Anarchism informed by Feminism
In writing this book so far it had occurred to me that women do not feature in it to any great extent. Whether this is my fault or not is hard to say. I perceive of my choices for what to include in it as fairly random in the sense that they are essentially a history of the things which have attracted my attention. We each travel our own paths — intellectual as well as any other kind — and the forces that act upon us to create those paths are not always obvious to us. What remains true, however, is that my previous chapters largely concern ideas and movements greatly formulated and controlled by men regardless of if they apply equally to men and women, or if they promote liberty equally for both men and women, or not. In my translations of The Dhammapada when discussing Buddhism, for example, I glossed over the fact that Buddhist monks and saints were seemingly designated as male and that, in that text, women seemingly only pop up as a source of possible temptation for men. In discussing Nietzsche I have neglected to mention any number of critical or disparaging comments in regard to women throughout his later written work. We could even discuss Jesus and his apparent inner circle of twelve disciples which was exclusively male. In each case, I believe matters are more complicated than this but, nevertheless, I feel a consciousness in relation to this book I am writing which whispers in my ear, “But what about women?”
It is this same consciousness which would have me now point out that by having a chapter labelled “anarchafeminism” it is not my intention to suggest that women should be fenced off with anarchy or anarchism into their own areas. Indeed, one of the [to me, joyously surprising] things about the research I have done for this essay is how vital and refreshing the words and actions of anarchafeminists are — and have been — and how widely applicable they are. As I have read the things I have read in order to compose this essay I have — probably for the first time — become well disposed towards those who use the word “feminist” and use it [in conjunction with “anarcha”] to describe who they are and what they are doing. You see, for me, “feminism” has always been a problem and this is because the loudest and most vocal feminists that I have come across have either been the man-hating, lesbian kind of feminists who give every impression of imagining that the world would be a better place if men simply didn’t exist or the liberal kind of feminist who seems to think that the goals of feminism will have been achieved when there are as many wealthy, important and powerful white women in the world as white men. What anarchafeminism has given me, as I hope to show below, is a more sophisticated and intersectional appreciation of the issues of feminism and the place of women in society — one which shows up both these other “feminisms” for the shallow, reactionary, self-serving nonsense that they are — whilst also showing that feminism and anarchism operate side by side and that it is only in operating together in this way, as one, that the goals of either are actively achieved. Let me try to explain.
We might usefully start with that term “anarchafeminism”: what does it signify? If one peruses The Anarchist Library online for clues [all of my references below can be located using this resource] one finds numerous articles of relevance.
For example, the anonymous “Anarchafeminist manifesto” from 1983 states:
“Anarcha-feminism is a matter of consciousness… Anarcha-feminism means women’s independence and freedom on an equal footing with men. A social organization and a social life where no-one is superior or inferior to anyone and everybody is coordinate, women as well as men. This goes for all levels of social life, also the private sphere.”
Deidre Hogan, in a brief article from 2004, “Anarcha-Feminism — Thinking about Anarchism”, states that:
“Anarchism/Anarcha-feminism joins the fight against class exploitation and that against women’s oppression together. True freedom, both for women and men, can only come about in a classless society, where workplaces are self-managed, private property is abolished and the people who make decisions are those affected by them.”
In a footnote to that / formulation she adds that “Anarchism and anarcha-feminism are the same thing — anarcha-feminism just emphasises the feminism that is inherent to anarchism.”
For Ruby Flick in, “Anarcha-Feminism”, on the other hand:
“Anarchist feminists see the state as an institution of patriarchy, and seeks to find a way out of the alienation of the contemporary world and the impersonal nature of the state and its rituals of economic, physical and psychological violence.”
In “Anarcha-feminism: Why the hyphen?” Kytha Kurin, in an article from 1980, suggests that:
“Anarcha-feminism exhibits aspects of both anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism. To the extent that women are being exploited and degraded more than men, anarcha-feminism is like anarcho-syndicalism. The emphasis has to be on that part of anarchism that deals with personal and sexual exploitation. To the degree that feminism moves beyond “reaction” to exploitation and poses a total life approach, it is like anarcho-communism in that it becomes synonymous with anarchism.”
Kurin also argues that “an anarchism broadened by the feminist experience [is] the most viable revolutionary direction”.
Finally, as Sofia Hildsdotter explains in “An anarcha-feminist’s subjective perspective of anarcha-feminism”:
“Because anarchism is purported to oppose all usage of power and forms of oppression the term anarcha-feminism should actually be unnecessary. All anarchists should, if they really meant what they said about being against all forms of oppression, work against, or at least not support, the oppression of women. That’s theoretically. However, our reality is that we are all products of our societal surroundings. It is also a fact that those who find themselves in a hierarchical position of power have a hard time accepting that a hierarchy even exists! Men do not recognise the oppression of women to the same extent or to the same degree that women do. Those who have power and privilege are, in addition, often unwilling to relinquish these. Because of these reasons, many male anarchists have not activated themselves in the struggle against the oppression of women and, for these same reasons, it has become necessary for female anarchists to denote themselves as anarcha-feminists.”
What binds these variously situated articles together is an awareness that feminism and anarchism are not actually opposed movements. Those who write them see in anarchism the promise of everything that feminism, as they understand it, stands for. This will be a theme of all the anarchafeminists [I choose not to use a hyphen in this term but that signifies nothing in particular for me] I reference in this particular essay and it is also certainly true of the first anarchafeminists, women such as Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman, women who were both clearly feminists and also anarchists at the same time. Here it was not that one of these was active in some situations and the other at other times but that one was being feminist when one was being anarchist and vice versa. Both Goldman and de Cleyre, for example, criticised those women who were merely being feminist in pursuing votes for women in the early 20th century. Both, consequently, wrote articles criticising such women’s lack of anarchist ambition in only wanting equality with men in a flawed system of representative democracy. That was feminism but it wasn’t anarchism and that is, perhaps over simply put, the anarchafeminist difference.
From the very first with women such as de Cleyre and Goldman, anarchafeminism was based in a female consciousness of the way the world is and a female experience of life. Both describe a deep set consciousness, for example, of issues such as marriage, which was seen as little more than another form of gender-based slavery, and patriarchy, the male domination of women in pretty much all aspects of society. Both Goldman and de Cleyre excoriated state and church as the major male-dominated organs of such gender-based oppression. Any list of concerns based in an anarchafeminist point of view, consequently, would certainly not include less than issues such as:
Patriarchal and hierarchical societal structures
Gender relationships [how men see and treat women in society]
Sexuality [not least its control by men]
Abortion [from anarchafeminist perspective as a matter of a woman’s control of her own body]
Pornography and the objectification of women
Body image and beauty
Domestic abuse and male on female violence
The intersectional nature of varying forms of oppression and exploitation and the need to deal with them simultaneously
Most notable here is that anarchists themselves, primarily male anarchists but not only so, have historically not been immune from sexism and gender-based forms of domination. This is not only restricted to the views of one of the architects of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had chauvinistic views of women, nor even to harrowing tales such as Ann Hansen’s rape by an “anarchist” she met in a London anarchist bookshop as retold by Ruth Kinna in her anarchist handbook, The Government of No One [p.174]. For example, one of the reasons for the Mujeres Libres [Free Women] of the Spanish Civil War era [1930s] was that the anarchafeminists of this time and place were only too aware that one form of domination that had passed by their unionised, anarcho-syndicalist male colleagues was the domination of men over women. Consequently, autonomous Mujeres Libres groups were created in anarchist Spain by women, pursuing both women’s liberation and the anarchist social revolution in tandem. Such groups argued that the two objectives were equally important and should be pursued in parallel. Aiming towards the empowerment of working class women, they organised activities ranging from education programs and technical classes to childcare centres and maternity care. Therefore, anywhere, including in anarchist movements, where women are expected to follow the men or do as they told or do the cooking and cleaning whilst the men do “the work” is a situation in which at least one basic form of domination has not yet been overcome. So, one necessary reason for anarchafeminism is that anarchism is not immune to sexism itself. Anarchafeminism is then an explicit reminder, even to anarchists, that a basic and historic form of domination is something of immediate concern to them in their practices and attitudes too.
This reminds me of two historical examples. The first is a story told about Emma Goldman who, apparently, was told by a male colleague to tone down her behaviour on some public occasion. This gives birth to the quote, with which Goldman is often [clearly falsely] credited, “If I can’t dance its not my revolution.” The inference seems to be that Goldman was not working politically for anarchist ends only to be told by some man what appropriate female behaviour was. [We should also remember here that Goldman was a woman who had spoken in favour of free love for women, believing that women should determine their own behaviour, sexual and otherwise, and so that it was for them to determine with who, how often, how many times, and in what way, they engaged in such behaviour.] The second example comes from Voltairine de Cleyre who, in a direct application of anarchist ideals to feminist ones in “The Gates of Freedom”  wrote: “I never expect men to give us liberty. No, Women, we are not worth it, until we take it. How shall we take it? By the ballot? A fillip for your paper rag! The ballot hasn’t made men free, and it won’t make us free.” Here we should remember that in the late 19th century most women had no vote and were largely the property of men. Marriage in such times was characterised as both slavery and a legal form of prostitution and what happened to married women was nearly always a matter for their husbands. No surprise, then, that for de Cleyre the feminist issue of women’s emancipation was also an anarchist one. In her comments she had articulated both how men are not themselves free but also how women are kept from freedom by men.
A more modern example of an anarchafeminist, and one who wrote two articles in the 1970s which ticked lots of anarchafeminist boxes, is Peggy Kornegger. In her articles “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection” and “Anarchism, Feminism and Economics” she articulated an anarchafeminist agenda which still resonates over four decades later. Taking her anarchist cues from Emma Goldman’s definition of anarchism, she makes her own definition based on three major principles:
Belief in the abolition of authority, hierarchy, government. She makes the further point here that anarchists believe in the dissolution and not the seizure of power.
Belief in both individuality and collectivity. Here it is pointed out that “successful revolution involves unmanipulated, autonomous individuals and groups working together to take direct, unmediated control of society and of their own lives.”
Belief in both spontaneity and organization. This is essentially the belief that all organisation in an anarchist situation comes from below and that anything rigidly or externally imposed risks authoritarianism again. Flexibility is a key concept here and responding to actual needs rather than the application of dogmas of any kind.
At this point in “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection” Kornegger gives the example of the Mujeres Libres during the Spanish Civil War [1936–1939] as an example of a real place where these anarchist and feminist principles were both necessary and where, for a time, they worked. It is, by the way, not the case that they failed because they only lasted for three years but that they were destroyed by the fascists in Spain who were bitterly opposed to collectivist and libertarian living whilst being in favour of state control. Yet, In this context of civil war, workers took over factories, people began to cultivate land to feed the people, and a strong anarcho-syndicalist mentality was reinforced, not least by the addition of Mujeres Libres groups which catered for the needs of women and who fought for anarchist living conditions for all at the same time. These groups, although having feminist as well as anarchist interests, worked side by side with the anarchist groups in Spain at that time but retained their independence as part of the unionised structure of anarchism in Spain in the 1930s. Particular women of note at this time were Lucia Sanchez Saornil, one of the co-founders of Mujeres Libres, and Federica Montseny, an anarcho-syndicalist union member who would for a time work in the republican government before the military coup began.
In each case in this anarcho-syndicalist situation actions were decided based on general membership meetings and not by designated leaders or representatives. Such of those as there were, were merely for the purposes of carrying out instructions or coordinating affairs and they had no decision-making power. In addition, such people were always workers themselves and were subject to random and immediate replacement in order to undermine the possibility they might become brokers of power. In the workplaces which came under anarchist control wages were equalised and goods in abundance were distributed freely. Since any huge profits in the hands of a few owners were eliminated by this process, such excess money was used to purchase better equipment and to improve working conditions. It also led to cheaper consumer prices and a raising of the standard of living in a situation in which people were now essentially working for themselves and their communities rather than the employees of some boss who was more interested in profit for his own ends. This was all based on the activities of any number [hundreds] of anarchist collectives and unions and involved about 8 million Spanish people. Their activities show the strength of such a federated structure of small collectives working together on the basis of the assent of the mass of their members. Yet, as Kornegger herself notes, “The achievements of the Spanish anarchists go beyond a higher standard of living and economic equality; they involve the realization of basic human ideals: freedom, individual creativity, and collective cooperation.”
With such an example [she also discusses the student uprisings in France in 1968 as a further, but more unsuccessful, example of the same thing as well] Kornegger hopes to show that not only can anarchism exist in the real world but it can also work and bring benefit to those who live according to it, only eventually being shot down [literally!] by those who want control and so, consequently, oppose freedom. Kornegger thinks her examples show that it is not [as some if not many think] impossible to imagine an anarchist situation and set of values breaking out in a modern, capitalist country. And here it does not matter if the enemy is conceived of as “a ruthless, unconquerable giant”. For Kornegger, “It is domination itself that must be abolished” and this is what motivates her self-identification as an anarchafeminist for, in the vast majority of cases, it is men who do the dominating and women who are nearly always, in any situation, the ones who are dominated. Thus, Kornegger sees in the task of ending domination, an anarchist task, the coordinate feminist task of ending men’s domination of women too. Women, she thinks, are the perfect agents of the necessary societal change as the ones with a history of domination by men and as those whose liberation would change society by their very liberation in any case. In short, Kornegger makes the case that anarchism by itself would be meaningless if women’s domination by men were not one of the things any anarchism sweeps away. She, therefore, makes the case that, in many examples, feminism has been a covert anarchism and an anti-authoritarianism which rejects the male-dominated authority figures society sets up as the leaders in many respects anyway. Women, for Kornegger, are incipiently anti-patriarchal and, she notes, “women frequently speak and act as ‘intuitive’ anarchists, that is, we approach, or verge on, a complete denial of all patriarchal thought and organization.”
What is needed, according to Kornegger, however, is to make the implicit link between feminist and anarchist activities explicit. In seeking to throw off male domination, for example, the task is actually to destroy ALL domination. This is anarchafeminism for it is not the case such people want male bosses replaced by female bosses but that they want no bosses at all. The anarchist and the feminist goals then cohere. Thus, “If we want to ‘bring down the patriarchy’, we need to talk about anarchism, to know exactly what it means, and to use that framework to transform ourselves and the structure of our daily lives. Feminism doesn’t mean female corporate power or a woman President; it means no corporate power and no Presidents.” This is to say, as the late 60s radical feminist, Valerie Solanas did, that such people should be “out to destroy the system, not attain certain rights within it”. This, once more, is a difference between a more liberal feminism and anarchafeminism. As Peggy Kornegger adds, “Challenging sexism means challenging all hierarchy — economic, political, and personal. And that means an anarcha-feminist revolution.” Kornegger sees this, as in Spain in the 1930s, as based in any number of women’s collectives and affinity groups but she thinks the feminist consciousness these groups exhibit need a more explicitly verbalised anarchist understanding. Hierarchy, patriarchy and domination of women will be ended when it is ended in all its forms everywhere. And so, once more, what is needed is the open expression of an anarchafeminist direction based on an anarchafeminist understanding of what needs to take place.
But here Kornegger issues a very important warning and its something I want to ponder for a moment in the context of one anarchafeminist issue, pornography. First of all, Kornegger says:
“This is not, however, to underestimate the immense power of the Enemy. The most
treacherous form this power can take is co-optation, which feeds on any
short-sighted un-anarchistic view of feminism as mere ‘social change’. To think of
sexism as an evil which can be eradicated by female participation in the way things
are is to insure the continuation of domination and oppression. ‘Feminist’ capitalism
is a contradiction in terms. When we establish women’s credit unions, restaurants,
bookstores, etc., we must be clear that we are doing so for our own survival, for the
purpose of creating a counter-system whose processes contradict and challenge
competition, profit-making, and all forms of economic oppression. We must be
committed to ‘living on the boundaries’, to anti-capitalist, non-consumption values.
What we want is neither integration nor a coup d’etat which would ‘transfer power
from one set of boys to another set of boys’. What we ask is nothing less than total
revolution, revolution whose forms invent a future untainted by inequity, domination,
or disrespect for individual variation — in short, feminist-anarchist revolution. I
believe that women have known all along how to move in the direction of human
liberation; we only need to shake off lingering male political forms and dictums and
focus on our own anarchistic female analysis.”
This is an important statement and a reminder that power will ALWAYS try to co-opt people to its cause in order to facilitate its continuance. I increasingly believe one form of male dominance does this by means of pornography and various forms of sex work which, even though they may seem liberating, are actually enslaving. It will not have passed everybody by, for example, how the enticement of young women to platforms dedicated to sexual exchange has exploded in our current century with the increasing spread of high speed Internet connections which make such sites viable. In mentioning this I am not making any moral argument, lest anyone confuse what I am about to say with a prudishness which disdains nudity or sexuality. The issue in such activities is not whether showing people your naked body for money is right or wrong [this is, for me, a complete non-issue anyway] but who, in such situations, has the power.
Is it not at least conceivable that in such situations it is certain men who hold the power [these companies are almost uniformly owned by men and it is men who profit from them] and so that it is men who induce women to things [for their own survival in a harsh, capitalist world I do not doubt] which then affect society’s view of, and treatment of, women? One would not be at all surprised to find that male pornographers view women as objects to be slavered over whilst they count all the money rolling in from those that partake of the services offered. Yet is it not then the case that young women have been bribed by a male-dominated world into becoming sex objects for the enjoyment of a largely male audience in the service of capitalist goals that encourage the view of women as sexual commodities, things that can be bought if one is prepared to pay — even things that should allow themselves to be bought if cash is offered? I am far from always convinced that the women caught in this trap are so aware of the full consequences of their actions and, from an anarchafeminist perspective, I think that their wholly understandable actions to support themselves need to be balanced up against an analysis of what is really happening on such sites and what is taking place between men and women because of them. It is not a simple equation. Yet it does not seem to be the “total revolution” or “human liberation” of which Peggy Kornegger is speaking. It seems to me that “co-optation” is taking place in which young women are seduced [by powerful men] to the possibilities of money and fame and to taking part in a system which is ultimately to their own detriment and to the detriment of freedom and liberty more widely conceived. In short, one needs to ask if one advances freedom whilst showing your cooch to and for a man and a man, no less, who is in charge of the entire process in most cases in terms of patriarchal attitudes to women, if not individually.
Patriarchal capitalism will always play such games, of course, and will always try to seduce and, as Kornegger says, “co-opt” people into its system, constantly wanting to induce people to act against their own best interests and betray themselves. To this, Kornegger opposes anarchafeminism as the best antidote. But it is not a fast process for people who have been drowning in dominating patriarchal narratives and systems for their whole lives, who have been taught it with their mother’s milk if not actually by their mothers. As Kornegger says, it:
“takes years of preparation: sharing of ideas and information, changes in consciousness and behavior, and the creation of political and economic alternatives to capitalist, hierarchical structures. It takes spontaneous direct action on the part of autonomous individuals through collective political confrontation. It is important to ‘free your mind’ and your personal life, but it is not sufficient. Liberation is not an insular experience; it occurs in conjunction with other human beings.”
Kornegger here shows a very collective, down to earth mentality. For her, people are not free unless their material conditions are free. Freedom for Peggy Kornegger is a socially-lived experience. It is a “tak[ing] control over our own lives” and it involves creating dual options for our existence, ones which replace “the way things are”. Essentially, we create a world of anarchafeminist values by creating ways to live by anarchafeminist values. Yet this involves preparative action in three areas: the educational, the economic/political and the personal/political. The first is a matter of writing, studying, and using any available media to get a message across. [This essay is hopefully an example of this!] The second involves direct action and confrontation of political problems. It might involve sabotage, strikes or boycotts, for example. It is any communal action taken against “the system” to improve your material conditions of life. The third area involves becoming involved with others of like mind such as anarchist affinity groups. Anarchism only works in tandem with others and so you need to make connections with others of like mind to bring the anarchist goal closer to a reality.
In a supplementary article to “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection” Peggy Kornegger addresses the issue of where “economics” fits into the constellation of anarchafeminist concerns. It is a tricky business and not least because “feminist business” would seem to be a complete contradiction in terms when everything feminism stands for is against the male-dominated concept of “business”. Of course, it would also go without saying in an anarchafeminist context that the anarchist side of that equation stands wholly opposed to business in any capitalist form – and capitalism whole and entire. Yet, as Kornegger notes:
“Women’s growing awareness of the need for economic as well as political analysis
and action is an Important phenomenon within the feminist community. Our survival,
as individual women and as a revolutionary movement, is directly connected to how
we deal with money and the capitalist economy. We have to talk about work, how we
make money to survive, how race, class, and privilege affect what choices women
have for jobs, and most important, how to confront and ultimately abolish an
economy based on competition, hierarchy, and patriarchal (i.e. authoritarian)
concepts of social and political organization.”
So these subjects can never be avoided. But, as Kornegger goes on to say, it does then matter what you think feminism is for. Is it, for example, to see women making a success of themselves in a male-dominated world, women playing by the men’s rules and, somehow, becoming one of the men? This invites comparisons with people like Queen Victoria [an empress, no less] or the British Prime Minister of the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher [the Milk Snatcher, so-called because she stopped school children from having a free bottle of milk at school]. These women hardly advanced the lives of women in their times and places and this, not least, because they played by men’s rules in a men’s world. They essentially succeeded by being good men. One form of feminism, so Kornegger argues, simply wants women to stand side by side with men in a man-shaped world and compete as their equals in a world of domination and exploitation. For such “feminists” equality is being able to snatch their own piece of the pie like any man could too.
But Kornegger opposes this thinking to that which thinks of feminism as a revolutionary [and so more anarchist] thing in which “feminist business” is business which opposes the values and purposes of a male-dominated business world. This is not, then, business as domination but business as revolution. Thus, she writes:
“For me, feminism implies revolution: my radical feminism includes an anarchist
vision of political transformation. That is, what I want as a feminist and as an
anarchist is 1. the dissolution of all power (personal, political, and economic) and all
hierarchy (leader/follower, employer/employee, governor/governed) and 2. a
revolutionary process which equates the means with the ends and emphasizes the
necessity for a balance between spontaneity and organization and between
collectivity and individuality. This is a highly condensed definition, but it is, I hope,
adequate for the purposes of this discussion. The point I want to make is that if I
believe that all power should be abolished and that the means always create the
ends, then it would be contradictory and counter-revolutionary to talk about getting
economic or political power and control.”
Therefore, she goes on to say:
“it is a contradiction to refer to businesses as “feminist.” Business is an invention
of a capitalist system based on hierarchy, power, and competition. It can’t be “used”
by feminists for their own purposes. That’s the same old myth that tells us we can
“change the system from within” (elect a woman senator, vote for equalities
legislation, etc.). The political economic system we live under (and I do mean under)
does not admit change: it will change anyone or anything to suit its own purposes.
Thus, the capitalist business, operating as it does under the strict law of survival at
any cost, will twist and bend any political theory to the obedience of the laws of
business. And the laws of business are the laws of capitalism made to benefit a few
at the expense of many.”
This is a powerful argument, one which applies most forcefully to the question of pornography and the commodification of sexuality that I spoke about briefly above. I notice a lot of young women on social media, for example, who seem to consider themselves both “sexual entrepreneurs” and variously libertarian, socialist and anarchist types of people. They seem to want to put forward the narrative that they are commercially sexual whilst being politically at the freedom-loving anarchist end of the political spectrum. Yet it is not clear to me how many of them justify this as they constantly advertise their various services for cash on websites owned by multi-millionaire males where even how much money they get and when is dictated to them by these same men who have encouraged their search for money and fame for their own male advantage. As I said before, is this not male co-optation of women for wholly capitalist purposes, activity which reinforces capitalist values and makes women perform for the entertainment of men in a way the men always control? Does it not insist that women are objects which have a price and make everything subject to money? Is it not a means of exchange based in authority and power? How do we make an anarchafeminist revolution, in Kornegger’s terms, like this? Such women may think, and I’ve seen some argue, that they seek their own autonomy through such work but, as Kornegger points out, “you don’t challenge an authoritarian political economic structure by using authoritarian methods [i.e. the capitalist model].” All you do is feed it and become bent to its will, a slave reinforcing the system you claim, politically, to be against. In my own life I once faced this choice. I subsequently refused a possibly lucrative life being filled full of cum or masturbated over for money for the genuine liberty of anarchism. Kornegger is, in fact, quite clear in both her articles that “the means create the ends”. We become anarchafeminist by being anarchafeminist. Thus, we need to find ways of surviving which don’t feed the values we stand against but which promote the ones we do. What we need, instead of coercion to money and profit which makes us all capitalists reinforcing the oppressive capitalist system, is human solidarity between those of like values and mutual aid of those within such circles.
Yet as the Italian professor of philosophy and herself an anarchafeminist, Chiara Bottici, reminds us, “No single factor, be it nature or nurture, economic exploitation or cultural domination, can be said to be the single cause sufficient to explain the multifaceted sources of patriarchy and sexism.”
[The following commentary on Bottici’s work refers to her article online at publicseminar.org/2019/12/anarchafeminism ]
Bottici notes at the start of this article that it is these days de rigeur to position oneself in relation to intersectionality and to recognise that oppressions occur in many ways and at many levels simultaneously. But she also points out that anarchafeminists — feminists also attracted by the anarchist narrative — have “a particular vital contribution to offer today” — and not least because they recognised this particularly intersectional nature to oppression many decades ago. This starts theoretically for Bottici [she is a philosopher, after all!] with “the need for a form of feminism that opposes the oppression of people who are perceived as women and who are discriminated against precisely on that basis.” Note there the words “perceived as”. Bottici uses “woman” “in a way that includes all types of women: female women, male women, feminine women, masculine women, lesbian women, transwomen, intersex women, queer women, and so on and so forth.” ANARCHAfeminism is then necessary because “anarchists have always been crystal clear in arguing that in order to fight patriarchy we have to fight the multifaceted ways in which multiple factors — economic, cultural, racial, political, etc. — converge to foster it.” The anarchafeminist advantage in this respect, as Bottici perceives it, is that women’s liberation can then be achieved on the basis of a more widespread human liberation from all forms of domination rather than being a never ending merry-go-round of liberations at the expense of the domination of others. For example, she notes that “feminism has been accused of being mere white privilege” and that “The emancipation of women from the global north can indeed happen at the expense of further oppression of women from the global south who most often replace them in the reproductive labor within the household.” It is, then, Bottici’s suggestion that an anarchafeminist analysis which was always more intersectional in approach can help us here to achieve both feminist and anarchist goals.
In order to make this point, Chiara Bottici quotes the Chinese female anarchist, He Zhen, and it is worth repeating the quotation in full to demonstrate the intersectional nature of oppression that anarchafeminists highlight:
“The majority of women are already oppressed by both the government and by men.
The electoral system simply increases their oppression by introducing a third ruling
group: elite women. Even if the oppression remains the same, the majority of women
are still taken advantage of by the minority of women. […] When a few women in
power dominate the majority of powerless women, unequal class differentiation is
brought into existence among women. If the majority of women do not want to be
controlled by men, why do they want to be controlled by women? Therefore, instead
of competing with men for power, women should strive for overthrowing men’s rule.
Once men are stripped of their privilege, they will become the equal of women. There
will be no submissive women nor submissive men. This is the liberation of women.”
Once again, here we see that, for anarchafeminists, it is the end of all domination which secures women’s liberation. No woman can then be free whilst any form of domination, even that by women, exists. So, in answer to the question, “Why anarchafeminism?” Bottici replies:
“because it is the best antidote against the possibility of feminism becoming simply
white privilege and, thus, a tool in the hands of a few women who dominate the vast
majority of them. In an epoch when the election of a single woman as president is
presented as liberation for all women, or when women such as Ivanka Trump can
claim feminist battles of the past by transforming the hashtag #womenwhowork into
a tool to sell a fashion brand, the fundamental message of anarchafeminists of the
past is more urgent than ever:
‘Feminism does not mean female corporate power or a woman president: it means
no corporate power and no president’.” [quoting Kornegger]
One of the distinctives Chiara Bottici brings to her philosophical analysis is something from her philosophical work more generally which she terms “transindividuality”. This is not something which comes from the trans debate — although it applies to trans people as to any others — but conceptual thinking which she applies to all people. In short, Bottici urges that we do not see people – or specifically “women” [note her usage of this term as set out above] — as “objects” nor in any essentialist sense. There is, for Bottici, no “essence of a woman” and neither is a woman a “pre-given object”. For Bottici, then, we cannot say “that’s a woman and that’s not” by looking at our chart of “what a woman is”. Bottici thinks that in order “to articulate a specifically feminist position while maintaining a multifaceted understanding of domination, we need a more nuanced understanding of ‘womanhood.’” Thus, Chiara Bottici conceives that:
“bodies in general, and women’s bodies in particular, must not be considered as
individuals, as objects given once and for all, but rather as processes. Women’s
bodies, like all bodies, are bodies in plural because they are processes, processes
that are constituted by mechanisms of affects and associations that occur at the
inter-, intra– and the supra-individual level. To give just a brief example of what I
mean here, think of how our bodies come into being through an inter-individual
encounter, how they are shaped by supra-individual forces, such as their
geographical locations, and how they are made up by intra-individual bodies such as
the air we breath or the food we eat.”
Bodies, then, are processes that are the results of processes. As such, they are much more interactive and anti-hierarchical than “pre-given objects” would be as the result of exploitative classification processes. Consequently, Bottici thinks that:
“this transindividual understanding allows us to articulate the question ‘what does it mean to be a woman?’ in pluralistic terms, while also defending a specifically feminist form of anarchism. Developing the concept of women as open processes also means going beyond the individual versus collectivity dichotomy: if it is true that all bodies are transindividual processes, then the assumption that there could be such a thing as a pure individual, who is separate, or even opposed, to a given collectivity, is at best a useless abstraction and at worst a deceitful fantasy.”
Transindividuality, in other words, makes us interactional, inter-relational beings, parts of a whole, parts affected by the whole, and provides a model approaching the problems of domination anarchafeministically and intersectionally. This whole concept also reminds me of things I discussed during my discussion of Zenarchy [for, yes, part of my argument here is that these, seemingly disparate, anarchisms are actually interpenetrative themselves rather than discrete objects] and not least that “we are what we think”. If we think in dominating ways why should we then be surprised if we become people who live by domination — and vice versa?
So putting anarchafeminist critique at the heart of our collective approach to liberty “means taking the entire globe as the framework for thinking about the liberation of women”. It means the avoidance of “methodological nationalism, that is, of privileging certain women and thus certain national or regional contexts”. It means not “taking state boundaries as an unquestionable fact”. The context for anarchafeminist liberation is “the globe first” which is to say that “anything less than the entire globe as our framework is at best naïve provincialism, and at worst obnoxious ethnocentrism.” This, by Kornegger’s measuring scale, is clearly a revolutionary view of the purpose of feminism, a view in which such action changes the values of the world. This is not the feminism which imagines [and imagines is all it does] that if some middle class, educated, white woman is free then all other women everywhere else must be free as well. Anarchafeminism, thus, according to Bottici, “avoid the pitfalls of any form of methodological nationalism, but... also perceive[s] the global interconnectedness of forms of domination, beginning with the intertwinement of capitalist exploitation and colonial domination.” Thus, “the vitality of the anarchafeminist tradition consists precisely in its capacity to transcend state boundaries, methodological nationalism, and even the Eurocentric biases that a lot of radical theory produced in the global north still carries within itself.” This is not white feminism for the advancement of white women in a white man’s world. It is intersectional and carried out in a global framework and against a global background.
One claim Bottici makes in this respect is, at first, quite surprising for those who have had all their education in bastions of Western capitalism:
“It is only with the emergence of a worldwide capitalist system that gender binary
“men” versus “women” became hegemonic worldwide. This does not mean that
sexual difference did not exist before capitalism. It simply means that binary gender
roles were not as universally accepted as the primary criteria by which to classify
bodies. Modern capitalism made the mononuclear bourgeois family, with its binary
gender roles, hegemonic.”
We should note here, of course, that “classification” is always a dominating procedure done according to an ideology in which some [probably male-dominated] grouping literally designates the world as they see it. On the basis of this classification their domination of it can take place. Bottici points out, after “Marxist feminists”, that capitalism needs “gendered bodies” so that it can regard women as “doing their job” when they cook and clean and look after the home. This is then their function and they are fulfilling their nature according to such classification procedures which act, ideologically, to divide waged work from that which is simply a result of gender. If we add to this the concept of race we arrive at what Maria Lugones refers to as the “coloniality of gender”. As Bottici explains, with this move we “emphasize how the binary division ‘men/women’ and the classification of bodies according to their racial belonging went together, being exported by Europeans through the very process of colonial expansion that accompanied the worldwide spread of capitalism.” As Bottici further suggests, on the basis of Lugones’ research:
“gender roles were much more flexible and variegated among Native Americans
before the advent of European settlers. Different indigenous nations had, for
instance, a third gender category to positively recognize intersex and queer
subjectivities, whereas others, such as the Yuma, attribute gender roles on the basis
of dreams, so that a female who dreamed of weapons became a male for all
practical purposes. There has been a systematic intertwinement among capitalist
economy, racial classification of bodies, and gender oppression.”
Utilising the classificatory point I have already made above, and referring to the scholarship of the Nigerian scholar, Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí, Bottici also here pertinently points out that “It is manifest, and yet all too often forgotten, that to classify people on the basis of their skin color, or their genitalia, is not an a priori of the human mind. Classifying bodies on the basis of their sex, as well as classifying them on the basis of their race, implies, among other things, a primacy of the visual register.” Oyěwùmí regards this as typical of the West in comparison with some African, pre-colonial cultures where age, for example, was the basis of social hegemony. Indeed, she points out that “They did not even have a name to oppose men and women before colonialism: put bluntly, they simply did not do gender.” This needs to be born in mind by those in the capitalist global north where ideologies are set in stone and regarded as “natural” and “normal” and certainly never to be questioned. We need to ask both whose interests we serve and where such distinctions come from when we assume or speak to them lest we find ourselves supporting things detrimental to freedom because we find ourselves unable to think in any other way. But the fact is that neither sex nor gender is a “pre-given object” and both can be thought of in other ways — as Bottici examples. Therefore:
“questioning the coloniality of gender means also questioning the primacy of the
visual: it is by seeing bodies that we say: “here is a woman!” or “that is a man!.” But it
is also within such a visual register that we have to operate to question such
hegemonic and heteronormative views of womanhood and thus open new paths
toward subverting them. Put in a slogan, we could say:
‘Another woman is possible; another woman has always already began.’”
All this is to say that to see and act differently in this way is to practice a revolutionary anarchafeminism, something which undermines domination [through classification] and so changes the world for all genders. Chiara Bottici is interested in this and has composed “a new anarchafeminist manifesto” which she begins at the end of this article and continues elsewhere in more detail at publicseminar.org/2020/05/anarchafeminist-manifesto-1-0
She bases this on fellow Italian, Errico Malatesta’s, observation that anarchism is a method and not a program that can be given once for all. It, thus, retains the flexibility Peggy Kornegger spoke of previously. It is also to be open-ended [readers can add clauses to the manifesto given at the web address above for inclusion in a further recension of the manifesto] in accordance with the transindividual ontology which sustains such thinking by means of ongoing processes. Bottici begins this manifesto by proceeding along what she calls “three axes” which I leave you with for consideration of your own anarchafeminist manifesto as I end this chapter here:
“At the beginning was movement.” Under this axis Bottici refers to the historical fact of constant historical movement and migration. Fixed states with fixed borders are a relatively modern phenomenon [and things like passports which label and administrate our identities into nationalities even more so]. Consequently, we must refuse to think in the fixed, dominating and classifying ways of the state and think beyond boundaries and borders – and so beyond any and all ethnocentrisms. You do not undermine domination by replicating its patterns of thought but by subverting them.
“Just do it.” We have heard Chiara Bottici’s second axis before. It is simply “Do not aim to seize state power or wait for the state to give you power, just start exercising your own power right now.” So we should “resist gender norms, play with them, refuse to comply, civilly disobey, boycott capitalism, and so on and so forth.” These “can go hand in hand with larger projects, such as the increasing examples of mass mobilization, general strikes, communal living and queering the family that are proliferating around the globe” in a multi-faceted and interlocking group of strategies which defy individual/collective classification.
“The end is the means, the means is the end.” The third and final axis is again something we heard before from Peggy Kornegger. Anarchafeminism stands for flexibility of approach but also for achieving your end by using it as your means to it. “In other words, search for freedom in all your social relations, not simply in electoral and institutional politics,” states Bottici. However, “if freedom is both the means and the end, then one could also envisage a world free from the very notion of gender as well as the oppressive structures that it generated. [But] because gendered bodies are still the worldwide objects of exploitation and domination, we need an anarchafeminist manifesto here and now” in order to combat this. However, it is envisaged this may be a ladder we pull up behind us if and when this form of domination is overcome.