who had considered herself an anarcha-feminist decides to vote to get a woman in power, (for example), we can say that we've actually lost an anarchist. This happens, not only to anarcha-feminists.
It is a question of alliance politics, not of anarcha-feminism. Yet it seems that at times anarcha-feminists have been more criticized for their occasional links to bourgeois feminists than, for example, anarcho-communists to national liberation movements or anarcho-syndicalist to union reformists. Although I am usually one of the first to criticize anarcha-feminists for any manifestation of counterproductive politics, I cannot help but wonder how many anti-feminist declarations and critiques of 'feminazis' have more to do with rationalizing ones sexist inclinations than with the actual practices of anarcha-feminists.

The only solution I see to encouraging an ANARCHA-feminist identity over a just plain feminist one is to actually make a more concerted effort to build the movement. To make a critical assessment, it seems that indeed a lot of energy has been dispersed and absorbed by single issues and identity politics instead of creating a stronger anarcha-feminist identity. When you think about the anarchist movement, how important are anarcha-feminists really? When you read anarchist texts, how many good anarcha-feminist texts can we pick out in relation to all good anarchist texts? How many good anarcha-feminist magazines come out? Are there are lot of good strong anarcha-feminist web sites with good imput or are there just token pages out there with a hodge-podge of occasional texts? Surely there are some women working to create a stronger identity, and surely many, if not most women who are anarchists would say anti-sexism is important to them. But it looks like an afterthought in our politics and thus some women who would want to be more serious about this could gravitate towards feminist groups because it just looks like more is going on there.
Anarcha-feminist priorities
Although the above passage is quite critical, I do think that in some places in the world, anarchists have done well in the area of incorporating anti-sexism into their politics. Yet this is very uneven, thus it is almost impossible to speak of a universal set of priorities. Nonetheless, a few thoughts come to mind:
- to try to establish a universal anarchist code of organization which would be more accessible to women. For example, a concerted effort to counter dominant patterns at meetings which tend to be unfavourable to women. Or making sure that women do not do a disproportionate share of the shitwork (the group secretary syndrome) or that childcare is available. I am not saying that these are problems exclusive to women; they're not. But dealing with them tends to be helpful to including more women. Many of you reading this may now underestimate these things because perhaps you haven't even been in a male-dominated scene for a while, but it is a priority matter in some places and groups.
- to try to deliberately promote a different image of anarchists which is more inclusive to women. Have you ever picked up a magazine and only found images of macho-looking men? Granted those things are becoming a thing of the past but they are still around. Put pictures of women, try to include articles by women, etc. And, by the way, enough of those magazines with gratuitous pictures of naked women in them pretending to be sexually liberated or only with cute, sex-kitten activists. Real women, please.
- dealing with sexist incidents in a concerted manner. Stop being soft with sexist shitheads. Kick them in the balls, kick them out, harrass them til they stop, just don't let them hang out and be.
- building up anarcha-feminist literature. More discussions, more pamphlets, more books, more articles.
Surely there is more to add to this, but these four things are a concrete start. It is something that we can achieve in a relatively short period of time. In many places and many groups, substantial concrete improvements have been made in the space of a few years; there is no reason why the anarchist movement cannot be a universally friendly and attractive place for women. None whatsoever.
http://www.freewebs.com/laureakai/af.htm

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