Between May 8-10 1998, La Gryffe, an anarchist book shop in Lyon (France), organized a series of anarchist days. These three days were meant as an opportunity " to take stock of the social movement, the forms of struggle, the anarchist movement since May '68 and to think about future means to act upon the world."
These three days have illuminated a paradox of the anarchist movement. The questioning of society in its entirety remains in reality limited to the questioning of the 'public' sphere, the only one to be considered as political. It unfortunately avoids doing this via the questioning of what happens in the 'private', 'personal' sphere (as well inside militant groups as in individual households), one which remains considered non-political, and even non -social... As if, on the one side, there were individuals whose psychology, behavior and relations were determined separately from society and social relationships, through 'free will' and, on the other side, social relations, apparently assimilated to abstractions, empty of all meaning since they are emptied of individuals... .
Despite a stated desire for openness re: the struggle against patriarchy from the organizers of these three days of discussion, we have nonetheless experienced a denial of the oppression of women and a stigmatization of the non-mixed feminist movement that denounces that oppression. This was the motivation for the feminist challenge expressed during the plenary meeting of Sunday afternoon.
How did this come about?
Did you say... institutional violence?!
During the debate on 'institutional violence in the activist community', Friday, the question of male power was addressed very superficially. In response, several interventions by women tended to demonstrate that the 'militant leadership' is almost systematically exercised by men. This problem of male power was both overtly denied (certain persons saying that the women who spoke up were 'changing the subject') and shored up with attempted justifications, such as the following recurring arguments:
- The necessity of transmitting and/or sharing militant and political knowledge, implicitly conceptualized as detained, of course, by the 'trained' or 'experienced' activists, hence by the present leaders. As these leaders are 99.9% men, this argument implies that knowledge would be exclusively detained by men, while women would be 'more practical' (sic). But how come there never are 'trained' or 'experienced' female activists?
The concept of voluntary servitude, one that absolves dominants (men, whites, straights...) of their responsibility and shifts it on the dominated. In this way, oppression becomes a personal, psychological thus non-social problem.
We can thus observe how, on the issue of women's oppression, several anarchists claim that each individual is able to STRUCTURE HIM/HERSELF outside of social gender relations. Nevertheless, they do not deny that other social relations define individuals in relationship to each other.
" I'm anarchist, thus I'm antisexist ". But what form does this antisexist struggle take? What demands are voiced to the outside world? What vigilance do we show toward oppressive patterns inside our groups? And which personal questioning do allow? The minute number of actions that can be organized are mainly reflective of the public sphere and are never interrelated; they do not integrate the forms of oppression prevalent in the private sphere and that also benefit anarchist men... This leads to the exclusion of the all-important feminist concept 'the private is political'.
The notions of sexism and of antisexist struggle as they are used in the anarchist movement, absolutely do not account for the existence of patriarchy, i.e. a social relationship of dominance (and thus oppression) exerted by the male gender against the female gender. This view of sexism seems limited to discrimination based upon gender, nothing more : yet, in society, there isn't only gender-based discrimination, but also an asymmetric social position based upon gender. We women and men are not assigned to the same hierarchical place in society. The current form of anarchist antisexism isn't enough because it only takes into consideration a part of the problem, and often serves to mask its very foundation. This form of antisexism de facto refuses to acknowledge - contrary to feminism - a specific oppression of women by men, an oppression that differs if women are lesbians, bi- or heterosexuals. This antisexism reduces oppression to alienation, one that would 'equally' apply to men and women.
Non-mixed female organizing on trial !
Friday evening, we had to endure hostile responses to non-mixity during the projection of the video 'Feminist chronicles' in a non-mixed female setting. These discussions continued on the following day after during the non-mixed female debate on anarchafeminism.
During this debate, WHO WAS WRITING HISTORY ?
" 1968 and after, thirty years of social movements " – This discussion offered us 3 or 4 'historical leaders', but no single person to express the experience of one of the most important social movements of that period : the women's liberation movement. We may think that, even if it wasn't intentional, there occurred a reproduction of the marginalisation of women's struggles in this programming.
But, it's during the debate on patriarchal order, Saturday afternoon, that the antifeminist reactions have been the most violent and provoked our response : from our feminist point of view, it was impossible to ignore such a backlash. What we witnessed was indeed a TRIAL rather than a debate. Its very form made this debate an act of aggression and a condemnation of our struggle practices, viz. :
- the use of anecdotal examples to generally question feminist and lesbian
This debate served to deny our commitment and the legitimacy of our analysis; a will to shut us up was clearly expressed.
Denouncing and attacking female non-mixity, as was done there, is also a way of suggesting that a real mixity exists. Yet, we believe that mixity is an illusion: either it is almost non-existing (in the workplace, at school from the very first orientation choices, in political organizations, in unions...), or, on those rare occasions where it occurs, it is inequalitarian i.e. a minority of men is occupy the center, while women are kept at the periphery, reduced to a role of spectators, a second-class role, bound to the norms defined by these men and to the male power of which they are depositaries. This uncritical primacy granted to mixity also denies the necessity for the oppressed to organize by themselves against their oppression and their oppressors... That the oppressed should become the SUBJECTS of their struggles is nevertheless an anarchist principle; many of us thus found it impossible and useless to speak up and attempt to justify something that shouldn't call for justification: the way in which this debate has taken place well illustrates the power relations created in a mixed setting, doing so even better than whatever argumentation.
Men complain to feel excluded by female non-mixity, yet, when given an opportunity to deal with the issue of mixity under the theme 'the patriarchal order', they divert the debate by steering and limiting it to accusations leveled at on-mixity... . This well demonstrates the necessity of female non-mixed gatherings to REALLY work AGAINST the patriarchal order!
Consequently, we decided on a collective process to prepare an intervention during the last debate on Sunday concerning 'the future of the anarchist movement'. For us it was the opportunity to challenge the powers in place: those of men, those of leaders...
What anarchist future for the anarchist movement?
Male speakers were following one another at the podium, formulating official versions of history, politics and the strategy of their organizations... no single woman, no single lesbian on the horizon of HIStory...
Our first action were placards reading 'SEXIST VIOLENCE' and a banner asking 'IS THIS A NON-MIXED MEETING?' together with more placards of a caustic but realistic humor. We wanted to illustrate, in a simplified way for material reasons, a simultaneous decoding of the pertinent dominant discourses and how they were functioning' there. Another placard 'WITH YOU, WITH US' was addressed to the women critical of non-mixity.
Despite some remarks provoked by our presence (an eloquent one although we remained silent), the debate went on as if we didn't exist. WE EXPERIENCED BEING RENDERED INVISIBLE AS IS THE SITUATION OF WOMEN, LESBIANS AND THEIR STRUGGLE.
Our second action: our move from the periphery to the center of the room. WE WANTED TO TAKE OUR PLACE IN THE CENTRE OF THE PUBLIC SPACE IN AN OFFENSIVE AND CHOS EN MANNER. We are joined in our initiative by other women present in the room. If we talked amongst each other, it was meant to render visible the fact that in 'general', men speak amongst each other. Tension grew and one man shouted at us: 'sectarians', 'fascists', 'stupid bitches' (pauv'connes), 'lesbians'... Worse, we found ourselves being accused of manipulation by women inside our group, for so-called refusal to communicate and sectarianism. These are traditional instruments of power, used by the dominants to maintain and reaffirm their domination: they simply use against ourselves the critique we addressed to them. Most of the anarchist men refuse to include themselves in the group of the oppressors, even though some readily admit that this reality is the only point of departure that could permit a questioning of this role and of their participation in the maintenance of patriarchy.
Finally, certain persons stigmatized our so-called 'will to sabotage the debate' , claiming to regret that the debate on the future of the anarchist movement couldn't take place 'normally'... . It's self-evident that we regret that certain other debates (notably the one on patriarchy) couldn't take place 'normally' either... And our intention was, notably, to raise awareness, in this debate, about of the place of feminist struggles in the future of the anarchist movement. Thus our intervention was totally relevant to the issues in debate.
A profoundly anarchist action.
This action was based on a common motivation, but it's development was completely spontaneous, as well as the choice of the women who joined us, and was entirely dependant of the reactions of the public. It could have turned out completely different...
Our feminist action allowed us to raise several questions regarding anarchist commitment and practices :
- Isn't analysis of male dominance, of women's oppression and of lesbophobia a individual and collective work of all men and women ? And what is the significance of the explanations or justifications being systematically demanded from feminists ?
- How can we reflect on the articulation of the different struggles when none of them is perceived as a 'specific' question ? Not only do we refuse the notion of a hierarchy of struggles but we also deem essential a transversal vision of social and political reality.
- How do we perceive the relationship between individual/social relations ? What links do we acknowledge between he personal and the political ? How are collective relations produced/reproduced in the private or personal space ? How can an individual, an individual subject make political choices in a society that is constructed in unequal categories and classes ?
And always, Feminists as long as will be necessary !
Collective of the women, feminists and lesbians involved in the feminist action organized during the anarchist days of May 8-10 in Lyon (France).
From: "Léo Vidal"
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