What have anarchists done for women’s rights?
“Anarchism fundamentally involves a belief that all power-relations based upon illegitimate hierarchy should be abolished. The most significant hierarchies for anarchists have traditionally been relations of capital, the state, and religion, although patriarchal relations are much more central to anarcho-feminist analysis. Anarchists place emphasis on the individual, but situate the individual within a collectivity, believing that participatory, horizontal forms of organization best enable the individual expression of all participants.” ~Beth Smith
Anarchist feminist writers and activists have progressed women’s rights in many ways. Since anarchist philosophy rejects dominant power structures and illegitimate hierarchies that oppress people, it is important in anarchist writings and communities to acknowledge power dynamics which exploit, harm, and/or subjugate others. As a result, one of the most important contributions that anarchism has made for feminism has been an acknowledgment of the existence of patriarchy, rape culture, sexual exploitation, and domestic violence as legitimate and pervasive issues that require education and redress.
Addressing these issues of comes in many different forms such as developing movements which seek to reform behaviors, laws, and cultural norms; developing systems of accountability that prevent oppressive behaviors towards women; and creating safe spaces for women that are free from subjugation and exploitation. Specifically, anarchists have demanded that dialogues concerning oppressive institutions and cultures include solutions for the domination of women.
In communities, anarchists often mandate several conditions that support women and their fight for autonomy and liberation:
– Progressive stacks: The practice that in public forums, those who are traditionally underrepresented and marginalized in society get to speak first, thus elevating voices and ideas not often heard in the mainstream or dominant culture (step up). Those who hold more power and occupy more space in the mainstream yield the floor to listen, empower, and offer mutual support and solidarity to those who possess lest power in society (step back).
– Safe spaces: Creating spaces in communities that are free from sexist, homophobic, racist, and hateful remarks. Often safe spaces are created for women only to discuss issues such as sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence without fear of being harrassed by men.
– Guidelines for respect: Accountability statements constructed by the community or group which set the rules or conditions for dialogue and behavior that is respectful and not harmful to others. All must consense to the guidelines and agree to adhere to them. Those who violate the guidelines are held accountable by the group/community by whichever process they decide.
– Personal pronouns: Asking people which pronoun to they prefer to be called by instead of assuming gender. Some persons reject notions of gender, occupy both genders, or are transgender and sometimes go by they instead of he or she.
– Not using gendered language: An acknowledgement that many phrases and words, especially old ones in the English language, excluded women when they were first penned. We can change that by using language that is inclusive. For example the phrase , “All men are created equal.” should be stated as “All humans are created equal.” in order to include women and others.
– Support for survivors of sexual assault: Rape culture is language, behavior, opinions, jokes, and attitudes which condone sexual violence of women. Offering support and mutual aid for victims of sexual assault means holding other men accountable for sexually inappropriate behavior, unwanted sexual advances, and looking the other way when someone is victimized.
– Reproductive health: Women lack access to health care, contraception, abortion services, and alternative health options. There are daily efforts to legislate women’s reproductive organs through the state. Though women do not need permission from the state to do what they will with their bodies, the state routinely restricts access to these health services in an effort to further disempower and subjugate women and make them slaves to children, poverty, and welfare. This act of aggression cannot be ignored. The community or group is responsible for working together to ensure access (by private or public means) since reproductive rights are not just a women’s issue.
– Open relationships: This is the idea that in a mutual, consenting adult relationship one person does not possess or have power over another person. The adults are free human beings who belong to no one, including the state. Each relationship is a contract negotiated by the adults involved and can create conditions for having multiple lovers, friends, and other interests.
– Communal child rearing: Some anarchist communities reject the idea of two parent families. Instead children have many guardians and teachers. This can take the form of mixed families, extended families, parent teams, and communal child rearing. Fathers are expected to have major roles in their child’s life where women are not the sole caregivers.
Not all anarchists are activists who actively challenge the state on legislative and policy reform, however they resist patriarchy in their daily lives by recognizing that the oppression of women exists globally and as a result they must create codes of behavior in their community that empower women and keep them free from harm. These practices are visible in anarchist collectives, communal living spaces, communities, schools, work places, and other events.
How should an anarchist approach the women’s movement?
“Feminism doesn’t mean female corporate power or a woman President; it means no corporate power and no Presidents.” ~ P. Korneger
The women’s movement is not a universal movement. It is very fragmented and divided by class. What upper class white women want, is not the same as what queer women of color want. Some feminists want more female CEOs, presidents, and women in leadership positions, while others want to eradicate rape, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. Some just want a seat at collective decision making tables while others simply wish to be paid more and not discriminated against. In order to understand what feminist women want, you must ask them and listen first.
Assuming women want the same things as men, assumes that we are already all equal. Unfortunately, we have not achieved that state yet, though women have made huge strides in achieving independence from men in the last 100 years. Other movements ignore the power inequities that exist within their own circles, therefore they perpetuate the same dominance over women that mainstream society does. Anarchism seeks to identify all structural inequalities and address them through individual actions and changing social norms within their own communities. If we cannot model inclusive behavior ourselves, how can we demand it from others or be in solidarity with those that ask for liberation?