On Sunday, June 7th a group of anarcha-feminists took the stage at the Anarchist Conference 09 to protest about sexist oppression within the movement. They projected a film and read out a statement, both of which you can find below.

Their actions went on to provoke a huge response – with comments ranging from undiluted misogyny to militant solidarity.

The misogyny provided more examples of the sexism we all battle with when we try and make our voices heard. Such attitudes make the prospect of fighting back more intimidating, but also increasingly urgent.

From the audience:

“Are you going to do a sexy dance for us?”.

And online:

“A wrote:
Bear, was there any hotties present

“B wrote:
a few. one of the radical feminists who disrupted it, and who I know
looked really cute in black hoodie.”

These comments are undeniably sexist, but hierarchical social relations
cannot be reduced to personal insults or behaviour. Sexism thrives upon subtle and intangible processes which make gender domination and exploitation endemic.

Those responses to the action which asked, ‘why did you take the mic from a woman?’, ‘why did you not include the woman at Speakers’ Corner?’, ‘why did you criticise a poster designed by a woman?’ were missing the point. For any focus we put on the numerical dominance of men is only a detail within our broader perspective on the institutionalised power arrangements reproduced and upheld by patriarchy. These can continue to operate in situations where a woman is taking the lead.

So the attempts in our film and text to expose and delegitimate prescribed gender roles must be seen within our larger analysis of gender oppression.

We are not fighting a battle between men and women, but one against the divisive gender labels that people remain obstinately attached to.
Consequently, we reject the conception of a binary male-female
relationship, in which sexist relations are always characterised by a male oppressor acting upon a female victim. We call for a rejection of liberal feminism’s simplistic attempts to define and reform the oppressive system we want destroyed.

The action wasn’t intended to be an attack on particular groups, or on the conference itself – it was meant to be a wake-up call to the
movement as a whole, to bring sexism to light and to provoke debate and action around how gendered power is imposed.

Where particular groups are represented in the film this is because their
visual material can be used to indicate wider sexism in the movement, not because they are more sexist than other groups.

The intervention was not carried out by pre-existing groups and should not be credited to particular individuals. Those who made it happen are
strongly committed to responding to and facing its consequences, but are acting in the knowledge that it could have been carried out by so many others. By those who followed them as they left the conference, by those who responded from movements outside of the UK, by those who emailed to say that they had faced sexism in the movement for years and never had the confidence to express it. It is being carried out by all those who have shown solidarity.

NOT THE FINAL WORD

With those who want freedom from hierarchical systems, we should continue to meet, debate, fight, organise, write.

We call for critiques and improvements of our action. We call for a
queering of our text. We call for new texts.

Claim this action as your own. Change it, fuck with it, and keep fighting
forward.

Film and Statement

This is what was said.

“We make no pretence. This is a conference by and for anarchists. And by anarchists, we mean those opposed to the state, all forms of nationalism, capitalism, sexual/race/gender oppression and all forms of exploitation and domination,” Anarchist Movement Conference 09 Call Out

This is our response.

We have taken this space and projected this short film to show how we see sexism in ‘the movement’ and sexism in capitalist society. We have covered our faces in the same way we might do against the state and its agents – inspired by the tradition of our militant sisters who took back male-dominated stages, and political spaces.

We expect hostility, intimidation and greater surveillance after our action. Covering up makes it easier to communicate. And we know that our message is much bigger than the messenger herself.

The following text is our response to the four themes of the conference.

MOVEMENT or why we aren’t one

No matter how much we aspire to be ‘self-critical’ there is a clear lack of theorising and concrete action around sexism, homophobia and racism in the anarchist movement. We do not feel that the content and structure of the conference deal with gender and we’re tired of asking for space – we’re taking it ourselves.

You want to talk about history? Let’s stop pretending that feminism is a short blip in the history of political struggles. The feminism you know may be the one that has been dominated by white middle-class liberal politics – NOT the struggles and pockets of revolutionary resistance missing from our political pamphlets and ‘independent’ media. The feminism of Comandanta Yolanda, of bell hooks, of Anzaldua, of Mbuya Nehanda, of Angela Davis, of Rote Zora, of Mujeres Libres…

CLASS or is anybody out there?

We are all oppressed by the class system, but there is nobody ‘out there’ who isn’t also oppressed by white supremacy, imperialism, heterosexism, patriarchy, ableism, ageism…Pretending these systems don’t exist or can be subsumed into capitalist oppression, doesn’t deal with the problem, it just silences those people most oppressed by them, and allows for the continuing domination of these systems over our lives.

We are tired of being told that anarchists don’t need to be feminists, because ‘anarchism has feminism covered’. This is just a convenient way of forgetting the reality of gender oppression, and so ignoring the specifics of the struggle against it.

RESISTANCE or are we futile?

If the anarchist movement doesn’t recognize the power structures it reproduces, its resistance will be futile. For as well as fighting sexism ‘out there’ we must fight sexism ‘in here’ and stop pretending that oppressive systems disappear at the door of the squat or the social centre. Only a movement that understands and fights its own contradictions can provide fertile ground for real and effective resistance.

Ask yourselves this – do you believe sexism exists within the movement? When a woman comrade says she’s experienced sexual abuse or assault from a male comrade – what do you think? That it’s an individual or an isolated case? Or that it can happen – and disproportionately to women – because there is a system which allows it to develop and gives it life? Can we honestly say that our own autonomous spaces do not play a part in upholding this system?

Ask yourselves this – Why do fewer women speak in meetings? Because they think less? What is the gender of the factory worker? Why do more women do the washing up and run creches at meetings/events? What is the gender of the carer at home?

Now tell us if you believe sexism exists: tell us why men rape; why more women are battered than men; why more women are used by the state to do free and unwaged work. Tell us – are you a feminist?

We believe that in the anarchist movement, the strongest evidence of sexism lies in the choice we’re told to make between ‘unity’ and what-they-call ‘separatism’, between fighting the state and fighting sexism. Fuck that! We refuse to be seen as stereotypes of ‘feminists’ you can consume – like fucking merchandise in the capitalist workplace.

IDEAS INTO REALITY and what’s in between?

There will be no future for the anarchist movement if it doesn’t also identify as an anarcha-feminist movement. Anarcha-feminist organisational structures must exist within the movement to make anarcha-feminism an integral part of it. And you don’t need to identify as a woman to be an anarcha-feminist – every anarchist should be able to participate in the struggle against sexism.

The state’s incursion into our private lives and the relationship between sexuality and productivity from which it profits affects people of all genders. The gender binary system violently allocates us roles on the basis of our anatomy. A refusal to accept even these basic precepts will be a great hindrance to the movement.

You ask, ‘Can we find common cause despite our differences?’. We will only find common cause if we recognize that our differences are structured by numerous oppressive systems, and together fight to end each of these systems, wherever we find them.

Our feminisms must be plural, they must be anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic. Our inspiration must come from the actions of feminists who have helped self-identified women reach revolutionary consciousness.

Our feminisms must be revolutionary.

Final word

You can pretend we didn’t come here, pretend nothing was said.

You can purposefully misunderstand us.

Or you can ask yourselves why we came, what we meant, and whether we’ll come back again.

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