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Talkshop Notes - Anarchism and Feminism

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is I should say here tonight. There is so much to be said about the practice of anarchism and the practice of feminism that it can be really overwhelming. I finally decided that the essence of what I wanted to talk about was expressed in one concept: unpaid labour.

But first, let’s dispense with dualism. Dualism causes lots of problems when we try to analyse something as complex as gender oppression and gender privilege within capitalist society. If you try to apply the oppressor / victim analysis to every novel situation, you get nonsense such as “all men are rapists” (and hence all women are rape victims), or at best a bifurcation: “men are from mars women are from venus”. I’m not a victim, and I’m not from venus - something is lacking from the simple dualist analysis.

We live in a complex society where class oppression interlocks with racial oppression, and gender oppression, and sexuality oppression, and body image oppression, and so on. We might be able to point to one or other oppression and say “look, there’s the most important locus of oppression” and decide that all of our organising should be concentrated at that one point. Lots of leftists organise at work - the point of production of socially valued commodities. The idea is to seize the means and tools of prodcution and threaten capital with our fructive power. But we can’t simply ignore these other forms of oppression because they are (supposedly) less likely to lead to revolution.

As anarchists, we’re meant to be against all forms of hierarchy and domination. But to say that one struggle against an overwhelming everyday oppression is more important than another one is actually creating a hierarchy of domination - the domination of one struggle by another. In reality, struggles against every day oppression mix and reinforce one another, and we are both oppressed and oppressor each day of our lives. Living out the anarchist revolution has as much to do with refusing gender privilege as it does with freeing factories from capitalist appropriation.

Today’s society is complex - a few women are CEOs and a few men are housewives. This complexity shouldn’t phase us from seeing what is really going on. Women CEO’s still suffer some gender disadvantage. Being locked out of the old boys club, being talked over in meetings, being presumed incompetent by underlings , and possibly being sexually threatened because their ’success’ is a threat to masculine virility. But do I, a working class anarchist woman care about this fictious female CEO? Should I get out of bed to picket for her right to earn big bucks by enforcing labour discipline against me simply because she’s a woman? No. no and no again!

There is no way this woman should be subject to gender discrimination. But there is nothing that gives her the right to class privilege over me either. I would gladly help this woman to combat the gender discrimination, but only on the condition she gives up her class privilege over me. When womens politics comes into contact with class politics, the only anarchist solution can be a divesting of privilege, and a struggle for true equality.

Same goes for my comrades here - my support of them in their struggles, and in our mutual struggles together comes at the price of an end to their privilege - a renunciation of their privilege over all others, including me as a woman.

Another byproduct of complexity is that it is a little harder to see privilege and disprivilege. I can discern gender privilege when I resist against it. The barrier is there, just out of sight, and it is very real. There are a myriad of behaviours and discussions that are taboo for women in this society. Talking about gender oppression is top of the list. Where do we get the idea of the ‘crazy feminist’ from? Most feminists are very logical, rational women who wanted gender equality within their own class. They didn’t even demand anything really radical like “an end to wage labour”, or the distruction of class society as we know it. They simply look rationally at gender relations and conclude “that’s not right, there must be equality of the sexes”. Not too strange a demand, yet we have a social unconscious image of feminists as crazy people, who don’t have a grip on reality. The collective unconscious forms this idea to excuse the individual’s continuted mistreatment of women and to enforce the taboo on women organising against being oppressed as a gender.

Other discources that are taboo for women include some that we probably know a lot about now, even though we may not have broken them down entirely: talking about menstruation, talking about rape and sexual abuse (from actual rape to the continued sexualisation of women through the popular and underground media). Talking about cunts in a positive sense. Refusing to shave body hair, refusing to diet. If you think these don’t exist, try testing them and gage the reaction you get.

But the one I want to bring out tonight is unpaid labour. Not only because it fits directly with a marxist / anarchist analysis of class oppression, but because I am sick of doing it.

Women do unpaid labour. This labour is socially vital, yet it is dismissed by those who prejudice workplace politics due to a belief that there is only one ‘point of production’ where the means and tools can be seized. Some of the unpaid labour that women routinely do includes:
* Being emotional. Counselling friends, co-workers, bosses and lover when they ask. Being approached to counsel because of the fact of being a woman.
* Conforming to gender expectations - grooming. The hours spent grooming!!
* Consuming in order to groom! Those hours upon hours at K-mart, or at the op-shop searching for the perfect skirt to express our personalities. Normalising the dissapointment of not finding it: “if I were skinnier, I’d have better luck op-shopping”.
* Doing housework. Chasing others to do housework. Deciding not to do housework, and obsessing about that choice. Being incredulous about how long others will wallow in filth while they wait for you do do housework.
* Sexual services - from grooming to dating to sex when you don’t quite feel like it. To sex at all. To being sexy to fulfil a role, to denying sexuality to fulfil a role. To never knowing when that sexiness if real and when its faked. Being told by a woman at “Reclaim the Night” that women should excercise “pussy power” to make men become pro-feminist.
* Child raising. Why is that a woman’s task? Why is child care a “womens issue”? Why is abortion a “womens issue”?
* Being nice. Being clean. Smiling. Forgiving minor sexual assaults.
* Confirming the myth of male power. Taking a back seat. Doing support work in the (unconfirmed belief that the guys would do it for you). Ignoring the sexist, racist, ageist shit because you fear exclusion.
* Most insidious for anarchist / broadly left women: taking on the feminist cause within left groups. Explaining feminism to ‘left’ men. Taking up feminist causes within mixed-gender collectives, only to find that feminist work is ‘extra’ work to the collective’s main function. Patiently or impatiently waiting for men to realise that you’re saying something logical about gender relationships, and then realising that they view combating patriarchy as entirely optional. Normalising that dissapointment. Normalising the need to shout to be heard. Normalising being called “crazy”, “irrational”, “hysterical”. Learning to hear “don’t wind her up again” after you finish speaking.
* And more …

The thing about unpaid labour is that it is socially necessary labour. Imagine if no-one did the dishes for a month. Or took children to school, or cared for their boss at work. Money might not change hands, the form of exchange might be removed from the sexy machines associated with blue collar labour - but such labour is still very real. Such a strike would bring real pressure to bear on the oppressors - at work, at home, in society at large.

As long as unpaid labour exists, society gets a free ride off the back of someone or other. At the moment, those people are mostly women. The carer, the nurturer, the housewife. What’s more, it doesn’t matter whether or not we as women do unpaid labour. While that role exists at all are tarred by it. We are either its drudges or we are outcasts for denying it. By refusing to engage in unpaid labour we become the crazy women. Some of us are outcasts who are suckered into becoming drudges out of love, or care, or because ’someone’s got to do it’. Love and care - beautiful genuine emotions, and treacherous as excuses to be lashes to domestic slavery.

So why do we even do unpaid labour? Why is it there? I can’t say how it started that women did ‘unpaid labour’ and men did ‘tradeable labour’ . The reasons ususally have something to do with childbirth and childcare, but that doesn’t take into account the very fact that childcare is itself unpaid labour. It could be that in feudal society, the nuclear family was en economic unit which faced the world - so tasks were divided yet equally compenated. In Australia there actually was an industrial relations court decision (Harvester) that told women their wage was worth less than a man’s partly because the compensation for her domestic work was paid to him! Go figure.

Nowadays we’re still fighting against the habbits of those times - women only recently got equal pay in law, and are still fighting for it in practice. So partly, unpaid labour is institutionalised, partly a habbit, but mostly I think we do it because its easier. If I don’t do the dishes, my house is unpleasant. If I don’t care for my boss emotionally, my working time is really tense. If I don’t care for my children (if I had any), they would fall rapidly to delinquency and I’d become a shamed mother.

I think part of the way forward for anarchist women is a letting go of doing unpaid labour, letting it stay undone to some extent. Refusing it. But this really can’t go on unless men take up some of that unpaid labour on themselves. If men did half as much unpaid labour as women are expected to do, we could struggle together against a common enemy: appropriation of our free time by non-exchangeable social reproductive labour.

But men don’t do as much unpaid labour as women are expected to do. They aren’t expected to do it. They don’t expect to do it. This is the manifestation of patriarchy. This is a system of difference, of splitting where there should be solidarity. Working class men and women should be able to unite to refuse unpaid labour, but it can’t happen while men are telling women that the only real struggle is in the paid workplace, and asking why isn’t dinner on the table?

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