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Saturday, September 11, 2010

LISTEN ANARCHIST! Sexism in the Movement (2005)

Aotearoa Dissident Voice • Issue 8 • March 2005

At the anarchist conference, the Wellington
@fem group held a workshop
on sexism in the movement. Two
hours were set aside to discuss the subject,
but the womyn involved felt that issues were
only addressed superficially.
Towards the end of the conference, a
womyn’s-only discussion was held, in which
womyn sat down and came up with a list of
critiques of the sexism workshop. We feel
that the issues raised during this discussion
reflect some of the wider sexism present in
the movement.
Here is a condensed version of the list:
• Womyn didn’t feel safe to talk about their
experiences – especially around sexual abuse
and sexuality.
• Womyn felt like they had to moderate
what they said so that men didn’t feel attacked.
Some people resorted to talking
about issues very hypothetically instead of
personalising their experiences.
• Th e emphasis was taken off womyn. Th ere
was a failure to recognise that sexism aff ects
us more.
• Men did not respect that womyn are the
experts in their own oppression and talk
about the issues on our terms.
• Men only acknowledged superfi cial aspects
of sexism, eg. womyn being relegated
to kitchen jobs.
• Womyn didn’t feel that they were being
listened to.
• Men attempted to rationalise womyn’s
experiences, instead of acknowledging that
there aren’t always logical reasons for the
way people feel.
• Womyn felt that their feelings and experiences
were being trivialised.
• Th ere was a failure to discuss sexism in the
anarchist movement and not just in wider
• Men weren’t familiar with feminist ideas.
• Many men didn’t seem interested, eg. at
the childcare discussion.
• Womyn want men to come to us about
solving oppression HOWEVER men need
to understand that there are not always
simple solutions and simply acknowledging
that there is a problem is an integral part of
the process.
Any discussion of sexism should start with
men acknowledging that womyn are the experts
on our own oppression. It’s important
that men take responsibility for addressing
sexism but this has to be done with a reverence
for womyn’s experiences. Men should
never assume that they know better than
womyn how sexism should be fought. If
men are serious about ending male privilege
they need to begin asking womyn how we
want to be supported in our struggle and
We have separated this article into several
sections dealing with some of the diff erent
facets of sexism and oppression womyn
face in the movement.
Meetings take up a huge chunk of most activists’
lives, so it’s important we make them
One important issue is that our meetings
are often dominated by male speakers.
Womyn don’t speak up because it doesn’t
feel safe to do so. Often we are scared of being
personally attacked for voicing an opinion,
or feel unconfident and uneducated
around other more involved men. Meetings
with a competitive atmosphere are worse.
To be heard, you have to be aggressive and
determined, and many womyn feel that the
conflict is not worth it. We have been raised
by a society that values womyn who are
friendly, accommodating, pretty and outgoing
– but not assertive.
Meetings need to have a welcoming
atmosphere, with people listening to each
other and being free to speak their mind,
instead of the majority of men talking while
the womyn listen nicely. I have heard men
treat the fact that men usually “speak first,
last, and longest,” as a joke, or as a coincidence.
It isn’t. At two meetings recently,
an activist kept time of how long men and
womyn spoke. Her results confirmed the
gender imbalance we are speaking of.
Th e activist found that during a meeting
held to talk about creating a policy for
the group which had equal numbers of men
and womyn attending, five womyn spoke,
and ten men. Th e men also spoke longer
and more frequently than the womyn. She
compared this to another meeting held by
the same group a few weeks later, where
they discussed whether using certain photographs
were exploitative. All the womyn
spoke, as well as the men who had not
voiced their opinion before.
At the first meeting, the focus had been
more on right verses wrong decision making.
At the second meeting, the focus was
more on how people felt. Th e activist who
reported this also mentioned that the men
who didn’t speak at the discussion did not
have a university education, while those
that did speak generally did.
Th is illustrates how womyn aren’t the
only group marginalised at meetings; ethnic
minorities and people with less formal education
are also likely to feel uncomfortable
or unsafe participating when the structures
are run for and by dominate and privileged

Childcare is another important issue that is
often overlooked. It is seen as the parents’
responsibility to look after their child/ren,
so many mothers (as well as fathers and
other guardians) are excluded from meetings
and events. Mothers of young children
in particular find if difficult juggling other
commitments while needing to care for
their child/ren.
It is difficult for us (the authors) to write
too much on childcare since we don’t have
children ourselves. We do, however, recognise
that not many events are child-friendly,
or make specific arrangements for children.
Meetings usually take place late at night,
and babysitting is expensive. Who will put
the kids to bed, and look after the younger
ones? One Wellington group dealt with this
by always holding meetings at the house at
one parent – but it is also important not to
assume that that will always be the solution.
We need to work with and listen to parents
to ensure we are doing all we can.

Another issue is that childcare isn’t seen
as important in activist groups. Can you imagine
meetings where people who volunteer
to stay at home with the children during
demos are valued just as much as those who
speak to the media? Can you imagine men
being the ones to stay at home for a change?
If we are serious about making anarchism
a reality, then perhaps we should, because
raising children is the responsibly of the
whole community.

Sexual Oppression
Sexual abuse and sexual harassment are huge
and extremely urgent issues that the anarchist
community have failed to deal with
appropriately. You would have thought that
this shouldn’t even be an issue in a community
dedicated to liberation and equality,
but unfortunately it is, and we should all be
furious about it. One of the main problems
is that there is a lack of understanding of
just what constitutes abuse and harassment
and how it should be dealt with. Another
problem is nobody is talking about these
issues, or working out ways to resolve and
prevent them in the first place.

Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is essentially any form
of sexual attention that is unwelcome and
offensive. This includes unwanted touching
(such as kissing, hugging, pinching, etc)
and sexual innuendo. It is often dismissed
as a harmless joke, or as part of somebody’s
personality, but it is actually very serious.
Sexual harassment can be the result of deliberate
actions to maintain power-over, or
alternatively of well-meaning but unexamined
actions by some men. It can make womyn
feel stressed, humiliated, angry, upset,
helpless, frightened, or simply so fed up that
they want to drop out of the movement
and/or avoid certain activists.
Sexual harassment is unacceptable, and
should not be trivialised or dismissed. Keep
in mind that just because you don’t find
somebody’s behaviour offensive, it doesn’t
mean that others will also be comfortable
with it too. Spaces need to be created within
our movement for womyn to speak up if
they are being sexually harassed. People need
to know that they will be taken seriously
when voicing concerns about sexual harassment.
If complaints are
made, they need to be
dealt with straight away
– and the person who is
making the complaint
should not be dismissed
as over sensitive or repressed.
People have
different boundaries,
respect that! Just because
you enjoy forming
20 person snuggle pits
doesn’t mean that everyone
else feels safe snuggling
complete strangers.
Likewise, there are some
people who will feel extremely
when you start talking
about your penis.
When was the last
time you sat down and
talked about sexual harassment? Which of
your friends have been sexually harassed?
How would the groups you are part of respond
to a womyn who complained about
being sexually harassed by your actions?

Rape and Sexual Abuse
We are incredibly angry that womyn have
to be dealing with rape and sexual abuse in
our movement. These issues, more than any
other, have not been talked about and they
are not going to go away. Two situations
have surfaced in anarchist circles last year,
and while this article is not going to discuss
the individual incidents, they brought up a
number of points that seem to be obvious,
but apparently aren’t.
The most important thing is to support
(and believe!) the survivors of rape and sexual
abuse. There seems to be the impression
that false accusations are common. They
aren’t. In fact, 95% of men who have been
convicted of rape in a court of law, where
all evidence undeniably points to rape, still
deny responsibility for their actions. In cases
of acquaintance rape, the situation gets even
messier. We would like to point out that by
assuming the rapist is innocent until proven
guilty is essentially assuming that the survivor
is guilty (of lying) until proven innocent,
and this is at the very stage where the
survivor will be needing the most support.
Disbelief from other activists can/will cause
secondary wounding, which is often as bad
as, if not worse than, the original trauma.
If we want a movement that is safe for womyn,
supporting the survivors of rape is the
least we can do.
We can’t fit a discussion on the processes
that need to be implemented to fight
the rape and sexual abuse into this article;
we simply do not have the space. Hopefully
new writing will address this in future. Until
then, please TALK about these issues, support
survivors and educate yourself.
Challenges for the Future
• Listen to womyn
• Become more aware of the gender balance
(of lack thereof )
• Pay attention to who talks in meetings
• Ask parents what support they would like
from you
• Talk about sexual abuse and support survivors
• Read up on feminism (some suggested resources
are below)
• Pay attention to your own behaviour. How
are you contributing to sexism?
Resources and Suggested Reading
It is important to become familiar with
feminism and anarcha-feminist ideas. We
suggest you start by checking out www.
For those without internet access, we
suggest you read ‘Untying the knot,’ ‘Anarchism
and Feminism,’ ‘Quiet Rumours,’
and other @fem booklets. There are also a
lot of feminist journals and books in public
libraries – it’s a good idea to get acquainted
with feminist theory.

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