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Why Anarchafeminism?

category dublin | anti-capitalism | feature author Friday April 11, 2008 18:23author by bot and emmo - RAG Report this post to the editors

Report on a discussion hosted by RAG

featured image
Cover of 'The RAG' #2

Why Anarchafeminism?
A women-only discussion hosted by RAG

RAG, the Revolutionary Anarchafeminist Group is now in its third year. The collective was set up in order to explore our ideas and produce a magazine, the Rag. Meetings are held weekly on Mondays, but the first Monday of every month is an open meeting, in which non-members are invited to a workshop or discussion.

On Monday 7th April, the open meeting was entitled “Why Anarchafeminism?” The purpose of the meeting was to encourage women outside of RAG to question and explore their ideas about feminism and anarchism and to draw links between the two. Also, it gave members of the group a chance to revisit the fundamental aspects of our beliefs. The following is a personal account by two of us of the discussion. It is limited by the quality of our notes and recollections. It does not present a RAG position on anything, but is simply an attempt to share some of the ideas that were touched upon with those who were unable to attend.

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.

Dirty Words
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 the 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 focussed 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.

Queer Feminism?
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.

The Next Step
RAG will hold their first ever weekend-long gathering on the Mayday bank holiday weekend May 2nd-5th. There will be workshops, discussions and entertainment. Feminists of all genders and ages are welcome to attend.

This Saturday (April 12th) there will be a fundraiser for the gathering in the Lower Deck, Portobello, with music from Truck, Party Weirdo, Zing and Clodagh Kerley. Doors 8pm. €6/ €5 unwaged.

See www.ragdublin.blogspot.com for more details.

author by Cael - Sinn Féin Poblachtachpublication date Sat Apr 12, 2008 21:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I would like to commend the people who organised the above conference. Such ideas are the hope of the human race and our only change of emerging from the dark age in which we now exist. Pie in the sky? Well, for now yes. Ending slavery was once pure pie in the sky. We still have a long way to go in the ending of slavery, specially rent-slavery and mortgage-slavery, but we are working in the right direction, some of that pie is being pulled down to Earth. Bullshit it is not.

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author by xpublication date Sun Apr 13, 2008 02:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I've always wondered how feminists/anarchofeminists feel about women like Claire Tully, do they respect her choices as an (obviously) intelligent woman or deride her for being an apparatus of a sexist society? What about most women who wear tit tops, war paint, high heels, etc and strip every visible hair off their bodies, how do the RAG feel about them? I'm genuinely curious here, is solidarity extended to all women purely because of their gender, or are they to be fought against because they actively hinder gender equality and respect through their actions, even if they are intelligent women...

(cf. Female Chauvinist Pigs by A Levy)

author by Bellepublication date Sun Apr 13, 2008 05:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It's long been an open secret that charm is women's secret weapon. Strident feminists since the 60s have denounced charm, femininity and ladylike behaviour as bourgeois and gender-oppressive 'constructs' and that the've gotta go. What would remain if they went?

author by Cael - Sinn Fein Poblachtachpublication date Sun Apr 13, 2008 14:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

My own opinion is that both men and women should behave as they want - as long as they are not harming someone else. Any kind of cloths will always symbolise something to somebody - often the direct opposite to someone else. To some high heals are a symbol of liberation - to others a sign of oppression - to others just good fun. As for charm, I think it a good thing in woman or man - certainly makes the world a nicer place to be in.

Related Link: http://admin2.7.forumer.com/index.php
author by Libertarianpublication date Sun Apr 13, 2008 19:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"For us, the ultimate endpoint of feminism is anarchism"

This line just completely undermined any argument for a 'Feminist' Anarchism.

Feminism whilst it is tied to Anarchism has no hope of relating to ordinary womens lives.

Anarchism is a dead political movement that has its roots in historical archives not contemporary political movements/ struggles.

If RAG genuinely want to engage in contemporary issues that face women in 2008 then they should drop the Anarcha and concentrate on the 'Democrata'.

author by Libertarianpublication date Sun Apr 13, 2008 19:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"There can be no hand-book on how life would be after the revolution"

I find this line depressing. So, do RAG hold the same naive faith in the concept of 'Revolution' as the WSM and other Anarcho Communists??

If so, and taking into consideration the line ' The end goal of feminism is anarchism (which I totally disagree with for a myriad of reasons: the most important one being DIVERSITY - which has historically defined feminism in the global south. A genuine appreciation of diversity would restrict any feminist movement rallying around a singular political ideology such as Anarchism.) then why do RAG simply not join forces with the WSM.

After reading the article I cannot find any difference between the two organisations and quite disappointed by the narrow perspective of RAG as a libertarian organisation to be honest.

author by Cael - Sinn Féin Poblachtachpublication date Sun Apr 13, 2008 22:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Libertarian, a chara, do you really believe that putting a few numbers on a piece of paper every four years or so amounts to democracy? That's just a system for ensuring that the ruling class stay in control and the people stay powerless. Just look at Tara! Just look at the disasterous economic policies in Ireland over the last ten years which have seen ten years of unprecedented global boom pissed down a property bubble which made Fianna Fáil dig-out and whip-a-round men fabulously wealthy, while native Irish industry stays small, stunted and starved of capital, the youth of the country have been turned into rent-slaves and mortgage-slaves who's only function is as money gatherers for the Landlord class. Meanwhile the few multi-nationals (who really keep the place going) are looking to Eastern Europe.

Is that really what you would like Feminists, or any sane person, to aspire to?

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author by Ragster - RAGpublication date Mon Apr 14, 2008 00:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This article does not reflect the 'RAG perspective', as is clearly stated above Libertarian.
It is a report on a discussion hosted by RAG.
RAG are a publishing collective who hold discussions and produce a magazine. We are not a platformist organisation like the WSM. Those in RAG who have similar perspectives to the WSM are members of WSM, those who don't, aren't.

Hope this clears things up for you.

author by Libertarianpublication date Mon Apr 14, 2008 13:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Firstly: Ragster: it does clear up some of my concerns, thanks, but I still think most of my points as detailed below pertain i.e. the use of 'revolutionary' language, the reliance upon the language of anarchism to put across arguments for democracy etc.

Cael, A chara......

First and foremost I do not for a moment believe that putting a few numbers on a page every four or five years amounts to democracy, and I am quite baffled as to how you could conclude this assumption from my post.

As I am in work I don’t have the time to detail what my vision of a genuinely democratic society would look like, but I would certainly begin with a participatory economy and flat horizontal decision making structures within organisations.

Democracy as an aspiration and a practice ought to expand far beyond our crude & narrow understanding of parliamentary elections. However, I am not opposed to the state as such; in fact I think under present circumstances the state can offer an avenue for reclaiming the language of public ownership.

Take the media as an example, whilst Public Service Broadcasting (RTE & BBC) is far from ideal, it is at least premised upon an ethos that its audience are citizens to be informed & educated within a plural framework, rather than consumers of cheap entertainment. Now, I am not naive enough to think that the 'theory' matches the 'practice' of PSB but it at least attempts to defend a position that prioritises public over private. The same argument can be subsequently applied to healthcare, transport, education etc.

Thus, I believe in radical reform of the state and other public bodies. I think that power relations in society (or in any social group for that matter) are fundamental to social outcomes. Thus, I believe that power relations will always exist in collective plural societies therefore the aim is to minimise all those that lead to domination or subordination of any other group. Therefore I am obviously a Feminist if the Feminism is A) Plural and respects diversity B) Not naive enough to think that we will some day live in a revolutionary utopia C) Engaged with real practical issues (like Healthcare).

Feminism as a poltical movement has always been defined by its diversity. Now, if a feminist concludes that feminism ought to conclude with anarchism then it goes against the grain of what makes feminism so attractive in the first place: Plural, Inclusive, Democratic and Diverse.

Now, my point of concern with the above article was that its terms of reference were so narrow that I could not distinguish RAG from other organised anarchist groups such as the WSM. The two points of disagreement I had involve a) naive belief in revolution and b) feminism as effectively concluding with anarchism.

Now, admittedly I am meticulous about language/ concepts and the use of discourse in fermenting social change. I believe that every generation has to reclaim certain concepts & practices and tailor them to their generation if they want their ideas to succeed. The ideas of Anarchism will never ever become a practical reality for Irish people in 2008 because of the baggage that comes with the discourse around Anarchism. Capitalism is so successful because of its flexibility. Leftism is so unsuccessful because of its tin cap inflexibility.

Thus, I think we should consign terms like Anarchism, Platformism, Revolutionaryism, Communism to the dustbin of history and develop new concepts that reflect the world that we live in. We should reclaim the language of DEMOCRACY.

Thus, to answer your question: what kind of society should feminists aspire to? We should aspire to a plural, radical democracy that is governed by values that transcend both a) narrow economics be it market liberalism or anarcho communism and b) hierarchical decision making not a by gone political ideology such as Anarchism. We should also aspire to build this Democratic Movement with contemporary language, ideas and issues that affect people as they live today in 2008 not in 1917. This movement ought to be broad enough to engage people that have not signed up to a pre packaged anarchist political programme, but allow people to construct that programme for themselves. And, the rational optimist in me concludes that people campaigning for radical social change will choose non hierarchical, participatory libertarian decision making as the vehicle for that change.

Mindy: I wont even dignify your sexist post with a response.

author by Libertarianpublication date Mon Apr 14, 2008 16:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think this could be an interesting discussion and would hate to see it sidelined by pathetic juvenile accusations of sexism (talk about reinforcing stereoptypes). Why the fuck does this always happen on Indymedia discussions, JAYSUS, anyway.......

I am writing on the premis that all participants in the discussion are feminists. Thus, the debate should revolve around a) ones perspective of feminism and b) the way forward for feminism as a socially constituted project.

author by Cael - Sinn Féin Poblachtachpublication date Mon Apr 14, 2008 16:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Libertarian, a chara, just a few comments on the following:

"Thus, I believe in radical reform of the state and other public bodies. I think that power relations in society (or in any social group for that matter) are fundamental to social outcomes. Thus, I believe that power relations will always exist in collective plural societies therefore the aim is to minimise all those that lead to domination or subordination of any other group. Therefore I am obviously a Feminist if the Feminism is A) Plural and respects diversity B) Not naive enough to think that we will some day live in a revolutionary utopia C) Engaged with real practical issues (like Healthcare).

Feminism as a poltical movement has always been defined by its diversity. Now, if a feminist concludes that feminism ought to conclude with anarchism then it goes against the grain of what makes feminism so attractive in the first place: Plural, Inclusive, Democratic and Diverse."

I wonder if the list "plural, inclusive, democratic and diverse" really dosnt add up to being nothing. Being a male myself Im intimately aware of how phallocentric we really are and how much we expect women to fall in with that world view. Im afraid its programmed into to us males and its more than a struggle to break away from it. I think if women dont lead the way on this, then we dont have much hope. Capitalist society is unreformably phallic. For women to enter it, they must accept and embrace the phallic order and see themselves through that paradigm. That's why, for Feminism, I believe, its the "revolutionary utopia" as you call it, or nothing.

As for the question of getting involved in "real practical issues (like Healthcare)", to a great extent this is just to get bogged down in the reform of capitalism, i.e. you accept that capitalism/neo-liberalism is The Economic System, rather than one possible economic system, and you cease to even see the context in which you operate - a context laid down by the enemy to make sure that all your efforts will only strengthen him and weaken you. (For a similar process, see the Good Friday Agreement.)

I dont agree with you when you say capitalism is successful because it is flexible. There is only one basic law of capitalism and that is the law of private property. The state in a capitalist country has really only one function - the protection of propriators against the anger of the dispossessed. Capitalism has never been in any way flexible on this basic function. Measures like social security, health care, etc. are merely measures to weaken the will of the dispossessed to take their land back from the propriators. This is not flexibility, its merely good warcraft.

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author by Ariel Silverapublication date Mon Apr 14, 2008 17:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I also want to point out, Libertarian, that I resent your implication that RAG happens in some sort of a vacuum, and that people who participate in RAG do not campaign on other issues.

It is another common antifeminist tactic to point at the work of a feminist or feminists you disagree with and go "You're doing it wrong! Why do you focus on that when you should be looking at women in africa/afghanistan/etc etc etc". There is the implied assumption that the people taking part in said activity are doing nothing else to further the goals of gender equality and social justice.

This is plain wrong, and it is both condescending and ignorant of you to assume that those involved in RAG are doing nothing direct and practical to challenge systems of oppression. Like in countless other feminist groups, its members are diverse and involved in a great number of campaigns for social justice.

author by Feministpublication date Tue Apr 15, 2008 11:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group are commendable. While on paper they are revolutionary, they are individually and collectively already engaged in struggles for reform of the healthcare system for women. Under the name of RAG they publish independent media about vital reproductive health issues such as childbirth and abortion, and many are individually active around campaigning for change in these issues.

While one may perceive plotting for a revolution as naive, and in the absence of pushing for reform, unproductive and classist (it's predominantly the poor who continue to suffer when we fail to rally for change), RAG are hardly sitting around twiddling their thumbs and wagging their anarchist fingers and the unenlightened masses, which is more than I can say for many non-feminist anarchist (or otherwise) organisations.

author by Structural reformspublication date Tue Apr 15, 2008 11:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Cael.... A Chara

I read your comments with interest but have to disagree with the point you made below:

"....As for the question of getting involved in "real practical issues (like Healthcare)", to a great extent this is just to get bogged down in the reform of capitalism, i.e. you accept that capitalism/neo-liberalism is The Economic System......"

I don’t believe this to be the case. In fact, I think that in order to build a practical alternative to Capitalism you need to offer people an institutional alternative. What is the point in diagnosing a problem and then not providing a prescription? I believe it is essential that Libertarians engage with necessary structural reforms such as Healthcare. Take the recent WSM pamphlet on Healthcare. It was a fantastic analysis of the current crisis that affects thousands of ordinary working people in this country. It is this sort of approach that will make Libertarian politics relevant to the vast majority of working people in this country.

To ignore this issue as a 'petty reform' is nothing short of middle class elitism. Now, I am not saying this is what you think but the accusation of 'reformism' tends to be wrapped up in this middle class anarcho - leftist lifestyle elitism.

Thus, I think it is essential that those who want to construct an alternative to capitalism construct that alternative at an individual and institutional level rather than waiting until a 'post revolutionary utopia'. Society is not going to revert back to a situation whereby there is no administrative structure (i.e. various forms of state public governance) or exchange mechanism (economy) in social affairs.

The battle takes place around the type of 'governance' and 'exchange mechanism' that we want. Every society is going to have a system and every system has its faults. Capitalism is not perfect but give me free market capitalism over centralised state communism any day of the week. Constructing an alternative to these two historical systems is a colossal task but a necessary one. Personally, I think Libertarian Socialist goals will be achieved quicker and remain more sustainable by both a) organising autonomously and b) organising for radical structural reforms. They are not mutually exclusive.

A participatory society and a confederated welfare state is at least a step in the right direction toward a Democratic Self Governing Society.

author by Cael - Sinn Féin Poblachtachpublication date Tue Apr 15, 2008 17:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I understand what your saying, a chara, but the danger with it is that you tend to give the impression that the current status quo in Ireland is capable of providing a decent health service. I believe it is structurally incapable of doing so. I suspect that the ruling elite agree with me - that is why they are so busy handing out free land to private hospitals, so that they and their cronies will have hospitals that are not dirty, dangerous and disease ridden to go to. I agree with you that holding marches and campaigning for a decent health service can be a good thing to do - as long as you keep reminding yourself and your listeners that the campaign's ultimate motive is to get rid of the whole system, as you know that the current system will never provide what we need. It just cant. How can you send 1.2 trillion euro abroad to buy foreign property and still have enough money left for a health service?

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