Write up of anarcha-feminism reading group

This month we discussed a number of different anarcha-feminist texts ranging from the early 20th century to modern day perspectives from the Kurdish feminist movement. As the group was so large, we split off into two smaller groups which each held their own discussions. Here are some reflections from each group.

Group 1

We started the discussion with questions about what different types of ‘feminisms’ there are and how anarchism ideally already includes a class conscious feminism; in contrast to liberal feminism limited to questions of the economic equality of privileged men and women, and radical feminism, focussing on patriarchy and gender norms. It seemed important to stress the intersectional approach of anarcha feminism (e.g. including questions of class and race) since this allows the inclusion of e.g. working class women into the traditionally middle class efforts of emancipation. We spoke about attempts to align all feminisms, to take out the best aspects of all struggles and the possibility of a shared movement – however, capitalism got in the way of that! The main issue here was that women struggling to simply become like male oppressors (as mentioned in one of the texts, where the liberated housewife is allowed to go to work now and subsequently hires a low paid migrant cleaner) are not feminists by our definition. The (neo)liberal and capitalist celebration of women, which focusses on the consumption of products that then define your identity is as questionable to anarchists as is the ‘all women are feminists’ approach that leads to the likes of Hilary Clinton calling on female solidarity, while implementing policies against women’s interests.

The suggestion that feminism can be like a lens through which we as anarchists look at issues of gender equality and the observation that men also suffer from patriarchal structures lead us to discuss anarchist practice with a feminist focus. In general it seems to be the case that looking at both anarchism and feminism through each other’s viewpoint is most beneficial when it comes to any philosophy and subsequent action. Feminism with anarchism and an intersectional approach, as discussed in the texts by Audre Lorde and bell hooks, is necessary, otherwise it becomes too focussed on replicating male structures of domination with women – in an ideal world, women don’t become like men, but everyone changes. We found that Dilar Dirik’s discussion of socialist patriarchy especially captured problems of relations between the sexes in a politically sound environment – e.g. the antifascist who beats up his wife.

Looking at feminist developments in tbe UK we spoke about propaganda and stereotypes of women ‘in charge’ of relationships/a family, that are merely caricatures laughing about the limited power of women by assigning being in charge of the household to them.

This lead to a more general question of stereotyping women and feminists, e.g. in the 60s and 70s where the ‘bra burning’ feminist trope/propaganda spread a message of feminist antifemininity – at a time where women demanding equality at the workplace/access to university was the real problem, demands too antifeminine for some.

The idea of antifemininity seems still present today, also within feminism, which led us back to a critique of capitalism and the question on how feminine qualities are defined, also in relation to men and their experience of not conforming to masculine clichés.

With many more questions discussed, e.g. in relation to religion, faith, rightwing feminism, institutions in general and Emma Goldman’s ‘external and internal tyrants’ anarcha feminism seems to be a topic situated right in the middle if anarchist thought, impossible to disconnect from questions of capitalism, class, race and hierarchical structures and a highly important discussion to hold.

 

Group 2

What are the differences between liberal, radical and anarcha-feminism? Liberal feminism wants the benefits of capitalist exploitation to be open to women. As capitalism is based on colonialism and hyper-exploitation of labour in LEDCs, this is always inherently colonial- a woman in the UK can’t become a capitalist without exploiting other women both in the UK and in LEDCs. You can’t be a feminist and a capitalist. Radical feminism seems inward looking- viewing men as the enemy. The Dirik piece explicitly warns against a retreat into women’s only spaces- ultimately we want to change all of society not just focus on ourselves. We need to learn more about different feminisms- Kuridish movement, Zapatista etc.

Critiquing the feminist movement can be difficult as a man- although I can clearly see the problems with liberal feminism it’s not my place to tell feminists they’re doing it wrong! Although it is possible for men to understand the structural/economic aspects of feminism, they are never going to understand the fear of walking down a street at night or the internalisation of patriarchy. Men are conditioned to expect their voices to be heard whereas women are trained to be passive rather than active in social movements. Capitalism characterises things which are valuable as masculine and things which aren’t as feminine and this is still reproduced in left spaces. This links to primitive accumulation and the exclusion of women from paid labour to perform unpaid reproductive/domestic labour.

How do we make the anarchist movement more feminist? Valuing ‘feminine’ skills within the movement, not fetishizing violence, deprogramming of internalised ideas, events like this where we discuss what anarchist feminism is to us.

How do we make the broader feminist movement more anarchist? Make feminism a threat again! Critique problematic feminism e.g. state feminism in Saudi where ‘good’ women can join the army to oppress people next to their male comrades. ID politics has its uses as a transitionary tool to educate people who are not aware of others’ oppression but it is not sustainable. The question is how do we increase knowledge/awareness in the movement whilst recognising difference?

 

Our monthly reading group continues on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. The next topic witll be ecology.

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