“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¨.
Spoken/written as a true Catalyst! You mind if I share it on my timeline?
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I agree broadly with your point of view here. I think one must ask the question though, why did feminism develop as it did if other paths were possible? A female friend of mine said to me one time, “While I am glad I have more freedoms than many women do in other parts of the world, if I were to build a society from scratches where the sexes were equal, this isn’t what it would look like.” I think because of the patriarchal tilt that society has, the best way women felt they could equal the playing field is by beating men at their own game. The problem is that it set a hyper-masculine world as the standard in which women had to rise up to meet, but that isn’t necessarily the world it should be. I’m quite certain of that. Part of gender equality was not just women becoming more like men, but it also should have been men becoming more like women. For instance women have traditionally been allowed to be emotional in a hyper-masculine society and men are supposed to repress their emotions. What was considered feminine was under-valued, and we valued emotional suppression in men. It makes no sense. And it rather seems that feminism, in trying to meet the standards of a male oriented world, have lost something that men should have been valuing. Because being emotionally expressive is a human quality and has nothing to do with gender.
That being said, I do feel like things are changing. As society becomes more comfortable women being it what was once considered a man’s world, men are entering areas that used to be only considered the province of women. Like being a stay at home husband. So while I share your concern, part of me wonders whether the feminist movement could have happened any other way. Those in power rarely just give it up willingly…you have to overthrow it…by usually beating them at their own game, and then you build again. I hope we can cross that hurdle. There seems to be some indication that we are.
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I can’t say whether feminism could have happened any other way. I think it tried to be rational and it got such a fierce opposition that it just went on down the same road, reacting instead of reasoning, which is understandable. We see this nowadays with the #MeToo movement and the #YesAllWomen movement. All the women I know have a tale to tell about harassment and assault and catcalling, groping… My point with this post is to call out certain types of feminists who practically force you to take sides, either be with them or against them. And furthermore-and worse- they tell you that you must choose whether to be a ‘free’ woman and have a career or to be a ‘traditional’ woman and have a family. Nowadays it’s still the case that women have to decide what to prioritise, whereas men have never had to choose. What concerns me about some of these feminists is that they make other women feel guilty about not choosing the ‘right’ side. Ultimately the battle to be fought here is not against men, and if you push me a bit, not even against patriarchy but against our own feelings of inadequacy that have been instilled in us by the patriarchy. In this sense, it’s like when you’re an adult you can’t blame your parents for your decisions anymore. It’s hard but we must realise that it’s up to us, each and every woman and man, to question the status quo and decide if that’s what we want and if that’s the best we can do. I absolutely agree that those with power will seldom if ever relinquish it voluntarily but we have to find other weapons, not necessarily the same, with which to combat injustice. The root of this is injustice not inequality. It’s not just that women and female characteristics are seen as secondary and men and male characteristics are seen as primary. They are simply different aptitudes, which we all possess in varying degrees regardless of gender. In fact, and as I recall pointing out, women are in many ways stronger than men because we have learned to be. Right now, girls in schools and universities are generally more hard working and interested in achieving their goals. I don’t think women are smarter but we do know that we must make up for the injustice that we will face by working harder. This should be acknowledged by society. Women have always been strong, but we’ve been told that we need to be protected by men. We have to end this absurd idea. We have to learn to value people for what they are and the world needs to accept that being nurturing and empathetic are not weaknesses but qualities which are sorely needed in a world that tilts towards madness at an ever increasing pace.
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I definitely agree that there are feminists of the type you speak of. Identity politics in general has led to a lot of side choosing, which is unfortunate given how many common goals I think people actually.
And I agree that there are just different aptitudes which we all have to varying degrees, I’m simply saying that women and men became categorized, assigned aptitudes and the ones for men became valued, the one for women devalued. There wasn’t really a rhyme or reason to it that I can see.
I also agree that women are stronger than men, because, as you say, they have had to be. But I also think that strength lies in the ability to more freely express one’s self emotionally. A hyper-masculine culture thinks not crying, not showing the world get to you, makes you stronger. This is not the case. Expression and talking about emotions is the best way to start understanding them. Because suppression doesn’t work. Men still feel, but as a result of not expressing them are more likely to act aggressively, commit suicide, take to addiction, etc. We are emotional beings and emotions help us navigate through this world. If we don’t understand our emotions we can’t properly self-adjust, we aren’t going to be as good at building a society that is better for others, and we are less capable of handling the harshness that life can sometimes throw our ways.
Ultimately the battle to be fought here is not against men, and if you push me a bit, not even against patriarchy but against our own feelings of inadequacy that have been instilled in us by the patriarchy. In this sense, it’s like when you’re an adult you can’t blame your parents for your decisions anymore. It’s hard but we must realise that it’s up to us, each and every woman and man, to question the status quo and decide if that’s what we want and if that’s the best we can do.
I agree with your sentiment here. In the movie Biko (played by Denzel Washington), Stephen Biko talks about the psychological impacts of being raised in apartheid and feeling you are simply less. When people become complicit in their own oppression it is a sign of more concern and not less, because such people are patterned into believing that they are less, because of the norms of society. Biko saw himself as someone who helped raise people’s consciousness. I think feminism has done that overall, and while I think there are some people who have gone off-track, women aren’t a monolith and feminism isn’t a monolith either. I know many feminists with similar attitudes as yourself. And I do think we have to be sensitive to the women who are still raised in very patriarchal surroundings and not simply believe that they raise themselves out of their own mindset. So I will slightly disagree that we have the free will to simply break that pattern of thinking that has been sown into us from early childhood. Neurological studies demonstrates how strong beliefs can be and how hard it can be to break free of those once they have been set while our brains are developing. So sometimes…yes…our parents are still to blame.
But what I liked best about your post is the way you talked about biology. This is a consistent critique of modern feminism that biology doesn’t matter. And it absolutely does. The loudest voices about these usually tend to be men and thus therefore are immediately ignored. And, yes, even women who express such views are criticized. Women often say men shouldn’t be having discussions about the biology of women…which I don’t agree with, but I support this discussion to happen among women because I think it’s important to not deny that.
I share a lot of your concerns, but I guess I don’t feel like things are so off the rails that we aren’t heading in a positive direction. I see more women getting involved in politics, being intellectual powerhouses, and having fantastic careers previously not available to them. And I see more men “leaning in” too in staying home being to be with children, doing more chores, and making decisions that don’t always put their career first. I certainly though would like to see us move into a realm of discussion where we do talk about what are good values for humans and not just what’s good for a particular gender.
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When I say it’s up to us to change our point of view and rise above what we’ve been taught, I should have stressed the point that I am referring to Western women, whether heterosexual or otherwise. I am well aware that unfortunately that is not a commodity that many women in the world can have access to as their lives are still severely conditioned by rules and regulations that they do not choose and are hard pressed to modify.
I don’t know if we’re heading in a positive direction. Sometimes I think we are and yet there’s things that make me feel like we’re just going round in circles.
I am the first to have the gut feeling that women should speak about women’s biology but I don’t disapprove of men joining in the debate as long as they don’t try to monopolise it. We’re all needed here.
Right now in my house, I am the Boss and my boyfriend is a stay at home caregiver for my mom. He wouldn’t describe himself as a feminist but he lives like one! Thank you for your wonderful comments! It’s always good to get feedback.
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Ohhhh the world is quite a mess and without true education everything will be the same. I do not take sides between the two (or three? or four?) genders. Every ideal has its own pros and cons. Nothing is perfect. There are women patronizing feminism who are demanding equality BUT at the same time expecting PRIVILEGES as women (as simple as being given seats in buses, trains or any place actually). You cannot have the apple and eat it too. If we demand for equality, we need to be ready to stand on our own two feet. And let us acknowledge the fact, that any circumstance (except pregnancy) happens to both sexes. Women get abused; and so are men. Being a woman has it advantage and disadvantage. Same case with being a man. Again, without re-education, any change and evolution would take place in limited scale and will benefit only the educated ones who understand the concept of such need to change and evolve.
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I agree. I always stress that I do not want equality but justice. I have never had it easier for being a woman and I’ve never expected any privileges. The only work I’ve ever been spared from doing was the work that required more physical strength than I had. Other than that, I’ve helped birth calfs on a frosted field, done all sorts of manual jobs including mucking out barns and administering injections to sick animals.