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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are you Stuck on "Manarchy"? Poor Communication Can't Smash Patriarchy (2003)

by sally darity


The following is a response from an anarcha-feminist to the documents about "manarchy" that have been circulating in the past year or two, particularly the "Are You a Manarchist? Questionnaire".
Disclaimer: As a trans ally with genderfuck politics, I am aware that the use of the words "men" and "women" and other gendered words are limiting and exclusionary, as when most people use those words they are referring to biological gender. I use the words in my writing as inclusively as is applicable. The issue of male privilege is a sticky issue when it comes to trans-ness, but still needs to be addressed.


Sexism is a form of hierarchy, and therefore anarchists should by definition be anti-sexist. Most anarchists benefit from one or more types of privilege, whether it be white, male, class status, heterosexual, ability privilege, etc. Unfortunately, eliminating racist and sexist attitudes and behaviors, as well as rejecting privilege, can be very difficult, especially if it is not clear exactly how we are privileged and how it affects others.

There have been efforts made by women within the anarchist movement to present the manifestations of male privilege and patriarchy, and ask/demand of men to act according to their anarchist principles, which means shedding attitudes and behaviors that are sexist. This is an especially complicated endeavor, as it is difficult to define exactly what is sexist and identify how something is gender-related.  Feminists even have a hard time defining patriarchy.  Some women from Philadelphia, the authors of the "Are You a Manarchist? Questionnaire," took a stab at identifying gender-related oppression/domination issues and came up with sixty questions.

When I received the questionnaire in an email, I skimmed it and forwarded it to my local anarchist listserve. I thought it was a really good attempt at pointing out several gender-based issues that before had perhaps not been named. Not only that, but it was addressed specifically to anarchists, including several questions related to political activism. Shortly after I forwarded it, I learned that this is not a document that men felt completely comfortable reading through and learning something from. Most feminists know that hardly a feminist essay or article can go out on an internet forum without some male getting defensive. But, as I read the questionnaire more thoroughly, I realized that it really wasn't written to provide any sort of comfort to men; rather it was the opposite. The document was undoubtedly dismissed because of defensiveness it caused. It was disappointing that a document like this could be dismissed so easily by men when there were several good points within it. After all, it pinpointed many issues that I hadn't seen named before and it was in a good format. It is composed of personal questions for the reader to ask himself, instead of a general essay format. It is probably easier and less daunting to read than an essay of similar length.

Whether or not some men felt comfortable with the questionnaire, at least many read it and it started up a dialogue. Around the same time that I forwarded it to the local anarchist listserve, we had been discussing the use of the word "bitch," and the fact that we were soon to have a group of anarchists visiting from a different city, one of whom we learned had date-raped someone. The conversations as a result of all these things have changed how some men have acted and hopefully their attitudes as well.

Despite the ease of reading this questionnaire, it doesn't seem to have been written in a way that would encourage men to work on their issues. First of all, the title of the questionnaire is "Are You a Manarchist?" but there isn't any way to tally your score and come up with any results about whether you are or aren't a manarchist. That's not really the point of the questionnaire, as the "Scoring" section states that "ALL MEN need to work on issues of patriarchy, sexism and misogyny;" that the questions are to be used as a guide. The reader does not get this information until the end. Meanwhile, the reader is probably answering a few questions with what he has a feeling are bad answers and he's getting defensive because he doesn't think he's a manarchist. He's also thinking, "Why does this only apply to men? Women do fucked up things too." And so already he's not focusing on his issues because he's busy thinking about his defense.

The word "manarchist" is quite problematic. While it may be a clever play on words because it includes the words "man" and "anarchist" and it a simple word to describe patriarchy within the anarchist movement, it is accusatory, and is or can be perceived as derogatory. There were probably men who took one look at the word "manarchist" and got defensive and therefore didn't take the questionnaire seriously if he even read it at all. Whether or not an accusatory tone is justified, it is important that our words are getting through to people who need to hear it, and so it is worth it to address the fact that the word "manarchist" turns people off right away.

Not only is it an abrasive term, it is not clear what "manarchist" means exactly. Around the same time as the questionnaire was out there in cyberspace, an article was being circulated independently of the questionnaire, called "Stick it to the Manarchy," written by two women and two men. This article defined manarchy as "Aggressive, competitive behavior within the anarchist movement that is frighteningly reminiscent of historically oppressive male gender roles. Such behavior includes acting macho, holier than thou, and elitist. Manarchy often results in exclusivity." Although that which is described in this definition is addressed in some questions in the "Are You a Manarchist" questionnaire, the questionnaire addressed many more issues than these. Therefore, readers of both these documents would be unclear about what is meant by "manarchist" and "manarchy". On top of this, the "Stick it to the Manarchy" article seemed to lack clarity about whether it was a critique of masculinity, aggressive behavior, and/or tactics. In a response to feedback the authors of the article received, the authors clarified that the issues that they talked about could apply to men as well as women (while the manarchist questionnaire addresses only men), it was a gender-related critique only in as much that these behaviors were traditionally masculine.  There didn't seem to be enough of a distinction between masculinity and oppressiveness,  and aggressiveness and oppressiveness.  The latter was disconcerting because aggression seems necessary for the fight against hierarchy. But the authors cleared this up in their response also, explaining that they "support aggressive tactics if they are strategically useful", and that the critique was of the usefulness of tactics as well as of peoples' attitudes. The authors of the article got a lot of responses because several people had understood the article to be anti-militancy/ anti-violence to an extent, which is also the impression I got. With this impression, it seemed ironic when I came across something Starhawk wrote, which was a critique of attitudes and usefulness of tactics within the nonviolence movement. In "Webs of Power" Starhawk wrote, "...Embracing suffering is problematic for women, who have always been taught to suffer and sacrifice for others. Conditioned to swallow our anger, to not strike back, we have not had a choice about accepting blows without retaliation. Nonviolence puts a high moral value on those behaviors, encourages men to practice them and develops them as a political strategy. Yet women's empowerment involves acknowledging our anger, owning our rage, allowing ourselves to be powerful and dangerous as well as accomodating and understanding" (219). The self sacrifice is something the manarchy article also touched on which they called "new self-sacrificial disobedience" shown by jail time and battle wounds as a result of aggressive tactics.

The main issue is that the critiques of manarchy are not clear. The authors of "Stick it to the Manarchy" used words such as "macho" and "elitist" while the manarchist questionnaire uses "macho bravado" and these are not such clear words, just as "manarchist" is not unambiguous. As far as I know, no anarchist thinks of him/her/hirself as macho or elitist and so they aren't going to understand what is wrong. A more recent article called "Just Ask a Woman" about the phenomena of men calling themselves "ex-manarchists," insinuated that the act of taunting the cops was sexist. The author, Traci Harris, likened the taunting to frat boy behavior, chest puffing, and cockfighting. If it is the case that this behavior is "frat boy technique", chest puffing and cockfighting then we need to identify what makes it that; what is the difference when women taunt the cops, and what's so bad about that? It doesn't seem to do any good to throw these words around without explaining thoroughly how they relate to gender and to our anarchist principles. 

We can't throw around words like "manarchist" that are unclear and abrasive in order to get a point across.  When we call cops pigs, we're not trying to communicate so that they can understand where we're coming from.  Name-calling is not a tactic that should be employed if we want any amount of understanding.  Even if we say that "manarchist" is just a good word to describe something, it obviously doesn't do a good job at it, and therefore should not be used.  A funny post on infohop.org I found said it better:
dadanarchist writes on Tuesday October 29 2002 @ 10:02AM PST:
Official Communique from the Anarchist Revolutionary Council:
The term "manarchist"... and other similar reductionist terms are hereby removed from circulation. These terms simplify debate, function as discourse-ending words... and generally do not contribute to any sort of debate or critical discussion."

Several of the questions within the "Are You a Manarchist" questionnaire were also unclear in terms of how they relate to gender and to anarchist principles. Because of the question format, it does not allow the reader to get an explanation of why an answer might be wrong, if he can grasp, for the most part, what the wrong answers are. When it comes to some of the questions, it may not be clear what the difference is between men treating women differently in a sexist way, and men treating women differently because they are sexual partners. Despite the use of the word "partner", the majority of the questions are written in a very heteronormative way, in the sense that the questions were for men about women. Does this mean that gay men do not need to read this questionnaire, or should they only answer questions which apply to them? Should transgendered people also read this questionnare? And why shouldn't (biological) women? Not to lose the focus on patriarchy, but all people could learn a thing or two from asking themselves the questions that apply to them, for a lot of these questions are not necessarily specific to men. Of course, in this case, several questions are missing. For example, in response to the question "Do you understand menstruation?" in the "Are You a Manarchist" questionnaire, a woman suggested one of several questions addressed to women on an internet forum, "Do you understand impotence?" which seems equally important.

These questions would probably be better received if it weren't presented as simply as men vs. women. This is true not only because there are other hierarchical issues involved with most of the questions that the questionnaire asks, but also because gender itself is not as simple as men vs. women. Gender is fluid and should not be defined by institutions.  Sex is a social construct, despite the fact that men exist and women exist, that many men have similar experiences and many women have similar experiences, and that there is a relationship between men and women.  A vital key to destroying the hierarchy is dismantling the dichotomy.  Meanwhile, gender oppression needs to be addressed and we cannot ignore that there are people who don't fit into neat little gender packages that make it easier for us to talk about sexism.  If we are to help people understand how patriarchy affects us, we need to treat it like the complex issue that it is. We can't make it as simple as men vs. women, we need to explain how what we're talking about is sexist.

If we are to see the eradication of patriarchy and gender oppression, women also cannot use the questionnaire to say "See, it says here you're a manarchist. I'm right and you're wrong". We need to develop an anarchist definition and critique of patriarchy and gender oppression, and share it movement-wide.  Women also need to take responsibility for our issues that are oppressive and repressive, as well as becoming empowered instead of remaining victims. If men see us blaming and criticizing yet not changing our own behavior, they will hardly be encouraged to change their own behavior.

At the same time, women are not obligated to hold men's hands and guide them through understanding patriarchy and gender oppression. They need to have an open mind, try understanding instead of getting defensive.  Guys need to stop and think about what is being said before they react.  They need to take some time to consider where women are coming from, not just assume that their own experience gives them the appropriate knowledge to judge the situation fairly.  They have to avoid dismissing a whole document or a whole group based on small parts or individuals that are confusing or offensive.  If they don't understand a question on the questionnaire or an article on patriarchy, they should discuss it with a woman and listen to her.  They should discuss it with other men as well.

Without everyone trying to communicate better, we cannot make changes. If we cannot get through the issues within our own subculture or community of anarchist organizing and action, then how can we expect to live truly as anarchists, and expand it to wider communities.

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