Want. An Anarcha-feminist Perspective on Feminism
by Jennifer Sauer
During the spring of 1998, I studied in Malta, a small, 246 sq. km limestone island south of Italy. Around 358,000 people live well compacted within the crowded streets of limestone buildings built on top of one another. Malta is a small place with what many Maltese people call a small mind. According to Mary Grace, a feminist in the leftist group Graffiti, change is the last item on most Maltese lists, because of its 2,000 years of colonial history (8). The Maltese people are use to accepting, so change seems to be feared rather then revered. The importance of my stay in Malta has had a lot to do with this mentality of acceptance. I have been testing out the ideas of freedom and specifically focusing on the ideas of anarchism within the framework of feminist consciousness. Anarcha-feminism, which began with Emma Goldman in the beginning of this century, is a growing tendency as well as an ideology and praxis with many young feminist activists today. While not all of these women and men would call themselves anarcha-feminists, their ideas and praxis work well within the framework of anarcha-feminism. I am choosing to use the word anarcha-feminism, as opposed to simply anarchism, because I want to focus on the feminist aspect of anarchism that has been growing in the United States and in England ever since the late sixties (407, 4). Ideally I believe that anarchism encompasses feminism, but not all anarchists choose to put this concept into praxis. This is one of the main reasons why anarchist women decided to develop a deeper consciousness of what anarchism should encompass hence the category, anarcha-feminism. While this may seem exclusionary, it was created as a way to emphasize the need for a more gender egalitarian philosophy of anarchism (410, 4).
for womyn to "take no shit!" has been happening in more anarchist
and leftist-activist circles. This epiphany had its toll after interviewing
three activist groups, traveling to Athens, Istanbul, and Rome, and perusing
other international activist groups on the Internet. While my research is completely
subjective, for I have not interviewed everyone in the world, there is objectivity
in my premises that humanity essentially desires to be free.
I interviewed represent many of the beliefs that are basic in anarcha-feminism.
While these groups do not represent all of the United States and Maltese population,
they do reflect the universality of freedom. I have interviewed two groups from
the U.S.A- a 15-year-old young woman in the Memphis, TN Riot Grrl group and
a 23-year-old in the Memphis, TN Woman‘s Action Coalition. I also interviewed
three women in the Maltese leftist group, Graffiti- Mary Grace, age 20, Alexia,
age 16, and Miriam, age 20. What these women have to offer is a deepening of
what feminism has come to mean in the age of corporate, liberal feminism. Their
ideas are what anarcha-feminism strives to spark in everyone, a hope for a total
egalitarian world that is based on people and not stratified by gender, class,
sexuality, or race. While the term anarchism, and even feminism for that matter,
may seem like an impossible feat, I urge the reader to ask themselves what exactly
freedom means to them? What rights do you, as an individual, have and deserve?
What is your worth and value at school, work, and in your intimate relationships?
These questions tap into the very root of what is possible for humanity when
we no longer fear ourselves. My hope is that the information presented here
will inspire the reader, rather then scare the reader away from the possibility
of a deeper level of freedom for all of humanity.
I examine the anarchist tendencies that the interviewees are thinking and creating
in their society, a brief description of the history and meaning of anarchism
and anarcha-feminism is in order. While I have come across these terms in many
circles of my life, I realize that, for the most part, anarchism has been a
well kept secret from the rest of the world and that there are still many misconceptions
to uncover. So, I urge you to keep an open mind here, sit back, and enjoy. Maybe
think about the slogan found during the Paris rebellion of 1968, where the students
helped to initiate a general strike. "Never work. Under the paving stones,
the beach. I take my desires for reality, because I believe in the reality of
my desires"(538, 4).
itself has been around as an ideology since William Godwin made a clear statement
of what anarchism means. "Every man ought to rest upon his own centre,
and consult his own understanding. Every man ought to feel his own independence,
that he can assert the principles of justice and truth without being obliged
treacherously to adapt them to the peculiarities of his situation and the errors
of others"(217, 4). He promoted federations to organize society, as well
as freedom of speech and gender equality. Although Godwin clarified anarchy,
the core of anarchism can be found in the eastern philosophy, Taoism. A strange
mix on the surface, they are actually quite compatible. The main belief in Taoism
is the natural law of things, which is understood when one follows The Way,
or The Tao (53, 4). It is similar to anarchism in this respect, because anarchism
assumes that you have natural law already within you. External forces, like
the state or religion, are not necessary. This can be proven in historical examples
of large-scale forms of anarchism, like the Paris Commune in 1871 or in 1936
with the hundreds of collectives created before and during the Spanish Civil
War (11, 6). Anarchy is about trusting the nature within each of us to coexist
with one another without the need of a hierophant.
for us to have our needs met, there must be a high level of co-operation, because
no one can survive alone in this world. Anarchism works as a dual relationship
of satisfying the individual needs, but all the while keeping these needs in
check with the greater whole of society. In this sense, both the individual
and society can evolve to a greater level of development.
anarchist philosophy has always been against oppression, it has not always been
against patriarchy. Pierre-Joseph Proudon, the first self-declared anarchist,
once said that, "The complete being is the man. The woman is a diminutive
of man"(256, 4). So, It was not until the early part of this century when
feminism and anarchism began to ideologically mesh.
is the main woman responsible for this breakthrough in anarchist philosophy.
In 1911 she wrote about the objectification of women in a capitalistic society
in The Traffic of Women (54 ,1). Goldman was able to see a direct relationship
of the oppression of women within a society that bases its power on the oppression
of the lower classes and races. Because Goldman never doubted that she was capable
of being independent and continually affirmed her autonomy to her male comrades
and the rest of the world, she is considered to be the founder of anarcha-feminism
(9). She was able to see the contradictions of her male comrades who could speak
of equality, but would not carry out the ideas in action. In 1936, Red Emma
spoke about the man and women relations in the Spanish Revolution, "Despite
the impressive rhetoric, most frequently male anarchists retreated to cultural
orthodoxy in the personal relationships of women. The vast majority of Spanish
comrades continued to expect their own companions to provide emotionally supportive
and submissive relationships necessary for the activism of males" (7).
While the Spanish anarchists had organized factories, schools, an army, and
agriculture themselves during the war against the fascist Franco, the men still,
for the most part, viewed women as auxiliary. Goldman realized that for this
to change women would have to demand more from their comrades, starting with
demanding more for themselves. The "true emancipation that begins is in
the women's soul"(51, 1). Women must realize their worth and fight for
it if there ever is going to be any freedom. Goldman opposed state marriage,
because she believed that no love could possibly be ordained from an oppressive
institution. She was also the first feminist to openly support homosexuality
(53, 1). Goldman called for freedom to be lived and fought for now and not just
for after the revolution. Her famous quote, "If I can’t dance, I
don't want to be part of your revolution" (409, 4), resonates with her
yearning to live freedom for today and not just for tomorrow. While Emma Goldman
is considered to be the originator of anarcha-feminism, many other historical
womyn anarchists have contributed to the philosophy and praxis. Womyn like Lucy
Parsons, who influenced more womyn to become involved in the working-class struggle,
Voltarine de Cleyre, who contributed to the importance of direct action, and
also Louise Michel, who helped to organize a practical form of anarchism within
the Paris Commune in 1871 (9). For the sake of length, I am focusing on the
importance of Emma Goldman in the development of anarcha-feminism, even though
these women have greatly contributed to the movement.
1970's a new breakthrough in the ideals of freedom was being experienced by
womyn and men through the womyn's liberation movement in the United States and
in England. Womyn began to find their history through revolutionary heroines
and even revolutionary holidays, like International Women's Day. This was the
start of the actual manifestation of anarcha-feminist groups (556, 9).
and feminism turned became a perfect match for the womyn's liberationists. Peggy
Kornegger, an anarcha-feminist theoretician, saw that feminism did relate to
anarchism through the "emphasis on the small group as a basic organizational
unit, on the personal and political, on anti-authoritarianism and on spontaneous
direct action which was essentially anarchism"(7).
anarcha-feminism has made a deeper dent in leftist circles, because more young
women have seen the need for their issues to be addressed. I am not saying that
this form of feminism is soon to replace large liberal feminist groups like
NOW, but I do think that more young women are interested in the holistic ideology
of anarcha-feminism and the emphasizes on creating free spaces for women now.
Young women in the states have created their own workshops on health, anarcha-feminist
groups, self-defense courses, and safe safes away from domestic abuse (9). In
places like France, England, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Belgium, Canada, and Malta,
there are women who are demanding more from their society. When I was in Rome,
I met some womyn who had recently started an anarcha-feminist group. They saw
the need for it, because they saw how womyn were the worst victims of capitalism.
In the current French manifesto- Manifestte Anarcho Feministe- these French
feminists have taken the first steps towards revolution, by defining what it
is they want. "Anarcha-feminism means women's independence and freedom
on an equal footing with men. A social organization and a social life where
no one is superior or inferior to anyone and everybody are co-ordinate, women
as well as men. This goes on all levels of social life, also the private sphere...
Anarcha-feminism implies that women themselves decide and take care of their
own matters, individually in personal matters, and together with other women
in matters which concern several women. In matters which concern both sexes
essentially and concretely, women and men shall decide on an equal footing"
It is important
for feminist of all philosophies to think through exactly what it is we want
from each other and from our society. Feminism has been in a lull for the past
ten years, because it has been open to every idea, even though some may contradict
each other. This is why it is important that we know what it is we are opposed
to and what it is we ultimately want. The women I interviewed have been thinking
through these ideas of freedom in order to reach a point from which freedom
can prosper. Ultimately, they believe that they have what it takes to control
their own lives, but it is a matter of having the individual and collective
consciousness and putting those ideas into praxis. They are continually questioning
the patriarchal state as well as everyday life.
movement that has been mulling over the ideas of freedom and praxis is Riot
Grrl. While they do not organize under the banner of anarcha-feminism, there
are many declared anarchists within the group and many anarcha-feminist traits
that are found within the movement. Their anarchism lies in the use of direct
action, non-hierarchal structure, their grassroots nature, promotion of individuality,
empowerment of womyn and co-operation.
sprouted from within the punk scene in the early 1990ís and has since
spread to other parts of the United States, Canada, England, and more. In the
early part of this decade many young girls were getting together to discuss
issues on what the political punk scene had not validated. There is a relationship
with the 1970's leftist groups having been invalidating women activists’
contribution to social movements and with the RXG's invalidation of the punk
scene. Their complaints within the political and non-political punk scene were
based on the desire to create a New World where their development was included.
Lori Waskevitch, a New York anarcha-feminist, describes how she first got into
RXG, "I got into groups like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, and was introduced
to the idea of RXG ñ A type of feminism for young grrls who were refusing
to take shit"(9). Riot Grrl partly came about when grrls wanted to see
more womyn in bands and on the dance floor. The more grrls that started punk
bands, the bigger riot grrl got. What happened with the riot grrl bands became
more than just music; it became a movement for young grrls to find their strength
in. When I was 17, I was involved in a Riot Grrl group in Northern Pennsylvania.
We discussed issues like rape, body image, gender roles, and sexuality. We also
did direct actions, like postering walls and having open discussions. Once we
went to the mall dressed up as the typical female, (I was barefoot and pregnant),
and passed out literature on redefining what it means to be male and female.
We were kicked out of the mall, but some seeds of possibilities were dropped
in the discussions we had. I realize the impact our influence had in this small
town when I see that some of these womyn are still active today and that the
people of the town have not forgotten about us.
Riot Grrl reached a low point, because of excessive backlash from the general
punk scene, internal turmoil, and some Riot Grrls themselves allowing the MTV
media to commodify their image into a nineties thing, Riot Grrl still thrives.
There are yearly conventions, thousands of personal zines (do-it-yourself magazines),
and international RXG groups. The grass roots nature of RXG is what has kept
it alive. The revolution that these young womyn are trying to create continues.
Because RXG has never had a rulebook on how things must be done to create a
revolution, every womyn is capable of contributing towards revolution.
the things that have kept RXG together is their exchange of ideas and emotions
through zones. A zine is something that is accessible to everyone and can be
created by anyone who puts the time and energy into it. All you need is pen,
paper, glue, pictures, and the use of a copier machine. Often many of the RXG
zines would include empowering messages to grrls to have a healthy and grrl-positive
view of them selves. They promote each others zines and have created an intricate
network of zones around the world. Currently they are trying to improve the
network through better organization. In a world, which uses the media to tell
young girls that beauty is skin deep, to be obsessed with their appearance,
and to constantly think about the male gaze, the RXG zines have become an important
outlet for grrls to find and share their voices. In the zine, Hands-Off, issue
#5, Heather Lynn talks about revolution in her terms through her daily fight
for freedom- "Trust my instincts and not believe the voice in my head that
says I am paranoid or mistaken or irrational dance party. Fuckin everywhere.
Dancing is revolution. Learn to ignore inhibitions. Don't assume they are telling
you the whole truth. Don't assume they will lie. Don't assume anything"
(12, 2). Lynn mixes politics with the personal, which is a realistic view of
how young women can change their world. It is realistic, because it starts with
the self and it is only the self that can ultimately make the demands for justice.
Kim, a 15 year old young feminist who is currently involved in Memphis RXG.
While her ideals are anarchistic, she believes that humanity has a long way
to go before we can develop into a civilized society. She believes that for
it to happen, people need to create autonomous zones for people to develop,
like with RXG. When I asked her what she thought society needed, a revolution
or reform, she exclaimed, "Revolution! When people talk about changing
a law to benefit women, I wonder why we even need laws. You can't achieve women's
autonomy by making it mandatory" (5). On the topic of liberal feminism,
Kim agreed with it as far as making equality legal, but she wanted more from
society. "I want to be able to walk down the street wearing whatever I
want and not be harassed. I want to stop hearing stories of women being raped"
(5). Although Kim has never been active in an anarchist organization, she still
considers herself an anarchist. She exhibits the natural relationship between
feminism and anarchy that Peggy Kornegger had found. "Yes, I consider myself
an anarchist. I think an anarchist should have their wants and needs fulfilled
with as little exploitation of the earth, other people, and animals as possible"
(5). While Kim sees the possibilities Riot Grrl opens up for humanity to be
more egalitarian, she also sees that everyday can be a struggle for women. "The
fact that there are so many girls and women who belittle other grrls, have eating
disorders, cut themselves, hide and punish their bodies, etc., just shows that
the world is harmful to girls" (5).
that Kim fights for in the United States is also fought for in the small island
of Malta. The universality of freedom, which most anarchists consider it a part
of human nature, is alive in the Maltese leftist group, Graffiti. While Malta
finally won its freedom in 1964, Mary Grace, a member of Graffitti, explained
to me how colonial the attitude is in Malta. The people seem to resist change,
rather then use it to end environmental degradation on the island, governmental
corruption, and religious influence in government and to end sexism in the workplace,
religion, and home (8). The organization of Graffiti strives to make radical
changes within their country for these problems to be eradicated. While the
group has no clear outline of what they would like to see in Malta, there is
a dimension from within the group that strives to make equality a reality. I
am referring to the anarcha-feminist tendencies that these womyn exude. Three
members of the group, Alexia, but mostly Miriam and Mary Grace, have provided
an active feminist dimension to Graffiti. They have urged their male comrades
to fight along side them for equality. They have fought for issues like legalizing
divorce in Malta, changing the treatment of womyn as objects in a capitalistic
society, and discussing the realm of pornography as a womyn's issue vs. a free
asked them if they were not in Graffiti, would feminist issues be discussed
and acted on, both Miriam and Mary Grace felt they wouldn't. I later asked them
if there was a revolution today, would they be given the pots and pans to cook
for their male comrades or would there be active and equal participation in
this new society". Mary Grace stated, "That wouldn't be a revolution"(8).
Miriam immediately chimed in, "While that is not how it is supposed to
be, that is how it would be" (8). Both agreed that the men in the group
do not completely understand the form of oppression womyn have to deal with
on a daily basis. They explained how there are times when the men expect them
to cook the food for outings or even talk over them during political discussions.
What has kept the womyn going is their constant reaffirmation to the men that
they are not to be treated as second class citizens. It has become better since
the group first began four years ago. There is more of a feminist slant to the
group now and it is the only group in Malta with such a stand on womyn's rights.
While not all the people in Graffiti are thorough about what exactly it is they
mean by equality, the actions these womyn are taking within the group to demand
that their voice be heard is a revolutionary one. Once the ideas have been let
out the cage, it is only time that can allow it to grow and flourish. The seed
has been dropped and the gestation period has already begun.
group I chose to interview is the Woman's Action Coalition from Memphis, TN.
I have been within the group, off and on, for about 5 years now. The reason
I have chosen to end with this group is because WAC has gone through a slow,
evolutionary process of becoming more de-centralized and co-operative. Incidentally,
the last zine issue the group printed was about anarchism. The group itself
has 10 active members, 2 of which are men. While the group has always maintained
a non-hierarchal position in structure, it has been known to push work off to
any one person willing to do it all. It has also gone through bats of informal
leaders, where no one was happy with the situation, but few took the initiative
to change it. As WAC lost members, it gained younger members, as well as one
older woman who had been involved in the women's liberation movement since the
70's. As the group began to gain new members, they focused on how the group
could be organized on the basis of equality and yet still get things done. While
WAC is presently in no position of perfection, it has developed a clearer purpose
and a mission statement. In this statement, WAC clarifies not only what they
are against, but also what they are for. While they say they are against capitalism
and all forms of oppression, they also explain that they want reproductive freedom,
environmental justice, and a world based on "human needs and not profit"(10).
of WAC is not only their ideology, but also their creative and impressionable
direct action tactics. (It should be noted that there was a Memphis WAC prior
to 5 years ago, but the de-centralized nature of WAC that is known today is
very different from the academic WAC that existed before it.) WAC has used such
tactics as postering, pamphlet drives, lectures, speaking in classrooms, and
open discussions. WAC also has done theatrical direct actions where members
would dress up as birds and bees to promote safe sex. They also did a silent
action where members wore all black with veils and held signs that shed light
into the horror of domestic violence and date rape.
still struggling with too much to do and not enough people to do it all. They
are still developing into, what I consider, and an anarcha-feminist group. At
least half of the members are already self-declared anarchists and the rest
agree with many of the principles that anarchism has to offer. The anarchist
principles that WAC originally started with 5 years ago are starting to manifest
itself in their organizational structure and in their actions. While more always
needs to be done, WAC has become more responsible for their ideas of feminism
and more realistic in what it is they can achieve as a direct action group.
What is important with the growth of WAC is the commitment that the members
have had to the ideals of freedom. They have not given up and as they are working
towards a more anarchistic style of organization, they are coming to understand
how freedom can be brought into the light within a capitalistic society.
for the ideals of feminism to continue, long after the first womyn's Convention
in Seneca Falls, long after Emma Goldman declared that womyn are not the sexual
property of the state or men, and long after the current theoretician, bell
hooks, declared that white liberal feminism is exclusive, we must realize the
relationship that capitalism has with oppression. We must create pockets of
freedom to discount the archaic attitude that competition is the only way people
can relate to one another. We must realize that humanity will not develop into
a just civilization without the faith in each individual’s freedom. In
my life I have seen that anarcha-feminism can and does create these pockets
of freedom throughout the world. They can be found in communal houses or communities,
free schools, direct action groups fighting for freedom, communal gardens, political
theatre, zines, home-schooling, and anywhere else in the world where people
have listened and acted on their instinct to be free. Based on co-operation
and individual freedom, people are creating examples of which we as a society
As an anarchist,
my faith is with the people. I have no dogma to give and I do not think that
anarcha-feminism provides the world with the magical key to end all oppression.
What it does do is exemplify the possibilities of freedom and attempts to live
them out. While I do believe that anarchism today needs to improve its theories
into praxis, I do see men and womyn actively working on the sexism, racism,
environmental degradation, homophobia, and classism that has plagued society
for far too long. Instead of sitting around theorizing about what the future
could be, anarchists are also trying to create it.
feminism has left too many people out in the cold by maintaining that working
in governments and corporations achieves equality. This has caused a major split
within feminism with the Black, Chicano, working class, radical and other minority
feminists who have been sidetracked by liberal feminists. As more of these feminists
organize and connect the relationship of oppression with class, gender, race,
sexuality, and environmental degradation, the closer womyn and men will develop
towards liberation. I will end this short introduction to anarcha-feminism with
some intriguing words Mary Grace wrote when I asked her about what revolution
means to her. Her words remind me of the passion for freedom that has been within
anarcha-feminism since Emma Goldman first spoke of the hope of a new, free world.
"Fighting for a new world for the emergence of a new human being. Towards
the annihilation of injustice, suffering and atrophy of humanity within capitalism.
Where peace is the result of justice, not repression"(8).
the human passion to be free has been with us since the beginning. It will be
with us forever onward. What matters does not just know that this drive exists,
but what we now chose to do with the creative urge inside each of us. Our world
is lost without the decreed of the individual as a powerful and creative source
Check out what anarcha-feminists are doing today!- join MujeresLibres@yahoogroups.com
Feminist Theory, (Unfortunately I do not have the printing information on this book, because my professor left before I could get it. But, I swear I read the book.
Lynn, Heather. Hands Off #5 (Olympia, WA: Heather Lynn, 1998.)
Manifeste Anarchofeministe. (Internet: HYPERLINK http://www.powertech.no/anarchy/maf.html. )
4. Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible (London: Fontana Press, 1993)
Mitchell, Kim. Interview via email. (April, 1998.)
News and Letters newspaper. March 1998)
Ruby, Flick. Anarcha-Feminism (internet: HYPERLINK http://www.spunk.org/library/anarchfem/sp01066.txt )
Vella, Mary Grace, Scembri, Miriam, and Vassallo, Alexia. Interview on April 27, 1998.
Waskevitch, Lori. Interview via email. (April, 1998)