• 19Jan


    “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”.


    So Susan Hawthorne concludes her excellent book in which she critically examines the impact of globalisation, capitalism and patriarchy. She highlights how globalisation is a distinct outgrowth of western capitalist and patriarchal system. Her focus is on how feminism, ecology and the insights of indigenous people are challenging globalisation and its oppression on women, people, and the land, and its resultant disconnection and dispossession between people and their land. Full of useful and important information I highly recommend this book.

  • 11Jan


    “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)

    In Chapter Four, ‘Housewifization International: Women and the New International Division of Labour’ Mies examines how this process has continued in the post-colonial era.

    One would have hoped that overthrowing colonialism and gaining independence would have changed this paradigm for developing countries. Unfortunately not.  Global capitalism took over from the colonial history. The world continued to be divided between producers in the developing countries providing goods for the consumption of the West.

    In the post-colonial era, international companies have rapidly moved their production of goods to make use of the cheaper, easier to manipulate labour of developing countries, thus lowering production costs.

    This resulted in cheaper goods being sold to the West, increasing consumption, thus mobilising greater consumerism of the West.

    Mies argues convincingly that this accumulation of capital has been, and continues to be dependent on the exploitation of women.  As in colonial times this exploitation is based on the positioning of women within the social structure.

    ‘Third world’ women, like their counterparts in developed countries, became part of ‘housewifization’ process.

    “In Europe the results of the witch hunts and what is described by Mies as the “housewifization” of women was in the process of becoming entrenched within western capitalism. Women had been separated from the public sphere; their work deemed unproductive and of no value to the production system. Women had become dis-empowered and subjugated into the privacy of the home. By the 19th century we have the “ideal woman” depicted as the weak Victorian woman with no power or autonomy.”  http://mairivoice.femininebyte.org/?p=683

    Defining women as housewives and not workers obscures the work of women.  Their work is defined as income-generating and supplementary to labour done by males. This rationalises payment of lower wages and is important for the mobilisation of capital.

    Thus women’s work becomes part of “informal, non-organised, non-protected production relations”. They are forced to do part time, contract, homeworking, and unpaid neighbourhood work.

    Often working in isolation, this prevents women from organising. In their isolation their ability to take collective action is diminished.

    From the point of view of capitalism, women are the ideal labour force. Mies cites figures that show that two-thirds of all labour in world is done by women. In S.E.Asia, Africa and Latin America, 70% of the labour force is female.

    Mies gives detailed examples of how the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has very specific strategies in propagating and universalising this model of the “classical capitalist couple”. Development programmes enhance inequality between women and men.

    In the agricultural industry in India, ‘income generating’ projects were promoted to increase the production of milk. Milk cooperatives were developed in regional areas; farmers were provided with bank loans for the purchase of high-breed buffalo. The milk produced was sold to the dairy cooperative society with all the milk being delivered to the city. Half of cost of all milk delivered was taken as repayment of the loan.

    Mies explores how this has provided little benefit to women, whilst increasing their work load.

    A study by Manosha Mitra (p.131) in India shows how the introduction of dairying among landless and poor peasants has increased women’s workload. But they do not benefit from this extra work. In many cases they are unable to participate in dairy cooperatives – this is reserved for men. Whilst women do the work, which is considered supplementary work, it is men who control the income from dairying.

    The products that women work for previously would go to the community. Now these products are destined for international markets.

    “Moreover women from landless and poor peasant families producing milk hardly consumed any milk themselves. The little milk these women kept for their families was consumed by the men or male children, girl children got hardly any.”p.131

     Indian cities do get more milk but at prices that the poor cannot afford. Surplus milk is converted into luxury surplus – ice cream, sweets or baby food. It is therefore middle class housewives who benefit

    “The integration of poor and landless peasant women into the OF (Operation Flood) has created an objective link between the poor women as producers who cannot afford to consume milk, and middle-class housewives in the Indian cities and in Europe who are supposed to buy ever more and more sophisticated milk products. Unrecognised between two sets of women are the big multinational food and cattle feed concerns, the governments, and a whole host of firms which profit from this arrangement.”p.133

    The irony of this is that such projects are promoted as being a positive move for poor women in developing countries.

    Examples are also given of sugar cane cooperatives in Venezuela. Men could only become members of cooperatives if they had a family thus ensuring their ability to substitute their labour with that of wives and children.

    Women could not become members in their own right.

     “A woman, therefore, had to be ready and able to do all the work her husband had to do, but without his rights and even without any right to monetary income.”   9p133

    Sex Tourism

    Another example of the exploitation of women is through the tourist industry. Mies describes governments promoting the idea of female prostitution as an attractive tourist option for Western men.

    Tourism has been promoted to a major industry in developing countries.

    “Particularly the Thai and Philippino governments are offering their women as part of the tourism package.” P.138

    Women’s work in tourist and sex industries in Asia and Africa, involves the servicing of European, American and Japanese men.

    “One gets the impression that the governments, like pimps, offer their young women to foreign capital. As a matter of fact, prostitution is not only part of the tourist industry, but also of the planning of business enterprises in third world countries.” (p.117)

    Asian countries have also become a marriage market. Mies describes private companies as openly advertising “submissive, non-emancipated, docile Asian women.” 139

    There is evidence that women brought to western countries for marriage purposes are often forced into prostitution.

    Inevitably in the context of patriarchal capitalism, most of the profits from international sex tourism does not remain in ‘third world’ countries but is controlled by international corporations.


    Once again Mies shows how the treatment of women in developed and developing countries is linked; how the housewifization ideology sets up women in developing countries to provide cheap labour for the production of consumer goods for housewifized women in the West.  The ideal of  Westernised women is one who focuses her work and energy on family, is encouraged to have children, buy more goods and commodities for their families, children and households, and for themselves as sex objects.

    “To mobilize women to fulfil their duty as consumers has become one of the main strategies of capital in the industrialised countries.” (p.125)

    Conversely women in the ‘third world’, as producers of goods, are discouraged from reproduction; producing children is promulgated as one of the great threats to capitalist accumulation. Therefore family planning is promoted widely in developing countries with women being particularly targeted.

    Mies however provides a warning for women in developed countries. The process of international capital focusing their production in the developing countries has increased unemployment in industrialized countries and it is women who are most at risk. Already we see that more women in developed countries are being forced into part-time, contract, home-based labour under the label of ‘flexibilization of labour’.

    “The future has already begun for many women in USA and Europe who are ‘integrated into development’ in the same manner and by the same methods which were applied to their Third World sisters, namely, to work ‘invisibly’ in the new formal sector, and to prostitute themselves in a variety of ways in order to make a living.” p.143

    Mies concludes:

    “if we look at the new international division of labour from the point of view of women, of women’s liberation, we can now say that it is always necessary to look at both sides of the coin, to understand how women at both ends of the globe are divided and factually linked to each other by the world market, and by international and national capital.” p.142

  • 11Oct


    When The Handmaid’s Tale first became available on SBS On Demand,  I binged-watched it. I am now watching it on live TV, an episode a week and taking notes with the idea of writing a series of blogs, identifying the underlying themes that occur throughout the series.

    I have recently seen Episode 8, “The Jezebels” and it is about a brothel.

    This is no dystopian scene. This happens here and now, in every part of the globe, where women’s bodies are bought and sold – for men’s use and abuse – through pornography and prostitution.  I felt compelled to write about this episode in particular because it is so relevant and current –it is what is happening in our world, today.

    This episode is where Commander Waterford takes June (Offred) to a brothel. He first prepares her. He shaves her legs  – he with the razor sharp weapon, in control; she the hapless recipient unsure of what is to come. He dresses her, preparing her like a doll – to be presented, objectified, to meet his standards of the sex object to his liking, to meet his needs.

    Throughout the scene, where he watches her put on the (illegal) make up he has supplied, June’s face shows fear, uncertainty, powerlessness. For him the process is erotic; of his making; in his control. And the subterfuge, the fear and excitement of doing the illicit, add further to his pleasure.

    It is the epitome of the ‘70’s feminist slogan

    “Rape is about power, not sex”.

    As they travel in the car, at Checkpoint 1 June becomes Mrs Whitford – only wives are allowed to travel past this point. At Checkpoint 2 she becomes invisible – needs to be hidden – for no women are legitimately allowed into this area. They enter the back way into the brothel.

    The contrast between the brothel and world June has just come from is vast. The world she has come from is ‘moral; asexual’; women are covered up, silent, confined to their strict roles of wife, biological producers of children, servants and the Aunties, the guardians of women’s morality and roles.

    Brothels are of course illegal. When June makes this point to the Commander, his response is ‘Officially but we turn a blind eye. We are human after all.” Well, apparently the men are!

    She asks who they are, and he describes the men – leaders of the community; international visitors being entertained.

    She replies: “I meant the women”.

    The women are those who could not be assimilated and he describes lawyers, sociology lecturers – the more educated women not conducive to being trained to be handmaidens or servants. But they too have lost their identity. They have become sex objects – to be used and abused physically and sexually by men.

    At one stage June walks alone down the luxurious hall of the hotel. She is assailed by the sounds of violence and abuse coming from the rooms. She catches a glimpse of a group of men anally raping women. She witnesses a man fetishing over a woman’s arm stump.

    These scenes are evidence not of choices freely made by women to sell their bodies. These women – all women – are not seen as human. There is no humanity in a woman’s body being sexually objectified where her personhood is made irrelevant, destroyed. She is just a body – a body that can be used, misused, abuse for male pleasure. And what kind of pleasure is this that finds excitement and satisfaction in violence and abuse of another human being. This is what happens in today’s prostitution industry, in our towns and our cities across the globe. The dehumanisation and humiliation of women.

    June finds her best friend Moira working there. She had been caught while trying to escape from the Handmaid’s enclave. She is unable to return because she is seen as a “corrupting influence”. Her choices are the colonies or Jezebel. Such are the choices that women have today – no choice. She has lost hope of escape.

    “It’s not so bad here”. “Forget about escaping. This is Gilead. No one gets out.”

    This takes me back to a previous episode where June’s companion Handmaid warns her not to cause trouble, to ruin this for her. Before Gilead was prostitution on the street for her – violence, abuse, poverty, homelessness. This is a better world for her – food, shelter, and a level of safety. This is not about real choice – it is choice in forms of victimisation.

    In the final scene of the episode, Mrs. Waterford gifts June with a music box with a ballet dancer. Alone June comments

    “A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone opens the box, when someone winds her up.”

    Prostitution is not legitimate work. It is degrading, it is humiliating, it is abusive and dangerous. It is not about choice – there is no such thing as real choice when there are only limited options. This episode of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ depicts the here and now of the prostitution industry in our world. The decriminalisation of prostitution only legitimises the degradation and exploitation of women, the sexual objectification and oppression of all women at the power of men.

    For more information about prostitution and the Nordic model visit my blog post

    “Why the Nordic Model is Safest for Women”

  • 19Mar

    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.

    “The witch hunt which raged through Europe from the twelfth to the seventeenth century was one of the mechanisms to control and subordinate women, the peasant and the artisan, women who in their economic and sexual independence constituted a threat for the emerging bourgeois world order.” (p.81)

    I would like to focus here on the third chapter of her book, ‘Colonization and Housewifization’. Here we see how patriarchal capitalism’s power and domination flourished by colonialism. Capitalism’s mantra is continuous profit and expansion which is essential in the ongoing accumulation of capital. But this also requires new areas to exploit – thus the expansion into other countries – and the colonization of other lands, resources and people.

    According to Wikipedia:

    “Colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.”

    Thus western capitalism became a world imperial power, colonizing what we now call “third world countries”.

    “One could say that the first phase of the Primitive Accumulation was that of merchant and commercial capital ruthlessly plundering and exploiting the colonies’ human and natural wealth.” (p.89)

    The success of this domination was to dehumanize the people of these colonized nations – to paint them as the “other” – as savages, uncivilized and lesser beings – to justify their oppression.  ‘Black’ people were deemed inferior, wild and in need to be controlled and therefore open to exploitation.

    The colonies were: “…lying outside ‘civilized society’” (p.75).

    Mies also described how the colonization process was gendered – and based on patriarchal ideals.

    What is central to Mies’ thesis are the connections between the patriarchal capitalist exploitations of nature, of land and property, of women and of those deemed to be “foreigners” or “heathens”.

    Mies makes connections between issues which have previously been seen as separate entities –

    “…I shall rather trace the ‘underground connections by which nature was exploited and put under man’s domination to the processes by which women in Europe were subordinated, and examine the processes by which these two were linked to the conquest and colonization of other lands and people.” (p. 77)

    In Europe the results of the witch hunts and what is described by Mies as the “housewifization” of women was in the process of becoming entrenched within western capitalism. Women had been separated from the public sphere; their work deemed unproductive and of no value to the production system. Women had become dis-empowered and subjugated into the privacy of the home. By the 19th century we have the “ideal woman” depicted as the weak Victorian woman with no power or autonomy.

    In the colonies it was necessary for capitalists to create a sexual division of labour, both as a means to control reproduction and thus labour and also to position women in the non-labour sphere and thus develop a class of cheap labour. Where there was evidence of any form of equality between the sexes or women’s independence and autonomy, this was held to be primitive and backward by the colonizers. Thus a sexual division of labour was actively instituted.

    There were good economic reasons for this ideology and practice to be embodied in the colonization process. Mies cites Annie Stoler’s work which tells us that in the plantations in Sumatra:

    “At different economic and political junctures in plantation history, the planters contend that (1) permanent female workers were too costly to maintain because of time they took off for child-birth and menstruation, (2) women should and could not do ‘hard’ labour, and (3) women were better suited to casual work.” Stoler 1982. (p.96).

    Mies argues that:

    “…the introduction of the ‘weak woman’ was a clear ideological move which served the economic purpose of lowering women’s wages and creating a casual female labour force…” (p.96)

    Like the European witch-hunts, women’s reproductive capacity was controlled under colonial power. In the Caribbean, slave women were not allowed to marry nor have children as it was cheaper to import slaves from Africa than pay for the reproduction of slave labour. However, once this source of slave labour was depleted, slave women were encouraged to reproduce.

    In Burma, for example, as in Europe during the development of capitalism, local home industries, usually run by women, were destroyed by the importing of commodities. Thus reducing the capacity for women to have economic independence.

    Mies also explores the impact of German colonialism in Africa. Because it was German white males who were the colonizers, sexual relations between these men and African women were encouraged and condoned. However, it soon became apparent that this may in fact raise the status of African women allowing them to become German citizens if they were to marry and have mixed-race children. This was obviously a problem under a racist regime. In 1905, inter-racial marriages became legally prohibited. However, as Mies points out, this did not preclude inter-racial sexual relations and men were encouraged to use African women as concubines or prostitutes.

    “Here the double-standard is very clear: marriage and family were goods to be protected for the whites, the ‘Master Men’ (Dominant Men). African families could be disrupted, men and women could be forced into labour gangs, women could be made prostitutes.” (p.98)

    This was also true for the British colonizers. Racism rears its ugly head when…

    “…the African woman is degraded and made a prostitute for the English colonizers, then the theories of racial superiority of the white male and the beastliness of the African woman are propagated” (p.95).

    It is important to remember that this racism and misogyny was not just based on immoral ideology, but had a sound economic base. In order for European capitalist growth there was a need for the resources, land and labour power of colonial nations. As Mies points out:

    “Wealth for some, means poverty for others.”

    Mies talks of the dual processes in the perception of European women and “other women” – the civilized and domesticated as opposed to the savage and uncivilized colonial black woman. But she argues this served a purpose for the accumulation of capital.

    The exploitation of resources and labour in the colonies meant that luxury goods became more available to the bourgeois classes in Europe. Part of that process meant that capitalists needed to create the demand for such goods and the role of the housewife as consumer was essential to this process.

    And so, Mies explores  the development of the nuclear family in late 18th and 19th century – the social and sexual division of labour, and the establishment of private (family) and public (economic and political activity) spheres – and the creation of housework and the  housewife as an “agent of consumption” (p.106)

    Thus colonialism and imperialism has created an international and sexual division of labour, whereby land and resources are pillaged for the profit of western capitalism; where labour is created by slavery and exploitation based on a sexual division of labour which leaves women dependent and vulnerable to further oppression; and the oppressed position of women in Western countries as housewives and consumers.

    Mies ends her chapter on Colonization and Housewifization with this:

    “It is my thesis that these two processes of colonization and housewifization are closely and causally interlinked. Without the ongoing exploitation of external colonies – formerly as direct colonies, today within the new international division of labour – the establishment of the ‘internal colony’, that is, a nuclear family and a woman maintained by a male ‘breadwinner’, would not have been possible.” (p.110).

    Mies makes very clear the convergence of these two structures of domination – patriarchy and capitalism and is central to seeing patriarchy as systemic and structural. As Federici summarizes in her Foreword these connections have been truly verified:

     “(there is)… a direct causal connection between the global extension of capitalist relations and the escalation of violence against women, as the punishment against their resistance to the appropriation of their bodies and their labour.” (xi)




  • 07Mar

    There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera  were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.

    And each of them dealt with male violence against women.

    In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.

    We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity.  The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.

    “The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.”  Rowan Miller

    And when another young detective raises the possibility of the allegation being false, Ellie Miller deals her a severe verbal blow:

    “When you’ve finished your sexual offences training Kate you’ll understand we start from a position of believing the victim…” 

    Certainly a welcoming approach by this television police force, but how realistic is it? How often are women met with disbelief and ridicule when approaching the police in regard to sexual assault? How seriously are their allegations taken? And are they treated with such sensitivity and understanding? And well we know how difficult it is for the justice system to adequately address male violence against women with an abominable low percentage of rape convictions.

    In Call the Midwife, we see violence against women enacted in the prostitution industry. We meet a young woman who has left the industry and is now married and delivers a baby during the programme. But due to her past – having been abandoned, raised in an orphanage and been in the prostitution industry, she feels inadequate and unworthy of a ‘normal’ life.

    “I ain’t fit to raise that child” are her words.

    She leaves her home and returns to a friend who continues to be involved in prostitution. Her friend tells us what it is really like to be trapped in prostitution:

    “I do what I do to feed my kids. Do you think I would do this if I had a choice?”

    “I’d die before she goes on those streets. I take those men, those filthy sods and I save every shilling because my girl’s gonna have a better life”.

    A realistic picture of the degradation and humiliation of having men buy women’s bodies for sex and confirms those who would argue that prostitution should not be decriminalized.

    Vera (played by Brenda Blethyn)  one of my all-time favourite shows investigates the murder of a woman – strangled and left on the moors.  We eventually learn that the murderer is her son-in-law and the woman was helping her daughter escape her abusive husband, to a refuge. When Vera learns of the history of his violence to his wife and approaches the wife, she sensitively talks to her:

    “It’s normal to feel ashamed, to feel it’s all your fault”.

    Again an understanding of the shame and humiliation of victims of male violence.

    And when she is able to finally confront the abuser, she angrily challenges him:

    “You just have to know where she is, what she’s doing because you’re a controlling nut job who beats his wife.”

    Now there are a number of ways one can respond to these programmes. We can be pleased that the issue of male violence against women is getting such publicity. We can be gratified that such sensitivity is being shown to the women who are victimised – that they are being believed, and treated with respect and compassion.

    But we also need to ask the question – isn’t this what should be the norm? And we ask that question because we know it is not.


    Green Left Weekly

    For at least 50 years, women having been raising their concerns about male violence against women- about sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and violence inherent in the prostitution industry. And still our justice systems’ responses are at the least inadequate, at the worst, compound and further traumatise women seeking help.

    I want to go off here on what might seem like a side-track. On March 8th  at 3.20pm child care workers in Australia are going on strike. So it is only for a few hours at the most. They are going on strike because of the deplorable wages that they receive.

    The United Voice union says some are being paid as little as $20 an hour, half the average national average.

    In January of this year the Australian FEDERAL Senator David Leyonhjelm summarised the role of childcare workers as merely “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other”.

    He made these comments in arguing that increased funding for child care workers was not necessary, and neither was there a need for their qualifications.

    I raise this issue in the context of the discussion about male violence against women because they are intrinsically linked.

    And of course they are linked because it is about patriarchal capitalism.

    Maria Mies makes a very good thesis in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale.

    In this excellent book she argues that patriarchy is at the very core of capitalism. That capitalism would not have been able to progress and “accumulate capital” if it were not for the exploitation and oppression of women.

    She follows on from Silvia Federici’s work – Caliban and the Witch

    “It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”

    Mies describes how the dividing if the economy into visible and non-visible sectors are the main structural characteristic of capitalist accumulation. That women’s unpaid work in ‘private’ sphere is essential for capitalist accumulation. Thus patriarchal capitalism benefits from creating the sexual division of labour and also the control of women’s reproduction.

    “The nuclear family, organised and protected by the state, is the social factory where the commodity ‘labour power’ is produced. Hence the housewife and her labour are not outside the process of surplus value production, but constitute the very foundation upon which this process can get started. The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation.” (p.31).

    Capitalism created the ideology and practice– what Mies labels as ‘housewifisation’  -where women’s roles are restricted to that of housewives and mothers – and sometimes as a supplementary income stream  in unqualified, low paid and insecure jobs. Hence our current politicians minimizing women’s child care work and the continued lower wages for women.

    Thus the positioning of women as outside the capital means of production has allowed for the accumulation of capital and thus success in this accumulation.

    Mies extends this thesis to other forms of invisible/non-waged work – slavery, colonialism, subsistence peasants, marginalised people. So that not only is there a sexual division of labour but also an international division of labour.

    “The subordination and exploitation of women, nature and colonies are the pre-condition for the continuation of this model.”

    When we examine the current levels of male violence against women, it is important to remember the witch hunts and acknowledge that today’s male violence is part of an historical continuum of violence against women.

    “Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170) Federici

    Our attempts to raise awareness, to educate, to advocate for changes to all of our systems’ responses to male violence against women are important. It is a vital survival mechanism. We have some successes.

    But like Mies I doubt that these strategies will eliminate male violence against women and children. The idea that social role stereotyping and socialisation are at the core of women’s oppression fails to identify the “structural roots” of the problem.

    It is vital that the women’s liberation movement develops a “historical sense of our common past.”(Federici); that we develop a radical, robust theoretical feminist analysis in order to challenge patriarchal capitalism and create a sustainable alternative.

    “What is needed is a new historical and theoretical analysis of the interrelation between women’s exploitation and oppression, and that of other categories of people and of nature.” (Mies p.13).




  • 21Sep


    “Most important the figure of the witch…in this volume is placed at the center-stage, as the embodiment of a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy; the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeha woman who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt.” (p.1)

    I have just finished reading this fascinating and excellent work.

    I am avid enthusiast of the need for the reclaiming of women’s history and the necessity to document and learn about women’s past roles in our history. So it was with excitement that I came across this important work.

    Federici gave me an interesting perspective on women’s history as she claims that it is not just about reclaiming women’s hidden history but understanding how women are often at the centre of historical events but their role has been diminished by historical accounts.

    She talks of the “enclosure of knowledge” whereby new generations of women are increasingly losing a “historical sense of our common past.”

    “Women then in the context of this volume, signifies not just a hidden history that need to be made visible; but a particular form of exploitation, and, therefore, a unique perspective from which to reconsider the history of capitalist relations.”

    This is a study of the witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries in which Federici explains how the witch hunts were a central aspect of the development of capitalism.

    “It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”

    What this analysis is attempting to do is to revisit the transition from feudalism to capitalism from the viewpoint of women and argues that capitalism is “…necessarily committed to racism and sexism” (p.17)

    There are a number of issues that Federici raises to highlight the centrality of the witch hunts in the development of capitalism and the on-going misogyny and sexism which prevail today. She argues that this was a turning point in the history of women which led to:

    • Deepened divisions between men and women
    • Created the sexual division of labor
    • State intervention in the reproduction of labor
    • Control of women’s reproduction
    • Creation of women’s roles as housewives and mothers
    • Creating women’s dependency on men and employers
    • Family sphere separate from public sphere
    • Exclusion of women from paid work and therefore wages.

    “Witch hunt destroyed a whole world of female practices, collective relations and systems of knowledge that had been the foundation of women’s power in pre-capitalist Europe and a condition of their resistance in their struggle against feudalism” (p.102)

    The end of feudalism and the creation of capitalism involved land privatisation and, in Britain, enclosures, where land became privatised, and monetary relations began to dominate. It is women who were most affected by these developments – “…when land was lost and village community fell apart.” (p.73)

    And she argues that women were at the forefront of rebellion against such forces, and thus prime targets.

    It was also when paid labor force was developed, which excluded women, and where they were able to work, they were paid a pittance of men’s wages. So that by the 19th century full time housewives became the norm.

    “In the transition from feudalism to capitalism, women suffered a unique process of social degradation that was fundamental to the accumulation of capital, and has remained so ever since.” (p.75)

    Federici agrees that sexism and misogyny existed prior to the 15th century, and she describes how the power of the Church, which was the “…ideological pillar of feudal power, the biggest landowner in Europe, and one of the institutions most responsible for daily exploitation of the peasantry.” (p.33-34)

    She argues that this set the scene and prepared the ground for the witch hunts.

    “Without centuries of the Church’s misogynistic campaigns against women, the witch hunts would not have been possible.” (p.168)

    But Federici points out that it was collaboration between the State and Churches involved in the witch hunts, thus highlighting the political, as well as ideological, motives for the witch hunts.

    “If we consider the historical context in which the witch hunts occurred, the gender and class of the accused, and the effects of persecution, then we must conclude that witch hunting in Europe was an attack on women’s resistance to the spread of capitalist relations and power, that women had gained by virtue of their sexuality, their control over reproduction and their ability to heal.” (p.170)

    “Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170)

    Feminists were quick to recognise that hundreds of thousands of women could not have been massacred and subjected to the cruelest torture unless they posed a challenge to the power structure.

    Federici highlights the importance of our knowing this history, because the same forces continue in current day capitalism. As contemporary capitalist forces continue to accumulate capital in past-colonial countries, misogyny and the destruction of communities continues today.

    “But if we apply to the present the lessons of the past, we realise that the reappearance of witch hunting in so many parts of the world in the ’80’s and ’90’s is a clear sign of a process of “private accumulation”, which mean that the privatisation of land and other communal resources, mass impoverishment, plunder and the sowing of divisions in once-cohesive communities are again on the world agenda.” (p.237)

    Federici states that this study is an attempt to:

    “…revive among younger generations the long history of resistance that today is in danger of being erased. Saving the historical memory is crucial if we are to find an alternative to capitalism. For this possibility will depend on our capacity to hear the voices of those who have walked similar paths”. (preface)

  • 12Aug


    The Guardian recently published leaked documents of hundreds of pages of abuse and sexual assault of women and children on Nauru’s off-shore refugee detention centre. Much of this abuse appears to have been at the hands of the Wilson’s security guards at the facility.

    There have been articles since condemning the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers and its blatant disregard of these abuses, such as that written by Jennifer Wilson.

    The Immigration Minister, Mr. Peter Dutton’s response to the publication of the leaked files was:

    “some people do have a motivation to make a false complaint”…”I have been made aware of some incidents that have reported false allegations of sexual assault,” 

    Whilst our focus must be on stopping our government for perpetuating such abuse on women and children, women and children who are fleeing from horrific wars and violence in their own countries, it is also important to put this in the context of the patriarchal world that we live in.

    It is all based on patriarchal ideology, where white men with power see the rest of the world as the ‘other’, as less than human and therefore unworthy of our concern. As Denise Thompson writes:

      It is about male domination.

    And women and children are always the victims of the oppression of male domination: sexual abuse, violence…and if you are not of the white man’s race then you are doubly open to white male domination and abuse. Women and children refugees are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse – and it is happening all over the world.

    Of course Peter Dutton would rely on the persistent mantra that allegations of sexual assault are false, because patriarchy has created the fictitious doctrine that women lie about sexual assault. They come up with many reasons why women make up false allegations. In this instance, their motivation apparently is to seek refuge in Australia.

    Basically when you live in patriarchy as a woman then you are a liar, a manipulator, a vindictive woman. Your motivations are always suspect.

    It’s not the first time the Liberal National government has used this line when allegations of horrendous abuse on the off-shore detention centres have come to light.

    In a previous blog I wrote of the horrific conditions where refugees are being detained in off-shore facilities and the abuse that was being brought to light. In that particular instance the motivation was politically motivated and designed to discredit the off-shore processing policy.

    “Every aspect of the detention of these people has been designed to humiliate and demean.

    So it is no surprise that in such an environment those in charge will abuse their power and sexually abuse women and children.

    And Scott Morrison, on behalf of the Australian government has responded in a typically patriarchal pattern.

    “The public don’t want to be played for mugs with allegations being used as some sort of political tactic in all of this.”

    “However, we note that the allegations by Senator Hanson-Young have been made publicly and in the context of broader political statements to discredit the government’s involvement in offshore processing.”” 

    “Dutton well knows that the government’s own Moss review confirmed the reports of physical and sexual abuse that were uncovered in 2014. That review also exonerated the Save The Children staff who were the authors of many of the reports.” Refugee Action group 


    It is a common occurrence in our legal system as well – to label women as liars.

    Rape is the “most under-reported of serious offences”  for that very reason.

    And yet the reality is – rape is common:

    “One in three women will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives”  (Fergusson & Mullen, 1999).

    By men.

    And yet they are not believed.

    “Police statistics reveal that ‘false’ reporting of sexual assault is minimal, representing 2% to 7% of all reported assaults. These statistics also include statements withdrawn by victim/survivors due to fear of revenge and the impact of the legal system.”

    “1 in 6 reports to Police of rape and less than 1 in 7 reports of incest or sexual penetration of a child result in prosecution (Victorian Law Reform Commission, Sexual Offences: Final Report, 2004)” 


    Women’s experiences of the court system often as traumatic as their rape when they are accused of making vindictive allegations; of ‘asking for it’.

    As Caitlin Roper has written:

    “My friend sat in court day after day, forced to recount, in excruciating detail, her experience of being groomed, manipulated, and eventually sexually assaulted by a predator 30 years her senior, over a period of 18 months. She then endured a vicious cross examination as her wealthy boss’s QC top lawyer tried to tear her apart and assassinate her character for more than two full days. She teased and seduced him, he argued. She made it all up. They had a consensual sexual relationship. She was obsessed with him — her balding boss, old enough to be her father — despite having a boyfriend (now her husband). John’s lawyer even argued her claims were financially motivated and said she was punishing the accused for refusing to buy her an extravagant apartment.” 

    And it happens in the family law system too. Parental alienation syndrome is premised on the same ideology that women lie about rape and sexual abuse.

    PAS is grounded in misogynistic views and reflects a mother-blaming ideology. This ideology persists within the family law system, enabling men to continue to abuse women and children at will, with no protection from the legal system.

    However when it suits their needs, men will make their own allegations of abuse and violence and nothing says it more clearly than the child sexual abuse reported to be occurring in Northern Territory aboriginal communities. When it suits their political ends, they can demonise and punish a vulnerable, marginalised population and make vicious claims of ‘dysfunction’ within that community.

    Dutton says these current allegations of sexual assault in off-shore detention are not based on fact and yet when let’s compare the response that led to NT intervention, as I have written in a previous blog

    “In 2007, the federal government staged a massive intervention in the Northern Territory on the basis of the report, “Little Children are Sacred” as a result of a government inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory.

    “The fall-out was a full-scale, (including army), intervention which resulted in the reinforcement of the unwavering, systemic stealing of children from their arms, to who knows where? The Department of Childrens Services have lost the files on some 8,000 children who are thus just “disappeared”.”

    The intervention in fact has done little to address child sexual abuse or violence against women.

    It is horrendous that our white male politicians use (abuse) the concept of protection women and children from violence and abuse for their own ends – mining of traditional lands is a suspect in this – whilst they go about destroying lives and communities.”


    So men can rape at will – at the personal level, in our own homes, in our neighbourhoods – and at the State level where they lock up innocent women and children seeking refuge from violence in their own countries and knowingly expose them to violence and sexual assault.

    There is no recourse for women – patriarchal law does not protect them; does not prosecute abusers; does not believe women.

    we will never be silenced

    Yes Peter Dutton must go.

    His behaviour and attitude is callous, cruel, racist and misogynistic.

    But he is not the only one. Both major parties in Australia are responsible for the on-going mistreatment and cruelty towards vulnerable women and children refugees.

    We must hold them to account.

    This is unacceptable.


    There are a number of organisations which are challenging the Government’s refugee policies.

    I urge every Australian to take action and stop this horrendous victimisation of innocent women and children.

    Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru

    Let Them Stay

    Grandmothers against Detention of Refugee Children

    Nauru files – Public Actions


  • 03Aug

    denise thompson

    I have just had the pleasure of reading Denise Thompson’s book. It is my part of my personal on-going exploration of feminist theory and thought.

    Although I have worked for many years as a feminist activist, particularly in the field of male violence against women and children, and have thus read and discussed feminism, I hold some trepidation in writing this blog.

    I claim no expertise in feminist theory – but am in the process of learning and developing my knowledge and want to share my journey with you. I can only hope that I can do justice to Denise Thompson’s book which I highly recommend.

    This blog is not going to cover all the range of issues that are discussed in the book. Rather I will attempt to focus on her understanding of radical feminism.

    What is feminism?

    One of the initial statements that Denise Thompson makes is that the question is not ‘Who is a feminist?’ but ‘What is feminism?’ She goes on to define feminism as the logic of feminist theory and practice. It is a theory which at its core is the recognition and acknowledgement of male domination, where the male represents the ‘human’ norm at the expense of a human status for women.

    “It is the opposition to male domination which makes feminism relevant to women wherever they are situated, however differently they are excluded from recognition as human…and for deciding the extent of our limitations and constraint” (p.69)

    Feminism is therefore not an identity; not a lifestyle choice. Neither is it a pronouncement or dictatorial or a dogma teaching us how to live one’s life. However, we are responsible for how we behave within our oppressive conditions. Therefore feminism does not “…lay down rules, regulations, prohibitions and prescriptions for individuals to follow.” (p.50)

    “To define feminism as an identity as a ‘feminist’ is to remain caught up in the ideology of individualism” (p.71)

    The Personal is Political

    Denise Thompson accepts the concept that the ‘personal is political’ in that it acknowledges and challenges the dichotomy of the ideological construction of public/private distinction. But she also argues that personal experience must be informed by an understanding and acknowledgement of the social order of male domination and its impact on this experience.

    “There is no sphere of personal life which escapes relations of domination” (p.25).

    We must acknowledge the social conditions within which experience is already embedded.

    Feminist Theory and Practice

    Feminist theory and practice is consistently evolving as research, discussion and debate continue.

    “Theory is vital if feminism is to clarify where it has come from, its meanings, its values and aims if it is not to become bogged down in dogma, infighting, irrelevance and eventual silence”. (p.33)

    We do not want equality

    Thompson also argues that it is not equality that we want. We do not want to enter that male world, where hierarchies of power exist. That does not free us from male domination.

    “None of the feminist standpoint theorists, unequivocally identifies agreement with male supremacy as the link which ‘transforms ‘women’s experience’ into feminist politics.” (p.17)

    We have a long history

    Thompson also critiques the idea of waves of feminism. She argues that this is due to the loss of women’s history. Women’s struggles against male domination have rarely been documented.

    “Feminism, in the sense of women defending their own interests in the face of male supremacy, is of much longer duration than the last three decades, and hence to call this latest manifestation ‘second wave’ does an injustice to the long history of women’s struggles on their own behalf.” (p.2)

    Race and Class

    She also discusses, in depth, issues of race and class, and how feminism is central to “politics and race and class”. If it is not central, women will be excluded.

    “As long as feminism is conceived as commitment to human decency and dignity for all, it is already a commitment to opposing race and class oppression.” (p.93)

    Thompson continually returns to the concept that male domination is central to feminist politics. She also acknowledges that “…women experience male domination differently depending on where they are situated in relation to race, class or any other social location.” (p.93)

    ‘Radical Feminism Today’ was first published in 2001, but many of the issues that Thompson addresses are still very relevant today. I have covered only a brief snapshot of the range of issues that are discussed in ‘Radical Feminism Today’. They are the ones that have caught my immediate attention and I believe are still worthy of feminist attention. I strongly recommend it.

  • 18Jul


    Australia had its first female Prime Minister in 2010. Britain has just acquired their second female Prime Minister Theresa May. And it looks likely that the United States may elect its first female President in Hilary Clinton.

    Are these iconic moments to be treasured?

    On the one hand yes. For those suffragettes who battled so hard to gain women the vote; to those who fought to have women represent us in parliament these are moments to celebrate.

    But does having a female as leader of your nation really help women?

    Well we all know that it didn’t with Maggie Thatcher. But then she was a right-wing neo-conservative.

    Julia Gillard did not do a lot for women either here in Australia.

    “That same day she made her (famous misogyny) speech the government was cutting access to the Single Parenting Payment and forcing more single mothers onto the dole, substantially cutting their income.” Judy McVey

    And her continuation of the Northern Territory Intervention policy and practice was appalling and racist.

    She also continued with the off-shore refugee policy which continues to lock up vulnerable women and children in inhumane off-shore facilities.

    And she supported sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and the devastation on innocent people in those countries.

    But then she was better than the alternative, Tony Abbott.

    As the United States moves toward their presidential elections much has been written about whether voting for Hilary Clinton is a step forward for feminism.

    Looking at Ms. Clinton’s international policies and her support of American aggression on other countries is perhaps enough for radical feminists to recognise that a vote for Hilary Clinton is not a vote for women’s rights. As Kelly Vee writes:

    “As a Senator, Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War, and in 2008, defended her vote, saying, “I believe in coercive diplomacy.”

    “As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s record is horrific. Clinton aggressively pursued regime changes in Libya and Syria, leading to the creation of ISIS, war in Mali, and the strengthening of terrorist group Boko Haram.”

    The fact is that in Western countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States voting does little to challenge patriarchal capitalism. The women who are part of the major political parties are part of the patriarchal capitalist system. They will continue with their imperialist policies which destroy women’s lives. Radical feminism is about the destruction of patriarchal capitalism. Supporting the likes of Hilary Clinton is only supporting the continuation of it.

    But don’t get me wrong. I abhor the misogyny that is inherent in many of the attacks on women leaders. Julia Gillard was the target of dreadful misogyny that was both violent and aggressive

    And it is up to feminists to rally against such misogyny.

    It is also apparent that what we know about our so-called democracies is that we really have very little choice.*

    It is understandable that in our limited choices we sometimes vote for the lesser of 2 evils – and having Donald Trump as President of the United States is quite a horrifying thought.

    But in recognising that a vote for Hilary Clinton is really a vote against a worst evil, let us not go down the path of assuming that her imperialist policies will not harm many women, both internally and internationally.

    “Violence and imperialism do not liberate women. External force and rampant destruction do not liberate women. Hillary Clinton’s incessant war mongering and disregard for the basic human rights of non-Americans do not liberate women. Women liberate themselves when they take control over their lives and their futures against all odds. Kurdish women defending their families from ISIS and US airstrikes are feminist heroes. Hillary Clinton is a violent oppressor. Know the difference.” Kelly Vee


    *In Australia we have the advantage of preferential voting. Thus I voted for the Greens rather than Julia Gillard and Labor Party. Preferential voting means that my vote was not wasted.  There is an alternative for those in the United States, as outlined in this article   about voting for alternatives to the two major parties in safe seats.


  • 13Mar

    natural way of things


    I have just finished reading this harrowing and powerful novel.

    Set in the near future it is about a group of young women who are abducted and imprisoned in an outback facility somewhere in Australia. They are abducted by a corporation – to be punished, to be silenced because they have dared to expose their sexual exploitation at the hands of powerful men.

    They include a victim of a football-buddy pack rape; another is a “lover” of a high-profile politician; a woman assaulted whilst partying on a cruise ship, and a woman, a contestant on a TV reality show who is singled out for sex by the producer of the show.

    All very familiar stories which we far too regularly hear about on our news media.

    The literal abduction and violation of these women is reflective of how our society treats women who dare to speak out about sexual assault, coercion and sexual intimidation.

    And how we vilify – by calling them sluts; promiscuous; liars and publicity seekers. How they are ostracized and silenced for calling out the abuse of powerful men.

    The women in the novel are drugged and taken to this isolated place. They are kept locked in old shearers’ quarters. Their heads are shaved; they wear shapeless clothing, are shackled together and made to do hard labour. Their three prisoners, two men and a woman beat them and humiliate them constantly. And there is always the underlying threat of sexual violence, which comes to fruition during the novel.

    It is a story of survival – how each woman in their individual way learn to survive (or not).

    Charlotte Wood evokes a bleak, nightmarish landscape in this novel. I was reminded of ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding. Because these women have to learn to live off the land – to kill, skin and gut rabbits as their food source runs out and the electricity is turned off – but not to the giant electric fence which encloses them. And there are disputes and fights between the women.

    But I was moved by the sense of interconnection and commonality between the women, despite their differences and disputes.

    Verla and Yolanda are the two women we follow most closely. Yolanda, in particular, finds her escape by becoming part of the landscape, the environment and as time progresses she becomes almost wild– an unsentimental relationship with the land.

    Their relationships are not romanticised by Charlotte Wood – this is not a story where female bonding and communion occurs. It is not a sentimental novel. Each woman finds her own way to survive. Each however brings their skills to the group and they are able to work cooperatively to survive.

    What struck me most however was the sense of commonality of oppression that these women understood about each other. Despite their differences and in some instances the need to compete for necessary food and resources, they take care of each other.

    I had the privilege of seeing Charlotte Wood speaking at the recent Adelaide Writer’s week and one of her observations related to the lack of solidarity of the women and how this is reflective of patriarchal socialisation of women.

    Interestingly in a Sydney Morning Herald interview Wood describes how the idea came from learning about the Hay Institute:

    “Wood heard a radio documentary about women who had been locked up as teenagers in the Hay Institution for Girls, an offshoot of Parramatta Girls Home that was reserved for the 10 worst offenders in the state in the 1960s and ’70s. They were drugged and put on a train to the decommissioned men’s prison in south-western NSW, where they were forced to march, look at the floor, never talk to each other, and endure rape and other violence.”

    “One reason many of them were there was they had been sexually abused or assaulted in some way and they told someone about it, so then it was ‘they are promiscuous’.”

    Despite the hopefully unlikely scenario of this novel, I was struck by how it is replicative of our patriarchal society. We punish and vilify women who dare to speak out against male violence.

     “Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as  if womanhood is itself were the cause of these things. As if the girls themselves somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.”

    And at the end of this interview Charlotte Wood is quoted:

    “A couple of men who have read it wanted to know where it came from and I said, ‘I think it just came from 50 years of being a woman’.