A presentation by Miriam Pickens at M-1-Detroit public meeting, June 29, 2019.
First, the anarchist desire for freedom, in its largest, most expansive interpretations, is the basis or heart of our fight for women’s freedom. This is tempered, of course, by the fact that your freedom does not trample on mine; you cannot oppress me, or any one, and claim it as “freedom.”
We differ from Marxists on this point, in that they believe the working class can seize state power and use this vehicle to gain freedom. The purpose of a state, any state, is to oppress, that is, deny freedom.
Transmen are not women, yet they experience attempts to exert patriarchal control over their reproductive rights. They also experience oppression from some women who claim to be feminists. Some feminists dismiss sex workers. In Canada there was a library exhibit on feminism, including works by Andrea Dworkin and other separatists who have a limited idea of what constitutes inclusive feminism. This exhibit was protested by the trans community and their supporters, which highlighted the way the separatist politic oppresses others in their claim for freedom.
When I say women and women’s rights, it is easy to universalize the experience of white, cis, u.s.-born women. Not all women experience the world in the same way. Trans men and women have certain different experience of the world; Black and Brown women face different challenges and have a different experience of the world than white women. For example, white women have fought for the right to employment and the right to be their own person in the world (own bank accounts, credit, right to rent or purchase a home) while Black women have been forced to work by the threat of starvation, having always worked, and suffer discrimination based on white defined ideas of hair, etc., dreadlocks being ruled inappropriate by the courts. As Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Black women have never been able to call their bodies their own.” All women are now being called on to fight for this most basic of rights: our bodies, our choice.
The attack on women’s rights has taken on increased strength. This is fueled by the general turn to the right, the acceptance of open hatred and brutality towards women, the steadily declining confidence of men in their understanding of their role in the world and the fluidity of family structure. The economic turn to neoliberalism has also left both men and women unsure of their ability to survive. This shaky ground leaves many searching for some certainty in a world that provides no certainty at all. They grasp at old solutions that have, in fact, never worked and try to bully and blunder their way to dominance.
Patriarchy was one of the first forms of hierarchical domination, a way to hoard resources (and power) for the few at the expense of equality for all, or an equal sharing of resources. In the development of class society, this domination was enshrined in the form of the nuclear family. Capitalism used this pre-capitalist form because it provided one sector, men, with the free labor of women: sexual and emotional support, child bearing, raising and care, food gathering and preparation, maintenance of a home. These are social expenses that are not directly paid for but are essential to the running of society. In order to maintain this dominance, an entire ideology was created that determined women to be unequal to men and less than them in every way. Men also desire/d to control women’s sexuality and ability to give birth, the one thing they could not do for themselves. They needed children, specifically male heirs, but could not control this outcome without the complete control of women.
The current attack on abortion rights is rooted in this history and in this need for dominance.
The white supremacist movement is a male movement, even though it is supported by many women. The Nazi slogan of “kinder, kirche, kuche” or “children, church, cooking” echoes in the views of those promoting a specific role and place for women, to be determined by the men. The respectable pillars of society echo this as well, politicians, churchmen, lawyers and judges. The women who support them feel secure and safe in a tradition that is, in fact, not secure, nor safe.
The violence towards women who seek self determination, control over their own bodies, is an indicator of how insecure these men are. They want to be able to have sex with whoever they want, regardless of age, force them to bear children, and make them responsible for the welfare and well being of that child. They want to be able to claim that child, without financial responsibility, and force themselves into the lives of their rape victims. They feel that if women are continually pregnant, they will not take jobs away from them or be able to live without them, thus ensuring their dominance. This is about control and power.
The fight for women’s self determination, the right to control our own bodies, the right to determine whether or not we bear children is a fight for our lives. We cannot afford to lose. Women will still get abortions – rich women will continue to finance their own abortions, poor women will die in attempts to provide themselves with adequate medical care. Poor women will be put in jail, with untold suffering to their families and themselves. Just last week, a woman was arrested in Alabama for having a miscarriage. Doctors will be frightened out of providing medical care, and unsafe and unclean, unscrupulous hatchet men will make themselves rich.
It is the task of the entire working class, men as well as women, to fight back against this attack. Women will lead this fight, because it is our health that is on the line. But we can expect women as well as men to be against us; false consciousness is very high.
It has been suggested to me that men have a specific role in confronting patriarchal attitudes and actions among other men. This is true, but we should be cautious in adopting what could easily turn into a paternalistic attitude: it is Not men’s role to protect women; it is their job to join with us in countering every attack.
The extreme brutality of the laws being passed in, so far, 15 states and the speed with which this is being pursued testifies to the level of anxiety, frustration and anger that is being whipped up. Along with the economic attacks on workers, the police and non government attacks on Black people, the viciousness of the attacks on international workers attempting to enter the u.s. and their children, the growth of the jails, prisons and concentration camps being built and expanded, the attacks on LGBTIQ and trans people, the increase of shootings, kidnappings and daily brutality experienced by so many, women are also facing attack. Everyone of us must join with every other person facing attack from this capitalist, heading toward fascist system, wherever that attack comes from and whatever its excuse. An injury to one is an injury to all. We, international workers all, must unite, organize ourselves, and fight back.
To bring it back to anarchism, we propose community self defense as the form the resistance should take. In our communities, our schools, our workplaces, our parks, all of our social space must be defended and protected from the capitalist and predator onslaught. Every protection we have ever had, in our entire history of struggle, has been what we have provided for ourselves. We must organize to resist, opening our communication with each other, so we can figure out our best tactics and strategies. These organizations are posed defensively, yet they lay the basis and provide a form for a revolutionary overthrow of the entire system. There must be a revolution because they will smash us, until we smash them.
Miriam thought it would be useful to also post these notes by comrade KS of the m1 Michigan Collective:
Women are not a homogeneous social class but contain various intersections of identity and oppression. Philosophically, this requires of us to criticize essentialism and also to recognize that causation is multiple: it all can’t be boiled down to one thing like class, race, placement or non-placement on the gender binary, sexual orientation, and so on, but all these things are historically intertwined and *also* unique. Politically, this requires us to have an orientation toward all marginalized peoples and the ability to *embrace difference*; to not assume circumstances, or even commonality beyond the most basic human drives (for survival and autonomy)
The trap we fall into by universalizing the experience of any one woman or group of women is that we inevitably appeal to the dominant culture as the universal culture. We do this because all of us, too, are assimilated to some extent. Instead, our approach should be to take everybody, with their own life story, seriously. We don’t need scientific studies to tell us that a trans woman is a woman; all we need to do is listen to her, in her own words. What does a black woman have to say about wages and employment in the US? What about the Bangladeshi garment worker? Or third gender in Pakistan?
We don’t *assume* commonality, but we inevitably do find, in every case, areas of common interests. That’s because we live under a common global capitalist and patriarchal system. Our fight is each other’s fight, this is the practical basis of our solidarity.
It should be more than obvious than a united feminist political force could shift the world more than it has ever been shifted, patriarchy being as old as it is. But for this to happen, there needs to careful consideration about hierarchies. Trans, third gender, queer, non-binary, black, brown, indigenous, refugee, and working class women in general outnumber wealthier and relatively independent cis white women in this world, yet it has been western white women who have dominated the popular narrative around feminism, and have shaped its demands. Sometimes the results can be disastrous, such as with the Burka Ban in France.
With the right wing on the ascent, it is more pressing than ever for feminism to assert itself as a political force. Unfortunately, tendencies like white supremacy and religious fundamentalism are strong, and are able to accomplish oppressive measures against women with the support of some women. Whether its conservative white women in Alabama who support restrictive abortion policies, or anti-trans so-called feminists speaking at alt right and far right nationalist events – its clear that some women do feel protected by the white supremacist nation-state and “traditional” gender binary, even as they are actively oppressed by patriarchy. This reminds me of the Arab native informants that would come onto CNN and Fox News to justify the war in Iraq during the Bush years.
However, more women are outside of the inner circle of white supremacy and wealth than inside. And although women are under severe attack right now, people are fighting back around the world, from protests in Alabama to Sudanese and Algerian women exercising revolution. And under this climate of global austerity, these struggles are interlinked with class struggle in the natural way they should be. What would happen if women workers of the world unite, in all their variation, diversity, and strength?
For one, we could see the end of gendered violence. The means of force have always been only considered proper to a man, and men have used this power to murder, rape, imprison, and exploit women – whether through the nuclear family, employment, state violence. What would community self defense for women look like such that it could defend from this? What would it look like to smash this power?
We could also think the end of economic exploitation proper to women, the “primitive accumulation” of unpaid domestic work.
Both of these call for the end of the state and capital, ultimately, as intertwined as they are with patriarchy. They mean empowering women politically and economically. It could mean women arming themselves to achieve this. Ultimately, it’s a fight against the state’s patriarchal institutions and ties to capital, and capital’s ability to decide the distribution of income (dependent on the profit motive).
It’s also a more diffuse cultural fight, within our homes, neighborhoods, places of work, schools, and so on – but these are all connected with the greater institutions that regulate our lives and foster our dependence.