ANARCHISM MEETS FEMINISM:
THE IMPORTANCE OF PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
Hi, let me introduce myself first. I’m Nina, an anarcha-feminist living in Belgium. I’m currently studying women’s studies and being interested in anarcha-feminist activism & theory I decided to write my thesis about anarcha-feminism and non-hierarchical organising. When the thesis is ready (and translated from Dutch to English), I’d like to put it out as a zine so the text can reach more than just a limited university audience. In this article I would like to give short introduction to what my thesis will be about and explain why I think it is an important topic, for anarcha-feminists, feminists and anarchists.
Organisation and putting your ideals into practice in the “here and now” is of importance for feminists, anarchists and other DIY-activists. But in reality some several aspects of their ideals are ignored or saved for “after the revolution”. For example certain (often male) anarchists (sometimes called “manarchists”) think gender/women’s issues are only women’s problems and private problems and thus less important compared to for example class struggles. This type of anarchists chooses to ignore the sexism (and racism, and homophobia, and…) that happens in the anarchist movement as well. And this needs to be dealt with, because patriarchal and oppressing tendencies have to be addressed, especially in our own communities. How can we fight for a “better world” when hierarchy and domination in our own movement is not even questioned?
Lynn Farrow, an anarcha-feminist, wrote in 1974: “Feminism practices what anarchism preaches”. This was the case in several small feminist groups in the 1970s, but I doubt if this is still true today. Some contemporary (non-anarchist) feminists seem to give in to their ideals (of equality) to reach certain goals. They put more emphasis on the end result (equal rights, improving the situation for women in general) than on the process (co-operating on an equal non-hierarchical basis). But if the process is contrary to feminist ideas/theory, can the end result be really feminist? Why compromise? Anarcha-feminists want the ends and means to be the same. And therefore they choose to work in small non-hierarchical groups, sometimes co-operating with other groups, but always remaining autonomous, making decisions based on consensus, making sure everyone has a say and everyone feels at ease, so no one gets excluded.
But of course this ideal way of organising and working together with other people isn’t always easy. Informal elites may emerge, even in small groups that choose not to have official leaders. Therefore we have to be careful all the time. Check on how everyone is feeling, share information and skills (because knowledge often means power), rotate tasks, ask everyone’s opinion, make everyone feel welcome and involve even those with less time and energy.
For lots of anarchists (and anarcha-feminists) anarchism is considered not only a goal (or a utopia far far away), but a process, a way to work/organise/live. The means to reach a goal should not be treated as secondary; it’s part of the goal. We are constantly inventing and making anarchism reality. This kind of activism based on building a different world here and now, is one of the things that attract me to anarchism and anarcha-feminism. We can do-it-ourselves, we don’t have to depend on law-makers and we don’t have to wait for “the revolution”. We are creating a revolution every day, for example by changing our way of dealing with other people (treating them as equals, not superior or subordinate) despite of what we were taught all our lives. We might still make mistakes, but we can also learn from these mistakes. How can we expect a different world, an anarchist society, where everyone is free and equal, if the ways we work on it, are going against to our ideals? We must “change the world, and not forget to change ourselves” (Atalanta).
“Doing-it-ourselves” is very important for anarcha-feminists. The DIY-concept is most known from the punk movement, where it made punks independent from for example major labels and mainstream media (by founding their own DIY labels and zines) and helped them be creative and keep the control of their work. Also in today’s alterglobalist movement DIY-activism plays an important role. But DIY-activism is not something new; it was already used by utopian socialists in the 19th century (Poldervaart, 2006). DIY for anarcha-feminists means taking their lives in their own hands, organising actions together (without a master-helper structure), focussing on the activism/politics of everyday life (like the feminist slogan “the personal is political”), working autonomously…
I deliberately chose not to write my thesis about the herstory of anarcha-feminism or one particular anarcha-feminist activist or writer, because anarcha-feminism is not only something of the past. Anarcha-feminism is here today, very alive in different places in the world. Before and during my research I’ve found lots of projects, actions, zines, groups, collectives, festivals, discussions, workshops, meetings, artists, bands, comics, books, pamphlets, mailing lists, websites, publishing presses, radio shows, distros, labels,… It goes on and on. I hope that with writing about anarcha-feminism, a topic rarely discussed in women’s studies (at least in my school), the contemporary feminist movement will become a bit more open to and influenced by anarcha-feminist ideas.
www.echoriot.cjb.net (here you can find the thesis when it’s finished)
Poldervaart, Saskia, The utopian politics of feminist alterglobalisation groups: the importance of everyday life-politics and personal change for utopian practices. 2006. http://www2.fmg.uva.nl/assr/workingpapers/documents/ASSR-WP0601_000.pdf
Farrow, Lynn, “Feminism as Anarchism”, in: Quiet Rumours: an anarcha-feminist reader. Edinburgh/San Francisco, Dark Star, 2002.
Marianne, “Women and anarchism”, in: The Rag nr. 1, 2006, 13-15.