Male and female power, and ‘structural analysis’ – avoiding the MRA contagion, at Liberation is Life

Cross-posted from: Liberation is Life
Originally published: 01.04.18

There’s an MRA-style position too beloved of economistic socialists — it would be wrong to call them marxists — which treats women’s unsympathetic wordstowards males as being on a par with male-pattern control over women and children, and all the violence and abuse which that entails.

This economism acts as though a sufficient anti-capitalist critique can be accomplished by ignoring capital’s support for male power over women and children, and by blaming DV and rape mainly on ‘poverty and cutbacks’. By avoiding any mention of gendered socialisation and how it is actively enforced, especially via society’s main institutions, from birth.

Real marxists reject the claim that this is any kind of competent ‘structural analysis’.

The failure to get this right makes it impossible to ‘structurally critique’, or understand the inherently oppressive nature of, a key institution of capitalism — the capitalist (male-led) family unit: ….

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Liberation is Life : Renewing a feminism that’s scientific and fighting (marxist) rather than individualist/consumerist. That opposes neoliberal reasoning-via-identity arguments along the lines of ‘I identify as feminist/marxist/radical and therefore my position is feminist/marxist/radical and I have no need to justify it’. This leads only to sectarianism – to the abandonment of solidarity with women who ‘identify’ differently – and to the dumbing-down of feminism.

Wild Politics by Susan Hawthorne

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 19.01.18

 

“What I hope for is a world filled with richness, texture, depth and meaning. I want diversity with all its surprises and variety. I want an epistemological multiversity which values the context and real-life experiences of people. I want a world in which relationship is important, and reciprocity is central to social interaction. I want a world which can survive sustainably for at least 40,000 years. I want a wild politics”.


Read more Wild Politics by Susan Hawthorne

Female socialisation to ‘care’, and the political impacts on proletarian feminism, at Liberation is Life

Cross-posted from: Liberation is Life
Originally published: 16.10.17

Because of our socialised belief that it is women’s responsibility to put our own needs behind those of others, women in the feminist movement also often expect its other members to deprioritise the cause and their own needs, in order to provide for theirs.

This common expectation on the part of feminist women that we should be ‘agreeable’ and ‘caring’ (at least in a performative sense, by ensuring that those around us perceive us as such) has wide-ranging ramifications, such as women desiring the cessation of both political debate and even criticism of individuals, because such criticism interferes with one’s personal and social comfort levels.

These expectations tend to work ‘down’ social hierarchies, in that more bourgeois ‘feminists’ are less accustomed to prioritising others and less accustomed to the pressure to agree with what other women say, although they may expect more proletarianised women to agree with them.

 

You can read the full text here.

socialisation not to disagree

 

 

Liberation is Life : Renewing a feminism that’s scientific and fighting (marxist) rather than individualist/consumerist. That opposes neoliberal reasoning-via-identity arguments along the lines of ‘I identify as feminist/marxist/radical and therefore my position is feminist/marxist/radical and I have no need to justify it’. This leads only to sectarianism – to the abandonment of solidarity with women who ‘identify’ differently – and to the dumbing-down of feminism.

 

‘Housewifization International: Women and the New International Division of Labour’ Maria Mies

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 11.01.18

“The whole strategy is based on a patriarchal, sexist, racist ideology of women which defines women basically as housewives and sex objects.”

Maria Mies: Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale Women in the International Division of Labour

I have written previously about Maria Mies’ thesis on how the success of the accumulation of capitalism has been dependent on patriarchy and the oppression and exploitation of women.

In Chapter 3 (‘Colonization and Housewifization’) she outlined how wealth and growth in Western countries was based on exploitation of the colonies, where countries, dominated by colonial powers became the producers of consumer goods for rich countries. Rather than meeting their own needs, production in developing countries was promoted to meet the demands of markets in developed countries.

“Production and consumption are now divided by the world market to an unprecedented degree”. (p.114)

 


Read more ‘Housewifization International: Women and the New International Division of Labour’ Maria Mies

Girls Education is Imperative for Our Collective Success, by @rupandemehta.

Cross-posted from: Rupande Mehta
Originally published: 17.07.16

July 12, 2016 marked Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousofzai’s 19th birthday. Twitter celebrated the occasion with various hashtags (#YesAllGirls, #GirlsEducation, #MalalaDay) and by holding several chats. I had the pleasure of being part of one such chat (#REFSpeak), hosted by The Red Elephant Foundation led by the brilliant Kirthi Jayakumar. (Kirthi, a Mogul Influencer and Global Ambassador, is a lawyer by profession but tirelessly works for women’s rights the world over. You can read more about Kirthi here).

The guests on the chat came from various backgrounds but we all agreed on one thing: universal education for girls is essential. At a time when the world is evolving, on a daily basis, we need to ensure that girls are evolving with it and are aware of their rights and liberties.
Read more Girls Education is Imperative for Our Collective Success, by @rupandemehta.

The Grenfell Fire

Look at Grenfell Tower and see the terrible price of Britain’s inequality, by Lynsey Hanley

The appalling destruction of Grenfell Tower and the lives of so many who lived there has exposed what society, in its heart, already knows: our housing cannot continue to be subject to the market’s desires, needs or fluctuations. If some housing is regarded as being more valuable, more desirable, corners will always be cut in the places where there is less financial return. The same goes for people: the most disadvantaged always suffer most from the mistakes of the powerful.

In an inner-London borough as rich as Kensington and Chelsea, social housing is at once integral – in that it forms a massive proportion of its housing stock, and houses a large number of its working residents and families – and yet invisible. This means tenants could warn, repeatedly and with escalating fear, that the building they lived in was a death trap; it meant they felt harassed and intimidated by the landlord and subcontractors during the recent renovation; and it meant, ultimately, that they would be the victims of possibly criminal levels of neglect. …

What happened at Grenfell tower is political—and the residents knew it, by Maya Goodfellow

Before dawn had broken on the Grenfell Tower block yesterday, the chorus of voices had already begun: don’t politicise what’s happened. But housing is deeply political and Grenfell encapsulates how.

The death toll from yesterday’s tragedy is still rising, people are still searching for the missing relatives and friends and residents who survived lost everything they owned—all because of a fire that could likely have been prevented.

The deadly Grenfell fire broke out in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in the country. But it wasn’t one of the area’s many million pound luxury properties that was eaten up by flames; nor was it wealthy residents who were forced to throw themselves from burning windows. This was a block of social housing and many of the people living there were on low pay. And they were wise to what could happen in their home.

Time and again they pleaded with the council and with Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the company that manages social housing in the borough, to deal with their severe safety concerns. Reporting problems over issues from wiring to boilers, they were ignored persistently.

A Very Political Tragedy, by Dawn Foster

In the richest borough of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, people in social housing, many on low incomes, were killed and injured in a fire that could have been prevented or contained. Rather than diverting blame from those responsible, or treating it as an act of nature, our responsibility is to ask why it occurred.

Time and again, residents reported serious concerns about the safety of the building to the management organization, the local council, and the member of parliament (recently unseated in the general election). They were met with silence, and several told me on the scene they were convinced it was because they were poor, living in a rich borough that was determined to socially cleanse the area as part of a gentrifying project.

Today’s fire in Grenfell Tower is not outside of politics — it is a symbol of the United Kingdom’s deep inequality. The block of 120 apartments housed between 400 and 600 people, some in very crowded conditions. Tenants reported problems with elevators, emergency lighting, wiring, and boilers. Even the most minor improvement required constant badgering. People were given the message that they were lucky to have any home at all, let alone in a borough that harbored such wealth.

The classist, racist disorganisation at Grenfell Tower is disgraceful, by HANNA DOKAL

… What is a shocking display from the media to many is unfortunately not a surprise to local community affected by the fire. Many of those lugging bin bags full of important supplies look around at the lack of officials and all come to the same conclusion: “You know why they aren’t here yet? We’re migrants, immigrants, refugees.” Although there has been some coordination from emergency services, the acute absence of local authority delegation and coordination on the ground is difficult for the community to digest.

For residents, it becomes difficult to understand the situation as anything other than classism, even racism, as they stand organising amongst themselves, unaided, in the poorest and most diverse part of one of the richest boroughs in London. Kensington and Chelsea is one of the smallest London boroughs harbouring some of the most expensive houses in the world. Yet, it also has pockets of poverty which are somehow overlooked due to the glamorous reputation perpetuated by shows like Made in Chelsea and Forbes lists detailing the prices of some of its homes. Today though, it is clear that in this tiny borough the wealthy and the working class live side by side in starkly differing conditions. The borough’s façade melts away as quickly as Grenfell Tower did in the early hours of this morning. …

Grenfell shows just how Britain fails migrants, by Nesrine Malik

The police tape that lined streets around Grenfell Tower told a tale of two cities. Multimillion-pound properties with perfectly manicured front gardens stood under the shadow of the still smoking and charred block. Throughout the night before, in church halls, civic centres and mosques all around, residents had gathered to sift through the donations and give comfort to dazed survivors and their friends and relatives.

It was impossible to look at them and not see the obvious: they were, overwhelmingly, Arab, Muslim or African. They were European migrants, black British, refugees from the developing world – some of them second generation – and asylum seekers, sharing the tower with the poor, white working class of London. It was impossible to listen to the languages spoken on the phone to loved ones and not hear that these people were those often filed as “other”. It was impossible to read the names of the dead and the missing and not see that they, or their parents, were displaced from elsewhere. The first victim named was a Syrian refugee, Mohammed al-Haj Ali. The list is now extending into a roll call of the marginalised, the maligned and the disenfranchised. …

When I worked for KCTMO I had nightmares about burning tower blocks, by Seraphima Kennedy

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, a harsh light now shines on the organisation that managed the block, and others in the area, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).

People have said that this was “a disaster waiting to happen”. I shared their concerns. I saw them from the inside.

I remember the vote that led to the creation of KCTMO in 1996, because my mother was a tenant at the time and we received letters about it. I was born and brought up in the south of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, on benefits, in an overcrowded council flat. …

We owe it to the residents of Grenfell Tower to politicise this tragedy, by Frances Ryan

In the hours following the blaze on social media, as people began to feel anger as the news unfolded, a common retort emerged: “Don’t politicise the tragedy.” I understand why it would make some people uncomfortable: as families still search for their loved ones, it can seem “too soon” or in bad taste. But there is something very dangerous about pretending residents dying in social housing should not be seen as a matter for the state. What happened at Grenfell Tower is the definition of political.

Grenfell Tower sits in one of the country’s richest boroughs in a city undergoing a scandal in housing inequality: low-income families housed in dire conditions as the area is “regenerated” for investors. That the cladding thought to have helped cause the death of Grenfell Tower residents was chosen in order to make the tower more attractive for the rich who had to look at it from their luxury apartments is almost too horrific in its symbolism.

Colonialism and Housewifization – Patriarchy and Capitalism at Mairi Voice

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 19.03.17

Maria Mies:   Patriarchy and the Accumulation on a World Scale

This book provides a most important analysis of the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Maria Mies’ thesis is that patriarchy is at the core of capitalism, and in fact, capitalism would not have had its success in its accumulation of capital without patriarchal ideals and practices.

She builds on Federici’s analysis of the witch hunts, which were instrumental in the early developments of capitalism and argues, convincingly and in-depth, that the exploitation and oppression of women allowed for its successful domination of the world.  
Read more Colonialism and Housewifization – Patriarchy and Capitalism at Mairi Voice

What’s wrong with activism today? We’re becoming too comfortable.

cross-posted from Equinox until Solstice

orig. pub 23.12.2014

Let me cut to the chase: I think that much of the problem about most social justice movements in the first world today is that they’re becoming “hippie trends” instead of long term commitments.

Instead of genuinely fighting for women’s liberation, many self-proclaimed “feminists” today wear feminism as if it’s a fun, fashionable badge. Every choice is a brave defiance of patriarchy. It’s empowering to dress oneself up in expensive brand name attire produced by the labour of underpaid workers in third world countries. It’s much easier to do that than to actually care about the plight of the world’s most oppressed and underprivileged women and girls.

Vegans around me are always talking about what brands of mock meat, cheese or tofu are the best, instead of analysing how to dismantle the institutional forces that reinforce anthropocentricism and uphold the industries that exploit non-human animals.

Environmentalists don’t even bother to advocate decreasing consumption these days. They’re all about promoting the Big Green. To hell with ditching the car or not leaving the tap running while brushing your teeth – we’ve got so many corporations offering you the best in snazzy, flashy Solar Panels, Hybrid Automobiles and Renewable Geoengineering! #spoiltforchoice

Activists were much more radical than this back in the 80s. Look at us now.

The truth is that we’re all becoming way too comfortable with mainstream consumer capitalism, and unfortunately, “activism” these days is all about how cool, hip and “in” it makes you look.

 

Equinox Until Solstice: A young Asian Australian feminist sharing her artwork and writing. Sometimes I blog about philosophy and politics.

TAKING ON THE ULTIMATE CLICHÉ OF THE HAIRY FEMINIST by @thewritinghalf

Cross-posted from: The Writing Half
Originally published: 03.09.14

Am I a bad feminist? For over a decade now I have been battling body hair with razors, creams, wax, tweezers, epilators and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments. Of course, hairy legs and armpits are the ultimate cliché of the 70’s feminist, a stereotype that still hangs around. The image works quite well for people who oppose or misunderstand the concept of feminism. It’s repulsive, or ‘unwomanly’, some would say. (An interesting argument, given that most women do have body hair naturally). So are my half-hearted efforts at body hair removal offensive to the Sisterhood?

It’s not like I haven’t thought it through. From a personal viewpoint, it’s time-consuming, expensive and, depending on the method used, painful. Equally, from a feminist perspective, it is sapping me of productive use of time and disposable income that a man would take for granted. I don’t want to think about how much I’ve spent on the thankless task of dissolving, ripping out from the roots, plucking and bleaching, only for the forest to spring up again overnight.

Now, I don’t want to distract you with a discussion on pornography here. I don’t personally object to it per se. I do, however, have some specific issues with its development on the internet over the last decade. One of these is that regular women are now expected to perform a porn star-level of personal grooming. The really annoying thing about this, aside from the associated crazy pain and expense, is that nobody even asked us if this was okay. As Caitlin Moran puts it: ‘It is now accepted that women will wax. We never had a debate about it.’ She makes a very good argument when she writes ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a fanny… This is the money we should be spending on THE ELECTRICITY BILL’. It really is quite ludicrous.
Read more TAKING ON THE ULTIMATE CLICHÉ OF THE HAIRY FEMINIST by @thewritinghalf

School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms? by @LK_Pennington

The streets in Scotland are full of children in navy blue, black and grey school uniforms trudging or skipping back to school. This week, schools in England and Wales return: with children in school uniforms that are very clearly gendered with lovely pleated skirts for girls and polo shirts for boys. Considering the increased awareness of the harm caused by gendered stereotypes as seen in the campaigns Let Girls be Girls and Let Toys be Toys , why are school uniforms still embraced? Is there really a difference between Lelli Kelli selling sparkly shoes for girls that come with make-up and Clarks selling school shoes for girls that you can’t play sports in, as per their recent advertising campaign?

I’m always perplexed by the obsession with school uniforms and the questionable defence of forcing children to attend school in clothing that are simply not designed to be played in. School uniforms may have worked in the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s when children were forced to sit in rows and learn by rote. Considering the amount of proof there is demonstrating that that is the least effective way of teaching, why on earth are we still obsessed with stuffing children in clothing which simply does not match current theories in childhood education?

Whenever I ask this question, there are two answers that always pop up: that children behave better in uniforms because they respect themselves and the educational environment and that it decreases bullying. I have yet to see evidence that supports either statement.

I have read studies which link increased performance of students in state exams to uniforms, but once you read the research it turns out that uniforms aren’t the only change in the school. Frequently, the implementation of uniforms follows a change in management or the discipline policy. These have actual measurable outcomes. Forcing six-year-olds to wear ties does not. The strictest uniform policy in the world will not compensate for poor management or poor teaching. Kids wearing jeans to a school where the staff and management respect one another and the children will do far better than children in ties in a school where staff are demoralised with poor management.

Many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as schools in the UK. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, branded sports clothing and, in certain areas, banning gang colours. You can have a dress code that requires children to be presentable that doesn’t involve cheap nylon pleated skirts or ties.

Let’s be honest here, a lot of school uniforms that are available are of poor quality, made by sweatshop labour and rip easily. It is more cost effective, especially for those on limited incomes, to buy a few pairs of jeans from Tesco or Asda that can be worn throughout the year, than it is to buy uniforms that are “seasonal”. This is without addressing the utter ridiculousness that is the price of school shoes or schools demanding children wear official uniform to gym class. Do children really play football better in shorts with the school logo on?

Another reason given for school uniforms is poverty; the theory being that if all the children are in the same outfit, then children won’t get bullied over clothing. Ten minutes in a school playground will demonstrate just how wrong this theory is. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, then parents on limited incomes will struggle to pay for it. Kids can also tell the difference between clothes from Tesco’s and clothes from John Lewis even in schools, which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing uniform as they are for wearing Tesco’s brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the real issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a bad school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the school environment that allows bullying to continue without intervention.

Bullying is part of the patriarchal structure of our society, which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mould. In many ways, school uniforms are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay: jobs which are frequently performed by women.

Clothing is the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make a clear distinction between those with power who have value and those who have neither. As a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

The conformity encouraged by school uniforms is about maintaining hierarchical social control. It is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not important.

Fundamentally, school uniforms only serve to reinforce Patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.

A Woman’s Work is Never Done by @marstrina

(Cross-posted with permission from It’s Not a Zero Sum Game)

On a recent visit to Stockholm, I was amused to encounter an exhibit in its excellent historical museum titled “The Bäckaskog woman”. This woman’s well preserved remains were excavated in 1943 and were found alongside grave goods such as fish hooks, carving blades and other paraphernalia indicative of a an active life of living off the land through hunting and fishing. The remains were immediately interpreted as those of a man and took pride of place among Sweden’s archaeological exhibits as “The Barum Fisherman”. It was not until 1970 (!) that some enterprising physical anthropologists thought to actually examine the skeleton in detail, whereupon they were staggered to discover that, based on the condition of the skeleton’s pelvis, the Barum ‘man’ had given birth to at least six children in ‘his’ life!

On the face of it, this is a familiar tale of sexist academics and their blinkered view on prehistoric gender roles; in fact I’ve written before about the illogic of most of our assumptions about who made the milestone innovations like the harnessing of fire, plant cultivation, pottery use and so on. But what especially intrigued me about the modern exhibit was that it is now named “The Bäckaskog woman”. Not “The Bäckaskog fisherwoman” or “The Bäckaskog huntress”, just… “Woman”. Even while being restored to her rightful identity, this long dead ancestress of the progressive Swedes is deprofessionalised, her survival activity subsumed and invisibilised within her gender identity. The status of the work this woman had undertaken in order to provide sustenance to herself and her children was lowered from that of a named occupation to the default activity we as a culture have always expected of women, and continue to expect of them today.

Other angles on this phenomenon abound. In The Human Condition Hannah Arendt writes of productive versus reproductive labour: speaking of the attitudes to political and intellectual involvement of citizens in the life of ancient Athens, she describes their division of activity into the private and the public. The private sphere contained the activities that were necessary to the sustenance and reproduction of the body. Food production, textile work and sexual services (as well as the provision of offspring both as heirs and as slaves) were tightly enclosed within that realm. It was only the person who could afford not to worry at all about these necessary activities, who was free to assume that they will be performed for him as his right, who could properly speaking be ‘free’ to engage in the (morally and intellectually superior) public activities of law making, philosophy, political debate and art. I’m sure I don’t need to pain you a picture about just how much choice the people relegated to the necessary drudge work of the private realm had in the matter, nor what gender they (if freeborn) exclusively were.

Before Arendt, the German thinker Thorstein Veblen in his seminal essay Conspicuous Consumption (on a side note, if you haven’t read it, it’s currently in print as part of Penguin’s ‘Great Ideas’ series, and is some of the most eye-opening 100 little pages I’ve read in a long time) lays out a theory of development of human societies from the earliest (as he sees it) hunter gatherer phase to the modern consumer society. There is much that we would dispute in Veblen’s description of human cultures as existing along a progressive developmental spectrum form the ‘primitive’ to the ‘modern’, but it is of high importance that he describes the gendered division of labour at each stage and provides a useful schema for thinking about how the gradual subjugation of women may have become embedded in human cultures. In particular Veblen distinguishes between what he calls ‘drudgery’ and ‘exploit’: the former, a form of activity or labour that acts on the self, on the bodies of human beings and on the bodies of live organisms with which we coexist in order to support and enable human survival; the latter, a form of activity that acts on the inanimate, inert objects around us in order to extract something – wealth, value, use – which is of no immediate necessity for survival. “[T]he distinction between exploit and drudgery” he writes “is an invidious distinction between employments. Those employments which are to be classed as exploit are worthy, honourable, noble; other employments, which do not contain this element of exploit … are unworthy, debasing, ignoble”.

Debasing, ignoble, secluded and unseen: these are some of the ideas that underpin our collective understanding of what work becomes when women do it. In practice the logic is circular: women do unworthy work because they are unworthy; work primarily down by women is unworthy because it is done by women. Under this condition it seems only fitting that the activities or employments of women remain hidden, unspoken of, unaccounted for.

Literally unaccounted for, in fact. In her January lecture at the LSE, “The Reproduction of People by Means of People”, Professor Nancy Folbre described what she sees as an accounting problem in modern economics: the fact that we have no means of accounting for the labour (which in economic language we would class as ‘transfers’ once it had been converted to a money value) performed within families, predominantly by women, in order to support the economic activities of the other family members. Feminist readers will be immediately put in mind of the bill for ten years of domestic service in marriage that Myra presented to her cheating husband upon their divorce in Marylin French’s classic The Women’s Room; but more prosaically we can think of a woman’s taking maternity leave and forgoing her full wage for (say) a year as a transfer of her lost wages to both the child she is taking care of and the husband who is not losing his wages in order to care for the child during the same period. Form an accounting point of view, and in a manner which is congenial to our economics obsessed intellectual landscape, child bearing and child rearing can be conceptualised as straightforward transfers of cash from women to men – but in fact our current economic models do not count them at all. They are, to us as a society, invisible.

To what is this rambling jaunt through history and economics tending? To the fact that the invisibility of women’s work is a key stumbling block even within feminism itself, let alone outside of it. I was moved and concerned today to read this piece about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the fact that it is coming under attack these days. Now, any women’s space that is being threatened with annihilation should be of concern to feminists; we have seen, especially in the wake of the financial crisis and subsequent austerity policies, many women’s services, women’s book shops, libraries, mother’s groups, as well as refuges, rape crisis centres and homeless shelters disappear or seriously curtail their activities due to lack of funding. This is a trend that should be a worry to us all: our continued safety and the flourishing of our movement cannot be relied upon in the absence of physical places in which to congregate and share our knowledge, our skills and our vision.

What struck me especially about Sara St. Martin Lynne’s essay, though, was the detailed, loving way in which she described the decades of hands-on, feet-wet elbow grease that has gone into sustaining the festival:

[MichFest] is a music festival that has repeatedly forgone corporate sponsors and still manages to provide the nutritious meals that are included in the price of a festival ticket for every single woman who attends. This all-inclusive ticket also entitles every woman on the land to community health care, childcare, emotional support, and workshops. ASL interpreters interpret every set of every single stage at Michfest. Every communal space is wheelchair accessible, made so by women who get on their hands and knees in the blazing sun (or pouring rain) and drive nails into the ground through upside down carpets. Great effort is taken to make sure that every woman on that land knows that she is wanted, that she is welcome and that she is precious among us. It continues to be a place that prioritizes the environment and care for the land that the festival is built on. Every single piece of garbage gets picked up by hand. In the months between festivals there is not a trace of festivity left behind. I almost resisted the urge to contrast this to some of the disgusting messes I have seen in the wake of some of our Dyke Marches and Pride Celebrations, but I will not. We take pride in cleaning up after ourselves. Yes, we have a great time in those woods, but oh how this community has worked and continues to do so. (emphasis mine)

Reading this passage put me in mind of the Occupy camp in Bristol in 2011: women in the kitchen, women laying out furniture, women taking notes, women creating a free coffee corner, women printing flyers. Men? From what I saw, lighting fires and posting YouTube videos of their thoughts, mostly. What thoughts would they have had to post if there had not been women there to make sure that the camp, as a physical thing in the world, was able to exist? And for that, women were raped, ridiculed online and to our faces, sexually harassed, ignored, belittled. Occupy was the Manarchists’ movement – and for that reason, it failed. (Parenthetically, one of the flyer-printing women that year was me, trying to get this very message through their thick skulls)

The theory of intersectionality has brought a lot into feminism in terms of how we conceptualise the lives and oppressions of women who are suffering under more than a single axis of domination. Gender interacts with race, sexuality, health and so on in unpredictable ways, creating specific and individual oppressions for the women positioned at their intersections. What has often been lacking from the intersectional conversation, however, is the issue of class. Clearly poor women experience gender oppression differently than well off women – but apart from the occasional nod in the direction of material poverty, I have rarely seen a strong engagement with the topic of economic class in intersectional writing. Partly this is an issue of the Left: class politics is out, identity politics (in the proper, and by no means pejorative, sense of the word) is in, and mentions of class smack of a Marxist universality that fails to take the relational particularities of colonialism, compulsory heterosexuality, physical ability etc. into account. This is in itself not an always unfair criticism; but it does leave a lacuna where a conversation about work ought by right to be being held.

The feminism of the 1970s and thereabouts is often described as overwhelmingly white and ‘Middle Class’ (almost the only time class comes up in intersectional discourse), its concerns the concerns of affluent women disaffected by being kept out of the most lucrative professions and most senior positions in the corporate hierarchy. As Laurie Penny once said, we talk about maternity leave for professional women, but what about the concerns of their cleaners and nannies? This is of course ahistorical: from the match girls to the Dagenham strikers, gender and labour politics have gone hand in hand throughout the 20th century. It is only now, having rhetorically separated them into non-interlocking realms under the atomising influence of neloliberalism, that we can look back at the seeming failure to explicitly link the two together and criticise it as lacking. In fact, the question would not have computed for your typical 60s radical: labour rights and gender rights were obviously interwoven, starting from Marx and Engels themselves, and onwards through the intellectual tradition of the Left.

If labour in general is invisible on the contemporary Left, then the labour of women is many times more so. As Natalia Cecire writes, “neoliberal exploitation succeeds by ramping up and extending the ways that women have typically been exploited under earlier forms of capitalism”; such is the extent of cooptation of women’s work that it might be harder than ever to see it for what it is – even if it is no longer confined to the inner, hidden spaces in of the home or the nunnery. We don’t have a language in which to praise the sore backs of MichFest volunteers or the long and diligent hours of planning, writing, chairing meeting, washing dishes, baking brownies, painting placards, printing flyers that goes in to the reproduction of the physical thing that is feminist activism. And having no language in which to praise them, we disparage them as frivolous, contemptible, disposable.

In fact the labour of women has always been disposable. In part this is inherent to the nature of reproductive labour, which in the end produces nothing more glamorous than the wastes of the body: mothers are the makers of corpses; farmers are the makers of shit. The hours of painstaking craft invested in a patchwork quilt, a meal, a baby, a music festival, do not ennoble any of these things. Women’s effort is not counted towards the value of women’s productions: the work is of no value in itself. Ignoring or at best denigrating women’s ignoble labour is the economic foundation of patriarchy; and in any case it’s not really work, because we do it as a natural, inescapable outcome of our base natures. Women are ‘caring’. We are ‘multitaskers’. We are ‘better at planning’. We are expected to perform the domestic, social, emotional and bodily labour that enables the current society not as an occupation but as an emanation. Like silkworms excrete silk, women excrete labour; therefore all our work is, literally, crap.

In turning a blind eye to the graft that women put in just to keep the world looking (never mind smelling) tomorrow the same as it does today, we are plugging in to a tradition that goes back millennia; so there is nothing progressive about wantonly destroying the labour of decades in closing down MichFest once and for all. Nothing enlightened in dismissing the diligence and tenacity of women working to safeguard other women form poverty or violence. Without a theory and practice of accounting for, appreciating and foregrounding women’s work, no feminism can be either possible or desirable. We need to start building such a theory, even when talking and thinking about the work of women we disagree with.

 

Not a Zero Sum Game: Angry feminist, naive idealist, dogless atheist, person.@Marstrina