The follow are notes taken from an open meeting held by RAG in early 2008.
The introductory round of the discussion invited the women present to state their general ideas about anarchism and feminism. All the RAG women present identified as anarchafeminist, although each had come to anarchafeminism from different perspectives. One member said that while feminism was a given for her, she realised that we can’t have meaningful liberation with capitalism intact; thus her belief in anarchism.
Another held that it was easier for her to identify herself to others as a feminist than as an anarchist – or at least to defend her position. She felt that people who have not considered the concepts before tend to be more willing to accept the premise that women and men should have equality than to question the core of the economic and political systems in place.
Others noted that they were unable or unwilling to identify as feminist for many years due in part to the negative connotations associated with “the F word!” (There was mention that perhaps Anarchism was also seen as a dirty word – the mis-association between anarchy and chaos etc.) There was discussion around the fact that the capitalist system in place is very effective in muddying the meaning of concepts which pose a clear threat to that system.
Coming to Consciousness/ Global Consciousness
We spoke about our experiences of becoming conscious as both feminists and as anarchists, and how surprising it is that we can live happily blind to the oppressive systems around us until this change in consciousness begins to take place. It was noted that it takes a certain level of understanding to find real conviction about feminist and anarchist ideas – as to do so we must expand our view of the world to look at the global systems of oppression in place. We have to identify our own somewhat limited struggles with the very struggle for existence of many of those in the global south for example. There was more talk of migration issues and how traditionally feminine economic roles, such as care, childrearing and even sex-work are being filled by a new generation of migrant women travelling to Ireland to escape poverty in other countries. Thus greater equality for western women does not mean greater equality for all.
The Radical Feminist Threat
While feminism seems to be a more accessible concept than anarchism – or less threatening for many, it is in fact multi-layered and multi-disciplined. Even though, in recent years there has been a growth in feminist academia, it is a ghettoised thing, and little in the way of truly radical feminist ideas have seeped out into the public consciousness. Yet real feminism requires complete social restructuring which can be equated with anarchism.
What is Anarchism?
There were some women present who were unfamiliar with the term anarchism. While no “definition” was offered, it came out during the discussion that the ultimate aim of anarchism is total democracy – that each person would have equal say in every aspect of their own lives. This requires the destruction of state, hierarchy and class society, and the construction of bottom-up systems to replace it. There was some discussion around the idea of Revolution, and the need for strong grassroots action and organisation in preparation for radical change. Ultimately this would lead to an ability to take control of our resources and to defend that right. While the site for this has often been the work-place in traditional anarchist dialogue, it was noted that from a feminist perspective, the family and the body are additional sites of conflict (our literal “means of production” which we determined to seize!)
There was an aside which noted that while as anarchists we attempt to be the change we wish to see, creating non-hierarchical structures and modes of working for example. As one participant noted, however, it is not enough to try to create a utopian present, but we must remain conscious of the broader political and worldwide struggle and attempt to engage with it, not ignore it in order to work on own small circle.
Equality not Sameness
It was pointed out that one of the misconceptions of the feminist movement so far has been that for women to be equal to men, we had to be the same. Thus we have joined the rush into the workplace to have, as one participant put it, “equal access to exploitation.” We also have the added bonus of the double day at work – both outside and inside the home. The value system of capitalism is profit-driven. Only that which produces profit is seen as productive, and women’s work in producing and caring for children, in keeping the home and in caring for the sick and the old, is not valued under capitalism.
The question was placed whether capitalism would ever be able to fully adapt to feminism. It was observed that although feminism has made progressive changes for some women in the west, it cannot succeed in creating global equality under capitalism: a complete overhaul is in order. While patriarchy (the system of male dominance over women) has existed thousands of years longer than capitalism has, capitalism has made effective use of it and in some ways it may be reliant on it – for example on the nuclear family. It was suggested that capitalism would never arrive at complete equality. For it, the perception of equality is as good as actual equality. It would only concede enough to give a convincingly muddied image of equality. As the nature of capitalism is exploitation, it would be naïve to chase an equality ideal within it.
There was some debate around the value of “reformist” feminism. No-one doubted that very real changes had been made in women’s lives due to feminist efforts. These range from the right to vote to the right to work outside of the home, equal pay legislation, anti-domestic violence legislation, etc. Unlike anarchism, feminism can and has been accepted into capitalist reform. Yet it is the socialists and anarchists who have always been behind meaningful reform – through the trade union movements, anti-racism work, community work, and women’s liberation movements. It was questioned how much has been lost to the ultimate aims of those working to create these reforms. Their achievements have been co-opted into seeming like the achievements of “democracy” when in fact they are the small rights pulled back by those who have fought against the oppressive systems in place.
It was mainly agreed that while we would always fight for meaningful reform (for abortion rights and free childcare for example), we also want to remain completely clear about why we are fighting – due to a belief not just in women’s equality – but in absolute equality. For us, the ultimate endpoint of feminism is anarchism. Yet this endpoint would never be an endpoint in itself. Someone mentioned the need for a constant state of revolt – that the reality of anarchafeminism in action would be a continual striving to do better. There can be no hand-book on how life would be after the revolution!
Patriarchy and Men
Threatened systems of oppression have always been adept at misrepresenting that threat, or causing arguments to be framed in a certain way. Thus the fight for women’s equality has been framed as a “battle of the sexes”. Certainly, male privilege is a reality, and one which feminists have focused on in the past. Yet abolishing male privilege is not the end-goal of feminism (and certainly not of anarchafeminism!) Feminism has led to a growing consciousness of male oppression under patriarchy. For example: strict adherence to masculine gender roles, duty to “provide” in the realm of work and lack of equal rights to active parenthood. Male-oppression has been misconstrued as either a product of the feminist movement, or an oversight of it. Yet it is through feminist dialogue that a space has opened up for discussing these aspects of men’s lives and experiences. At the moment, it is only anti-feminist “backlash” groups which are addressing these specifically male issues. It is only through pro-feminist solidarity between men and women that meaningful inroads into these issues can be made. This would be truly revolutionary anarchafeminism! Yet there seems to be an unwillingness, or unreadiness as yet for anarchist men to take this on.
There was a question about the link between feminism and queer theory - or what anarchafeminism could offer queer people (queerness might be roughly defined as gender or sexuality non-conformism.) We talked about anarchism as the freedom to be yourself within only the confines of not harming others. The destruction of the systems of capitalism, state and patriarchy would lead to an explosion in different ways of being – sexualities, gender identities, family structures etc. Presently, although there has been some acceptance by wealthy capitalist countries of difference, ultimately difference is acceptable only as a lifestyle choice, not as a revolutionary force, which (with anarchafeminist analysis?) it should ultimately be.
The meeting finished with a closing circle where all acknowledged the value of the discussion, some professed to have found nothing new, and some everything! Yet most were somewhere in-between. Certainly it provided food for thought and opened the way for further debate.