• 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.

    Conclusion

    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

  • 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.

    t

    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

    caliban-and-witch

    “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)

  • 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.

     

  • 09Mar

     

    Happy International Women’s Day!

    womenday

    A little late, I know. I meant to write an International Women’s Day post – but you know – life gets in the way sometimes.

    I love International Women’s Day. I love that we celebrate women. I love that women everywhere write and post about women’s activism, feminism, women’s history and women’s achievements.

    And I think it also takes me back to 1975 – International Women’s Year. I was a young woman then – knew very little about women’s liberation and what oppression of women meant. But I remember being awed and excited about future possibilities and what it might mean to have a year for women.

    So I have celebrated International Women’s Day every year.

    Back in 1975 we were in the era of what is now known as the second wave of feminism. Back then we called it women’s liberation.

    But according to Eva Cox: Feminism has failed and needs a radical rethink. 

    She’s right when she says that second wave feminists were pushing for radical change:

     “We understood that real gender equity would require radical changes to macho cultural power structures. So we planned and discussed the ways we could revalue what matters and eliminate gender-biased, macho-designed cultural dominance.”

    And she is also right that women, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words, are still the ‘other’.

    Women are still being killed by male violence; women are still impoverished; discriminated and oppressed!

    But to blame feminism – to decide that feminism has failed us? Feels like blaming the victim.

    Do I wish that we had rid ourselves of patriarchy? That we had fundamentally changed the structure of our world so that oppression of everyone no longer existed? Yes I do. Believe me there are still plenty of women working on this.

    Identifying as a feminist does not mean that one understands what feminism really means.

    In fact what has happened is that patriarchal capitalism has fought back. It has usurped the word feminism to mean something that women’s liberation would not accept.

    As Meghan Murphy has recently written:

     “Whereas, in the past, our fight against male supremacy and towards women’s liberation meant something radical — and therefore frightening — to those who preferred the status quo, recent decades have brought a distinctly “feel-good” approach. Feminism hasn’t escaped a neoliberal, consumerist culture that offers self-help books and positive mantras as a solution to social problems and presents individual “choice” as the epitome of freedom. What was once a class struggle – a fight for women’s collective rights and towards an end to the oppressive system of patriarchy – and certainly a political one, became a hashtag, a selfie, a backdrop, a selling-point, a buzzword. Anyone could say, “Yes! I’m a feminist!” and be applauded, without really understanding what that should mean.”

     

    It is neo-liberals’ capturing of the word feminism and using it to their own ends that has altered what is assumed to be feminism. Eva Cox conflates what neo-liberalism has done, in their backlash to feminism, with a failure of feminism.

    It is just more of the same from patriarchy – at every step patriarchy will fight back against women’s liberation. It is not feminism that has failed – it’s just more of the same from patriarchy.

    To quote a feminist friend – rather than a failure of feminism it is the success of male domination.

    And Eva ignores the continued struggle of radical feminism.

    “Our once radical social movement has been diverted into good works such as women’s refuges, counting female victims of violence and calling out sexism. While all these are necessary, there is little focus on offering serious alternatives.”

    Cox’s article dismisses and diminishes the work that feminism has achieved, as “good works”.

    The establishment of safe places for women escaping male violence, highlighting the horrific deaths of women at the hands of men and raising awareness about the everyday sexism and misogyny that women experience and are damaged by  – this is the vital work that has been achieved by the feminist movement. And feminists are still contesting prostitution, sex trafficking, surrogacy, female genital mutilation, pornography amongst many other harms to women etc, etc…

    We are very aware of the neo-liberal attempts to undermine the important work that feminists have achieved –

    “…the defunding of progressive women’s services; the growing divisions between different types of services; funding and output measurement tools focusing on individual change; and the sharp shift in the provision and focus of services, away from a social recognition of men’s violence against women and towards an individual pathology of women’s poor choices and victimisation.  In fact women’s services are currently at serious risk of being de-politicised.” (Hume, McInnes, Rendell & Green 2011)

    And no doubt, as Meghan Murphy has outlined, the individualising of feminism – the idea of individual choice and empowerment has reconfigured feminism as a populist term turning it into a “depoliticised” concept.

    “It’s no coincidence that a term directly associated with women has become depoliticised, coopted, and associated with personal empowerment. Women have always been the target of the self-help industry and “empowerment” is a vague enough term that it could be (and has) been embraced by industries that couldn’t care less about fighting systemic oppression, in part because they profit directly from said oppression.”

    Unfortunately Eva Cox’s article reinforces this co-option of feminism – by blaming feminism for its “wrong direction”. The article fails to address this co-option of ‘feminism’ by patriarchal, capitalism.

    “The feminist movement is a political movement that fights towards women’s collective liberation and towards an end to male violence against women. That is to say, if you don’t support those goals, what you are doing is not feminism, no matter how many times you claim otherwise.” Meghan Murphy

    And the danger of Eva Cox’s analysis is that this can be used against us – against women, against women’s liberation.

    Her question – “Can some good feminist ideas reignite the light on the hill…”? fails to understand that only good feminism (i.e. radical feminism) is “reigniting” and has been throughout feminist history.

    As Finn Mackay has commented, our movement is based on complex political theory and continues to be developed and defined but always working towards change.

    International Women’s Day/Month gives us the opportunity to celebrate our history and achievements. Eva Cox has unfortunately by making the claim that feminism has failed has fallen into the patriarchal trap of the misappropriation of feminism.

    In doing so she is discounting our history and our achievements and the on-going struggles of radical feminism and has become part of the backlash against feminism

     

    “Because the mere presence of our language in the mainstream, does not mean that it is correctly used, much less widely understood, sometimes the very opposite.”

    “As feminists we need to be aware of what feminism means for us. Just having the word in regular usage does not mean that the revolution is on its way. In fact it can mean that feminism and women’s oppression becomes diluted and meaningless. And of course that is what patriarchy would really like. It then becomes part of the backlash against feminism.” Finn Mackay

    problems-with-feminism-234x300

  • 30Dec

     

    Suffragette_poster

     

    I had the privilege of seeing this film yesterday. I thought it was brilliant. My heart was in my mouth for most of the film, and by the end when they showed the real footage of women marching in white and purple at the funeral of Emily Davison (Natalie Press) the tears were running down my face.

    Suffragette_film_v_3430096b

    One of the most pleasing aspects of the film was that it was centred on a working class woman, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). I always had the impression that the Suffragette movement, particularly in Britain, was a middle class white movement. So it was interesting and informative to see it from a working class woman’s perspective. I understand that she is a fictional character so was interested to learn more about working class women and the suffrage movement and came across this article by Missjones4history:

    “The working class, working women who became involved in the suffragette movement have, for the most part, been written out of history. A fact which is astounding considering the hurdles the working class women had to jump in order to secure their right to an involvement in politics.” 

    She writes about the  women of the Lancashire Cotton Mills.

    “ At the turn of the twentieth century, working women increasingly found their work, and their right to work under attack from the ever increasing, male dominated trade unions who wanted to protect jobs for men. They therefore began to organise themselves into unions to protect their rights in the work place and to campaign for the enfranchisement of women. An example of this is the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade and Labour Council…”

    “In terms of an organised suffrage movement, the working women of Lancashire have been called the ‘original inspiration’ behind the formation of the Woman’s Social and Political Union, the WSPU, infamously known as the militant suffragettes.[4] This was due to a petition that the North of England Society organised, a petition for female enfranchisement; signed exclusively by women working in the textile industry of the North West. By the spring of 1901, the petition was taken to Westminster containing 29, 359 signatures; Mr Taylor, the MP for Radcliffe said that he’d heard of bigger petitions, but had ‘never seen a larger one’.[5] This petition aroused the active interest in the suffrage movement among working women, an interest which was to make many women politically active, a role hard to fulfil taking into account the many different roles a working woman already had.”

    This article, as does the film, highlights the great sacrifices that working class women in particular, made to fight for their rights.

    Maud Watts was born and worked from the age of seven in a laundry. The scenes in the laundry highlight how difficult these conditions were. She is also, as a young child, subjected to sexual abuse by her employer, who continues to sexually abuse the girls in the factory.

    We also see domestic violence when Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) arrives to give evidence in Parliament with a battered face. There is no horror or shock at this from the other women – an acceptance that this male violence is a part of their lives.

    Violet also withdraws from the most violent acts of the activism, because she is pregnant. In the scene with Maud, she cries – she is worried that she will be unable to cope with yet another child. An example of the lack of options for women in controlling their own fertility. And a reminder that this is still a large issue for women all over the world today, even in our so-called progressive Western countries.

    I was astounded at the level of violence meted out to the women as they demonstrated and held rallies. They were beaten, kicked, belted with police trugeons. And then the mounted police would move in and trample the women with their horses.

    It also showed the humiliation the women experienced when placed in prison – strip searched and demeaned – something that women prisoners continue to be subjected to today.

    And the torture involved in force feeding the women was horrific to watch.  The missjones article argues that this violence was more extreme for working class women:

    “Despite official lines stating that all women were treated the same by the authorities, regardless of social background; it soon became apparent that this was not the case. It was noticed that middle class and upper class suffragettes were receiving preferential treatment, for example, if they resisted being fed, they would only be force fed a few times before being released. On the other hand, the working class suffragettes, who the prison authorities thought to be anonymous, were often subjected to the torture of force feeding on a daily basis for the full term of their sentence.”

    The sacrifices that Maud was forced to make to continue her activism is heart-breaking. She is kicked out of her home by her husband – for bringing shame and social stigma to the family. She loses her son. He is her husband’s property and so he is able to determine that she is not to have contact with him. In another painful scene she is confronted with the fact that her husband has given him up for adoption. A memorable quote to her son

    “Your mother’s name is Maud Watts.”

    Whilst the laws around custodial rights to children have changed since then, I have written extensively about how the family law system continues to punish ‘bad mothers’ and privilege fathers’ rights. http://mairivoice.femininebyte.org/the-fault-that-is-family-law-part-1/

    The film has been criticised for its whitewashing of the suffrage movement and its lack of inclusion of women of colour.

    “Britain was a white society in the main,” Dr Bartley tells me, “and the movement reflected that.” Dr Sumita Mukherjee, a fellow at King’s College London researching Indian suffragettes, notes that the women’s suffrage movement in Britain was “very different from the American case or the Australian case or the New Zealand case, because although there were ethnic minorities in Britain at that time, there wasn’t the same scale or the same questions of citizenship as there were in other countries”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11914757/Racism-and-the-suffragettes-the-uncomfortable-truth.html

    Anna Leszkiewicz  has written an interesting article about the composition of the British suffrage movement.

    “Anita Anand, author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, tells me that there were women of colour working alongside more famous white suffragettes, most notably the subject of her book, the Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh. “There were many overlaps between the Indian suffrage movement and the British suffrage movement. Sophia Duleep Singh had every reason to hate the British. They had taken everything from her: her father’s kindgom, wealth, future, everything. But she believed in this sisterhood, and she sacrificed everything to fight for British women’s vote, and also then fought for Indian women’s emancipation as well.””

    asian_suffragettes

    Dr Mukherjee adds:

    “There’s a popular image of Indian women in 1911 involved in a suffragette procession [see above]: they were Indian women living in Britain at the time living with their families. What’s interesting about that photo is that they’re part of a procession campaigning for the vote for British women, but in that procession they had an Empire section with Australian women, New Zealand women and Indian women. British suffragettes tried to convince women from other areas of the British Empire that if they got the vote, they could look after Indian women and other women in the other communes of Britain.

    “There’s an implication that white women felt they were more able to speak for Indian women than Indian women themselves. So although I’m not sure I’d say it’s overtly racist, it is imperialist.”

    This article also briefly raises the issue of lesbian women in the movement, which the film fails to address. An issue which has been controversial in women’s movement then and since.

    “There are many other suggestions of gay relationships within the movement, including Mary Blathwayt herself, Christabel Pankhurst, and Dame Ethel Smythe. “Dame Ethel had realised early on in life that she loved women, not men, and was fairly bold about things,” Pugh adds.”

    Whilst the list of when women were given the right to vote in different countries at the end of the film was informative it should be noted that this really does not cover the full picture. For example in South Australia until 1973 the Legislative Council vote was available to any person who owned, rented or leased any dwelling house(thus excluding many women who did not own property) and it excluded joint occupiers, which effectively allowed only one vote to a married couple, disenfranchising one partner – inevitably the woman. It was not until the 1975 elections that voting for the Legislative Council was open to all adults.

    Aboriginal Australians have had full voting rights at all levels of government in Australia only since the 1960s.

    Aboriginal Australians had first begun to acquire voting rights along with other adults living in the Australian colonies from the late-19th century.[1] Other than in Queensland and Western Australia, Aboriginal men were not excluded from voting alongside their non-indigenous counterparts in the Australian colonies and in South Australia, Aboriginal women also acquired the vote from 1895 onward.

    Following Australian Federation in 1901 however, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 restricted Aboriginal voting rights in federal elections. For a time Aborigines could vote in some states and not in others, though from 1949, Aborigines could vote if they were or had been servicemen. In 1962, the Menzies Government (1949-1966) amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to enable all Aboriginal Australians to enroll to vote in Australian federal elections. In 1965, Queensland became the last state to remove restrictions on Aborigines voting in state elections. By 1967 Aborigines had equal rights in all states and territories.

    So the film had flaws. But this does not prevent me from feeling great admiration for the strength and courage of these suffragettes.

    I was also struck by how the film raised issues for women that are still relevant to our struggle today – violence against women; child sexual abuse; poverty; women’s rights to birth control and abortion; lack of economic parity and independence; lesbian visibility and freedom from discrimination. All these issues remain significant to real freedom from oppression for women.

    This film acts as a commemoration to all the women throughout history who have sacrificed, who have shown strength and courage, who have given up their lives for the freedom of women everywhere. As the film quotes Emily Pankhurst:

     “Never surrender. Never give up the fight.”

  • 24Dec

    xmas

    I’m wishing you all a Merry Christmas – because that is part of my history and culture. Although I am an atheist, I was fortunate to grow up in a happy nuclear family and Christmas has always been a time of love and warmth for me.

    But for those who don’t celebrate Christmas I wish you a happy and safe holiday.

    Christmas is not happy for everyone. For many women it evokes memories of trauma and abuse. For many women and children the patriarchal nuclear family is the site of male violence and abuse. For those of you who were physically and/or sexually abused as a child; those of you who witnessed male violence against your mother and whose Christmas time is fraught with distressing and painful memories, I wish you a safe and peaceful holiday.

    trauma tree

    Trauma and Christmas

    As a result many women are ostracized or  estranged from their families and face a lonely and isolated time. I send you much love at this time.

    There are many women and children who continue to face trauma and abuse at this time of year. The holiday season sees an increase in calls for help from women facing male violence from their partners. May you find safety at this time and I hope that the support services that are so desperately needed are available to you.

    Picture1

    Many women face Christmas without their children. Children who may be forced to visit or live with their abusive fathers. May you have the strength to continue to fight to protect your children and provide them with the support and love they need.

    wsas

    There are also women, particularly indigenous women,  whose children have been forcibly removed from their care because of the racist and misogynistic policies of our society. May you have the support of the community behind you to give you strength and love at this time.

                                                      cropped-GmarMcGrady

    It is a difficult time for incarcerated women who are often locked up for reasons of poverty and male violence.

    sisters inside

    http://www.sistersinside.com.au/

    And our refugee women who as a result of our draconian and inhumane policies are facing years of imprisonment, degradation and assault in their bid to flee from war, violence and abuse. Be aware that whilst our government is enacting such inhuman treatment, many Australians are advocating for change.

    safe_image.php

    I have also been fortunate to have in my life many strong and committed feminists who have given me strength and support over the years. It is important to know that throughout the world women are gathering , meeting, sharing and struggling – across many and varied issues – to end the oppression of women; to end male violence in all its forms; working towards the demise of patriarchal rule.

    So may next year be one of hope, joy and strength as all women continue in their struggles against patriarchy.

    women-hold-up-half-the-sky-annastaysia-savage

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