Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Many hands lighten the load

Ramblings of a Feminist:

I have been politically active for nearly a decade. Over the course of the years, I’ve been a member of several leftist organizations -- ranging from Leninist parties to groups structured around anarchist principles. Despite some fundamental differences in political ideology and strategy, the roles of women in these organizations remain eerily similar: women are reduced to tokenism. Women are largely underrepresented in leftist organizations -- a problem seldom addressed by male comrades. Even more problematic is that women who choose to participate in leftist groups often find themselves channeled into designated roles as “caretakers” or “poster girls.”

Because people tend to become preoccupied with their own struggles, it's not surprising that people with greater privilege also tend to shape collective action in their own image.

It's probably appropriate that straight white dudes like myself have always been preoccupied with a relation like class, for example, since the workplace is the one realm where we experience subjugation in a direct way. We experience this for ourselves, so we get very good at focusing on it as a result. It's not hard to see why we might even come to regard it as the prevailing relation which governs everything else: we don't experience "everything else" in a primary way.

In some ways, anarchism has given North American dudes like me the theoretical room to at least acknowledge the primacy of other struggles for other people, without taking away from what we know best. Subsequently, there is a lot of energy spent on acknowledging every conceivable category of oppression, or name-dropping a few big ones -- race! class! gender! -- as if to demonstrate that none are neglected.

And yet in practice we get a lot of the same outcomes, with progressive organizations reflecting the concerns of wonderful people like myself, while alienating our closest allies -- people who are in perfect agreement on problems of capitalism, the state, war, etc.; but who can't find a place to be honest with us about how our behavior impacts them. In consequence, they leave.

There are a few things that each of us can do well. Insofar as we find ways of working together, we can do many things well. It's not appropriate for anyone in particular to speak with theoretical authority on every kind of oppression, or for individuals to compete for this role. It's appropriate for people to think and act in response to the kinds of oppressions that face them, or that they are enjoined to perform. Our organizations would be a lot healthier if everyone focused on the relations that they know, let others do the same, and became comfortable moving between teacher/student roles rather than assigning these to a permanent hierarchy.

As men, we need to let go of the compulsion to be pedantic uber-activists, and let women bring to our organizations the kind of energy, perspective, and commitment that, by working together, might transform them from marginal entities into vibrant social groups that more people want to be a part of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now this is open-mindedness! Thank you!!