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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Anarcho-feminism & Anarchist Liberalism-Analysis (1999)

Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit

source - Research on Anarchism List <ra@alor.univ-montp3.fr>

Fri, 28 May 1999 16:54:31

Anarcho-feminism and anarchist liberalism: 
Some elements of analysis

by Leo Vidal (LeoVidal@aol.com)

This article was written in a precise context. As a member of the anarchist
bookshop La Gryffe in Lyon (France), I co-organised three days of discussion
in May 1998 called "Three days for the great evening". During this
conference, many debates took place some of which were on the question of
sexism. At the time of the last debate about thirty feminists protested
against the course of the previous debates denouncing the sexism of the
anarchist movement and the impossibility of really discussing male
domination - in general and in the anarchist movement. Following the
publication by these feminists of a text exposing the motivations of this
anarcho-feminist action , four men of La Gryffe wrote a reply called
"Anarchy and the women's movement" . The article below is based on this
article and analyses a phenomenon of a general nature: men, believing that
they are the center of the world, act, think and write without taking into
account their status of dominance, therefore without taking account of the
fact that they are part of a socially constructed group which is the sex
class of men. Thus, they consider themselves universal while they are
dominant and they deny de facto the feminist criticism of the social
relations of the sexes. This seems to me incompatible with any claim of a
radical left and anarchist nature, i.e. the opposition to any form of
domination and exploitation be it racism, or lesbophobia and homophobia, or
sexism, or capitalism....

Regarding feminist claims, the anarchist movement uses various strategies of
defence of the male status quo. If the prevalent reaction towards feminists
is still formed by denial, ridicule and violence, another strategy passes by
a liberal discourse celebrating the diversity from the points of view. The
recognition of the founded good of feminism is then limited to a right of
quite specific existence. It seems significant to me to analyse which place
anarchist men leave, grant, give to feminism and to show the reactionary
functions of the liberal discourse - discourse which is not limited to the
anarchist movement but which is even more unacceptable there considering the
anarchist will to fight against any form of domination.

A first formal element expresses very well the negation of the male position
of dominance. Indeed, the four male signatories develop throughout their
text a position of neutrality, of exteriority, even of objectivity via "it
was up to us", "the difficulty of getting us together", "we". The text does
not practically anywhere express the located position of the authors: no
reference is made to their statute of dominance. This quite particular
position of dominance is thus made invisible even as it is the prerequisite
for men to develop a discourse celebrating diversity. Indeed what the
dominant ones can perceive as diversity of perspectives is lived by
dominated like the absence of freedom and real diversity. It is thus not a
mistake that the neutral and plural French "we" (on and nous respectively)
criss-cross this text: they express the blindness of these men towards their
particularity, the specificity of domination and, logically, towards the
domination to which women are subjected.

If these men do not recognise themselves in their position of dominance,
they are nonetheless - in the same way as myself. We benefit from the male
domination which structures the entire society and often actively perpetuate
it through our way of speaking, glance, behaviour.... Our life is more
pleasant due to the exploitation of women (e.g. their domestic, relational,
communicative services) and we have more choices due to the restriction of
the choices of women (e.g. the fact that women do the domestic and breeding
of children work is the condition of our success on the educational,
professional and activist level). However these men take a different path
from the profeminists by choosing to make invisible their status of
dominance and to deny the deeply socio-political nature of male domination
by developing this discourse:

"The anarchist days were open, without exclusive, like the project of Gryffe
wants it, with all the components and points of view of the anarchist
movement. However, some of them regard the women's struggle as secondary or
do not perceive the importance of their stakes. Others, more marked still,
denounce feminism, consider, from their point of view, than feminism is
locked up in a sectarian and particularist dead end that opposes a
questioning of the social order and, finally, that is detrimental to Women's
Liberation. It is like that. All these points of view equally contribute to
the composition of the anarchist movement..."

This discourse is a liberal discourse and non-anarchist in my eyes because
it attributes an equivalent value to thoughts which are opposed to the
domination and the exploitation of women as to thoughts which deny or make
invisible this domination. It does not seem necessary to me to show that the
anarchist movement has known and possesses tendencies that are anti-Semitic,
misogynist, revisionist and that it is necessary to fight against these
tendencies in the same way which it is necessary to fight against the
anti-Semitism, the misogyny or the revisionism of our Western society.
However it is the opposite which these men defend with regard to feminism.
Feminism is, according to them, the expression of a point of view, of a
current of thought like are for example anti-organisational anarchism,
anarchist individualism, anarcho-syndicalism and it would deserve the same
consideration as the anti-feminism of certain anarchists.

I have some difficulties with understanding what founds this categorisation:
what makes it possible to put feminism among the various anarchist
tendencies and not among these political minimal requirements which are
anti-racism or anti-capitalism? In my opinion, no reasoning can justify this
and only the not-recognition of one's dominant position allows
depoliticizing to this point the anarchist feminist analyses, delegitimizing
anarchist feminist actions and to thus rationalise the defence of one's male
interests. Because, in my opinion, it is all about this: the celebration of
a certain diversity as long as it does not call into question the authors as
men benefiting of an exploitative system.

Moreover, this celebration of diversity is quite relative because it is
limited to discourse and does not relate at all to the implementation of
this discourse. Because the concrete application would touch the concrete
interests of the dominant ones - as the feminist intervention during the
anarchist days of May testifies. In the same way, the powers in place in our
Western society allow a relative diversity of discourses - even the
expression of major criticisms of this system - as long as these discourses
remain discourses and are not applied in order to transform the concrete
organisation of the society, as long as the rules of the game are not
changed. "Think what you want, express it, comply with the rules that we fix
and all is for best in Brave New World". How can one articulate on the one
hand the development by the dominant ones of a precise and strict regulation
of social relations and on the other hand the fact that they develop a
liberal discourse celebrating diversity? Would this discourse be a
decoration behind which a precise machinery functions crushing some for the
benefit of the others? It thus seems to me that the fundamental stake behind
all these words is the defence of a male status quo. The refusal of a
personal and collective questioning. The refusal of a criticism of oneself
as dominant. The refusal of a concrete change of relations within the
anarchist movement - for the benefit of women and not of men. It is for that
reason that the authors write:

"Because they are due to the totality of social relations, to the totality
of the social order wherein we live and to the roots of this order,
dominance included in male/female relations, like all other relations of
dominance, cannot be solved locally, inside a collective whatever it is
(even non-mixed paradoxically). To set this as the top priority inside this
collective is an absurd and impossible task which, instead of freeing, and
exactly because of its impossibility, multiplies on the contrary, as do
religious groupings, the instruments and the relations of oppression."
[emphasis added]

This reminds me of the liberal discourse concerning the criticisms of
heterosexism and lesbo/homophobia: "Me, I am not homophobic. Queers have the
right to live their life... but they shouldn't touch me or my children!
Because me, I am not a faggot!" A social domination is recognised and at the
same time one does not want to know oneself implied, touched, directly
concerned even co-responsible. A more anarchist answer - in my opinion -
would be to recognise ourselves as sexist, heterosexist and to try to
understand in what way we are it and how we can act on it - by listening to
the principal ones concerned, the feminists, the lesbians. As writes
Fabienne in her text in number 12 of the revue La Griffe, there is a job to
be done, and it starts with the public recognition of the problem.

It is necessary for us to work at an autonomous temporary zone of less
domination, instead of defending in an egoistic way a permanent zone of not
fighting against the domination. Isn't this paradoxical for anarchists to
deny at this point any possibility of liberating experiences within a
collective or movement? These experiments do take place concerning informal
power via the rotation of tasks, the turns of speaking, the refusal of
permanent mandates. Why couldn't one try today to transform the social
relations between the sexes within our movement? It is not a question, as
the authors affirm in a quite reducing way, to make it "the primary
objective" but to make it a significant objective among others. And it is
exactly that which fear these men in my opinion: of having to put concrete
questions about their behaviour and attitude to change them according to the
freedom of the others; to have to pass over a male selfishness to go towards
women and their multiple claims of justice.

Rather than to denounce with arrogance the so-called "fetishism,
communautarism, separatism" of the anarcho-feminists, we should start
perceiving the male fetishism centred around the penis and the bollocks -
fetishism which can be observed easily through the multiple phantasms of
castration which are not long in being expressed when the woman-men
relations are questioned. Of deconstructing male communautarism and its male
solidarity beyond ideological differences. It's this male solidarity that
makes men nearly always form a front against women and feminism. And a
concrete example confirms in my opinion that this solidarity is a
significant stake. I often heard anarchist men express their rejection of
the "politically correct" and to assert the right to a sexist joke, a
misogynist or lesbophobic insult - in the name of the freedom of expression.
However, the stake is not as much freedom of expression but male solidarity:
"humour (sexist, racist, homo/lesbophobic...), in the adhesion which it
requests, translates the power relations between social groups, and by the
same one between individuals."

The liberal response to feminism succeeds this inversion which consists in
particularising a claim of justice and in making invisible a relation of
domination by posing like neutral an unjust state of things. The goal of
this article is thus twofold. On the one hand, to show at which point the
liberal discourse serves anarchist men in their refusal of feminism in it's
global and transversal dimension. It is used to lock up the feminist
analysis in the field of tastes and colours. It amounts, concretely, to
putting on an equal footing on the one hand analyses who allot the
responsibility for domestic male violence against women to these same women
(provocation, masochism...) and on the other hand analyses who perceive this
violence as an element of political repression against women on behalf of
the class of men. In an ultimate way, it is an apology for the law of the
strongest for which reason does not have any reason to exist. On the other
hand, the aim of this article is to actively contribute to a state wherein
feminism is not regarded any more as a perspective but as a political
minimal requirement. Our education of dominance is omnipresent and
structures us but it does not oblige men at all to perpetuate our individual
predominance at the relational or collective level. We have the possibility
of acting differently, of opening up towards the analyses and feelings of
feminists and of taking part in their fight against sexism - when they wish
it. We can fight alongside women - even in a non-mixed way - against
interiorized or institutional sexism. It is enough to be ready to break with
the egoistic defence of our interests of dominants and to break with these
men around us who refuse to call themselves into question.

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