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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Luisa Capetillo: A Literary Introduction to Anarcha-Feminism (2012)

By Sam

The life and works of Luisa Capetillo are just beginning to be rediscovered, translated and disseminated. Living from 1879 to 1922, Capetillo was a Puerto Rican badass and one of my favorite writers. She wrote her own story and lived by her own rules, and her writings display a level of passion, strength and originality that few can compare to. An anarchist, a labor organizer and a radical feminist, her words have reverberating implications for those of us willing to seek them out and listen.


Capetillo wrote plays, essays, articles and even published her correspondence with fellow labor organizers and anarchists. Because of this, Absolute Equality is easy to read, as the pieces are short and the frame of reference is constantly changing. Her perspective is given through her characters, who reinforce the idea of women as creative centers of intellect, power and creativity. Her writing encompasses equality, love, parenting, activism, animal rights and more from a perspective of feminism, anarchism, socialism and libertarianism.

Flag of Anarcha-Feminism
My propaganda, based on justice, truth, and liberty is comprised of anarchist ideas in conjunction with the ideals of universal fraternal brotherhood.
The term anarchy conjures thoughts of chaos —  violence, burning buildings and no government; however, it would be inaccurate to stop there. Anarchy has a rich intellectual history of opposition to authority and concomitantly, hierarchy, making its association with feminism all the more likely. Anarcha-feminism focuses on manifestations of power and hierarchy — emphasizing the idea that power has its own logic — and views dominance as the source of all social ills. Patriarchy, then, is seen as a manifestation of an arbitrarily imposed hierarchy and represents both a vast abuse of power and a barrier to positive social evolution. This is the key lens of perception for anarcha-feminists; nonetheless, its proponents are much more likely to express the meaning of anarchy to be love and liberty rather than violence and destruction.
Some people explain anarchism as a doctrine of crime and violence; however, millions of human beings have been burned in the name of Christ; thousands were guillotined in France in 1893 in the name of liberty. Anarchy did not commit those crimes; that some fanatic has erased a Carnot, a Canovas, a Humbert, a McKinley from the scene, these are isolated cases and furthermore, they are not taught in any institution; they are pardonable. Anarchists like Ravachols, Pallas, and Angiolillos are few, but the Torquemadas and the Louis IXs multiply with an astounding ease.

Luisa Capetillo: Absolute Equality

Taught by her parents the philosophies of Tolstoy, Zola, Malato, Bakunin, Mill and Kropotkin, among others, Capetillo received an unorthodox education at home and in the tobacco factories that reflected the political realities of her time as well as the intellectual movement of the working class in Puerto Rico. What I find to be most captivating about Capetillo’s work is her ability to reflect upon her personal experiences and theorize about how these experiences fit into the social structure as she perceived it. In my opinion, too many philosophers and social theorists have instead spent their time theorizing about how others should spend their time. As a working woman, Capetillo was not afforded the luxuries of the middle class pedestal, and she was keenly aware of this. She was out in the public – working, interacting and being active in her community. The experiences that come with this life, in combination with her radical education, individualism and love of self, provided her with the necessary tools to articulate and critique the bullshit of her day. I find Capetillo to be a great example of the positivity that can come from education for critical consciousness (as defined by Freire). Her comments of disdain for the opinions of those traditionally educated made it clear that she was content with her ability to critically perceive the world.
 Do not examine other souls, study your own, do not try to correct others before having corrected yourselves, and afterward you will not need to correct, only teach. Why waste time in useless things that will not benefit us? You are foolish. Leave others along and correct yourselves, that if you do as such, there will not be as many ignorant persons in this world.
Unable to allow the “hypocritical social lie” to define her actions and opinions, she was an unmarried mother, after having two children with an upper class man to whom she would never marry. Capetillo’s parenting theory is attractive for feminists who, like her, engage with and practice their philosophies on a (radical) critical level throughout the day, making conscious decisions to practice what they preach. Like Wollstonecraft, Capetillo argues against tyrannical parenting habits and instead offers an alternative. I would like to offer a few quotes as illustration:
  • It is in the home that free men and women are created, starting with the parents reproving their own imperfections.
  • Most people believe that it is very natural and even just and well done that a parent exploits their children and, furthermore, mistreats them. No one worries about warning the strong as to their duty with the weak.
  • Regarding the nonsense of children, “I say nonsense because that is what some ignorant people of both sexes have called children’s protests. But they are not nonsense; they are natural expressions common to that age and one should allow the child to protest as such and to study their inclinations to recommend good ideas and noble practices to them.
An outspoken critic of many things, including the church and social convention, Capetillo was not afraid to test the powers of arbitrary authority. She was arrested for wearing pants in Havana, Cuba in 1915. This act displays her understanding of gender as performance, as Judith Butler eloquently taught us many years later. Capetillo spent a considerable amount of time writing about her hygiene habits and the ability of clothing to mask and unmask oneself, while also acknowledging the role of self-adornment in a capitalist society and that hygiene itself is used as an arbitrary judge of one’s character, one’s social status.

Capetillo. Courtesy of luisacapetillo. blogspot.com
There are well-dressed thieves that they call gentlemen and thieves dressed in rags that they call beggars. Some rob from the stock exchange and others from businesses; others pickpocket in the streets, plazas, or houses due to poverty or vagrancy, which the present social system engenders, while others speculate because of selfish ambition. The second ones mentioned are more admissible than the first.
And on a personal note:
…it is not possible to please the whole world… do you believe, perhaps, that I am only going to think about pleasing those that don’t understand me?
For Capetillo, as it would later be for Audre Lorde, desire was something to be acted upon, to find strength and power in – not to be suppressed. She took the concept of bodily autonomy seriously and rejected the prevailing social norm, the negative Christian association of pleasure with sin. Herein lies the free love aspect of Capetillo’s anarcha-feminism. She opposed the concept of marriage, a social sanction that she thought only served to bind and oppress, and throughout her writings, it is clear that she viewed women’s sexual liberation as a natural human right. She believed each human being has the right to individual autonomy. Central to this assertion is the right to be free to love others without restriction, without the constraints of religious or legal doctrines. After all, happiness cannot be found in money or social status; it can only be found in knowledge and desire.
Beautiful girls who have listened, if you wish to be free and to be mothers of conscious generations, do not get married in civil courts or in churches, because that is like selling yourself, and selling is prostitution. Love must be free, like the air that you breathe, like the flowers that open their petals to receive the fecund pollen and offer their perfume to the air, and as such you should offer your love and prepare yourselves to have children through love.
This is the last line of her play, The Influences of Modern Ideas. In furtherance of a perspective that is skeptical of combining love with authority, Capetillo’s writings provide illustrated examples of the social injustices that she witnessed regarding various abuses of love. A few of the titles are as follows:
  • The Corruption of the Rich and of the Poor or How a Rich Woman and a Poor Woman Are Prostituted
  • Marriage Without Love, Consequence, Adultery
  • In the Country, Free Love
  • How Poor Women Are Prostituted
Because I find her words to be so powerful, I have attempted to allow Capetillo’s own words to express her opinions on a variety of matters, resulting in an introduction to the anarcha-feminist perspective of power, patriarchy, education, the hypocrisy of religion, female strength and creativity, love and desire. I hope that it is now clear that anarcha-feminism views power and arbitrary authority as the root of all social ills and is opposed to any and all institutions that presume to lead humans like sheep into following any dogma that is not explicitly endorsed by one’s own consciousness. With that, I leave you with a quote of unity and motivation:
We women will always be sacrificed in this infinite holocaust to social hypocrisy and lies. It is all the same. Whether it be me or another woman, it is human flesh that is humiliated or despised, that is sold and that atrophies, that is outraged, that is used and trampled on in the name of Christian morality… We can only vindicate ourselves as a whole, or not at all. I am no better than any other woman.
*All quotes are taken directly from Absolute Equality, linked above.*
** A more detailed biography can be found in Coco Papy’s piece, Badass Ladies of History: Luisa Capetillo.**

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