Anarcha-Feminism: Rejecting Assimilation as Liberation

Being the eighth part in a series on different feminisms, the seventh part was, “Fat Feminism: Health At Every Size.

Anarcha-Feminism, that is the joining together of the philosophies of Anarchy and Feminism, is an idea that dates back further than even the three main waves of feminism we’re used to seeing. Especially within western feminist thought, there seems to be this idea that feminism started with the publishing of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. With all credit and respect to Friedan, feminism goes back quite a bit further than that, as was explored in my piece on first wave feminism, and which I will explore more here.

Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote the Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (published in 1792), is sometimes seen as the original anarcha-feminist, if only because her writing was nothing if not feminist, and because her husband and father were anarchists.

The cornerstone of Wollstonecraft’s argument was the importance of women to be educated. That for the good of the health of a society, women must be as equally educated as men:

“Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue.” (Wollstonecraft, 211).

Dating back to the 1930s there were anarchist’s who fought for the equality of women. The Mujeres Libres, or the Free Women – who had ties to the Federacion Anarquista Iberica – did not accept the rhetoric that women’s liberation would be a by- product of the revolution and instead fought for it as much as they did for political and economic revolution.

Professor of Government at Smith College, Martha Ackelsberg, has written extensively on the Mujeres Libres in her book Free Women of Spain. The Mujeres Libres published a journal by the same name and Ackelsberg had this to say about the journal:

The first issue of Mujeres Ubres, published on May 20, 1 936, was sold out almost immediately. A second Free Women ot Spain 1 29 issue appeared on June 15. Altogether, fourteen issues ware edited, though the last one was at the printer’s when the battlefront reached Barcelona, and no copies of it survive.

The editors of Mujeres Libres described their mission as:

addressed to working-class women­ whose education had long been neglected by the movement-aimed at “awakening the female conscience toward libertarian ideas.”

Generally, the Mujeres Libres didn’t actually identify as feminists, just as activists and libertarians who were trying to educate women, but their contribution to the education, liberation and advancement of women is what places them at the front of anarcha-feminism.

Then there was Emma Goldman, a woman who, in her own time, was jailed for advocating for women’s reproductive rights and who wrote prolifically on both the rights of women and on the ideas of Anarchy. Among other things Goldman wrote Anarchism and other Essays and while she was critical of first wave feminism, she was very much a feminist. Her draw to both Anarchy and Feminism come from a desire to abolish hierarchies, namely, the patriarchy.

“Anarchism: The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful as well as unnecessary.” (“Anarchism: What It Really Stands For”, Goldman)

Anarcha-Feminism generally views the patriarchy as a hierarchy created and perpetuated by coercion and necessity. The marriage that keeps women subservient to men, the economic inequality that continues to drive them to marriage, patriarchal institutions (churches, governments, work places), with hierarchical power structures, keep men at the top, and women at the bottom, or with men’s allowance, the middle. The idea of a decentralized society, a society without hierarchies or such rigid power structures, is the aim of Anarcha-Feminists. The struggle against patriarchy, the Anarcha-Feminist asserts, is an essential part of class struggle, as well as the anarchist struggle against the hierarchical state.

Anna Maria Mozzoni, an Italian Feminist who is remembered as a key figure in the Italian women’s suffrage movement, is quoted as having said, “[women] will find that the priest who damns you is a man; that the legislator who oppresses you is a man, that the husband who reduces you to an object is a man; that the libertine who harasses you is a man; that the capitalist who enriches himself with your ill-paid work and the speculator who calmly pockets the price of your body, are men.”

Mozzoni illustrates the Anarcha-Feminist idea that modern society is dominated by men, in addition to revealing that feminism from an anarchist perspective is hypercritical of the assimilation of women into the hierarchy of the patriarchy. To the Anarcha-Feminist, breaking the glass ceiling is not liberation, freedom or equality. It is simply, and tragically, becoming the oppressor.

Furthermore,  authoritarian traits and values such as domination, exploitation, aggression, and competition are necessary parts of hierarchical civilizations and are seen as “masculine” while non-authoritarian traits and values such as cooperation, sharing, compassion, and sensitivity are seen as “feminine” and thus devalued. This is important to note, as it perpetuates non-capitalist, non-hierarchical, non-statist traits in a patriarchal society as being feminine and thus less valuable and less useful.

It is important to note that the Anarcha-Feminist does not believe that the liberation of women can come through an equality founded within pre-existing power structures. As Peggy Kornegger, an American Anarcha-Feminist writer and editor, explains, “Feminism doesn’t mean female corporate power or a woman President; it means no corporate power and no Presidents. The Equal Rights Amendment will not transform society; it only gives women the ‘right’ to plug into a hierarchical economy. Challenging sexism means challenging all hierarchy – economic, political, and personal. And that means an anarcha-feminist revolution.”

Additionally, Anarcha-Feminists see marriage a bourgeois institution. They believe that it restricts their freedoms with regard to whom they may have relationships with, how many people they may have relationships with, whether their relationships should or should not be sexual or emotional in nature, and whether or not they have the right to make their own reproductive choices. Thus, they advocate for Free Love. Free Love is the anarchist response to the hierarchical, bourgeois, patriarchic institution of marriage.

Anarcha-Feminism lives on today, in the hands of people such as Peggy Kornegger, L. Susan Brown, Starhawk and Lilith, not to mention the uncounted and the unnamed, the group of dedicated activists who drive any radical movement, this one being no exception. In the face of a world that has greatly dismissed the ideas of anarchism in classrooms (based on my experience in United States public education), and made feminism out to be the great accomplishments of Hillary Clinton (see The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the fourth wave) and Margret Thatcher, Anarcha-Feminists have their work cut out for them, but as is true with any feminist idea, or any political idea, it can be nurtured individual by individual and community by community.

Anarcha-Feminists of Note

L. Susan Brown

Emma Goldman

Voltairine de Cleyre

Lucy Parsons

Federica Montseny

Virginia Bolten

Maria Lacerda de Moura

Lucia Sanchez Saornil

Mercedes Comaposada

Amparo Poch y Gascon

Peggy Kornegger

Starhawk

Lilith

Works Cited

Ackelsberg, Martha. Free Women of Spain. Libcom.Org.

Kornegger, Peggy. “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection”. Anarcha.org. Originally
published in “The Second Wave” magazine.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period. 9th ed. Vol. D. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 211-239. Print.

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