Feminism: Disarmed? Indulgent? Introverted?

It has become normal for people in these debates to begin by criticizing the title of the debate–and I won’t be the first to break this tradition.

What I take exception to in the title is the word ‘disarmed’ because I don’t believe feminism was ever armed in the first place. It always was, is now, and will remain, ‘unarmed.’ The demands of the women’s movement have never had revolutionary implications; they have never posed threats to either the state or capitalist society and therefore it is a mistake to think of it as a once revolutionary force now diluted by reformism.

It is precisely because of the women’s movement rationale itself that it could never be revolutionary. Its professed aim has been to put women on an equal footing with men, to explain oppression in terms of sex instead of class. This analysis was wrong on both counts. By presupposing that men, as a sex, call all the shots and are more privileged in all respects, feminists risk losing sight of the fact that men in this society are themselves subject to discrimination and oppression based on class. The desire to be equal to men seems ridiculous to me, for who would want to be equal to slaves?

Of course many feminists recognize this and try to get round it by claiming that women’s demands, if implemented, would revolutionize society. They say that once a deep and thorough-going realignment of the sexes takes place, once the psychological barriers which divide men from women are removed, society in its present form would be radically altered. Patriarchy, so the argument runs, is the source of oppression, preceding the development of classes and capitalism; and the consequence of its demise would be a free and equal society.

The second mistake is to treat ‘freedom’ as quantitative. Human freedom is not divisible, degrees of oppression are not real criteria with which to analyze society. It is immaterial whether patriarchy preceded class development. Oppression is based on class and I believe that the men and women of one class must unite and fight the men and women of the ruling class. To say, as Astrid Proll did, that she knew she could get justice because the judge hearing her case was a woman, is dangerous. It is dangerous because it promotes a myth–the myth of sisterhood. As if all women, despite their class, have something fundamentally in common, because they share the same kind of sex organs.

The myth of sisterhood works against revolutionaries in two ways. It separates men from women. You all know of ‘women only’ meetings. Surely our concern is to bring people together not to erect still more barriers. The ‘woman is superior’ syndrome is not something I am exaggerating for tonight–it is plainly visible in Spare Rib among the contributors who state that they hate their male children–at six months old! It’s horrendous. The worst aspect of the ‘myth of sisterhood’ is that it leads directly to women’s issues alone and undermines the solidarity so important to a revolutionary movement and neglects a class analysis. Thus women’s demands have been channeled into projects like the First Women’s National Bank of New York, which allows men to have accounts but not to become shareholders. The logic behind this seems to be that self-managed oppression and exploitation is better. It also indicates the identification of women’s rights with women careerists and professionals. There is no demand for revolution–just a demand that within the framework of this economic and social system women get a fair deal. Big deal!


Of course it is true that within the women’s movement there are those women who call themselves revolutionaries, whose rationale appears to be that they recognize that women will never achieve anything other than superficial equality unless society undergoes a revolutionary change. They say however that they prefer to work with women only, because they feel dominated among men. I can understand that to a point but no problem was ever solved by ignoring it. If some men are domineering toward women they should be confronted by the fact–it’s no use going away and hoping that in your absence the man or men in question will come to their senses. Anyway some women feel dominated by other women–what do they do then? Form a sub-group of submissive women only?

Some women use the ‘degrees’ of oppression argument as an explanation for their work in the women’s movement. The point of the argument being that you should work with the most oppressed. For example Kate Millet says that in the United States white women are more oppressed than black males. I’m not sure how points are allocated but I suppose that a black working class unmarried mother who’s a lesbian must get the highest score.

Demands for free abortion, better day care facilities and so on are important only in so far as they make life today that much easier–in much the same way as demands for prison reform in the way of more association, longer visits and the like, makes prison life a little easier. But these reforms should be left to the liberals; they don’t come to grips with the basic problem in society. For women who feel themselves to be revolutionaries it is more important that they see past these reforms and concern themselves with more fundamental issues. When someone says ‘I’m an anarchist-feminist’ to me that’s like saying ‘I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t eat meat.’ To me anarchism stands for the individual liberation of each human being.

For the reasons I’ve given I don’t believe feminism was ever ‘armed’ in the sense that it ever provided a revolutionary challenge to the state. But is it also ‘introverted’ and ‘indulgent’? Briefly then:

A glance at some of the feminist fiction around is, I think, a fair indication of the concerns of the women’s movement. Pick, say, Marge Piercy’s books, Woman on the Edge of Time and Vida. It seems odd that feminists who are allegedly concerned with destroying the current sexual stereotypes are setting up new ones, and have books full of ‘beautiful’ people. Piercy’s heroines are all very physically attractive to men. Moreover the men themselves conform to the same old model: handsome, strong and athletic. Indeed in Vida it is the slightly feminine man who betrays the heroine.

Also, for some ridiculous reason, cats play an important role–they supposedly represent the female image. Is that supposed to be soft and fluffy? While dogs are despised, the reason for which I haven’t yet grasped, but apparently dogs are more masculine.

I think that this type of fiction which reflects feminist issues shows them to be introverted and indulgent in the same way as conferences on orgasm are. By all means talk about these things with your friends, male and female–or with strangers if you will. But don’t try to give them a political expression or use them as examples of political oppression of women by men.

Finally, I want to acknowledge some benefit from the feminist movement–simply that it has done something to change the nature of relationships between men and women; with developments in technology that give us effective contraception, for example, relationships were bound to evolve. But anarchists have to go further–it is not possible to have ‘free’ relationships in an unfree society. We can work towards it, true, but we can never obtain it until we have a free society in which to develop properly. I maintain that human beings and human relationships cannot be free until the oppression of the state and capital is destroyed and a classless society is created. Nothing less will do.

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