THE THEME OF OUR PANEL is from Hugo Chavez’s 2009 declaration at the Via Campesina conference in Brazil. (Audience member said this was actually at the World Social Forum; I checked and it was but the event was sponsored by the Via Campesina.) “True socialism,” he said, “is feminist.” Three other Latin American presidents stood beside him: from Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. It was President Rafael Correa of Ecuador who amplified the Chavez declaration, by saying that unlike traditional socialism, 21st century socialism includes gender justice, ethnic justice and inter-generational justice. These issues are often considered “soft issues” by those who perceive class as the main or predominant system of oppression/ exploitation in society.
Despite this unequivocal declaration, those of us who work at the organizing of and advocacy for women continue to be at the receiving end of catcalls, continue to experience friction with other political groups and continue to be required to defend the ideological and political position we have taken. These compel us to periodically examine the issue of intersectionality and why this concept is so difficult to integrate into the binary view of class conflict. Several core or pivotal reasons come to the fore immediately:
"Those of us who work at the organizing of and advocacy
for women continue to be at the receiving end of catcalls, continue to experience friction with other political groups
and continue to be required to defend the ideological
and political position we have taken."
the continued refusal to accept women’s historical scholarship and its findings that the reification of women’s knowledge, labor and bodies antedated the institutionalization of private property; that in truth, such reification was integral to the creation of private property and that indeed, women comprised the first form of private property
the insistence—and we can only call it a patriarchal insistence—on separating the category “women” from the category “people,” such that women’s liberation is often juxtaposed, contrasted, counter-poised, deemed secondary to people’s liberation. In this view, women’s liberation is often reduced to a thin tissue of gender relations, rather than viewed as a comprehensive resolution of a complex set of contradictions affecting women, contradictions which, taken as a whole, actually condemn class society and demand its transformation.
the dismissal or under-valuation of the dynamic between production and re-production—the non-integration of the latter in the social structural analysis, following the separation, during the Industrial Revolution, of home and workplace. Ironically, this is a capitalist narrative, truly, that compartmentalizes human social existence, the better to inflict a higher rate of exploitation upon an atomized labor force. In this narrative, only work is divorced and separated as a special human activity done under the aegis of capital; only wage labor is recognized as work; hence the oft-repeated and rather ludicrous prescription for women “to engage in production” in order to liberate themselves—ignoring the historical truth that women have always been engaged in production since the beginning of human history.
the under-valuation of either or both generational and daily replenishment of labor in the cycle of production and reproduction of goods and services. The cost of such replenishment has been borne by women, largely; it is estimated that the global unpaid household labor of women annually amounts to $1 trillion—an unprecedented theft casually ignored in the Left’s creation of its laundry lists of demands.
the neglect of structural analysis in the rather catastrophic failures of “socialist” societies—such analyses concentrating instead on what is claimed as “revisionist” interpretation of ideology. Not much attention has been paid to how “socialist” societies have been organized, whether class hierarchy has been replaced by a hierarchy of privilege, and where women are located—socially, economically and politically speaking—in the new hierarchy; plus of course whether such a new hierarchy eventually leads to the (re) institutionalization of exploitation, marginalization and dominance, all in the name of preserving the socialist state.
and this is the last; a great deal of feminist thought revolves around intersections of oppression. The question of course is whether a class-based analysis or system of thought can encompass intersectionality, or whether, dialectics notwithstanding, whether such will remain linear and cognizant of only one system of oppression. (If we were to reduce this difference to a set of contrasting images, class analysis would be represented by a stack of taijitu, seemingly different but remaining the same, property vs propertyless; one set of contradictions rises to become “principal” as it moves toward maturity and others become “secondary” but the basic one is the same; on the other hand, feminist analysis would be a pinwheel of interlocking taijitu, spinning not only through social space but also social time; all sprouting from the central node of women’s oppression.)
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THERE ARE OTHER SOURCES OF FICTION, not the least being the ahistoricity and lack of context in dealing with women’s political language. The most common critique against feminism is the supposedly bourgeois character of the call for equality, the assumption being that any and all calls for gender equality is based on equality within the status quo. If I may cite Gloria Steinem, than whom there’s no more liberal feminist, she said it is not a merely a matter of getting a larger share of the pie but rather of baking a whole new pie altogether. In any case, there’s certainly a huge difference between the Facebook CEO calling for equality and a woman in India demanding equality. History and context and structural matrix all seem to fly out the window where women’s political language is concerned.
I have only two more points:
- the traditional view of the separation of work and the rest of a human being’s existence—his/her familial, social and political life removed from his/her engagement in production—has had a devastating consequence for 250 million transnational labor. These migrant workers have had their existence effectively divided; thus, their socio-political life remains linked to a supposedly home country from which they are absent; while their economic lives are spent in a country where they have absolutely no social existence. (A World Bank apologist wrote that this was no different from commuting to the office from the suburbs.) This is part of imperialism’s narrative of globalization, the creation of an international homeless population—or a population that has a “virtual” home, via photographs, memorabilia, letters, phone calls… This is an international reserved pool of labor, subject to the most extreme exploitation and the most onerous of oppressions.
- the recent implementation of a Venezuelan law, passed by Chavez, granting pensions to full-time mothers—i.e., those who have not engaged as it were in “production”—points to a different way of viewing the contradiction between private and public spheres, a way of integrating them and a way of returning to the pre-class motive for social organizations. That pre-class motive was very simply the preservation and continuation of the species.
I shall end here and perhaps our discussion will bring forth even more ideas.
Thank you. #
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One significant point brought up by a member of the audience was the issue of the autonomy of women’s progressive organizations and the friction caused when social transformation movements insist on using women’s organizations as an auxiliary force for the advance of general radical change but refuse to aid such organizations in the furtherance of changes needed for their collective liberation.
One “reason” for such an “arrangement” underlies the oft-repeated question: “are women liberated by people’s liberation and conversely, can women’s liberation liberate the people?’ Regarding the first clause, one can only cite the recent issuance of the All-China Women’s Federation which advised “leftover women” to focus less on their career so as to have a better chance at getting married. Granted that the party that governs the All-China Women’s Federation has gone off its ideological rocker, the incident underscores the risks in being an auxiliary force. So people’s liberation might liberate women along one axis but if its framework is masculinist or even non-cognizant of male privilege, such a women’s liberation will remain along one axis and not spill over to other systems of oppression.
On the converse clause, one can only point to the transformational character of women’s activism and organizing, and their long-term impact on society. For instance, labor unions in the US were NOT admitting women workers and workers of color until women workers organized and went on an all-women strike. After that unions opened its doors to both women workers and workers of color. Mathematically, one might add that if one liberated half or more than half of the population, wouldn’t that suffice to create a profound transformation?