“The import is not the kind of work woman does, but rather the quality of the work she furnishes… Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life-giving; a creator of free men and women. ”
from ‘Woman Suffrage’- 1910
Emma Goldman, ‘Anarchism and Other Essays’
Does the world need feminism? Are those that cry out against current feminist manifestations simply denying a reality that remains unfavourable to half the world’s population or are they right? Is my perception distorted?
In order to answer these questions and understand the issue better, I have read several books on women, some feminists and some not.
An interesting book to read on the subject of women and anarchism is Martha Acklebergs’s “Free Women of Spain” about the Spanish female anarchist group Mujeres Libres (Free Women). It is important to realise that these women, although they argued for (and took) organisational autonomy with regard to the mainstream libertarian movement (the CNT anarcho-syndicalist union; FAI anarchists and FIJL libertarian youth) on an individual basis they came from and were mostly militants within those organisations as well. They therefore were social revolutionaries, but revolutionaries who saw that existing revolutionary organisations, for all their rhetoric, were failing to properly represent women’s aspirations and were even, in some cases reproducing attitudes towards women (even fellow militants) that were at best patronising and at worst abusive. However, because of their class basis of their political orientation, they were not interested in what they described as middle class “feminism” which they saw as merely advocating women’s right to take their place in the hierarchies of an unequal society, which, in itself, would do nothing to liberate the majority of women (or men).
While anarchism should be, almost by definition, not male chauvinistic, this used to be true only in the public sphere. In the domestic realm, anarchist men still expected women to be subservient. These private so-called female jobs were not believed to be as important as the public tasks undertaken by the men. Precisely because of this, women were also thought of as less active because who could dedicate themselves to greater causes while caring for an elderly relative or a baby? Who could expand their knowledge, create art, be an activist in between laundry and cooking? Women were equals in the workplace but they were also expected to perform the tasks that they had traditionally done if, for example, there was a meal to be made or cleaning to be done at a meeting.
There is an anecdote regarding the famous commander of the Iron Column during the Spanish Civil War, Durruti, which illustrates this point. Durruti was at home and a comrade came to see him. He found the commander bathing his small daughter and making dinner for himself and his family, as his wife was out. The other man, shocked, asked him why he was doing that, that it was not his place. He then proceeded to explain that it was, indeed, his place if his wife was working to care for his home and not spend his time in bars and furthermore, if he hadn’t understood this basic fact that he had not, in fact, grasped anything about anarchism.
I also found the book ” The Female Woman” by Arianna Stassinopoulos (Huffington), first published in 1973, particularly interesting, although she often suggest that men have it worse than women in general in western countries, which is factually dubious. In it the author places the emphasis on that women´s liberation not only does little to help women, but seeks to eliminate ‘the very nature of women and, in the guise of liberation, seeks to enslave her.’ She makes a good point when she says that some feminists insist on separating the different aspects of women, making the reproductive and biological part seem a burden while placing more value on the intellectual aspirations.
In this appreciation I agree with her. It would seem that to be a modern, liberated woman, you must rebel against your nature and only-or mostly- aspire to develop your intellectual and economic capacities while rejecting your biological capacity to bear children, as if these two aspects weren’t compatible.
Basically, the problem with liberal feminism is that it encourages women to separate our different aspects and forces us to choose one or the other, the ‘right’ one is our professional capacity and the ‘less right’ one is our more nurturing, maternal and personal side. These two aspects are intrinsically ours and there is no need to segregate and choose. This approach cannot achieve justice even for women, let alone for anyone else.
“The trouble is, this feminism is focused on encouraging educated middle-class women to “lean in” and “crack the glass ceiling” – in other words, to climb the corporate ladder. Therefore, its beneficiaries can only be women of the professional-managerial class. And absent structural changes in capitalist society, those women can only benefit by leaning on others — by offloading their own care work and housework onto low-waged, precarious workers, typically racialized and/or immigrant women. So this is not, and cannot be, a feminism for all women! But that is not all. Mainstream feminism has adopted a thin, market-centered view of equality, which dovetails neatly with the prevailing neoliberal corporate view. So it tends to fall into line with an especially predatory, winner-take-all form of capitalism that is fattening investors by cannibalizing the living standards of everyone else. Worse still, this feminism is supplying an alibi for these predations. Increasingly, it is liberal feminist thinking that supplies the charisma, the aura of emancipation, on which neoliberalism draws to legitimate its vast upward redistribution of wealth.
Nancy Fraser, “A Feminism Where ‘Lean In’ Means Leaning On Others”
“…the achievement of full freedom for women (all women, not a privileged few) presupposes such profound economic, social and political changes that, were such a historical development to take place, the present status quo could not and would not survive.”
Capitalism does not favour the existence of close knit communities. On the contrary, it seeks to isolate us and make us dependent on the state that, as Nancy Fraser says, lacks the structures to substitute these support systems. In this way, it is a direct attack on families in general and on women in particular, hindering their everyday lives and forcing them to effectively choose which capacity they wish to develop, the professional or the personal, and in choosing the former makes them complicit with inequalities towards other, less empowered women.
For centuries, women have been limited to domesticity, with little attention being paid to their aspirations and qualities outside of that sphere. Often women bore the brunt of raising their children, looking after the elderly or ill and organising all the household tasks, which in a predominantly rural economy included feeding cattle, tending to a vegetable garden, and ensuring the well being of every member of the family.
All the women I know who have families assume organisational duties, modified according to the particular circumstances of their household or business based on anarchist principles, albeit unknowingly.
Women organise their houses and jobs so as not to leave anyone or anything behind. Special attention is given to the least capable. Nevertheless, everyone is expected to contribute according to their capacity and everyone has a place and a specific weight to pull in the unit.
An anarchist-minded woman in charge of a group of people will try her best to get everyone to collaborate and to make sure no one is left out; to encourage and protect without coddling or manipulating. An anarchist minded woman is not afraid of assuming responsibilities or being unpopular at times. We are aware of the potentiality of our people and we expect them to do their best.
An anarchist-minded woman is a doer, always looking for ways to improve the communication and efficiency in her group of influence. An anarchist woman knows that in order for us to have our needs met, there must be a high level of co-operation, because no one can survive alone in this world. Anarchism works as a dual relationship of satisfying the individual needs, but all the while keeping these needs in check with the greater interest of the group. In this sense, both the individual and the family can evolve to a greater level of development. Peggy Kornegger, an anarcha-feminist theoretician, saw that feminism did relate to anarchism through the “emphasis on the small group as a basic organisational unit, on the personal and political, on anti-authoritarianism and on spontaneous direct action which was essentially anarchism”.
As an anarchist, what I wish for families and women is this: a tribe, a community that offers mutual support and aid because that is precisely what is most sorely missing. A community that everyone participates and is invested in. Only in this way can we achieve true justice and equity, where freedom may be understood, as Errico Malatesta proposed, ¨not as an abstract concept but as the possibility of action¨.