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Saturday, October 9, 2010

what's feminism got to do with anarchism? (1999)

C. wrote:

The deliberate development of a system of white skin privileges is a matter of historical record and its persistence is expressed in the profound and well documented inequalities in the life chances of whites and non-whites in US society. The resistance of whites, including self-described revolutionaries, to these elementary truths is in my mind only further evidence of the profound grip white supremacy has on our consciousness.
to which i would add that the resistance of men, including self-described revolutionaries, to elementary feminist truths is only further evidence of the profound grip male supremacy and phallocentrism have on all our consciousness.
which brings to mind an important problem faced by those of us who wish to argue that systemic, male domination - a system of male privilege - has been deliberately developed. the truth is that we do not know enough about the origins of patriarchy nor do we have access to an 'historical record of its inception'. therefore all theorisations of the origin of female subjection will forever remain 'guesswork' based on archeological evidence and surviving oral/written, mainly religious texts. IMO, the best of these theories link the switch to large-scale agricultural, the resultant accumulation of surplus, the institution of private property and men's desire to 'pass-on' that wealth to their 'own' children (read: sons) to the original form of female enslavement for reproductive purposes which has developed into the complex, multi-faceted systems of 'patriarchy' which exist everywhere today.
i advocate an understanding of 'patriarchy' which acknowledges that it is a global phenomena of domination based on sex/gender. however, this is not to say that patriarchy and male-supremicism experienced by a woman on a family coffee farm in kenya, is the same as that experienced by a mohawk woman in canada, is the same as that experienced by a middle-class, professional woman in india. in her essay 'women and revolution', marxist-feminist heidi hartmann defines patriarchy in a manner which i find useful: 'a set of social relations between men, which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.'
she continues:
'though patriarchy is hierarchical and men of different classes, races, or ethnic groups have different places in the patriarchy, they also are united in their shared relationship of dominance over women; they are dependent on one another to maintain that domination.'
it should go without saying that this is not a 'conspiracy theory'. we are dealing with something much more dangerous and difficult to combat.
what feminists are continually building and modifying, is a theory and practice of male domination and female resistance which addresses the experience and needs of all women, now. in response to this project, a particularly successful foray has been the characterisation of feminist (anti-racist and anti-heterosexist) discourses as the 'politics/theory of victimisation'. allegedly, women attempting to theorise and battle gender-discrimination are 'disempowering' themselves, refusing to take responsibility for their lives and 'depoliticising' their movement. the promulgation of this theory and its general acceptance is a triumph for the neo-fascist right-wing and the patriarchal, forces of globalisation known as neo-liberals or neo-conservatives (depending on who is describing them and who is in power).
acceptance of this view is used to divide feminists and silence revolutionaries and radicals within the movement. of course it would be fair to say that the majority of feminists are reformists; i believe (correct me if i'm wrong) that the majority of those in the labour movement are also reformist. this does not mean that either movement lacks revolutionary potential. i'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that capitalist-patriarchy is a remarkable co-opter of discourses of freedom.
IMO and my experience as a former propounder of this 'save yourself - stop whining' viewpoint: it is as necessary for a woman seeking freedom from sexist domination to understand how the patriarchal system works, how it intersects with capitalism, racism and religion, how female reproductivity is alienated labour (no pun intended) and how she has been socialised to comply as it is for 'workers' to understand oppression and alienation under capitalism.
only anarchism, not democratic-reformism or authoritarian marxism, can be utilised to end political, military and economic domination. however, if anarchist-theorists and activists cannot come to terms with the analyses of power offered by feminism, anti-racism and other so-called identity politics there is no hope of attracting revolutionaries from within these movements to anarchism.
more seriously than this, we cannot begin to know how to struggle against and overthrow 21st c. globalised capitalism without an understanding of its racist and sexist (and not coincidentally, homophobic) elements.
it will not be enough to end economic exploitation if systems of violent repression are left intact. white supremicism in europe and n.america cannot be dismantled by ignoring it or pretending that the only people served by it are the upper classes.
in defence of feminism i would add that it has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of exploitation, oppression, domination, the arts of resistance and the understanding of complicity with the oppressor. it is important to learn from an analysis of power which focuses on violence as a means of control on an interpersonal as well as a political level. feminists also examine the way in which economics, violence, religion and other ideologies interact to reinforce one another.
given the recent discussions on list [....] i would also offer the following reason for close attention to the evolving discourse (at least as it's developing in canada - w/ which i am most familiar) - to study how the hegemonic dominance of white, middle-class feminists is being successfully challenged by class-conscious/marxist/socialist, anti-racist, lesbian and differently abled women from north and south.
- myrn

ps for those interested but unfamiliar with these issues i recommend the following:

  1. U.N. reports on the two most recent of their conferences on women's issues which took place in Nairobi and Bejiing ( not coincidentally these documents ought to back up my previous assertions that generally and globally men hog resources, do less work, and receive sexual/reproductive labour services from women)
  2. the Canadian Woman Studies journal, Spring 1997, entitled 'bridging north and south: patterns of transformation' (issues: global networks, global relations and north/south activist links considered from diverse feminist perspectives) website: http://www.yorku.ca/org/cwscf/home.html
  3. 'challenging times: t' women's movement in canada/US' a largely leftist anthology which includes meg luxton's exploration of female complicity in the sexual division of labour, and mary o'brien's 'feminism and revolution' which explores marxist issues in reproduction
  4. anything by bell hooks, esp. recommended is 'killing rage'
  5. for the stout of stomach: andrea dworkin's 'intercourse' or 'life and death'
  6. for the less resilient: adrienne rich's 'compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence' which, apparently, sparked the sex wars between lesbians and cultural-feminists
  7. 'returning the gaze: essays on racism, feminism and politics, h.bannerji (ed)
  8. 'thunder in my soul' which i have read only excerpts from - impressive essays by first nations women which challenge many feminist assumptions
  9. 'thinking class: sketches from a cultural worker', joanna kadi ( i am recommending this on the strength of the one essay which i've read because she writes with such integrity and handles the multiple intersections of race, gender, class, ablity so deftly she also tackles the appalling feminist failure to cope with women's abuse of children)
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