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Friday, October 15, 2010

Breaking the Ice: Anarchist Men and Sexism in the Movement (2005)

by Ernesto Aguilar
 In "Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left," Sara Evans writes in painful detail about the mistreatment of women in political movements. Her narrative is a sober reminder that sexism within movements has been going on for years. Today we have many ongoing dialogs about sexism in the anarchist movement. Most are led by women, and they have created a space in which to engage constructively. Anarchist men are unfortunately often silent on the issue of sexism and gender inequity in our movement. As a male in a visible position, I'm both at fault for not being more outspoken on it, and for being sexist and wrong on many occasions. Without honest and self-critical efforts by men, efforts for change could be for naught, because we are part of the problem. I write this in hopes that other anarchist males take it upon themselves to act on sexism and gender inequity and make both priorities.  In "Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left," Sara Evans writes in painful detail about the mistreatment of women in political movements. Her narrative is a sober reminder that sexism within movements has been going on for years. Today we have many ongoing dialogs about sexism in the anarchist movement. Most are led by women, and they have created a space in which to engage constructively. Anarchist men are unfortunately often silent on the issue of sexism and gender inequity in our movement. As a male in a visible position, I'm both at fault for not being more outspoken on it, and for being sexist and wrong on many occasions. Without honest and self-critical efforts by men, efforts for change could be for naught, because we are part of the problem. I write this in hopes that other anarchist males take it upon themselves to act on sexism and gender inequity and make both priorities.

In the days Evans writes about, many mistakes were made in focusing on individual lifestyles rather than structural issues. These days, we make some of the same errors. In my opinion, this discussion is positioned around three points: 1.) understanding that the debate over sexism and issues related to female-male relations isn't so much a debate about actions, but legitimacy; 2.) understanding that all men are responsible, and that we need to be forthright in admitting our mistakes as a matter of political, rather than moral/personal, principle; and 3.) understanding that anarchist women and men must take an active role in shifting the dispute beyond individual-based 'accountability' and toward a community-based system of restorative justice.

For purposes of being broad, I want to address the spectrum of issues related to sexism and gender inequity. These go from maltreatment of women in spaces, pressuring women and romantic/sexual manipulation to criminally prosecutable offenses such as rape, harassment and sexual assault. By no means do I believe anarchist women and men should reduce all these topics down; the broad categorization here is mainly to be clear that all topics are on the table, and I want to engage everyone around them. Also, I use the term "women and men" at various junctures, and such is not intended to imply there aren't issues between those identifying as transgendered or in same-sex relationships, nor that those issues are less important. My hope is to help add to the discourse that many anarchist sisters are leading, and encourage other men to take an active role.

Legitimacy: Kind, not degree

In his book "Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America," Kristian Williams writes a powerful statement about police misconduct which, in reality, sums up the true divide between abuse generally and institutional definitions. "In non-totalitarian societies, authority exists within carefully prescribed, if vague (one might suggest, intentionally vague), boundaries," Williams writes. "Action within these limits is 'legitimate,' similar action outside of such limits is 'abuse.'" The difference between legitimate (acceptable) use of power and illegitimate abuse, Williams concludes, is of degree, rather than kind.

Right about now, women reading this may be catching the implications. Some women know of male comrades who'll wrangle over the nuances of their actions, rather than the overarching dilemma, and the even weightier factor of men's complicity in it. Men know of it too! Even among the most advanced polemics related to sexual assault among activist circles, the focus is on individual abuses rather than at legitimacy, an institutional look at the question, its perpetrators and collaborators.

I'll stop right here and say I use the word 'institutional' not to imply the state or society, but anarchist subcultures. The institution, through political and emotional immaturity and a lack of vision, is incapable of proactively responding to the subcultural and socialized patterns that support abuse of women, so it should be no surprise that there's no sense, beyond appealing to the morality of people, why gender abuse/violence is tolerated or else viewed in an apolitical context. Thus, our orientation becomes "calling out people on their shit," to coin just one term in the anarchist vernacular, but seldom coming together to find political common ground on responsibility. Today, as it was 10 years ago when I found myself at the same meetings as today, the focus is exactly the same: though there are notable exceptions, for the most part a community of individuals knows they might respond with anger to an incident, but has little desire to have ongoing political study and discussion about gender relations before it happens, and to shape a political culture and analysis of it. As such, we fall back into old patterns of supporting the legitimacy of the current system of power, and unequal gender relations which are tied to it.

How we view legitimacy of abuse has its roots in women's and men's privileges related to the overall society and concepts of relative deprivation. In "What is the Revolutionary Potential of Women's Liberation," Kathy McAfee and Myrna Wood observe "our concept of liberation represents a consciousness that conditions have forced on us while most of our sisters are chained by other conditions, biological and economic, that overwhelm their humanity and desires for self fulfillment." For radicals to really understand truly difficult women's conditions, the authors write, they must understand the anxiety of an uneducated woman to find the "best" man to provide for her, hard labor or daily brutalization. By no means do I posit that gender inequity or violence within the anarchist movement are less important; I believe the anarchist movement may be all too concerned with individual actions, rather than seeing the individual actions as part of a much more insidious sphere of influence, which most certainly includes what women of color and poor women face every day but which is not regarded as sexism.

Thus it must be seen that legitimacy is further tied with framing of social realities. For anarchists to question the legitimacy of gender oppression, we also need to look at the authority of who historically shapes the discussion (males, whites, etc.) -- not because we should focus on merely dismantling that power, but to see the competing interests and contradictions within capitalism. In particular, people of color have blazed many trails on the topic of legitimacy, abuse and its results. Theorists such as Robert Staples and Harold Cruse were among a multitude of radicals who pushed the Civil Rights-era Black liberation movement to understand, more than just various issues, the base problem for people of African descent was internal colonization. Obviously, as Evans writes, there have been divisions over the years between feminism and Black liberation, and I believe we need to vigorously agitate against equating racism with sexism; my example is merely used to remind anarchists of movements before us

Unconscious, uncritical acceptance of dominant culture ideas, to which sexism and gender oppression and intimately linked, are noteworthy here. Grace Lee Boggs, in "Beyond Eurocentrism: Chinese-American woman activist critique of European bias about notions of freedom," says such dominant culture ideas have been espoused by both French enlightenment figures as well as Marxists assumed to be their opposition:

Every individual, this world view proclaimed, has an inalienable right to freedom and equality. Through faith in reason and science, it promised, human beings can achieve total liberation and total perfection. Marx criticized the Enlightenment for its linear concept of progress, but his concept of scientific socialism as a potential world system shows how much he shared its faith in reason and science... however, these ideas are losing their hold on us. The liberation struggles of Third World and indigenous peoples have helped us to see how the belief in the universal validity of the ideas of the Enlightenment have provided legitimacy to the imperialist destruction of indigenous cultures. Our growing estrangement from each other and from Nature are helping us to see how faith in reason and science have supported the objectification and commodification of human beings and Nature which are inherent in capitalism. Meanwhile, the emergence of mass society has exposed the limitations of reason, and the self-acknowledged failure of centralized socialist economies is forcing us to go beyond Marx's concept of scientific socialism as the answer to capitalism. In a world in which rampant consumerism has turned us into collaborators with capitalism in estranging ourselves and in poisoning our planet, there is a growing recognition that we need philosophies which go beyond the anthropomorphism and reductionism of scientific rationalism: philosophies which are metaphysical, not because they aspire to absolute truth but because they recognize that reality is not limited to what can be known by science; philosophies which emphasize our interconnectedness with one another and with other living things and therefore empower us to relate to one another as brothers and sisters and to greet the earth as grandmother, sister, and mother: in other words, philosophies which will empower us to transform ourselves and our relationships with one another and with nature-just as the philosophy of scientific rationalism in the 17th and 18th centuries empowered the rising bourgeoisie to pursue the development of the productive forces.

Lee's criticism could easily apply to how the anarchist movement formulates solutions. Individual liberty and expression are maintained as core vales -- women should have space for their anger and men should be checked, for example -- but we rarely analyze how what happens relates to Third World women or the capitalist system at large. We dissect the degree of the abuse (personal crime), but not the kind (gender oppression). Early anarchist feminist pieces like "A Message to 'Anarchist' Men, and Then Some" and "What it is to be a Girl in an Anarchist Boys' Club" are typical of the individualizing of experience. Much of the conversation treats the individual as central to the experience, with short shrift given to a much more pervasive systemic issue. Certainly, I don't wish to be insensitive to supporting anarchist sisters in dealing with individual men -- the web of gender oppression isn't showing up at meetings to be an asshole nor does it cajole women for sex, obviously -- but I want to remind anarchists of the problem with individualized, Western/European concepts of freedom and liberty, and their contemporary incarnation as battering rams against community and radical politics. I will write more on individualism and community later.

Though there are indubitably folks seeking to connect the dots, for the most part, I forward, instances of movement-connected gender-based exploitation are legitimized and tolerated by our anarchist movement. In a many cases, men still look at these as just women's problems, for which they don't need to be concerned, or feign off personal responsibility without critical politics regarding such collaboration or passivity. As part of our broader political consciousness, we need to be resolute that men who pressure women, mistreat women or are disrespectful in our community are legitimizing the current power structure and contributing to an extensive grid of power which holds people back. Chiefly, anarchist women and men need to see gender-based injustice as an expression of the dominant culture's ethos, which we as anarchists must be vigilant in struggling against.

Legitimacy is the key here. How is gender oppression defined by everyone in a community? What is accepted? What is not? Why is the low-level abuse and mistreatment tolerated or accepted and, in some case, defended or avoided by men? How do the women and men involved, subtly allow low-level gender-based abuse to go on? How are our solutions focused individually? And what are we accepting of the dominant culture's norms that we fail to be conscious of? Herein we're going at more than just sexism and gender inequity, but the legitimacy of gender oppression and the socialization that imbues it.

Community-wide, we need to look at the intricacies of our institutions. As individuals, especially men, we need to move beyond understanding abuse as an individual issue, but an institutional one -- not for purposes of shifting the blame, but as one where such actions reflect a responsibility, or lack thereof, to our politics. That understanding should not obscure the need for men to be responsible for themselves, as part of the larger picture.

Responsibility: The personal is not political

You'll notice I tend to speak on politics first, rather than morals. In a capitalist system, anarchists should be skeptical of morals. The same leaders who present themselves as pious followers of the Lord are the same ones slaughtering Black and Brown people around the world. Morality is a commodity aimed at manipulation. Unfortunately, a few of us fall prey to it. For instance, it pains me to hear people equate lifestyle choices or public discourse on private lives as an extension of "the personal is political." As an anarchist, hearing this liberalized version of what radical feminists long before us fought hard to clarify is embarrassing to me. The personal as political concept was originally developed by the feminist milieu as a way of understanding that the reasons we face personal hardships are a direct result of the state. Women aren't disempowered, feminists reasoned, because they were inferior, but because the state and male beneficiaries of power had many tools in place that thwarted their rising. The personal as political was a tool for breaking state power, and keeping each other accountable to the broader circle.

The false conception anarchists have now is that the personal is not political, but individualized: people make individual choices through individual values and we respond to them appropriately, or win victories by their singular steps. This is, in fact, lifestylism that removes revolutionary or anarchist political context from anything, because by design it's focused on individual morality, rather than political vision. Previous movements, particularly oppressed people's struggles, saw the personal as an expression of the neocolonial society's values, and that confronting individual action was synonymous with confronting the state. Sara Evans writes that Southern white women in particular were transformed by their contact with the Black power movements and civil rights work; they hypothesized the exploitation of women as a political matter as well as one in which men collaborated. Talking about state power was not aimed at avoiding blame (nor should it ever now), but to return to a broader political perspective, and help people find a means of address personal failures.

Analysts like Rus Ervin Funk (in "A Peace Activist Reflects on Women's Rights as Human Rights") argue that a public/private dividing line inherently favors men because men control public discourse and human rights violations that target women are often private and rarely considered. Though such arguments, at their base, have an echo of truth, the issue of exploitation is again, a matter of legitimacy. Men, in fact, control discourses. Human rights violations do indeed target women privately (though Funk is misleading in consideration, as human rights accords today consider sexual assault, for example, as an issue). Where the "personal is political" assertion displays its liberalism is that it assumes switching the dynamic fundamentally changes the system, or mere exposure makes an integral difference. If men don't control discourses, does sexual violence or mistreatment stop? As we've seen through public policies like the Violence Against Women Act, simply considering an abuse in a different light might alter the sanction, but does not consequently change the behavior. Think about that in terms of all power hierarchies, how they do or don't operate, and what happens as a result. As anarchists, it is important for women and men to see such a distinction. In order for us to change things, we need to move beyond simply thinking that the "personal is political" and more understand the political nature of the institutions themselves.

Men must see it is a basic political and institutional principle that we have a responsibility to critique and speak openly about ourselves and our actions. This isn't so much a contradiction in the "personal as political" debate I outlined earlier, for anarchists understand that simply changing behavior does not do away with power relations. Still, acknowledgment is at the heart of so many of our politics -- we want our grievances looked at or we create scenes as spaces where our ideas can be seriously discussed. Avoiding or minimizing such a serious issue as sexism betrays the need for solutions. In order for anarchist men to take the next step in this discussion, it's important we acknowledge we can, have and do make mistakes, again as a matter of political principle.

Within neocolonial culture particularly, that isn't a simple thing to do. Men are discouraged from talking about their faults. Men of color, especially Black men, are forced by the indignities heaped upon us to avoid talking about how we feel. But, let's be honest: your sisters, no matter well-intentioned, indignant and right they may be, won't get through to you until you're ready to listen and accept complete responsibility, without reservations or excuses, for your behavior and in checking other guys. Not all of us do it, which doesn't make us horrible people, but means we need to step up. We need to step up because anti-authoritarian ideals need us as its proponents, showing why these ideas are indispensable in a new world. However, many of us have some messed-up gender politics, and we ignore exploitation when it happens. I'm not talking about people at meetings or varied instances, but in our own everyday actions.

Institutionally, men are permitted to avoid responsibility through various means. Williams cites the work of Paul Kivel, author of "Uprooting Racism," with abusive men who justify their behavior through nine primary means. These include denial, minimization, blame, redefinition, unintentionality, counterattack and competing victimization. Others, Kivel writes, prefer to portray the issue as isolated or in the (recent or distant) past. Williams quotes Kivel, who notes "I was continually perplexed by [men's] inability to see the effects of their actions and their ability to deny the violence they had done to their partners or children." Kivel adds, "I only slowly became aware of the complex set of tactics that men use to make violence against women invisible and to avoid taking responsibility for their actions."

I began my own journey on this issue by acknowledging my own failures in gender politics, of being disrespectful to women and of getting involved in ways I shouldn't. Such a revelation is not easy though! I made excuses, blamed others, justified it, dismissed people's criticism, or just minimized it by saying we all 'make mistakes.' It wasn't until I was willing to say there's a difference between making mistakes and being selfish and self-centered that I saw how much we as anarchist men need to do. We are all indubitably struggling to live out our politics, but that's not a defense to being backward politically. It is formidable; anyone who has been touched by capitalism's individualistic themes believes they have a right to say and do as they please, without concern for how it affects others. Anarchist men need to be reminded that such is only a lie aimed at upholding the dominant culture's values, and undercutting anarchist notions of community.

There are plenty of defenses for avoidance. Men believe that avoiding what happens will protect them, or ensure they won't be looked down on. Yet, the risk is a small price to pay, because we don't make a change by not being open about the past. Consider South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked by the government with investigating the "nature, causes and extent" of human rights violations under apartheid. We're not talking petty crimes, but former police, security agents and others who testified that they were guilty of the most heinous tortures and murders imaginable, all in the name of protecting white rule over the Black majority. Those abusers received full amnesty in exchange for their testimony, while those who suffered gave their accounts as well. Black and white South Africa realized that, without honesty, accountability and closure, its people would never be able to move beyond apartheid. Obviously, I don't wish to intermingle or equate racism and sexism; my point is that disclosure is a necessary step to open politics. It is essential to such a process that men concede and own up to their actions as they relate to relationships with women/partners, without excuses. More anarchist men must be willing to talk about our own actions in hopes of encouraging a larger discussion among radical movements, especially men, about sexism and the treatment of women.

Even moreso than to individuals or our own desire to be liked or even admired, we are first and foremost accountable to the movements and vision to which we are committed. We can't live in a liberated world and not be responsible to each other. As a person, I have a deep responsibility to other anarchists of color, and I believe not reconciling my politics with my actions contradicts the principle of anti-authoritarianism. More men need to consider such.

It's vital for women and men to understand that accepting responsibility is not a guilt-trip deal, but a matter of political responsibility. Among the great failures of the fashionable 'post-left' anarchist theory is the implication that individuals have no commitment to supporting and growing with each other. In "Post-Left Anarchy: Leaving the Left Behind," Jason McQuinn argues that the "autonomous individual is the fundamental basis of all genuinely anarchistic theories of organization," and, though he also supports concepts of transparency, "no rule and no ruler both mean there is no political authority above people themselves, who can and should make all of their own decisions however they see fit." Anything that falls outside the realm of one's own decision, it's connoted, is an unwelcome advance to which no struggle should be invested. What I suggest is that individuals exist more richly with communities, and that they directly and indirectly benefit emotionally, politically, socially and materially from them. More conspicuously, in gaining benefits, people form communities and have a stake in said associations. Men who violate unspoken community values of respect for women or who collaborate in making such acts invisible need to understand their responsibility to a community, and the damage such acts do to the sense of ownership among members of a community.

Revolutionary accountability

In visioning community, theorist Patricia Hill Collins writes that people of African descent have reshaped notions of power with models of community that stress connections, caring and personal accountability. Black people, she points out in "Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination," haven't been afforded the time to theorize new ways of conceiving community, for they've never had access. Community is played out in daily actions. "The spheres of influence created and sustained by African-American women are not meant solely to provide a respite from oppressive situations or a retreat from their effects," Hill Collins says. "Rather, these Black female spheres of influence constitute potential sanctuaries where individual Black women and men are nurtured in order to confront oppressive social institutions."

The anarchist notion of community needs to balance individual needs with our political directives. If we're anarchists, our objective should be to challenge state power in all its forms; what happens in our communities is an extension of our confidence in our politics, and our politics (by extension, ourselves) are constantly something we should self-examine and critique. My primary criticism with how sexism, sexual assault and so forth are dealt with in movements is a fundamental misunderstanding of what we want to build as a movement and what values we want to convey. It's central to understand that simply refusing to call the police isn't particularly political (save for protecting men from prosecution). What needs to happen is a basic change in how we understand the society we as anarchists want to create.

Among the most ambiguous words among anarchists is 'accountability.' Accountability, at least in an anarchist sense, implies a community responsibility and a mutual effort to resolve conflicts. Accountability, as it is now translated into specifics and implemented, is individualized by incident and doesn't seek to build a political culture against sexism, perhaps indicative of the lack of a cohesive political culture among anarchists as a whole.

Anarchists need to grow the definition of accountability from shame, punitive action and expulsion to a vision where communities encourage and support women in healing and men in living lessons within the contexts of their lives. There is great power in shame -- shame for women in speaking out and shame for men in their acts -- and I want to talk about moving beyond shame and the past to solutions. Clearly, my goal is not to patronizingly say 'forgive and forget' because closing the door on exploitation is a long process. Yet I believe our current accountability models address an instance rather than build a community ethos from which we can grow. As Bell Hooks remarks in "All About Love," communities are families; where the power of a community and of gender as a central organizing point must be key to resist power systems. We're not doing that now, in my opinion.

There are many dynamic community solutions of addressing accountability. One of the most popular of those models is restorative justice, a system that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities caused by antisocial behavior. By no means perfect, restorative justice seeks to identify and take steps to repair damage; actively involving all those involved, and shifts the emphasis of response to actions from state-mediated mediums to the community.

Nadia Biermans and Marie-Nathalie d'Hoop authored a study on restorative justice, and the conscious decision of a state to reshape its criminal justice policies, in "Development of Belgian prisons into a restorative perspective." Reasons for shifting this discussion, the authors say, were twofold: 1.) to address the conflict between the victim and offender and helping both deal with the conflict; and 2.) changing the culture and mentality in prisons. Researchers started by conducting information sessions on restorative justice. Offenders, researchers observed, displayed some of the avoidance mechanisms Kivel pointed out in "Uprooting Racism" -- they tended to view themselves as victims (often as a result of dehumanization from isolation) and minimized the harm done to their victims. Tackling these behaviors demonstrated the need for talking to offenders about their feelings and working with them to recognize their victims. The role of those who have been wronged is central to restorative justice as well.

Contrast this form of accountability with what we see in many scenes. Here, acknowledgment and responsibility are stressed first, rather than shame-based reaction. Defying power means understanding our own power to change the dynamics. Before seeking a new system for coping, men need to understand the contemporary, feminist-constructed definitions of sexual assault, violence, sexism and other forms of gender-based oppression. Men also need to be agreed that such topics are serious anarchist and community issues, and that public discourse about these concerns are among our top priorities which women and men must make honest efforts to undertake. In addition, men need to see gender-based oppression is multi-faceted, and that it's not supposed to be normal or acceptable in anarchist circles or in egalitarian sexual relations; this means obvious instances (insults, harassment, violence, rape, assault) and subtle actions (romantic/sexual overtures, exclusion, disrespect, blame) must be agreed as unacceptable as a community-wide norm. Finally, men must make a political commitment to support women who seek solidarity in what they face.

Like many solutions, restorative justice is an evolving theory, which permits us to help shape an explicitly anti-authoritarian tendency. Balancing power is among the greatest challenges for anarchists in this regard. Young people (and older people) should get heard by peers, as well as others in the community. Likewise, people of color have more than a group of whites helping deal with situations. Add to that fair representation among offenders and victims and their defenders, which can turn potential healing into confrontations and silence. Within each complication is bound a series of Western assumptions of justice, especially due process and trial by jury. Restorative justice seeks to avoid, in the words of advocate John Braithwaite, "adversarial legalism," where offenders and victims are removed from the process.

Visioning restorative justice and community takes a few of the components listed here. Care and commitment to change as a political priority must be part of it. But it starts with all of us.


So, how do we get there?

Much of that is a conversation anarchist circles need to have in an organized, open and patient way. On a larger scale, it will take a shift in how we think about gender in the movement, and how our personalization to everything must evolve to incorporate the political. While we need to individually see why morality is such a strong pull, anarchists also need to grasp its cultural currency today, and endeavor for real consensus about the definition and elimination of assault, violence, et al. as a political aspiration.

On a smaller scale, it will take men individually to take it upon themselves to work on sexist behavior, as a means of solidifying our anarchist sensibilities. I must strongly caution that I do not believe, just because men must take on gender issues as a means of making anarchist ideas stronger, that men should lead or be at the center of the struggle. Anarchists should grasp this principle as a matter of respect. When we begin talking about anything, anarchists tend to get ahistorical; we forget to seek out the work of those before us, or today's fights by those affected. In this case, many feminist women, long before us, have written and lived powerful, dynamic theory from which we should be inspired to learn. Women today are also setting powerful examples that could reshape our vision.

On a personal level, I've learned how important it is to express empathy with people who have been victims, even if I am sometimes working on how to express myself well and be sensitive to the implications of my own errors. I confess I have a lot to learn, and I try to not handle criticism in a defensive way. I've also learned I need to be willing to call attention to myself and share my personal experiences, even though it may be tough and not too flattering, in hopes of generating awareness to sexism. Such has been part of a deeper political discovery that my personal comfort is far less important than the anarchist struggle to which I've committed my life. The collective good is something I've often talked about, but living it out in such a way has made me reflective of the much greater sacrifices women of color make on a daily basis.

I've learned pointing out that I do these things is not for recognition or praise, but because, as a matter of political commitment, it should be part of my daily routine, as it should be for all men. I recognize I, as a male, am still a work in progress in terms of sexist socialization, and my political practice regarding gender equality isn't where it could or should be. I also make an effort to remember not to use such facts as excuses for slacking off or minimizing the impact of errors I make.

I respectfully disagree with some writers who articulate that men, especially men who may not have the most politically correct practice, have no role in formulating solutions around this issue. Part of the problem with such proclivities is the value judgment inherent in indirectly or intellectually disallowing participation. White graduate students would probably favor theory written by white academics (or, in a bit of noble savage irony, non-college-educated people of color - another discussion entirely). And who's to say the anarchist or even feminist body politic (both extensions of whiteness, in varying degrees, since their inception) has all the complex social, cultural, ethnic and practical solutions? In considering and defining our community culture related to gender, we need to be inclusive to differing cultural perspectives and visions for a liberated future.

I further disagree that the lightning rod for discussion needs to be who talks over who at a meeting, or who's confrontational with police at a protest. Although it's valuable to point out problems, to me, these criticisms avoid the real question of how we develop clarity in our politics, organizing methods and tactics. I know those theoretical discussions aren't as sexy or dramatic as bad behavior, but they're truly more important. Merely eliminating chest-puffing or "manarchy," as one collective termed a laundry list of troublesome actions, doesn't fundamentally move us toward freedom. I believe fighting gender oppression requires the respect of a wider talk about our politics.

I would also suggest that fighting gender oppression must be understood in the context of race, but not in a way that assimilates history or pretends racism and sexism are "all one fight." Saying that things are more complex than all one fight indubitably swims against current anarchist ideas of struggle, however. Indeed how gender and race operate do have similarities, but anarchists should be clear that one is not the same as the other. As I mentioned earlier, white women were strongly influenced by Black liberation during the Civil Rights era. However, white women have historically more often than not fought against the advancement of people of color, because they were (and are, in many cases) first allies to whiteness. For both white women and men, the assimilation of history is used as tactic to never talk about race - or gender for that matter. A firm commitment to fighting gender oppression will not take root in the anarchist movement until we act to reach a real consensus on our politics in a way that understands race and self-determination.

My hope is that this article serves as an effort to support the courageous anarchist sisters leading up this struggle. I don't want to imply I have all the answers, or even go for that very male activity of 'solving' problems. Still, I hope these ideas contribute to the ongoing systemic look at gender oppression; of men's failures and political vigilance; and of the amazing work by people of color in addressing oppression. I encourage anarchist men to think about these obstacles. If I've learned anything living as a Latino/indigenous man in Occupied Amerika, it's that, for all the bluster about fighting the good fight, most dudes are reluctant to be the first one to speak up on a thorny subject. I searched high and low for pieces by anarchist men on sexism in our movement. Guess how many I found? I want this piece to break the ice. This movement cannot advance without action. Understanding sexism as a political priority in our work against this oppressive system is only the beginning.

Recommended Reading for Anarchist Women and Men

Heather Ajani, "Hearts Spark Arson," Our Culture, Our Resistance
Anonymous, "Interviews with Panther sisters on women's liberation"
Pip Cornall, "Rafting in the Cascades: A true story about confronting sexism"
Chris Crass, "Going to places that scare me: Personal reflections on challenging male supremacy"
Sara Evans, "Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & The New Left"
Bell Hooks, "All About Love" and "Feminist Theory: Margin to Center"
Butch Lee, "Jailbreak out of History: a re-biography of Harriet Tubman"
Carol Pateman, "The Sexual Contract"

Other Resources

SallyDarity Anarcha-Feminism & Gender Anarchy Resource Page

Making Face, Making Soul: a Chicana feminist site

Womanist Theory and Research

Women of Color Web

Feminist Theory Website

Communities Against Violence Network

"Men in the Movement to End Violence Against Women: Campaigns and Campaign Materials"

Working with Men and Boys to Prevent Gender-Based Violence

Alan Berkowitz's Papers

Paul Kivel's Website

Joe Weinberg's "Teaching Sexual Ethics"

[Disclaimer: Citations of readings or resources not necessarily an endorsement of every statement or politics expressed therein; this is just a basic list.]

Ernesto Aguilar founded the Anarchist People of Color site/listserv. He lives in Houston, Texas. 


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