Anarchism - Feminism Conference
Learning from the problems we encountered at the feminism and socialism conference we think it would be more fruitful to have papers prepared and circulated beforehand on a few broad but clearly defined themes than to be greeted by an avalanche of thoughts on innumerable unrelated topics on the first day of the conference.
We suggest therefore that in order to circulate them in advance all papers should be with us by 30 September. At the conference papers may be taken as read, with the authors speaking to them, if they wish, and discussion on any topic should continue as long as the Gathering finds it worthwhile. Rooms will be available at Childers Street for groups to form workshops on any topic.
Most left groups would agree that women are oppressed, and that they ought to struggle for their own liberation. It is only a few old Stalinist parties that don't even pay Women's Liberation lip service (although the attitudes of some groups, such as the Maoists on Gay Liberation is most revealing - naked reaction!). Essentially, I distinguish two basic types of response. The first is wholehearted agreement with Women's Liberation, support for the autonomous women's movement and attempts to encourage a link between socialist and feminist politics. The second is: agreement with the idea of Women's Liberation, criticism of the autonomous womens movement ('divisive' or 'bourgeois') and exhortations for the involvement of women in socialist politics (usually seen as membership in their party).
There are several features common in these responses. For example (male) left politics might encourage the involvement of women in working class politics, yet simply ignore feminist politics in their normal political activity. That is, they expect the extra involvement to be all one way (by women), hypocrisy to say the least. Almost all left groups have failed to apply the most basic lessons of the women's movement to themselves. Thus the anti-authoritarianism which has been such an important aspect of feminist politics is not even recognised. Sometimes even basic structural procedures, such as rotating chairpersons, are ignored, and there is little stress on self-initiative and activity on doing things (especially shit work) for yourself Another lesson to be learnt from the women's movement is the falsity of the political personal dichotomy. One way in which this might come out is in the recognition of our insecurities and inhibitions, which perhaps prevent people from expressing disapproval with an orthodoxy, and in the measures taken to counteract this often overlooked fact. Fortunately, libertarian groups are better than other left groups, especially Leninist (particularly Trotskyist) Parties in this area. There anti- authoritarianism of Anarchist groups is linked to the recognition of the personal - a struggle for self management has to be fought on a personal level.
The second type of response to feminism by left groups I sketched above included a failure to see the necessity for an autonomous, independent women's movement (or internal grouping). Some argue that it is 'divisive' 'splitting' etc and argue that women should work within their organisation, that they don't need 'special treatment' ('they are equal'). This type of argument ignores the reality that so many women have found within male-dominated political groups, which is that women still play a second class role, supportive of men, feeling that what they say will be dismissed as 'silly' or 'trivial' (and having their expectations confirmed when they do summon up the courage to put up their own ideas) finding they never do get to issues on women; there are always 'more important' issues. Some of the fanatical 'Marxist' parties see the liberation of women as a consequence of the victory of the working class and the establishment of socialism. According to their crude orthodox analysis, women's oppression is derived from, or is a result of capitalist exploitation - thus class struggle is seen as primary, and women wait till after the (male) revolution. (This is sometimes expressed in smoother, more acceptable terms, but the practice is the same). This practice is by no means confined to Marxist Leninist parties.
If power is seen as deriving from the point of production (and women just happen to be defined as excluded to a great extent from production), and this is made into one of the most basic parts of a group's political analysis, then even libertarians might fall into the trap of finding women (eg housewives) less important than wage labourers.
In fact, although I believe that there are very great affinities between feminism and anarchism, libertarian men are in essence the same as others of their sex. To take a particular example, at the Melbourne preliminary meeting for this conference, a paper was given by a woman on feminism and anarchism. There was a short discussion (just enough to make it seem respectable) and then the conversation died. Even though there had been strong arguments over the previous papers, the topic was too hot to touch. Many of the women wanted to continue, but the men clammed up - they didn't want to talk about the oppression of women too much. They were content to allow general agreement with the women, for by doing so they cannot be accused of sexism, and they also precluded any examination of themselves. Because this is perhaps the most threatening barb in women's rebellion: for a man to examine himself and find that he is an oppressor, and that his oppressiveness is a part of his whole being, his personality, his everyday life, his maleness; that to struggle against this is to deny himself power, prestige, security and satisfaction. Yet I would argue that this struggle is the most worthwhile a man can undertake. .
Which brings me to another feature of men's responses to feminism which is common to almost every organisation: the failure to apply a political analysis to men, as women have to themselves. That is, for men to examine their own male sex roles, and to recognise these as oppressive, debilitating and as preventing men from realising their potentials, as human beings. For example men refuse to express their feelings. We will intellectualise, or bludgeon our way about, do anything rather than examine whether we are unhappy or sad, pleased or shattered. It takes me enormous, conscious, often planned effort to tell a person what I think about them and how I feel in their presence. Or to tell someone not particularly close to me that I have been happy or sad the last four months. And when we do talk about our feelings, it's not with each other - that's too threatening, too revealing etc. Because men are strong, assertive, never cry, rational, don't need other people and ought not to be too emotional (too much like women), and most important, we don't love each other - poofters aren't real men.
The real test of a man's commitment to Women's Liberation lies in whether or not he is prepared to change himself. This means to change out of exploitative relationships and into human relationships. And although I don't know how in concrete terms (there are some overseas examples) this should also mean explicit organised political practice by men against sexism and against the straitjacket of masculinity.
Chris Nicol, 1975[?].