Exploring anarcha-feminism

I recently came across this video by anarcha-feminist group No Pretence on YouTube;

As the information panel on the video’s page states, it comes from “an intervention” at the Anarchist Movement Conference 09 “by a masked group of women who were pissed off by the patriarchy which is (still) evident within the anarchist movement.”

Watching it gave me considerable cause for reflection. Over the past year, across both my blogs, I have thus far written 255 articles on anarchism, politics, and various related issues. I have covered racism, heterosexism, imperialism, antifascism, and class struggle in various degrees. However, as of yet, I have not written a single article on women’s rights, feminism, or gender politics. I have touched upon the oppression of women in relation to Islam and the theocracies of the Middle East, and spoken out for reproductive rights, but I have offered nothing from a broader anarcha-feminist perspective.

I do not know why this is. I started, once before, writing an article on precisely that subject. However, I soon gave up with the realisation that I didn’t even know where to begin.

It’s not the fact that I’m male that put me off. Being heterosexual didn’t deter me from exploring queer rights. Being white was no obstacle to writing about the fight against racism or about anarchism in non-European cultures. Being a member of the ethnic majority in my native land did not stop me from covering the struggles of migrants or of indigenous minorities.

As such, I think the film and statement from No Pretence offer an invaluable starting point;

We have taken this space and projected this short film to show how we see sexism in ‘the movement’ and sexism in capitalist society. We have covered our faces in the same way we might do against the state and its agents – inspired by the tradition of our militant sisters who took back male-dominated stages, and political spaces.

We expect hostility, intimidation and greater surveillance after our action. Covering up makes it easier to communicate. And we know that our message is much bigger than the messenger herself.

The following text is our response to the four themes of the conference.

MOVEMENT or why we aren’t one

No matter how much we aspire to be ‘self-critical’ there is a clear lack of theorising and concrete action around sexism, homophobia and racism in the anarchist movement. We do not feel that the content and structure of the conference deal with gender and we’re tired of asking for space – we’re taking it ourselves.

You want to talk about history? Let’s stop pretending that feminism is a short blip in the history of political struggles. The feminism you know may be the one that has been dominated by white middle-class liberal politics – NOT the struggles and pockets of revolutionary resistance missing from our political pamphlets and ‘independent’ media. The feminism of Comandanta Yolanda, of bell hooks, of Anzaldua, of Mbuya Nehanda, of Angela Davis, of Rote Zora, of Mujeres Libres…

CLASS or is anybody out there?

We are all oppressed by the class system, but there is nobody ‘out there’ who isn’t also oppressed by white supremacy, imperialism, heterosexism, patriarchy, ableism, ageism…Pretending these systems don’t exist or can be subsumed into capitalist oppression, doesn’t deal with the problem, it just silences those people most oppressed by them, and allows for the continuing domination of these systems over our lives.

We are tired of being told that anarchists don’t need to be feminists, because ‘anarchism has feminism covered’. This is just a convenient way of forgetting the reality of gender oppression, and so ignoring the specifics of the struggle against it.

RESISTANCE or are we futile?

If the anarchist movement doesn’t recognize the power structures it reproduces, its resistance will be futile. For as well as fighting sexism ‘out there’ we must fight sexism ‘in here’ and stop pretending that oppressive systems disappear at the door of the squat or the social centre. Only a movement that understands and fights its own contradictions can provide fertile ground for real and effective resistance.

Ask yourselves this – do you believe sexism exists within the movement? When a woman comrade says she’s experienced sexual abuse or assault from a male comrade – what do you think? That it’s an individual or an isolated case? Or that it can happen – and disproportionately to women – because there is a system which allows it to develop and gives it life? Can we honestly say that our own autonomous spaces do not play a part in upholding this system?

Ask yourselves this – Why do fewer women speak in meetings? Because they think less? What is the gender of the factory worker? Why do more women do the washing up and run creches at meetings/events? What is the gender of the carer at home?

Now tell us if you believe sexism exists: tell us why men rape; why more women are battered than men; why more women are used by the state to do free and unwaged work. Tell us – are you a feminist?

We believe that in the anarchist movement, the strongest evidence of sexism lies in the choice we’re told to make between ‘unity’ and what-they-call ‘separatism’, between fighting the state and fighting sexism. Fuck that! We refuse to be seen as stereotypes of ‘feminists’ you can consume – like fucking merchandise in the capitalist workplace.

IDEAS INTO REALITY and what’s in between?

There will be no future for the anarchist movement if it doesn’t also identify as an anarcha-feminist movement. Anarcha-feminist organisational structures must exist within the movement to make anarcha-feminism an integral part of it. And you don’t need to identify as a woman to be an anarcha-feminist – every anarchist should be able to participate in the struggle against sexism.

The state’s incursion into our private lives and the relationship between sexuality and productivity from which it profits affects people of all genders. The gender binary system violently allocates us roles on the basis of our anatomy. A refusal to accept even these basic precepts will be a great hindrance to the movement.

You ask, ‘Can we find common cause despite our differences?’. We will only find common cause if we recognize that our differences are structured by numerous oppressive systems, and together fight to end each of these systems, wherever we find them.

Our feminisms must be plural, they must be anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic. Our inspiration must come from the actions of feminists who have helped self-identified women reach revolutionary consciousness.

Our feminisms must be revolutionary.

Final word

You can pretend we didn’t come here, pretend nothing was said.

You can purposefully misunderstand us.

Or you can ask yourselves why we came, what we meant, and whether we’ll come back again.

I hope, personally, that they come back again. There is much more to be said on this subject, not only on the issue of gender in itself, but also on how it is interlaced with ideas of race, class, and nationality. One can offer various perspectives from this starting point. Chepina Hukku writes in Shift Magazine that “anarcha-feminist intervention was held back by a pseudo-radical proposition: that anarchism is opposition to hierarchy in its amalgamated multiplicity; i.e. anti-capitalism + anti-racism + anti-sexism + anti-homophobia + etc = anarchism.” For him, “the intervention seemed to say that ‘you can’t be an anarchist without being a feminist’” whilst “‘you can’t be a feminist without being an anarchist’ would be a radical slogan based on the recognition of capitalist patriarchy.”

I confess that I do not know yet where I stand as far as the discourse of anarcha-feminism goes. But, as No Pretence demonstrate, it is a discussion that must be had. Over the course of several articles, it is my intention to do exactly that.

3 Responses to “Exploring anarcha-feminism”
  1. Anok says:

    I must be a piss-poor feminist because I really do not see the issue here. if Anarchism means “no hierarchy” then ALL systems of hierarchy are abolished. And if a fellow comrade rapes you, he is a jackass just like every other jackass out there. Just like the “Anarchist” who would steal from you or quickly run to a corporate sponsor and turn capitalist if it suited him.

    If we are ignorant of the deeply ingrained prejudices in all of us, then we are no better off then those who are not Anarchist. If we neglect to address the very deeply held social teachings in that someone in “the movement” may not understand it, handle it, or is an outright “poser” then we are idiots.

    If my fellow women are not speaking out at meetings, show me first the man that told her not to. If he is in the group, confront him. If there is no such man, then whose fault is it?

    *This is not to say that I have not and have never experiences sexism before in movement spheres. There are issues to be addressed, but in reality these are not Anarchist problems, these are societal problems in the form of deep and early indoctrination.

  2. Phil Dickens says:

    I think, for me, the issue needs raising because it is the only element of equality that I’ve not really touched upon. It’s harder to explore because, even more so than any other issue, that’s the one the mainstream would like us to believe is solved. e.g. Men and women are paid the same, there’s no glass ceiling, only rappers and Muslims are sexist nowadays, and all feminists are man-hating harridans, that sort of thing. Of course, it’s not, but that continued perception – including, as you say, societal indoctrination, makes it hard to explore sexism and patriarchy in the “free, equal” West.

    Within the anarchist movement, I don’t know. Has the preconditioning of society that affected us that confronting individuals is fruitless and mass-intervention is needed? Has anarchy succumbed to the same “sex sells / ooh titties” attitude as the state and capitalism? To be honest, I doubt it. But there are grey areas, particularly in how people perceive sex and sexual liberation. I read your piece on porn last night and I think that’s a prime example of a bone of contention amongst feminists, and not just anarcha-feminists. Prostitution’s another. I suppose it does come down to interpretation and it is something that needs thrashing out.

    For me, though, the main issue is that I simply don’t know. My mum wasn’t a feminist, and neither are most of my female friends. They’re not submissive by any stretch, but nonetheless feminism remains an area I’ve yet to be fully immersed in. Hopefully, in writing about it and talking to others who have more experience of that side of activism, that will change.

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